Somehow, we find ourselves approaching the final month of the year which again, has come around as quickly as Kratos’ fist looting a wooden chest. Over the next month, every one of our favourite gaming websites will host several articles discussing the pros and cons of several contenders for their Game of the Year, and God of War will be crowned by many with the accolade.
And I’ll read in bewilderment. You see, I didn’t get on with God of War. At all.
In fact, I was having such a frustrating and unrewarding experience that I threw the towel in just after the half-way point in the story (having quickly looked at an online wiki). Allow me to expand on some of the reasons why…
For what is described by many as an ‘open world’ game, God of War feels incredibly claustrophobic. Most of my ‘half-journey’ was spent inside caves, small rooms or caverns and I don’t remember the camera pulling back and ‘broadening the vista’ at any point as it would do in an Uncharted game for example. The problem is exasperated with a very narrow FOV, likely an unfortunate trade-off to maintain the quality of visuals.
I felt this game contained some of the biggest and repetitive clichés when it comes to gaming mechanics that I’ve seen since using ladders countless times to progress in The Last of Us. From the different kinds of ‘barriers’ which can be broken down after gaining a certain ability/weapon, to the locked chests that can only be opened by hitting three targets within a time limit, I felt as though these clichés were too obvious for this version of the God of War franchise. The ultra-high quality level of the visuals, script and acting achieves a level of realism that eclipses every one of its predecessors BUT, when coming across an obvious gaming mechanic like this, the realism is broken and more importantly, it is compounded when that mechanic is repeated over and over again.
It’s great that studios are taking the time to develop their characters on the inside, as well as the relationships between them. This approach truly makes the experience much more believable, but they must start considering the jarring contrast that happens by including a repetitive game mechanic. I’m already shuddering at the ‘ladder puzzles’ that TLOU2 might include.
As an example of the target-hitting challenges in God of War, the targets are often spread out and involve running to the first target, aligning your aim, throwing your axe, hitting the target, recalling your axe, catching it and repeating this for two additional targets. Also, Kratos is an old, hulking, cumbersome beast of a man and it really felt like I had to fight with the controls to achieve this. They were not fun but thankfully, at least they were optional.
The combat system is, as it always has been in the God of War games, beautifully complex. You can switch between weapons in the middle of combinations, each weapon set has a unique set of moves, the Leviathan Axe brings something new with the epic throw/retrieve mechanic and when Kratos’ fists are flying there’s a real sense of connection… you can almost feel his punches through the controller.
So WHY did I find the fights so frustrating!? I’m Kratos! I should be stamping all over basic enemies but they just keep getting up! I quickly lowered the ‘Hard’ difficulty I started with to ‘Normal’, but even at this setting, it felt like enemies had twice as many hitpoints as they should do. After finally putting every enemy down permanently it also felt as though I wasn’t sufficiently rewarded for my efforts. Often, I’d be able to open a chest which just seemed to result in a coloured ‘token’ that could be used to upgrade a weapon, but I would rarely notice the difference.
Part of the success of the God of War franchise can be put down to the epic boss fights, as Kratos confronted massive Titans and Gods of Olympus. Similarly, after a slightly subdued opening, the latest game introduces a rival character which quickly escalates into an incredibly vicious and visceral fight to the death. However, after this point almost every boss fight seemed to be a slightly different take on the same slightly over-sized ogre. Maybe this changes in the latter half of the game?
Of course, there were parts that I enjoyed; meeting the World Serpent for the first time was of the awesome scale that you would expect from a God of War game, the Witch’s ‘house’, and the aforementioned introduction boss fight were all extremely memorable parts of the experience. It’s just unfortunate that the main takeaway I’m left with from my ‘half-journey’ with Kratos and his son Atreus is one of frustration.