By the time the credits rolled on 2010’s God of War III, Kratos – the shouty, chain-wielding, revenge-taking protagonist – was really starting to get on my tits. He’d become a one-note bore, a hyper-masculine, invincible douche bro who couldn’t stop blaming everyone else for the problems his own violent dipshittery had exacerbated over the previous couple of games. Worse still, he’d become predictable and just not that much fun to play. This feeling persisted in sorta-prequel, 2013’s God of War: Ascension, an otherwise excellent hack-and-slash adventure that felt inessential due to a protagonist who didn’t have anything new to bring to the table. “Reckon I’m about done with the God of War series,” I mused, and gave it no further thought.
Cut to: 2018 and the much anticipated release of God of War – a new entry in the series that acts as a sequel, reboot and reimagining all in one.
An indeterminate amount of time has passed for Kratos, who now sports a hefty lumberjack beard, and his chains are nowhere to be seen. When we first meet him he’s preparing his significant other’s funeral pyre, assisted by his son, Atreus.
Wait, what, son?! Kratos has children???
Yes, it seems our bald-bonced deity-slapper sprogged up and the experience has caused the former “Ghost of Sparta” to calm down a bit, and reflect on his past misdeeds. Although having children has caused your real-life friends to become unutterably tedious, the experience has improved Kratos no end. Instead of posting basically the same photo of Atreus over and over and over again (we get it, Charmaine, your kid’s wearing a hat! Sew adorbs, you guyz), Kratos is trying to be a good father, a positive example, and bring up a decent being in the world of Norse mythology.
A fresh pantheon of Gods and a brand new outlook aren’t the only big changes in GoW, we also have a perspective shift to behind Kratos’ shoulder, similar to the POV from The Last of Us. Essentially the game appears to take place in one long, uninterrupted take, which gives a sense of immediacy and grittiness absent from the other titles. The tradeoff here is that you won’t get the series’ signature zoom-out-to-showcase-the-size-of-the-environment/monster but it’s a conceit that really works. The story starts off with very low stakes, Kratos and sonny boy explore the strange lands to scatter some ashes from atop a mountain, and things build from there. Of course the plot twists and turns like a massive serpent, but I won’t reveal any of the specifics here. Needless to say, Norse mythology is a great belief system to tackle and by the end of the game’s 30ish hours you’ll have executed feats of daring and strength that are some of the most memorable in the series.
The biggest surprise in God of War is not how much fun the new Thor-like, boomeranging, Leviathan Axe is to use, because the series has always had excellent combat. Nor is it a huge stretch that Atreus is such a compelling character, because The Last of Us pretty much set the standard for non-annoying buddy characters and is clearly a significant influence here. No, the biggest surprise about this year’s GoW is how much you’ll care about Kratos. Christopher Judge turns in a fantastically nuanced voice and motion performance, with significant range. Combined with a clever, layered script and a story that goes to some genuinely emotional places, old bald-man-punch-a-lot has transformed into a fascinating character reminiscent of William Munny, Clint Eastwood’s broken old gunslinger from Unforgiven (1992).
In 2010 Kratos became a bore. In 2018 he is reborn and headlines what is probably the year’s best game so far. Put simply: if you own a PS4 of PS4 Pro this is a day one, must-buy title. Epic, exciting, visually splendid, violent and emotionally resonant – God of War is more than just an excellent, action-adventure reboot, it’s a Gods-damned masterpiece.