God of War was the pinnacle of the hyper-violent male fantasy in video games, but now it's grown up and tackled the mistakes of it's past in this beautiful treasure of a sequel.
The God of War series has always been such a crazy thing to me. I've always been a lover of Greek mythology, and the series definitely takes some liberties. There's also the gratuitous violence (which isn't a big deal), the weird sex mini-game (which is disgusting), and serious overshadowing of the plot - which should have definitely been much more of a focus. The original games were meant as more of a power fantasy than an actual story with compelling characters.
I was surprised when I first saw the trailer for the new game. Not only was it atmospheric and toned down - evoking more of a Last of Us kind of vibe. There was still that trademark gore, but it lacked the gratuitous nature of the original series. Instead, it looked like it helped paint the bleak and violent picture that Nordic mythology usually paints. The story also diverged from the original, in the sense that it played more of an active part in how the game. It's not a two-dimensional vehicle for violence with some random bits of sentimentality thrown in between.
Of course, there's a lot you can get from a trailer. The final product... totally lived up to the hype.
In God of War, you play as Kratos, decades after the events of the previous series. Your wife has died, and you are burning her and taking her ashes to the highest peak in all of the nine realms. Along the way, you encounter various enemies and even a few allies. It seems Norse gods don't like outsiders, and Kratos, being the Greek God of War, is definitely an outsider. Oh, and you've got a son that you have to take to the top of mountain with you - and you're struggling really hard with being a father.
Where to start? The gameplay is a dream - it's simple, action-packed, and gory in this perfect way. Instead of having a third person camera hovering over the entire battlefield, you are over Kratos' shoulder. You are forced to pay attention to the battlefield and use everything that you had - otherwise you'll die. And it's not just bosses that are difficult, even draugrs - the common mob - can kill you in the very beginning of the game. But the game does give a lot to play with - you have a shield and a powerful axe that you can modify.
Plus, you have Atreus, your son, who fights with you and actually helps. It's crazy, because I'm so used to AI being basically useless in battle, but Atreus is useful.
All of this serves the story really well. As you fight these gods, and work with Atreus, you are going on a very personal journey with Kratos. Early on in the game, you are told that your wife has passed away, and Kratos doesn't know how to be a father. Throughout the game, you see his attempts, and it's heartbreaking. Unlike the previous games in the series, Kratos' family trauma is front and center, and we are forced to experience the consequences of his past and his fear that he'll break his son.
It's poignant and beautiful and completely changes Kratos as a character, or adds to him. And that's what makes this game so great.
The difficulty is punishing at times, it's almost Dark Souls level. I tried playing the game on normal and I struggled hard. Difficulty is great, but I wasn't expecting it from God of War - I appreciate it on some levels, but it also makes enjoying the story even harder. But, this is the only really bad thing I've encountered.
THE BOTTOM LINE
God of War grew up. It's no longer this weird, intense bastardization of Greek myths. Instead, it's a thoughtful exploration into the dangers of toxic masculinity and the struggle of being a single father who feels totally unequipped to actually be a father. It's beautiful, difficult and fun to play. It's definitely worth the $60 asking price.
Shann Smith is a lover of video games and has played them since he could hold a controller. He is a freelance writer, playwright, screenwriter, and also writes the Video Gay-Mer column on Popdust. If you have any games you'd like him to unpack, hit him up.
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