by Matthew Thompson (All images courtesy of the God of War III page found here)
(I am counting down my 25 favorite games of the last console generation. I explain a little about how I put the list together in this introduction. And you can see a collection of all my articles on the Best of 7th Gen compiled here.)
The God of War series dominated my time spent gaming in early 2014 when I played through all six entries in about a month and a half. I fell hard for the series, so much so that I found myself sneaking the third entry into this list as a late addition. As such, it is the one I feel most wary about. Will it be a game that in time I look at less fondly or will I perhaps appreciate it more in the coming years? I can’t say for sure, but the fast fun combat, top-notch visuals and immense sense of scale have me feeling like it very much deserves this spot in my Best of 7th Gen list.
Before I start laying on the praise, let me get one thing out of the way. The ending from a story standpoint was a disappointment. Pandora and even worse HOPE(!) just left me shaking my head at how they decided to wrap up this trilogy. If someone said that was reason enough for this to be blackballed from their list of best games of last gen, I’d understand. While I recognize this blemish, the plot never really worked for me in the series to begin with. Kratos isn’t my kind of character and I find his “tragic” backstory (particularly the part laid out in the first game) to have giant holes in it. So ultimately this doesn’t hurt the game for me as much as it does for some.
Okay onto the good stuff. God of War II really upped the scale from the original. Moving to PlayStation 3, one would expect God of War III to take things to a whole new level and it does not disappoint in this regard. The game kicks off with you climbing Mount Olympus on the back of the titan Gaia while fighting the Greek God of the Sea, Poseidon. It is a genuine “wow” moment. Not just the scale or the visuals which are almost unrivaled on the PS3, but thinking about it from a technical standpoint you can’t help but be impressed. The way Gaia moves and shifts as you fight even reminds me of Uncharted 2’s train sequence a bit.
In general the setpieces in God of War III are the best I’ve seen outside of Naughty Dog’s treasure hunting series. Along with the game’s jaw-dropping opening sequence, there was the fight against Cronos. Part setpiece, part boss fight it once again shows just how big Sony Santa Monica went with this sequel. You can’t forget ripping off the hulking titan’s fingernail or swinging around his massive body to try to get in position for the killing blow.
And as awe-inspiring as those two battles were, neither is my favorite boss in the game. That would probably go to Hercules or Hades. Kratos’ half-brother represents a different kind of foe than many of the series more gargantuan fights, but one that is no less satisfying. The confrontation against Hades in Kratos’ umpteenth trip through the underworld is another stellar showdown. Throw in a battle with Zeus that plays out like a 2D fighting game, and you end up with not just the best sets of bosses in the God of War series, but one of my favorite in gaming period.
Of course what goes hand in hand with the boss fights is the combat which is also the series’ best. The only addition that might be considered substantial is the ability to take control of enemies and turn them against the rest of your opposition which can be pretty fun. Otherwise, it’s just small tweaks and further refinements of what had been established in the first two outings. Separating magic and items allows for easier use of ranged weapons without draining your magic meter giving you more options during encounters. And of course new versions of both are included. There is the addition of the air dodge gained my cutting down Hermes and the new grapple move (L1 + circle) which gives you a way to quickly close the gap between you and enemies as well as counter one of the God of War III’s baddies. I even appreciated the new style of quick time events that moved the giant button prompts to the periphery of the screen which goes a good ways towards solving my biggest gripe with this mechanic. When all this is added to the incredibly fun and fast existing combat formula with one of gaming’s premiere weapons in the Blades of Chaos, you really have a winning combination.
Combat has always been the strongest aspect of God of War’s gameplay, but I feel the puzzles and platforming are good enough that they end up adding to the experience as opposed to being something you just want to be done with so you can get back to the hacking and slashing. Gone is the wretched balance beam walking that plagued the original game, back are the Icarus wings and grapple swings of the second and the series staple of wall climbing, and into the mix come a new wall-run move and the ability to hop between harpies. Prince of Persia this is not, but the platforming here is still an enjoyable component of God of War III. The same can be said of the puzzles. The one that stands out to me takes place in Hera’s Garden and reminded me of a work of M.C. Escher (I wrote my Senior Seminar paper in college on the mathematical concepts found in Escher’s work so this kind of thing is always a plus for me). It also had you use your step-mother’s corpse to weigh stuff down which helped give it that unique God of War feel.
And while I touched on it briefly before, I must reiterate that the graphics are amazing. The amount of detail packed into this game is astounding and the image quality is as good as anything last gen. I still can’t believe just how impressive Kratos looks up close. And with this greater visual fidelity comes even more intense violence. Things are brought to an almost disturbingly gruesome level here. Your jaw will drop the first time you gut a centaur and see his entrails pour out or stab a chimera with its own horn. While this might seem over the top in some other games, it fits perfectly in God of War and acts as a blood-drenched boon to the final product overall. And on the less realistic front, I like the stylized look that was given to make magic and some of the cutscenes standout. That kind of thing is always hit or miss, but it worked for me here.
God of War III isn’t without its issues. The story’s ending is probably the biggest flaw of any game I’ve had on this list so far. There are other small things that bother me too, like tying each magic to a particular weapon. But it also has higher highs than the games I’ve talked about so far. And maybe just as importantly, it is my kind of game. As we climb up this list, we will see it shift more and more towards action/adventure games and platformers. And God of War III is a damn fine action/adventure game, one filled with the fun mash-y combat, enormous scale, memorable boss fights and beautiful visuals that make the series special to me.
A few more things:
- This was the easy pick for God of War this gen though I still like God of War II better. You can see my full God of War series ranking here, if you missed it a couple of months back.
- God of War has many versions of Hell throughout the series and this is clearly its best. There is a nice progression here. Getting the Bow of Apollo to help move forward. Taking out the God of the Underworld before journeying back up to Olympus. Great stuff.
- Clue for #21: A spinoff whose initial reveal left me a bit disappointed, but whose final game won me over completely.