*Mild Spoilers ahead
The last time we saw Kratos, he’d killed (well, more like murdered) the entire Greek Pantheon; with the possible exception of Aphrodite, before impaling himself on the Blade of Olympus to release hope back into the world, and to give one last middle finger to Athena. I’m talking chronologically of course, God of War: Ascension was actually the last God of War game, but it was a prequel. In the God of War III post-credits scene, Kratos is nowhere to be seen, but there’s a trail of blood leading away from the sword. Leaving Kratos’ fate unknown; Greece however, is pretty much destroyed.
Fast forward several hundred years later, I think. We aren’t given an exact time, but it’s clearly been at least a few centuries at least. Kratos is still alive and living in Scandinavia, he’s remarried and has a young son named Atreus. Kratos (now voiced by Christopher Judge) is older and wiser, his sins clearly weighing on him. The tattoos and ashes that cover his body are starting to fade and lose their color, and his beard is spotting white strands of hair. The game begins with the funeral of Kratos’ wife, her last wish, for her ashes to be spread from the top of the highest mountain in the realm. Kratos and Atreus set out to fulfill her last request, which of course ends up becoming much more complicated once a mysterious tattooed man shows up who knows of Kratos’ past.
From there the game gets rolling and really doesn’t stop other than the occasional moment where the camera pans back to let you view the scenery. Draugr, dragons, trolls, and all other manner of Norse monsters get thrown at Kratos. The combat is visceral, and even though it’s different from the previous entries, it still FEELS like Kratos. With every axe swing you carve a path of blood through mythic Scandinavia. Like the previous games, Kratos gets new weapons and abilities to level up throughout the game. But your best weapon isn’t your axe or your (spoiler). It’s your son, Atreus. At the start of the game he can’t do much, but as you level him up his arrows allow him to stun enemies, chain attacks together, and in the late game, kill enemies outright. I don’t think I’ve ever played a game with an AI companion as useful as Atreus. AI companions have been getting better as video game technology improves, but Atreus stands out from the crowd. Never once does he feel like a burden or an escort mission. Younger gamers may not remember escort missions, as they’re not as prevalent now as they used to be, thank God. But they were when I was growing up, and I always hated them. Even when Atreus gets in over his head, it still serves a purpose in the story.
But for as good as the gameplay is, it’s not the main draw. The main draw is the story. It’s heartfelt and emotional. Kratos still struggles with his rage, but he’s learned to control it, and he’s trying to teach his son to be a better man than he is. In my opinion, this makes Kratos a deeper and more interesting character. In the original trilogy, Kratos’ biggest flaw was his inability to accept or take responsibility for the consequences of his actions. This Kratos not only takes responsibility for his mistakes, he does his hardest to make sure his son doesn’t make the same mistakes, particularly late in the game when his son seems to be starting down a dark path. At the same time, Kratos isn’t very good at connecting with his son, and throughout the game he has to balance connecting with his son, while at the same time, trying to keep his son from learning about his past. This leads to a lot of intense moments, and Christopher Judge knocks it out of the park. For fans who are/were worried about Judge replacing Terrence C. Carson, I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised. Although in all fairness, I confess I haven’t played every single God of War game. Prior to this one I’d only played I and II at friend’s houses, and only beat the Remastered version of III completely. So, while I like Carson, I don’t have the same attachment to him that I know some fans do. I’m also a huge fan of Christopher Judge because I watched Stargate SG:1 religiously when it was still airing. So, I may not be the most objective person when it comes to this. Never-the-less, I stand by my statement that Judge does a fantastic job. The actor who provides the voice for Atreus, Sunny Suljic, also does a standout job. The chemistry Judge and Suljic have is a major part of what makes the game so great; they actually sound and feel like a real father and son, not just characters on the screen.
I can’t really say much else without going into spoilers, and I REALLY don’t want to give away the main plot points or the twists throughout the game, because that’s part of what made the experience so enjoyable for me. The endgame in particular has a twist so utterly shocking that I sat on my bed for about ten minutes contemplating it after I’d beaten the game. God of War is an intense, emotional experience, and the only game I feel I can compare it to is The Last of Us. But even that’s not really a fair comparison because both are very different games, and the Parent/child duo in both games take very different journeys. Supposedly the game’s director, Cory Barlog, has stated Santa Monica has five more God of War games planned out. I don’t know if that’s true, but if it is, I’m definitely onboard. Long story short, if you have a PS4, you NEED to play this game. It has my absolute highest recommendation.