In the pantheon of popular PlayStation intellectual properties, God of War occupies the throne room alongside other household names like Uncharted and Gran Turismo. But which is the best of Kratos’ bloody escapades to date? Ahead of the release of this year’s reimagining, we’ve returned to Ancient Greece in order to, er, order each of the Ghost of Sparta’s adventures thus far.
Santa Monica Studio was clearly struggling to find new material to explore within Greek mythology, as while Ascension had a lot of new ideas, none of them were that impressive. The headline addition was multiplayer, but this ultimately fell flat, and the single player’s story and boss battles weren’t memorable at all. It had a tough act to follow, releasing in the shadow of God of War III, which definitely didn’t help. It’s still a competent action game, but for our money, Ascension is the weakest entry in the series, and the lacklustre impact at launch reflected that.
The series is known for its graphical fidelity and over the top scale, so when Ready at Dawn were able to tick those two boxes on a PlayStation Portable game, the result was surprisingly strong. This was a full fat God of War adventure that took place before the original, and told the story of Kratos’ search for the missing Sun god, Helios. The developer made strides to humanise Kratos during the game’s famous scene where he reunites with his deceased daughter, but unfortunately the game’s largely forgettable story and short length held it back from true glory.
The game that started it all, Kratos’ debut adventure was a huge success on PS2. It struck a balance between the over the top action of Japanese character action games and the Western taste for spectacle, resulting in a blood-soaked adventure that proved very popular. While its combat, story, and visuals were great at the time, it has of course been outdone in these areas by later entries. However, David Jaffe’s achievements with this first instalment shouldn’t be understated - who can forget the game’s excellent opening battle against the Hydra?
Expanding upon the novelty of Ready at Dawn’s inaugural God of War adaptation, PlayStation Portable stop-gap God of War: Ghost of Sparta bridged the gap between the first entry and its subsequent console-based sequels. Much like Chains of Olympus, the ever-ambitious Ready at Dawn again attempted to humanise the cartoonish nature of Kratos’ character, introducing a family-based sub-plot involving both his mother (who he has to kill, obvs) and his brother (who he ends up fighting alongside). These human moments add depth to the brand as a whole, and despite launching on Sony’s ageing handheld system at the time, the visuals hold up remarkably well.
Picking up immediately after the events of God of War II (more on that in the paragraph below), the gorgeous God of War III took spectacle to unprecedented new levels. Its opening boss fight – a brawl to the death against water-based bigwig Poseidon – is a hall of famer, primarily because the spectacle takes place atop the titan Gaia, who just so happens to be scaling Mount Olympus while you duke it out. The game sticks rigidly to the blueprint adopted by its PS2 forebears, and for that reason it’s not quite as impactful overall. The puzzles are smart, though – Hera’s perspective-based hedge maze is a memorable highlight – and it brings Kratos’ arc to its natural conclusion with a face-smashing QTE that lasts for as long as you want it to.
The previous pinnacle of Sony Santa Monica’s character action franchise, God of War II looked and played so well that many at the time pondered why the 2007 sequel wasn’t releasing on the struggling PlayStation 3 – it certainly looked good enough. This instalment is perhaps best remembered for Zeus’ betrayal in the opening exchanges, which sees irate anti-hero Kratos embark on a blood-fuelled quest for vengeance, only to learn that the bearded deity is actually his daddy. Packed with memorable set-pieces and some cleverly designed puzzles, the second game in the series really embodied everything that the brand was originally about.
A change in direction means that God of War’s anticipated PlayStation 4 debut is the best entry yet. The new camera perspective brings about new gameplay possibilities, as Kratos lobs his axe at unsuspecting enemies – and lays the beat down with his bare fists. But while this version has all of the violent intensity of its predecessors, the protagonist’s relationship with his son Atreus makes him more relatable than ever before – and the pseudo-open world format delivers a sprawling sandbox that’s begging to be explored.
And there you have it. What do you make of our list? Do you agree with the order, or have we angered the Gods? Try not to get too aggressive in the comments below.