Last we saw Kratos, he still enjoyed getting hammered on a bottle of red, participating in a well-lit orgy and slaying Greek gods in ways that a teenager might storyboard onto the back of a ruled notebook. He and his franchise thrived on adrenaline, any inner turmoil serving as a springboard for ultraviolence, rather than an emotional well to be drawn from. Times change, and the new God of War, part sequel (the story continues from where it left off) and part reboot (the adventure is slower and the characterization more thoughtful), has more heroic ambitions for the notorious antihero.
These visuals don’t boil down to glorified matte paintings. Unlike in other action games, where spectacle happens around the hero while they fight inside a controlled arena, Kratos and Atreus step into these dense backgrounds. That massive lane in the lake becomes a pathway to an elven kingdom, filled with fights and puzzles. The giant serpent rests languidly around the world’s central hub. And the camera never cuts away. There are no load screens.
As a technical achievement, the single shot is mind-bending, a never-ending “how did they pull this off?” Open-world sequences seamlessly transition into cinematic showdowns into lengthy trips in the canoe — without a stutter. Because the game can’t cut away, or skip ahead in time or space, you must follow Kratos on every step from one location to the next. As a result of the decision, the world is big and condensed all at the same time. There’s a lot to see, but God of War’s designers have been creative in how they minimize backtracking. Generally, you can see where you’re going or where you came from, as paths through castles and cliffsides have you doubling back, creating shortcuts or secret passages back to the main route. (You eventually gain access to a tool that makes travel simpler and faster, all without breaking the game’s single long camera take. It’s neat.)
It sounds Dark Souls-ish because it is Dark Souls-ish. That comparison extends to the combat, which — especially in the extremely difficult postgame content — does a good (if imperfect) impression of everybody’s favorite masocore series. Borrowed inspiration isn’t limited to the Souls franchise. Fights involve an unusual but effective hodgepodge of genres: Ax melee attacks handle like an old-fashioned beat-’em-up; ax throws work like a sniper rifle, the weapon returning to Kratos with the tap of a button; Atreus (whom you can command to fire arrows) behaves almost like an RPG party member, flanking large enemies and stunning packs into position for attacks.
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