by Matthew Thompson
I spent the early parts of 2014 catching up with the God of War series and am really glad I finally jumped in. It’s an impressive series overall and while a couple entries fell a little flat for me, I found it to be a fairly well balanced action/adventure game and makes me really curious what Sony’s Santa Monica studio is up to next. Today I will be ranking the six entries in the series so far and explaining a little on why they landed where they did (also worth noting is that I played all of these on PS3).
6. Chains of Olympus: In pretty much every way, Chains of Olympus feels worse than its God of War brethren. The combat is incredibly shallow even by GoW standards and enemies don’t react properly to your attacks which makes fights more annoying than they should be. Probably as a result of being developed at the same time as the second title, it is lacking most of the advancements that game made so if you played these in release order, Chains of Olympus feels like a big step back. And it all seems so small from the levels to the bosses to the actual game’s length clocking in at a measly four and a half hours.
5. Ascension: Part of this might be fatigue. This was the last game I got to, so maybe I was just worn out on the formula a little. There are some good ideas at work here. The new grapple mechanic that lets you grab one enemy while hitting others with your free blade is quite cool. I think the button-less minigames are some of the best handled QTEs I have come across. I’m not sure the elemental blades are better than the alternative, but I can see the benefits of the change. And the graphics of course are stunning. But for everything it does right, it does something else wrong. I hate the change to the parry mechanic. Climbing has been changed for the worse. But I think most of all it is lacking the kind of memorable moments that make the best games in the series so… well… memorable. It all just feels a little ho-hum. I’d still say it’s a good game, but if this series is going to continue on, some big changes need to be made to freshen things up.
4. Ghost of Sparta: I feel bad putting this at fourth, but it is more that I just enjoy the other games more. I think all four of these top games are great. If you look at this as strictly a sequel to Chains of Olympus, it might be one of the most improved sequels of all-time. They got the combat right this time. Some of 2 and 3’s enhancements are included now. But I think what I enjoyed most was the way Ready at Dawn added their own flavor to things. The fiery modifier to the blades was a great addition as was the classic Spartan spear and shield combo. The locations like Atlantis feel really unique to the series and the enemies that came along with them worked really well. And it probably had my favorite story in these games dealing with Kratos’ long lost brother. If I had to put a couple of marks against it, I’d say that much like CoO it feels a bit small and cramped. Probably due to being on the PSP I suppose. But its narrower, more linear level design held it back a little. And while not as short as its handheld predecessor, it fell well short of the console entries in terms of playtime.
3. God of War: This one is a little tough to place. I had it at number two and then dropped it here. Being the first in the series means it is a little rough around the edges. It includes some of the series lowest moments like the terrible balance beam walking and the Hades level. The mechanics in general haven’t had the chance to be interated on either, so they lack the depth of other entries. But I can forgive some of this because it is the game that set this formula up. The series combination of fun combat, solid traversal and surprisingly clever puzzles all on an epic scale really resonated with me. Pandora’s Temple still remains one of my favorite levels in the series. And while I still don’t buy Kratos’ sob story, this game has the most cohesive narrative of the trilogy before it lost its way in the sequels. Overall it was a great start for a new series, but also a little too flawed since it was their first stab at it which puts it at number three in the rankings.
2. God of War III: This game actually ended up creeping into my best of this gen list as a late addition, so I’ll have more of a chance to talk about it then. If it weren’t for an odd direction the story goes in and the rather disappointing ending, I could honestly see a pretty good debate for it being in the top spot for the series. Of course, those things can’t be ignored. I do think it has the best combat and bosses. Little tweaks like splitting magic and items apart and adding the air dodge were really nice. And by the gods… the scale! It’s seriously insane as is Kratos’ character model. It’s definitely one of the best looking games I have ever played. God of War III is a great game marred by some ill-advised choices they made with the narrative to close out the trilogy.
1. God of War II: For God of War II, it feels like Sony’s Santa Monica Studio got rid of the stuff that didn’t work in the first game, kept all the good stuff and then added a bunch of stuff I didn’t even know I wanted all while cranking everything up to 11. Subtle improvements like being able to traverse quicker and a tweaked moveset for the blades makes for a smoother, more fun experience. And more obvious additions like the grapple swing, Icarus wings and projectile counters added depth to both platforming and combat. There were more boss fights… and they were of a higher quality. Stronger level and encounter design. Not to mention probably one of the best opening levels I’ve ever played as Kratos’ squares off against the Colossus of Rhodes in a level-spanning boss battle. Everything is bigger and better in God of War II including the game itself which is the longest by a couple hours. While that isn’t always automatically a positive, when the game is as strong from start to finish as this one, it is a very, very good thing. Ultimately God of War II was an easy choice for my favorite game in the series.
Well that will do it for my ranking of the God of War series. I might be back to cover my favorite bosses in this franchise, but I may be a little God of Warred out for now… so not sure. What are your favorite games in the series? Let me know in the comments below. Thanks for reading!