God of War may just be the greatest comeback story of all time. After the by-the-numbers God of War Ascension, it felt like the curtain had closed on Kratos and Sony Santa Monica’s character action brand. But returning director Cory Barlog and his crew ripped up the franchise rule book, changing the camera perspective and humanising a character who’d gradually turned into an oafishly irate cartoon. Our favourite title of 2018 is not only a textbook example of PlayStation’s penchant for narrative-driven, single player adventures – it’s also brilliantly designed.
This is one of those rare achievements where all of its strengths come together to create an unparalleled whole. As a narrative, the transition to Norse mythology gives Kratos a fresh start, but fans who’ve been following the Greek god since his inception in 2005 will eke more out of the story, as the fallen deity wrestles with his past. The title captures the internal struggles of the character brilliantly, and it’s aided by outstanding one-shot cut-scene direction and memorable performances by the likes of Stargate SG-1 star Christopher Judge.
But this isn’t the kind of walk-and-talk affair that franchises like Uncharted have (unfairly) attracted criticism for: God of War is a game – and it’s a good one. Combat is always going to be the key attribute in Kratos’ arsenal, and the Leviathan Axe changes the way that Kratos attacks. In addition to being a close-quarters melee weapon, the fact that the Ghost of Sparta can also lob it is a literal game changer, as it incorporates a meaningful ranged ability to his roster. Factor in all of the combos that can be performed with this new throwing move, and you have the recipe for some sublime battles.
But it’s the armament’s implementation into the game world which really sets God of War apart from its predecessors. Boasting a sprawling hub world that can be explored by boat, every part of the Lake of Nine is interactive, with puzzles to solve and secrets to find. It makes exploration engaging, and with lore weaved into every area, you’ll want to see absolutely every inch that’s been crafted. That it looks so absurdly beautiful and is used as a tool to strengthen the bond between Kratos and his son Atreus is merely the icing on the cake.
We said in our review that this is a special title, the kind that doesn’t come around often – and so it has proven to be true. Let’s not be revisionists, Kratos was always an iconic character and God of War has always been a critically acclaimed franchise – but by taking the story in an unexpected direction and altering the gameplay for the better, Sony Santa Monica has elevated this series to a whole other level. It’s rare for a 30 hour campaign to leave you on tenterhooks, desperately anticipating the next exciting instalment – but then this isn’t any other game, is it?
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Was God of War your Game of the Year? Do you think we've given Kratos too much credit here? If you've got an axe to grind, then do it in the comments section below.