I don’t think I’ve ever been as scared to go back to a game as I have been with this one. In my original God of War review, one line picked out for the title has been haunting me: “I don’t think it’s possible to overstate how good this is.” I thought about that line a lot as the God of War PC release approached: was it hyperbole? Or did I just find myself caught up in the excitement of the moment and discover while revisiting it, that it wasn’t as incredible as I remember?
I am what the gods have made me
No, it’s still good. Even knowing the story inside and out at this point, stripped of the surprise of discovering everything for the first time, and approaching four years since release, God Of War is still such a rock solidly high level of quality that replaying it on PC has been consistently brilliant. The combat absolutely slaps, for example. After the sweeping range of the Blades of Chaos in the original trilogy, the more intimate heft and feedback of the viking axe adds an astonish feel to battles – nailing a sense of power and versatility that few games still manage to achieve. The world, displacing Kratos from an ornate ancient Greece to a more raw, naturalistic Norse land, is constantly a wonder: unfolding via a variety of surprises reveals into a semi open map you can explore as much as a tourist as conquer.
And then there’s Kratos himself. Everytime that bassy voice rumbles into life, like disappointed boulders sliding down a mountain, it’s impossible not to give him your full attention. Actor Christopher Judge imbues the character with such an incredible presence, it’s easily one of the stand out great performances in video games. What makes it even more memorable is that, for the most part, it’s balanced against Sunny Suljic’s portrayal of Atreus, Kratos’ son. Suljic was only 10 when he started the role, but handles it astonishingly well; playing against Judge’s power with a questing and keen curiosity, desperate desire to please his father, but all the while rattling around with all the impetuous brashness of childhood. Even now, knowing how things develop and where the story goes, it’s fascinating to watch the two trying to work together. Kratos, knowing only war and conflict, aims to prepare his son for the world as he sees it. Atreus, mainly raised by a more loving and positive (but now dead) mother, is just as likely to poke the big death trap button to see what it does as to listen to good ol’ dad.
The ‘dad game’ genre was a cliche almost as soon as it became a thing, and that’s in part because of God of War. Games like The Last of Us might have put unlikely characters together to form a bond over time, but this is not only explicitly about a father trying to raise a son, he’s also terrible at it. When Atreus asks for a story, one of the tales Kratos tells is of a prisoner sentenced to death biting off his mother’s ear in rage. That’s it. That’s the story. It’s also somehow the mother’s fault for not raising the son right. Great talk dad, thanks.
But through all this there are moments where you can see how much Kratos is trying. He can only see the world through his experience of it, and the move from Greece to Midgard is as much a metaphor for an old person trying to understand new changes as it is a cool way to reboot things. My absolute favourite moment is when, after a short mid-game heart to heart, Kratos looks Atreus in the eyes and, in barely a whisper, implores him: “you must be better than me.” That usually booming voice cracks and almost breaks. It’s a small beat but significant to see a character, who traditionally represents raw power, struggle with emotion while delivering a ‘don’t make my mistakes’ message. Not many games have a hero actively against you aspiring to be them.
You will always be a monster
Narratively it makes sense, but there’s almost a meta element here: now this has been out a while it ‘is’ God of War, the old games more or less a footnote in its history. But those older titles weren’t just ‘the game’ before this reboot, they were representative of most games of the era – violently misogynistic male power fantasies where women existed in two forms: beautiful reward or expositional crone. Kratos is dealing as much with his in-game past here, as he is his story one, addressing both his son, and games in general. It’s hard to play 2018’s installment and line it up with things like God of War 3’s Poseidon’s Princess character – a slave women with a back story (and now removed trophy) implying rape, who was eventually pulped in a door cog to solve a puzzle. Or the fact that there’s an entire wiki page on the topless women that have appeared in the original franchise. Would love to see what Kratos’ wife Faye, or the witch Freya, would have made of that.
But God of War is a story entirely about facing up to the past and dealing with it, and this game owns that on all fronts. Not always successfully as it turns out for some character arcs. If you haven’t played it yet I won’t spoil things, but the main villain Balder has a fascinating arc and, overall, this does tread on some complicated moral reasoning in places that’s a lot harder to untangle than something like The Last of Us 2’s clumsy ‘cycle of violence’ metaphors.
If there’s anything that now elicits a little ‘hmm’ here and there, is that this is absolutely the peak example of the PS4 blockbuster template. From its painted handy-hole ledge climbing, to its upgrade systems, UI, and more. It’s not really a criticism, more an observation having played so many Sony Santa Monica influenced games at this point. I’m still blown away now by how much I’m enjoying retreading a game I played not only for review, but also for guides – knocking up near enough 100 hours of retreading in search of collectibles, armor, and so on. Even knowing what’s coming, God of War still seems respectful of your time – opening up new areas to constantly keep things fresh and moving. Or opting for lots of varied groups of collectibles, rather than one ubiquitous uber-collectible filling the game in its hundreds. Finding six masks in one area, for example, is a far more approachable task. And you can sell them for cash, so there’s a point to it all beyond completionism.
It’s wild to think that God of War could be a 2022 GOTY contender on PC, particularly as PS4 owners will recognize it as being almost four years old at this point, but that only goes to show how well crafted an experience it is. There’s little in God of War PC that feels like it’s aged – no cracks in the gameplay or slack in the story. If you haven’t played it yet, now is as good a time as any to take a look. And if you have, it’s a great time to go back and relive it all again.
God of War is available via Steam from January 14, 2022. PS4 and PS5 owners should also consider replaying, ahead of the release of God of War Ragnarok later this year, or you can check out these games like God of War.