Kratos and God of War were reinvented in a new Norse setting.
Back in 2016, we got the first glimpse of the new Kratos as he would appear in the fourth mainline God of War game (or fifth depending on how you count Ascension), simply titled God of War. As time went on and more trailers were revealed, we found out that this wasn't just a game about a now-bearded Kratos returning to slay more gods, as our angry hero now had a son to take care of. Eyebrows were certainly raised - after all, Kratos had not been portrayed as a fatherly figure before this - but when it eventually landed the doubts were most certainly put to bed.
In some ways, this game is more about your son Atreus' journey than it is for Kratos. From the very offset this dynamic is explored in new and interesting ways, and it was refreshing to see Kratos and Atreus play off each other. This was a challenge that Kratos did not know how to handle, since it couldn't be met with violence, and his struggle to manage a young boy is evident throughout. You can say 'boy' as much as you want after all; it doesn't mean Atreus will bend to your will as easily as the Olympian deities.
Kratos and Atreus shone as central stars of this new God of War experience, but along the way, they met a colourful cast of allies and villains too. One we should mention here is the witch Freya who we meet rather early on, and the whole cast helps give the game a ton of flair and flavour. We even get to meet the legendary World Serpent too, although not every Norse creature is as happy to see us.
Lucky for Kratos hostility can be met with more hostility, which is pretty much the only language he speaks. You can tear enemy heads off and punch them to a pulp as you'd expect, but a key tool of destruction here is also the Leviathan axe. As you might expect, this is useful for carving chunks out of bad guys, but another part of the appeal is the fact that you can throw it at foes and recall it easily with the tap of a button.
The combat is heavy and brutally satisfying, but what's more is that it can always be upgraded to pack even more of a punch. Runic abilities allow you to stockpile even more attacks, while your skill tree unlocks new abilities and the axe itself can be upgraded at vendors along the journey. Armour and more can also be bought as well, so it paid to loot the surroundings and make Kratos as powerful as possible.
Atreus is more than just a story device too, as he's woven into the mechanics as well as the narrative. His arrows can stun enemies to allow for violent takedowns, but on top of that, he's also useful to warn his father about incoming dangers and to pacify enemies for easy hits. He has a little more humour than his father in these dangerous situations too, offering a nice contrast to the gruff stoicism we've all come to know and love.
It seems blindingly obvious to call a Sony exclusive a visual treat, because that's what we've come to expect with the likes of Uncharted 4: A Thief's End, but it's still worth saying. Not only are all the environments rich in detail, from the snowy plains to the lush greenery, but the scale of everything is epic in every sense of the world. It really does convey a sense of being in a mythical land, one that's very distinct from games before.
There's a technical marvel in the camerawork as well, as the whole game runs as one long cut from start to finish, giving and taking away control as it sees fit to direct the action. That means seamless transitions to cutscenes from the action and vice versa, and everything runs smoothly considering the size and intensity of affairs. We've not seen this done on this scale before, and it's a commendable feat.
There are a lot of individual elements that make God of War great, but what's really marvelous is how this all works so well as a whole package. Everything is intricately and deliberately crafted to create this journey that portrays Kratos in an entirely new light. Whether you're a newbie to the God of War universe, or a hardcore fan seeing this new side of the hero, there's a lot to win your hearts over and get you into the fight.