Hitbox Impressions: God of War

A mass-murdering god with anger issues must now face his greatest challenge yet: become a good father.

Developer: Santa Monica Studio

Release date: April 20, 2018

Platforms: PlayStation 4

Price: $19.99

God of War doesn’t have any loading screens with “helpful hints” beyond the initial load when starting the game. It also has a shaky-camera perspective that follows Kratos, the Spartan god of war, closely behind his back. The story begins with the recent death of Kratos’ wife, Faye. He and his young son, Atreus, must travel to the top of the highest peak in Midgard to scatter Faye’s ashes in accordance with her last request.

Kratos isn’t the best father, but he’s trying. Screenshot courtesy of godofwar.playstation.com.

This cinematic storytelling approach succeeds in making the player feel more immersed in the Nordic-mythology-inspired realms of God of War. In practice, nobody is going to be playing the game in a single 32-hour sitting, but it completely eliminates the disconnect from the game the player feels when reading about how to pull off a combo attack while waiting for the next area to load.

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Each time the player starts the game, they’re met with a long loading screen, but after that, it’s smooth sailing, literally, there are small boats that Kratos and Atreus can travel in. I never really noticed that there weren’t any loading screens for the time I played God of War, but that’s the point. If it’s working well, then nobody will notice.

Since God of War is so story focused, just about the worst thing you can do to ruin the experience of playing it is to watch all the cutscenes on YouTube, which is exactly what I did last year. However, much like how I noted in my Uncharted 4 review, I still feel myself becoming invested in the story and wanting to push further to see what will happen next despite knowing a few major plot points.

I also wanted to see how impressive some of the key moments looked on a big 60-inch TV screen instead of my computer monitor. The difference was very noticeable, especially when encountering the World Serpent, Jörmungandr for the first time. Atreus noted the legend of Jörmungandr spanning the entire world to which Kratos reacted skeptically, but judging by the serpent being able to lay on top of entire mountains, I’m convinced at least.

God of War’s scale and spectacle never cease to amaze, especially with Jörmungandr. Screenshot courtesy of godofwar.playstation.com.

God of War is really about the father-son relationship. There are some really thought-provoking concepts being touched on. For example, part of Kratos’ bloody history is killing an entire pantheon of gods with unrelenting rage. So when Kratos sees Atreus displaying that same emotion, it deeply troubles him. Maybe that’s why Kratos has been so distant to his son, as he’s afraid he will somehow corrupt him. He feels a responsibility to teach Atreus to control it and not let it control him as it did Kratos. It seems to me that plenty, if not all father-son relationships are complicated.

The average age of a gamer in 2014 was 31 years old according to an Entertainment Software Association report. So, I hope more games will take inspiration from God of War and explore more facets, not just of father-son relationships, but parental and child relationships in general.

Like so many other AAA PlayStation 4 games, God of War looks amazing, from the characters to the water’s ripples in the Lake of Nine. For all the incredible-looking textures, God of War still couldn’t find a compromise between graphics and frame rate, at least on the base-level PlayStation 4, which is what I was playing on. God of War runs at 30 frames per second on the PlayStation 4 and can reach up to 60 frames per second with the PlayStation 4 Pro while the game is in Performance Mode.

Naturally, playing at 30 frames per second just doesn’t feel as smooth and fluid as 60. Part of the problem that I encountered was that I had turned the motion blur slider all the way down since I wanted to admire the beautiful backdrops instead of them being blurry while moving, which caused me to notice the low frame rate more. It was especially prevalent during combat where fast reactions and split-second timing are required to dodge and parry attacks. However, I found that leaving motion blur at the default setting of maximum mostly cleared up that problem and God of War felt noticeably better to play, although with the background being a blur at times. I still would have preferred God of War look a little worse than be forced to play at a low frame rate. How a game feels to play should always trump everything else, at least in the case of action games. Otherwise, why make a game in the first place if the gameplay doesn’t feel good?

The Leviathan Axe is Kratos’ primary weapon in God of War, aside from his fists which he uses to great effect. In function, the Leviathan Axe acts more like Thor’s hammer than anything else. The player can throw the axe and recall it to their hand. The axe can even hit enemies while it’s being recalled. It looks and feels incredible, especially when throwing the axe at an enemy’s head, recalling it when it flashes after bouncing off and then throwing it at them again for extra damage.

Remember to tell Atreus to fire arrows while you’re hacking away at enemies with Kratos’ Leviathan Axe. Screenshot courtesy of godofwar.playstation.com.

The physicality with which Kratos handles the axe makes every hack and slash feel weighty and incredibly impactful. Even though Kratos is a god with the strength to lift huge stone pillars with ease, he puts maximum effort into every swing. There are plenty of special runic attacks to find too, so there’s plenty of variety and seeing them never gets old. I’m especially fond of Leviathan’s Wake, which causes Kratos to gear up to throw the axe like he’s an MLB batter and with so much force that it plows through enemies and knocks them to the ground.

That same effort is also felt in how he sprints. It feels like he’s actually in a hurry, unlike characters in some other games. When Kratos is running, he’s not out for a Sunday stroll.

God of War is yet another incredible single-player PlayStation-exclusive. I just can’t help but wonder how it could truly shine if it was on PC and with a steadily higher frame rate. With Sony recently bringing Horizon Zero Dawn to PC and their confirmation of even more first-party titles in a 2020 corporate report according to PC Gamer, it might just be a matter of time. I still had a good time playing it on the PlayStation 4 and I think you will too, especially if you have a Pro. God of War has kept me playing way longer than I should have on more than a couple nights and I can’t wait to do it again.