God of War: Series Review

Since I’ve gotten many people telling me to play the new God of War game, I have finally succumbed to the peer pressure. Of course, since I’m a connoisseur of narrative storytelling, I decided to play the previous six games as well since I’ve never played any God of War games in my life. So, here are my retrospective thoughts on the franchise as a whole, and collective reviews for all seven games that currently exist (excluding the side-scrolling phone app game. I’m not that desperate for entertainment).

  1. God of War HD (2005)

 

  • Played on: PlayStation Now
  • Time to Beat: 8h 41m
  • MetaScore: 94 Critic / 89 User
  • My Rating: 8/10
  • So, an “80%” is not the first grade that came to mind while playing this game. At the beginning, I loved the gameplay and plot but while the story stayed pretty top-notch, the gameplay suffered severe quality fluctuations. Given that this game is 13 years old, functionality and fluidity are critiqued with bias but I can say this fairly objectively: parts of this game are relentlessly frustrating. There are sections where ultimate surgical precision must be maintained by the player, but not by the game. By that I mean that you’ll have to weave between dangers but the “hit boxes” for these dangers are far from exact: this game and its controls are often clunky but at the same time, you’re asked for perfection which makes many aspects of this game simple lucky coin flips. I also appreciated the camera work at times but at other times, it seemed like the absolute stupidest idea in gaming history. The variety of angles is “cool,” but often troublesome and easily substitutable for a simple third person close follow camera type. Artistic, not practical (which is a good way to describe a lot of the mechanics) which is a trait that breeds annoyance almost consistently. Either way, if you have the patience and interest in going back to play this game, I don’t think you’ll be disappointed with the overall experience.

2. God of War II (2007)

 

  • Played on: PlayStation Now
  • Time to Beat: 8h 44m
  • MetaScore: 93 Critic / 89 User
  • My Rating: 8/10
  • The first game I thought was a fantastic story burdened by clunky mechanics that turned parts of gameplay into outright chores but this game was almost the opposite: a smooth game without as impressive a narrative. I never really wanted to beat the game in order to see what became of my playing, but rather to beat the game in order to move onto the next one. Instead of this rags-to-riches plot that made the first so compelling, this is just a revenge tale that plays pretty much the same. Don’t get me wrong, I loved the game but before I go into my positives, I thought I’d get the negatives out of the way beforehand. So, let’s move on to the good parts: damn this game was fun. The added scale and spectacle truly made this feel epic mostly in the sequences that allowed you to fly Pegasus, climb up Titans, and just prove that you are the God of War and not just a soldier of death. Being able to fight Zeus and feel like you’re able to kick his ass given the work you’ve done to upgrade your attacks and weapons was extremely fulfilling. The puzzles weren’t nearly as puzzling but being able to sprint through them just sort of added to the power I felt at the controls of our anti-hero. It’s a ton of fun, that much I can’t deny. Flying with the wings of Icarus was also an added bonus which brings me to my favorite and least favorite parts of the game: the lore it swims, and sometimes drowns, in. Look, it’s really great to interact with Greek gods, Titans, and other creatures of lore but sometimes I thought that the game would have benefitted from re-writing some of these elements. Mainly, 10-arm 10-boobed Great Uncle Ugly that you have to beat towards the end. That was more offputting and disgusting than threatening and I wanted to get it over with more than I did want to feel accomplished by beating him. It’s still a great experience and I enjoyed it slightly more than the first, the mechanics were the most cherished improvement.

3. God of War: Chains of Olympus (2008)

 

  • Played on: PlayStation Now
  • Time to Beat: 3h 13m
  • MetaScore: 91 Critic / 86 User
  • My Rating: 5/10
  • I’m not too sure what I expected from this entry, I suppose that the main reason for this game’s existence is to re-introduce this series to players who would like to play more of the same thing they’ve been playing. Instead of at home, though, it’s on the go. Chains is really just rehashing the least epic portions of the first two games. Honestly, how many times am I going to have to level up the same damn blades? It’s like this character has memory loss and I gotta retrain him every few months. I get that this is a prequel but there are many ways to still have made it more unique. This game is just like the first game minus the God battles. And the final boss? We meet the character RIGHT before we have to fight her, it’s the biggest left-field random “surprise” and I couldn’t help but roll my eyes— the final ending just feels tacked on last-minute. There’s not too much else to say, it doesn’t feel fresh but if you like God of War then this will most likely please you. Or, you’re like me who likes the first two games but this one felt like getting a hair in my salad.

4. God of War: Ghost of Sparta (2010)

 

  • Played on: PlayStation Now
  • Time to Beat: 4h 08m
  • MetaScore: 86 Critic / 85 User
  • My Rating: 9/10
  • Without a doubt, this is my favorite of the four God of War games I’ve played so far. To me, this is a near perfect edition of the God of War style and mechanics, and adding a great story on top of it. Full of epic moments, thrills, chills, action, drama, and deep character relationships, Ghost of Sparta amazed me around every turn…and this was a PSP to PS3 port? That’s even more amazing. The visuals and gameplay were better than the PS2 games for sure and I can’t wait to see what III and Ascension offer after this amazing entry. Really, my only problems have been problems with the other games as well: the chests, the inability to load single chapters, and the confusing bonuses. The chests are absolutely ridiculous even still, especially when you’re fighting and need to open one right next to you but it flashes different colors so you have to wait for the right one, and hope that you don’t get hit in the meantime. It’s not a skill-based mechanic, it’s a cheap tactic that absolutely needs to disappear. The inability to load earlier chapters bugs me as well because to go back to get just one Gorgon Eye that you missed means replaying the ENTIRE campaign over again which, again, is cheap. It definitely ruins any replayability and so far, this would be the one God of War game I’d go back to play for shits and giggles. Lastly, the confusing bonuses… there are some things I grabbed throughout the campaign that told me I’d have to beat the game to use. Upon completion of the game, nothing in the menus at all gave any hint on how to use these items. I started up a new game and was able to choose my outfit but I still couldn’t figure out how to use these relics, so I just turned it off and decided to write this review before moving onto the next game.

5. God of War III Remastered (2010)

 

  • Played on: PlayStation Now
  • Time to Beat: 9h 26m
  • MetaScore: 92 Critic / 88 User
  • My Rating: 9/10
  • There are so many aspects of this game that have been greatly improved upon in comparison to the games that came before it. For one, it’s graphically gorgeous. I played the Remastered version so that may have helped a little bit but either way, the epicness of the game was achieved due almost exclusively to the graphics that helped sell it. This was also the first game that I played on Normal difficulty since the first game. The clunky controls of the earlier entries infuriated me and I played on Easy simply to finish the game as fast as possible (the only real reason I’m playing any of these is because I want to go into God of War IV knowing as much of the backstory as possible), and playing this on normal kicked my ass a few times. Because of this, I had to be much more careful with my attacks, timing, and maneuvers which inherently makes you more invested in the game and character. So, this might not be an objective statement due to the difficulty change but I did feel like this game was more of a challenge which made it slightly more fun, and definitely more rewarding. On the other hand, this game was a lot more gruesome… like, a lot. Almost disgustingly so, at times, as blood would literally cover the screen. Of course, this doesn’t necessarily bother me but as this was the first HD-feeling game, the first graphical change that I noticed was the gallons of blood erupting from every enemy. It was slightly offputting but honestly, did a lot to help sell the legendary fantastical nature of a game revolving around the God of War.
    Probably my favorite aspect of the game was when you could pick up and use artifacts from the gods and demi-gods that you killed. Whenever you take down one of these mythological characters, you assume some of their powers which was a design that made every few chapters feel extremely fresh (something that was desperately needed after binge-playing all of these games in less than 2 weeks). The final boss fight was another element of the game that changed-up the God of War- fighting paradigm by making it extremely reminiscent of Mortal Kombat (see above image). The hack-and-slash followed by rapid button-mash nature of the boss fights have grown a little slate so having a boss fight in this new style was more than welcome. Overall, I don’t think this game has quite the intimate character-driven story of Ghost of Sparta but it makes up for it in its epic finality which offered a lot of fun, fresh, and exciting gameplay elements.

6. God of War: Ascension (2013)

 

  • Played on: PlayStation Now
  • Time to Beat: 8h 22m
  • MetaScore: 80 Critic / 76 User
  • My Rating: 8/10
  • Ascension is (yet another) game that takes place before a previous game and because of that, the stakes don’t feel as high since we’ve seen the world of the future. However, Ascension manages to take that basic prequelitis disease and make it exciting. Of course, he is not a god (yet) so he doesn’t have the ability to use all of the magic and powers that he has in the other games, but we were still able to experiment with godlike abilities through artifacts and assistance. Since this takes place before he decides to hunt down and kill Ares, he’s still on the good side of every God, using their abilities at times to aid him in battle. However, the most beneficial tools that we were able to use were just basic items, giving us a taste at how good of a warrior Kratos is, when he can’t rely on the powers of the gods. Aside from that, the story was okay; it definitely didn’t do anything to impress me until the very end as it seems to be more of the same yet again (instead of battling the Sisters of Fate, it’s now the sisters of Fury. Another four letter “f” word…darn) and honestly, I didn’t know WHY I was doing a lot of the things that I was doing. Go here, fight them, swing there, fix this, do that, yadda yadda yadda but the upgraded mechanics and gorgeous visuals made the dead-horse ride much less of a chore. Like the other games, this one also called upon you to use the directional pad in order to change weapons but Ascension did things slightly differently by having each directional button give you a different elemental power to use (Zeus’ lightning, Hades’ souls, Poseidon’s ice, and Ares’ fire) in order to make the mechanics familiar but offer something new. There were a few things that infuriated me about the updated combat mechanics, though, and one of them was the Rage Meter. I liked the general idea of it but in practice, it was rarely used and felt nearly useless. Another thing that I despised was how the Quick Time Events worked. When you attack an enemy until they’re ready for a Finishing Move, grappling them will execute one of four things: a button-mash, a QTE, a fighting mini-game, or a death animation. I like all of these in theory, but since you never knew which one you were going to get, sometimes you’d prepare for the wrong one and then die because you didn’t get a warning. For QTEs specifically, the button demand was excruciatingly random. I love little details like QTE demands being mapped to button commands that make sense, such as X for jump. In Ascension, that’s not the case. There’s no skill involved in the QTEs and it took the fun out of playing those sections…especially because it’s the very last thing you do. One of the reasons that Halo 4 was so painfully underwhelming is because the game ended with a QTE boss fight, for the first time in the series. Ascension is full of those (like the other God of War games) but the reason I hate them so much is that the buttons they ask you to press often don’t make sense. That being said, the fighting minigames were stellar and I really hope to see more things like that instead of QTEs in the 2018 game. Other than that, there were a lot of aspects of this game that I loved a lot more than the other games. First, the voice acting. I’ve never been a huge fan of the quality of voice acting of Kratos but it was perfected in this game and I can really tell that the actor’s skills have improved greatly. Second, the puzzles. There were a lot more puzzles in this game that really made you think about what you were doing and what needs doing (and in what order) which felt a little (way) too much like Uncharted but given that this is the sixth game in the series, a little fresh air was more than welcome. On some levels, I’d finish a puzzle and walk past a chest before opening a door (planning to go back to the chest) but instead, the door would close behind me and the chest was lost. That’s an over exaggerated example but there were at least half a dozen times in which events close to that happened, frustrating me to all hell. Twice, I even purposefully killed myself in order to load the last checkpoint but it would instead take me past where I wanted to be. Either way, it didn’t harm the game too much (aside from the fact that I was 2000 red orbs away from a trophy for unlocking all of Kratos’ upgrades) and I still had a lot of fun. I’d say it’s in my top 3 GoW campaigns so far and although it was quite different, it was a lot of fun as well.

7. God of War (2018)

 

  • Played on: PlayStation 4
  • Time to Beat: 31h 53m
  • MetaScore: 94 Critic / 92 User
  • My Score: 10/10
  • God of War IV is nothing short of absolute perfection, and an immense improvement on the previous games in the series. This Norse God of War game breathes new life into the franchise, taking not only an entire mythological history and swapping it for another but also switching up the gameplay, style, aesthetic, and changing the very nature of the old hack-and-slash platformers that these games are known for being. Of course, pieces of the game are still reminiscent of the old style but for all intents and purposes, this is a new type of GoW game altogether… and it’s beautiful. My biggest gripes with the other games are now not in the series at all anymore: the helpful health, magic, and rage chests alternating between what they offer: gone. The tedious button-mashing to defeat bosses, open doors, and any other interactable objects: gone. In exchange, God of War IV dilutes those elements or replaces them completely. Sure, there are small stones that may change color depending on what they offer but by no means are they the only source of that object and really, are almost entirely missable. Button-mashing is only in the game less than a dozen times and it’s also mostly avoidable, or completely necessary to put you in Kratos’ shoes (as far as effort goes).
    While not open world, the map is large and explorable, spanning out from the center like a spider’s web. In this way, it would be most accurate to draw comparisons to Rise of the Tomb Raider or Bioshock where there are not “levels” to progress through the story, but chapters that take place in different areas that can be accessed at any time. In aesthetic, though, comparisons between this game and Skyrim, Middle-Earth, The Witcher or Dragon Age can be drawn as they revolve around a slightly more medieval-fantasy genre. Really, calling this game “Rise of the Tomb Raider meets Skyrim” would be a great way to look at this game as a whole. The other GoW games took you from point A to B to C, and so on. This game, on the other hand, lays out A-Z all at the same time and you get to decide which letter you approach first. From there, A2, A3, A4, and other sections of each letter can be unlocked, if that analogy makes sense. It’s not quite a “play your way” sort of story but the kind of variations and customizations that are offered astounded me, and I still can’t stop playing.
    The map is very large but I do have a few problems with it. For one, some sections of it are quite maze-like. Since it’s a spider-web shape, you have to follow trails to get between certain sections which means if you want to travel to a different area, you’d have to trek through the trails and are unable to find shortcuts. For example, I wanted to beat the Valkyrie in The Mountains but the Yggdrasil door closest to it took me to a spot 1400m away: above where I wanted to be. The map has no apparent depth when looking at it from above and not being able to rotate it or change perspective became troublesome at times. That is probably the biggest thing I would change as it slowed down my gameplay quite a bit.
    That being said, my problems with the map stop after Midgard and since there are 5 other realms to explore (all smaller) the problems are mostly limited to that realm. Niflheim, Muspeilheim, Helheim, and Alfheim are all explorable and each offers their own unique perks, challenges, and areas to devote your time to. The best part: you could play the game without even venturing once into two of those places which end up serving as a complete bonus for players who wanted to experience more of the worlds Santa Monica built for us.
    Speaking of the developers: this game has, by far, the best story of any game I’ve played in a very long time. The action and emotion are both astronomically impacting and both aspects make the experience as a whole entirely unmatched. The voice acting as well has been vastly improved; Kratos is no longer a sort of eye-rolling dialoguist but now is a rusted poet full of heart and buried emotion. It truly was a heartbreaking, heartwarming, and mesmerizing experience following Kratos and Atreus on this journey. The characters were also one of the strongest points by far. Kratos and Atreus, Brok and Sindri, Mimir, Freya, Baldur, and everybody else were just so well written and portrayed; there wasn’t a single flat character in the game. The heroes, as well as villains, were extremely deep and emotional, all containing arcs and stories that are impossible not to be invested in. Brok and Sindri are the best comic relief I’ve ever encountered in a video game, Baldur is one of the most brilliantly conflicted villains, Kratos is helplessly badass and magnetic, and Atreus should have his own game series as well. Honestly, there’s nothing not to like about this masterpiece.
    I could go on for hours but I think I’ve sold this game enough and just hope that just one single person out there who hasn’t played this game is reading this review is now convinced to give it a try, I’ve succeeded. Borrow it from a friend, rent it, buy it, however you can. Scrape pennies out of the couch and call in your favors: God of War IV is the must-play game of the year.

Series Retrospective & Overall Thoughts

As of writing this sentence, I’ve put 88 hours and 12 minutes into the God of War franchise, with nearly 46 of those being from the most recent entry…which is more than half of my total time playing them. What started as a simple assignment (beat the campaigns, write the reviews) became an emotional investment. I’ve grown to love this series even though many of the titles were quite repetitive as they started asking you to do the same things over and over again. The first six games had their ups and downs, wavering in quality of story and visuals whilst requiring ungodly amounts of button mashing but then came 2018’s God of War which blew everything out of the water. How this game reinvented the franchise astounds me for a few reasons, one of which I have been saving for this section of the post: I played six God of War games in two weeks and the final game was the most satisfying. Yes, they started to feel stale to me after the second game but the new God of War is something so fresh and so new that it felt like something completely different (in the best ways).

As mentioned in the individual reviews, the games started to get stale (especially Chains of Olympus which offered neither a fresh story or gameplay experience). Ghost of Sparta gave us an amazing tale, III offered the most epic visuals, and Ascension gave us the best gameplay. III stood out to me for it’s Mortal Kombat boss fight, Ascension for it’s Uncharted-style, and God of War IV felt like Tomb Raider meets Skyrim. The strength of this franchise has become its variation. As we’ve seen with the LEGO games, the Guitar Hero games, and most recently, the Call of Duty games, audiences will turn on a franchise if it stops reinventing itself. God of War has managed to avoid that because it’s not afraid to change up its pace. I can’t thank creative director Cory Barlog enough for his decision to do just that.

The longest franchise I’ve played in the past is Halo (Combat Evolved, Halo 2, Halo 3, ODST, Reach, and 4) but I never played them consecutively as I did these games. So, it makes sense how this series when played religiously back-to-back may get old but to then have the last game be the most time consuming yet inventive and beautiful was such a treat. If I ever go back and play the God of War games again, I’ll likely simply stick with this new one. If anything, maybe play Ghost of Sparta since it was one of my favorites, or III and Ascension since they were visually appealing, but I’d be robbing myself by playing a God of War game and not have it be this most recent one.

Games Ranked

Ranking titles is one of the most challenging tasks for myself as I constantly remember aspects of one while forgetting aspects of another and then juggling which parts mean more to me but as far as overall experience goes, I think this order satisfies my tastes fairly well.

  1. God of War (2018)
  2. God of War III
  3. Ghost of Sparta
  4. Ascension
  5. God of War II
  6. God of War
  7. Chains of Olympus

All of these games were really enjoyable (aside from Chains which I thought was a pretty boring experience) and even though ranking them may seem like the games down the list are of low quality but don’t let that fool you: all are worth playing.

What Order to Play In

If you’re like I was, and are interested in getting into the God of War games, I’ve thought of the best way to play them in. Since they were released out of chronology but certain stories reference others, playing in either release order or chronological order can be problematic. So, here is the order that I recommend:

  1. God of War
  2. Chains of Olympus (if you want)
  3. Ghost of Sparta
  4. God of War II
  5. God of War III
  6. Ascension
  7. God of War (2018)

The reasoning for this is that Ascension takes place first but references III and has better graphics than all of the other games, and while the PSP games were released between II and III instead of I and II, playing them out of order allows you to play II and III back-to-back which is what I wish I would have done as they lead into the next game seamlessly.

Future Hopes

Without a doubt, I want Santa Monica to continue what they’ve done with this newest title. The tone, story, scale, open-world flavor, side quests, characters, and general aesthetic of this Norse-themed reinvention needs to continue. I’d love to go to the other realms that weren’t explored in GoW4, I’d love to see what happens with a few characters whose future roles were teased, and I absolutely need to see the rest of Kratos’ days as the Greek God of War.

The text in the following paragraph is full of spoilers, I recommend skipping past that paragraph if you don’t want to or already know these things.

I want to see Freya take up her previous role as the Valkyrie Queen for Odin, and set out on a path of vengeance against Kratos and Atreus. Maybe Loki has a brief or extended stint on Asgard’s side and Kratos has to battle Freya and the Asgardians alone during Ragnarok. There are so many options for what could happen in a sequel, and one of the largest plots I can think of is Kratos vs. Thor since Atreus’ reveal as Loki has a history of interacting with Thor and Odin. Although, more father-son drama may start to feel repetitive.

Cory Balrog and the rest of the Santa Monica team said that since this game took 5 years to build from the ground up, the next games wouldn’t take nearly as long and they have quite a few more stories up their sleeves. Time couldn’t move fast enough in order for me to play these games as soon as I’d like to.

Anyways, I think that’ll do it for my God of War Series Review! I hope you enjoyed yourself and as always, thanks for reading and I’ll see you soon!

Published by Blake Carson Schwarz

Indiana University graduate in Media and Creative Writing. I love to write my own stories as well as experience the work of others. On this site, I post reviews, essays, and other fun posts that I hope you have as much fun reading and I have writing. Please share any comments you have, I'd be happy to hear what you think! *Never a critic, always a fan*

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: