by Matthew Thompson
Despite having tried them before (some of the demos and a bit of the first game), I never really gave the God of War series a full shot. With a lull between new releases in the early part of the year, I’ve decided to rectify this now starting way back with the original title (though via the HD collection on PS3). While I may be late getting to this party, I’m glad I finally made it. Despite some issues with it, I loved this game.
One thing that doesn’t really work for me all that well is the story. There is no denying it is told well. The interspersed flashback scenes do a good job fleshing out the backstory of Kratos, I like the way the game is narrated and delving into God of War’s version of Greek mythology makes for some good entertainment. The truth is I’m just not the biggest fan of Kratos. I don’t particularly like playing the anti-hero in games. I always struggle to take the evil path when given the choice and this kind of character just isn’t for me. It doesn’t help that I don’t really buy Kratos’ sob story either. His actions before and since that night make it so it just doesn’t hit me as it is intended.
But you know what? I don’t care too much. This is an excuse for a tale of revenge that sends Kratos barreling through Athens killing all sorts of mythological creatures on his way to slay a god. And it’s fun! While the game is a fairly balanced action/adventure title, it is about the combat first and foremost. I don’t think it necessarily put its best foot forward in this regard either. The game never has the depth to compete with the best combat/action titles on the market (Ninja Gaiden, Bayonetta and Devil May Cry), but it feels really shallow at first. But as I unlocked more moves and magic, it really improved. Newer enemies later in the game (like Satyrs) really helped too. And maybe most of all, the Blades of Chaos are just so cool. Whipping around these bad boys just feels great and it’s hard to not have a good time despite the mashy nature of the combo system. The QTE finishers even work better here than in most games and I like how they have a strategy to them since doing them yields different types of orbs sometimes.
Not everything works though. Besides its relative lack of depth, I don’t love dodging with the right stick. I got used to it, but it really feels inferior to doing Block + Left Stick which seems like the norm for these types of games since using the right stick pulls your thumb off the attack buttons. It just slows down the combat a bit and it doesn’t really need to. One plus for the game is how you are fighting in varied scenarios like on moving platforms or while climbing walls, but some of these are just designed poorly and end up being more annoying than interesting. I’d also have loved more boss fights. I liked what was here save the final phase of the end boss (why I am using a sword?), but it could have used more of them. Speaking of swords, the alternate weapon, the Blade of Artemis, was really forgettable especially next to the blades.
If the combat was underwhelming at first, the platforming seemed borderline terrible. Though like the combat, it grew on me as I got used to its quirks. Overall I think it’s a solid system to add some variety to the gameplay. At the very least I prefer it to some of the more automated stuff in today’s games. I appreciate that they had some actual obstacles and challenges to overcome in the traversal sections. It helps them not just feel like filler between fights. I do wish some of these parts were tuned better. Some are simply badly designed and the fixed camera seems to work against you at times. In the end I’m glad it’s a part of the game, but I’m hoping they work to improve this aspect as I make my way through the series.
The highlight of the game for me was definitely Pandora’s Temple particularly before you go to the Cliffs of Madness (though the final puzzle to get the last skull after the cliffs is also really cool). As you make your way through the temple you keep uncovering more layers to this intricate structure as you try to solve what is essentially one massive puzzle. The way the level sort of wraps around itself often dropping you back in old places with minimal backtracking is really well-done. The Minotaur was also by far my favorite of the boss fights which helped solidify just how excellent a level this was.
- The scale was impressive and it is even more so in 2 which I started playing yesterday. 3 must be nuts!
- Not crazy about the fixed camera, but it did make for some cool camera angles and views at times.
- I ran into some glitches and messed up checkpoints. These compounded with some of the game’s worse sections had me a little angry!
- I imagine in the real Hell they make you play through this game’s version of Hell over and over, but just with faster spinning blades.
I’ll admit when I first started playing this I wasn’t too impressed. I think in the back of my mind I remembered all the perfect scores and praise it got, so some of the issues were bothering me a lot. I even remarked to some friends that the balance beam walking alone should knock it down half a point (and it probably should!). The story didn’t resonate that well with me, the combat is a notch below the best in gaming, the platforming is way behind its likely inspiration and the puzzles aren’t exactly Portal or anything. But when you take these together with the presentation and graphics. With the stunning art direction and brutal animations. It all adds up to a great, well-balanced action/adventure game which despite some of the issues I experienced with it, I really enjoyed.
I plan on working through the rest of the God of War series throughout this year, so I’ll be back to chime in with more thoughts on it as I continue. Thanks for reading!