God of War 4 Review

It takes a brave developer to entirely change the formula of a long-running, highly successful series. “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” rings true for many franchises. To change the fundamentals of a series risks upsetting a fanbase that may have been around for, at times, decades. For Sony Santa Monica to change the very fabric of God of War is a phenomenal gamble – but one that, for the most part, pays off.
God of War is superb, offering a stunningly detailed and lush world built with a level of detail that makes it wondrous to explore. It also has room to breath, allowing Kratos and Atreus’ roller-coaster relationship to build into something that can almost rival The Last of Us’ Ellie and Joel. While a lot has changed for God of War, it still holds one of the most satisfying and entertaining combat systems in gaming.
Many give Kratos a rough ride, discarding him as a one-dimensional angry meathead, but this does him a monumental disservice. Kratos is one of the greatest characters in video games, and this story adds so much more depth to an already excellent persona.
Kratos is a man conflicted. Having fled Sparta among all the death and destruction caused by his hands but not his heart, Kratos seeks a quieter life. The story begins at the funeral of Kratos’ wife, and we follow him and his son, Atreus, as they seek to lay her ashes at the largest peak in all the realms.
Sony Santa Monica does an astounding job of portraying Kratos’ inner conflict, despite him saying very little. While Atreus may do most of the talking (and often, complaining), it’s Kratos’ restraint that speaks volumes.
Choosing to hide his past from everyone, including Atreus, results in his son feeling unwanted, unloved and unworthy. The cinematography displays Kratos’ internal struggle through his facial detail; he’s stern, downright harsh in fact, to Atreus as the boy comes up against the truth, giving the story much weight. At times I found myself leaning towards the screen, begging Kratos to tell Atreus the truth, only for silence to befall the scene. It’s heartbreakingly brilliant.

The story certainly takes its time to unfold. God of War is far slower paced than its predecessors, which may not sit well with some fans. Give it the time it demands, however, and the payoff is definitely worth it.
None of this storytelling would be half as impactful if it wasn’t for the simply astonishing visuals. The level of detail across the board is jaw-dropping. In particular, the facial detail in cut-scenes is amazing, but the difference in visuals between cutscene and gameplay is negligible. There were times when the game stood still, as I hadn’t realised that control had returned to me. It’s absolutely stunning.
Moving from Greek to Norse mythology, God of War makes superb use of the source material, bringing in some wonderful characters and creatures that are as entertaining as they are beautiful to look at.
With the story taking Kratos and Atreus into different realms, each one takes on its own distinctive character and identity thanks to a beautiful use of vibrant colour schemes. Without spoiling where you go or what you’ll see, just know you’ll be capturing plenty of shots along the way; so many frames appear painted, particularly on PS4 Pro.
When fights flow, they’re a thing of beauty. Even in challenging encounters, I never felt undone by something beyond my control. On occasion, my weaponry and armour simply weren’t strong enough; in others I was outdone by the better opponent. The level of strategy in play is superb.
There’s now much more depth to the game, too, thanks to the upgrade tree and ability to unlock new armour. This isn’t a simple case of ‘new equipment = better’, either; you have to study what each new piece of kit brings to the table and assess if it benefits how you play.

There are numerous stats to consider: defence, strength, runic, vitality, cooldown and luck. Your three pieces of armour (chest, bracers and waist) will only improve two or three, so choosing the right one is important. It’s a neat touch, and again adds a layer to the series that didn’t exist before.
As superb as the combat is, sadly, there’s one area that’s unbelievably poor – especially for a God of War game. Boss fights simply don’t have the frequency nor impact that the series is known for. In addition, the main boss encounters are too short-lived to be memorable, while the ‘B-tier’ big boys are so repetitive they become somewhat monotonous.
There are two or three types of B-tier boss fights, all involving the same form of enemy, all requiring the same strategy to beat – and it’s so disappointing. God of War has always been known for its larger-than-life bosses, but here they’re simply a sideshow.
Another sour note is that, since this is the start of a new trilogy, the conclusion doesn’t quite have the bombastic climax towards which it is building. It’s all a bit serene, which is a shame, but there are plenty of nods to a sequel – more than enough to keep me invested.
I expected great action from God of War, and it delivers that handily. But I didn’t expect it to be a thrilling journey in which every aspect of it complements the others to form what is nothing short of a masterpiece. It’s a game in which Kratos, a previously one-note character, becomes a complex father, warrior, and monster, embattled both on the field and within his own heart about how to treat his son; one in which the world opens up and shifts, offering rewards in both gameplay and knowledge of its lore that I treasured with each accomplishment. The obvious care that went into crafting its world, characters, and gameplay delivers by far the most stirring and memorable game in the series.