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God of War Review

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God of War is an engrossing experience right from the opening moments until the end. What makes it so great is a combination of great storytelling, music, dialogue, an immersive and gorgeous world, deep combat and of course engaging characters all which shift the previous one-dimensional gameplay into a new direction. God of War has done the impossible by changing so much but at the same time being able to keep it all feeling the same. 

So much of it is different and so much of it is the same that it feels like a refreshing take on the series while still staying true to what made it so great in the first place. I have a lot of respect for a game that is able to look at itself in the mirror and notice that it needs to change its ways and God of War did just that. It is a deep and emotional experience with a fantastic combat system all set in an immersive world. It is a game worthy of the gods.

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There is a lot to take in within the first few hours of God of War. The story, in particular, is a mystery right up until around the half-way point where you finally discover who is who and what is what. Much of the game's opening hours play out like a well-written novel with the mystery around every turn taking the form of new characters, dialogue between Kratos and Atreus and the Norse lore exceptionally hidden around the game. God of War has broken down to its roots and rebuilt from the ground up which makes it feel so fantastic. We might be aware of Kratos' past but not of his son Atreus which in the game is a major push for the story. 

God of War is not what you remember from the PS2 days and while I thought it would move quite far away from its roots, every so often it felt like what made the series great peeked its head out of this gorgeous game. These are its stellar set pieces with intense quick time events and its magnificent, larger than life moments that left me in awe. 

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God of War feels like a completely new game, which it is, but it's the magic of how Cory Barlog managed to bring in all the best of God of War into a "reboot" so to say and keep it as God of War-like as possible. Within the first hour of the game, it takes you from a tear-jerking moment to having an intense fist fight with a stranger. Of course, this being God of War, the fist fight resulted in Kratos picking up mountain-sized rocks and slamming it on the annoying man that was getting in his way. Another part later in the game sees Kratos fight the same man atop a flying dragon in the sky. It was these moments that brought back those memories of the stellar action of the classic games but with it being so much more than a QTE now, made it all the more refreshing. 

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All you know from the start is that Kratos and his son Atreus set off on a journey to the highest mountain in Midgard to scatter the ashes of their wife and mother. Kratos, being the same god killer we all remember from the past games is trying hard to keep the secret of his past from his son and at the same time teach Atreaus how to be a better person. Kratos has mellowed to the point where he is a lot less angry. He constantly throws words of wisdom at his son and if anything, is a great role model to the boy too. Atreus, on the other hand, is a young soul filled with excitement, often too much for Kratos to handle and it shows in the game's dialogue. Kratos keeps his son in line with an iron fist, so bad at times that I gasped at how rude Kratos was to him.

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Every parent to themselves I suppose but Kratos is torn between being the strong male figure in his son's life now that he is without a mother and letting his guard down and actually showing some affection towards his son. Part of what makes God of War so engrossing is the bond between the two characters and how it blossoms throughout the game. From teaching him how to hunt to being the kick in the butt when emotion overwhelms him after his first kill. Kratos and Atreus' bond and relationship in God of War is without a doubt one of the deepest and strongest I have experienced since the days of The Last Of Us. Often at times, I felt as if much of the inspiration for the relationship came from Naughty Dog's game, besides the giant ogres and deadly creatures that Kratos and Atreus meet along the way. 

Kratos and Atreus are also best partners when it comes to combat too. Atreus starts off with the simple ability to shoot arrows at enemies Kratos is fighting but later on, you can unlock much more like the ability to stun them and pull them to the ground. Exploration and puzzles are also met with a great backstory as Kratos cannot read Norse so Atreus has to translate it all for him. He can also get into spots Kratos cannot to pull down chains and open hatches. While much of this is pretty pre-determined in the game's path, there are quite a number of hidden puzzles and treasures to find along the way too. 

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God of War features a brand new revamped combat system and it works very well. Gone are the days of spamming a few buttons to pull off large combo numbers and welcome to a more tactical and streamlined combat system. With Atreus at his side, Kratos can lock onto enemies and dodge, heavy attack, light attack, toss his Leviathan Axe at them, and parry with a well-timed shield block. This combat system does mean fewer enemies on the screen at a time, but there were some tough moments where you need to juggle quite a few of them at once.

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The best part about the new combat system is how well it plays out and the Leviathan Axe is the key to unlocking its potential. Tossing the axe at an enemy's head to freeze it in place while pumping some fists into a Draug to get its stun gauge up so you can pull off a lethal kill and then whisk the axe back into your hand and slice some enemies up along the way was probably the most boring part about the combat. When I say boring, I mean not boring at all. It all got a lot more exciting as I progressed in the game and more skills unlocked. Enemies are also of many varieties and require different approaches. Some enemies cannot be killed with the axe at all so you need to plan accordingly.

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In later parts, enemies come in elements and you need to use Kratos' different abilities and weapons to counter them. This was one of the most exciting parts of the combat and it kept things intense as I had to switch from his axe to his fists to his fire weapon to counter the many enemies on screen at once. Of course, the great grab attacks are also back and better than ever. Instead of just waiting for an enemy to be grabbable, you need to stun them by building up a stun meter. This can be done with bare hands or a few arrows shot at them by commanding Atreus to do so. 

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Enemies are also tougher in some parts of the game, sometimes even a few levels higher than Kratos. You can challenge them and die in one hit or come back later. It was always exciting to face them though as it meant a real challenge awaited. The game's power level system means that some parts of the game are locked out to you due to the sheer difficulty of the enemies. Even after finishing the main game I found stronger enemies to fight in remote locations I never once visited throughout the main story. These include extra boss fights that will truly put your skills and gear to the test. 

Boss fights also benefit from the new combat system and while God of War lacks the range of boss fights you would expect from a God of War game, the ones in the main game, and secret boss fights, merge all of the great combat together to create an exciting and action-packed experience. 

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As you advance the game, more abilities will be unlocked by purchasing them with XP earned by killing enemies and completing bounty-like objectives like killing a set number of enemies a certain way. Abilities and skills are two different things in God of War. Abilities are additional combos and attacks that you can use at any given time. Skills are different and obtainable by finding them in chests and completing puzzles. Skills are actual new attacks that Kratos can pull off and much more powerful than his standard hack and slash. These can also be levelled up using XP and get more powerful the more you upgrade them. However, they do have a cooldown but are worth the use.

Some highlights skills include a massive wave of ice that travels along the ground and knocks back enemies and a blinding attack that deals damage and stuns them. Later on more skills are found across the world and deliver a much more powerful attack. These skills in combination with the abilities and various weapons Kratos uses creates a fantastic combat system that allows for versatility as well as investing in a specific attack style to take with you into fights. 

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Not forgetting Atreus is around too and while he starts off the game as a weak marksman, he grows into a powerful sidekick that is able to hold back enemies by jumping onto their backs and even kill them. He came in handy quite often especially thanks to his ability to spam electric arrows into enemies stunning them for Kratos to deal a heavy attack. He can even summon spectral animals that have specific attacks too. 

The game works on a power level with Kratos levelling this power stat up as you equip, upgrade and find new gear. Yes, this means that you can change the look of Kratos with new gear and each piece you find favours specific stats in the game. If you want to build Kratos into a strength powerhouse then there is gear for that. If you would rather have him attack faster with more defence then there is gear for that too. This then all comes together with the added enchantments that will boost stats even more. These can be unlocked by slotting in items you find into gear that has available slots. 

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Later on in the game, things get detailed as you can equip skills, gear that boosts those skills, and of course gear that boosts the stats that boosts that skill. It is a great way to invest in Kratos rather than just pumping blood into a weapon to unlock a combo. Brok, a Dwarven shopkeeper that follows Kratos around the world, will help you along the way and he is one of the best characters you will meet in the game. He has had a quarrel with his brother, Sindri for a couple of years now and whenever you see the two of them they are complaining about each other. 

God of War's gear system works very well and it makes you want to head out to farm for crafting materials so you can make that chest piece you have your eyes on. At the end of the game, I had a few high-end sets of gear that I used when I felt like changing things up. One set was a strength build that helped with standard and heavy attacks and one was a Runic build with a fast cooldown which meant I could use more skills and much faster too. The system allows for a great deal of experimenting. 

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God of War would be nothing without its world and Santa Monica Studios delivered a realm worth exploring. I seldom play with headphones on but I had a feeling it would have added even more detail to the already-exceptional game. I was right. Walking past a stream to hear water trickling on the rocks, flags blowing in the wind, Kratos' footsteps as they transitioned between snow and a puddle and of course the creatures screaming in the distance. We then have the soundtrack that left me with goosebumps throughout the game and those moments when you come face to face with the World Serpent and his voice crackles at your very soul as his deep sound travels across the planet. 

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The sound design alone in God of War deserves every bit of attention it gets as it is on a level of its own. It is all then brought to life with the world itself that is gorgeous at every angle. God of War has always stood above the rest when it comes to visuals and this time there is no doubt that the greatest task at hand was bringing the land to life. I often just stood and gazed into the distance at the wonders ahead. The smallest bit of detail like a water stain on the ground looks like it took days to perfect. Not to mention the actual characters and locations in the game that will leave you breathless. I do not want to spoil it but prepare yourself for a visual wonder of the likes you have never seen before. 

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It is also the first God of War to feel open in terms of the scale and freedom of the world. You can revisit almost any location you have seen before and even fast travel to some of them using the World Tree's doorways. This helps as there are a handful of collectables that will tick off a Labour (the game's bounty-like missions) on your list. Other NPCs will also give you side "Favours" to complete which are exciting side quests that take you to a different location completely to do a specific thing, and there is always blocked paths that need a specific item that you can go back and get when you obtain it. 

The game is all connected by a large lake that you and Atreus sail upon throughout most of the game. This acts as the main mode of getting around faster before you pull up to a dock and explore the realm or area you are in. The world seamlessly strings together perfectly and throughout the game, you will explore some gorgeous locations that take you across the various realms in Norse mythology. 

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Each location also houses dozens of side quests and puzzles to complete that will unlock new skills and gear. At the end of the game, I had a good few things to complete and a load of items to find. A good dozen hours of side quests too. The game also locks you out of some areas until you have a specific item to destroy a root blocking the way or an arrow to form a bridge across a gap. This means that you will keep going back to that said area to explore it as you progress the main game and gain new gear to do so. 

The magic of God of War is just how well it all forms together. Kratos was a one-dimensional character in the past sagas and now he is a father teaching his son how to be a better person. The world was linear and the combat system was repetitive and now you have a system that is so much more refined and worthy of the modern age. The biggest feat of God of War is how this could have all gone wrong as Santa Monica Studio attempted the impossible by bringing this series back to life in an age where gaming is very different. That to me deserves the utmost respect.

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God of War is a privilege to play and it is a must for all PS4 owners. It is the game you will remember for years to come. It is the game you will invest 50 hours into and it is the game that will give you goosebumps when you talk about it to your friends. It is without a doubt one of the greatest games of this generation.

Available On: PS4 | Reviewed On: PS4 Pro | Release Date: 20 April 2018 | RRP: R1069

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"At the end of the game, I had a good few things to complete and a load of items to find. A good dozen hours of side quests too."

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