(This is a re-edit of a review I made four years ago)
Four years ago, God of War (2018) was released worldwide to near-universal praise, becoming an overnight financial and critical success. The game sold 3.1 million copies in its first three days of release alone. That metric made it the fastest-selling PlayStation exclusive ever until Marvel’s Spider-Man beat it by 3.3 million later that same year. God of War (2018) is the best-selling game in the franchise with over 23 million units sold as of November 2022. However, God of War (2018) wasn’t just a commercial success.
Fans and critics praised the game for its gripping story and engaging combat system. The game was so well received that the director cried tears of joy when he saw the review scores. It was clear that God of War (2018) struck a chord in the gaming landscape, one that left players hungry for more.
With God of War Ragnarök on the horizon, I thought it would be fun to look back on the start of God of War’s Norse saga. As someone who considers himself a big God of War fan, I couldn’t wait for God of War (2018) to come out back then. What did I think of this game? Let me give you some perspective. When I first picked the game up, I did not play anything else until I earned the Platinum Trophy. I recently replayed the game, and my overall feelings are the same now as they were back then: God of War (2018) is one of the best video games I have ever played.
With God of War: Ascension receiving lukewarm reception, it seemed as though Sony had begun Kratos’ quiet retirement. Multiplayer was not the future of the series. At the time I gave up hope of ever getting a resolution to God of War 3’s cliffhanger ending. However, God of War 2 director, Cory Barlog, pitched to Sony a new direction for the franchise.
The year is 2016. Sony is holding its annual E3 press conference (back when they still did those). The trailer starts. A little boy is playing with toys outside a wooden cabin in a snow-covered landscape. The boy walks inside the cabin, where he meets a man covered in shadow. The man walks into view. The crowd cheers in magnanimous joy when they see the man be none other than Kratos himself. I cannot describe how elated I felt when I saw the man himself.
It was obvious on appearance alone that this was a different Kratos than what we knew. His goatee grew into a full beard. Gone were the Blades of Chaos (or so we thought), in their place was a new weapon, the Leviathan Axe. The classic fixed-camera view was replaced with an over-the-shoulder perspective. The kid mentioned earlier was Kratos’ new son, Atreus (a concept that earned this game the nickname, Dad of War). The setting was in Norse mythology rather than the Greek stuff we all know God of War for. This was not a complete reboot. This was a direct continuation of God of War 3. A lot of eyebrows were raised, but I was happy to see Kratos back in action again.
A New Direction
I know you might be wondering how Kratos, a being created in the veins of Greek mythology, is running around in pre-Viking Scandinavia. From what I can gather in the game’s narrative, all the ancient pantheons exist in the same world, they just hold control over one area of the world each. Olympians rule over Grece, the Asgardians rule over Scandinavia, and so on. I love the idea of all ancient mythologies existing in the same world; future God of War sequels can take advantage of such an extended world of Gods and other ancient beings. Imagine Kratos fighting Anubis.
If you’ve followed the God of War series for any length of time, you always knew Kratos as the ultimate vessel for destruction and vengeance. Unlike gaming journalists, however, I understood that Kratos was more of a nuanced character than he initially seems. He was a man who lived in a brutal environment where war and conquest were expected of him. He is a Spartan after all. After living a life where most of the deities he meets either betray him or try to use him: Ares, Zeus, Gaia, and Athena just to name a few: it's no wonder why Kratos has anger issues to rival Bruce Banner.
I would not add anything new if I simply stated Kratos was a different man than he once was, that much is obvious from the get-go; the gray strands in his new beard give the implication of age and wisdom. I will say this change makes sense from a narrative standpoint. Kratos achieved his vengeance at the end of God of War 3, but what does he do after that? At the end of God of War 3, Kratos decided to grant the power of Hope (yes, go with it) to humanity after his rampage left the Greek world in ruin, an act that shows Kratos still carries good within him. After two games of slowly losing his humanity in pursuit of his target, Kratos now understands the value of control and temperance, a value he wishes to impart to his son.
After somehow surviving stabbing himself at the end of God of War 3, Kratos somehow now resides in Midgard where he tries to train himself to temper his rage. I know the novel explains those things, but I shouldn’t need a second-hand source just to get answers. Along the way, he married a woman named Faye and the two of them conceived a son, Atreus. The journey starts with father and son preparing the funeral pyre for the recently deceased Faye. Her final request was that her ashes be spread across the highest peak in all the nine realms. That is essentially the main goal throughout the entire game.
If I could make a critique about the plot (besides the unexplained plot elements in-game), the game roadblocks you from the end far too many times. Many of the obstacles in the way feel like padding. We are about to achieve our goal but there is one thing we forgot to consider, now we must travel to Alfheim to retrieve this one thing. This doesn’t matter to me at the end of the day, because this game is a masterclass in character relationships.
When it comes to the main hero of the game, this is my absolute favorite rendition of Kratos there has ever been, and it is not only for the fantastic beard. The way he acts in this game shows that he’s undergone soul-searching since the ending of God of War 3. In the beginning portions of the game, Kratos raises his voice at Atreus for committing a mistake when hunting a deer. Very quickly, Kratos collects himself and speaks with a calmer tone. It is a moment that highlights a father’s struggle to find the perfect way to teach his son. Kratos was a father in the past, but his lust for war drove away his family. Kratos’ blind rage ultimately led to him unwittingly murdering his first wife and daughter. This game shows a Kratos who has already begun the road to recovery but has still not found full closure. We never get a full picture of how Kratos got to the point he’s at in the beginning, but the implications are fascinating to think about.
According to Cory Barlog, he had to fight hard to get the studio to center the game around Kratos. Some within the studio felt as though the character had run his course with some even revering to him as “annoying.” Barlog was adamant about preserving Kratos as the main character, arguing that he was the essential DNA of the franchise. I’m glad that Barlog stuck to his guns and kept Kratos around. In his own words, he didn’t want to completely reboot God of War.
Kratos’ new direction is also reflected in his new voice actor. Kratos’ original voice actor, Terrence C. Carson didn’t reprise his role for this game. The role instead went to Christopher Judge. Judge’s performance perfectly sells the illusion of a wizened warrior looking for redemption. I’ll always be partial to Carson’s intimidating and forceful delivery, but Judge helps bring the new Kratos to life. With that said, this rendition of Kratos would not be as interesting as he is without his “boy.”
Atreus works with Kratos in the sense that they are opposites of one another. One is experienced and cautious; the other is curious and naïve. The dichotomy of their vastly different personalities gives the narrative a great sense of charm. Kratos, for most of the game, refers to Atreus as “boy,” to an outright comical degree (something that earned this game the nickname, Dad of Boy). It would be easier to count the times Kratos did not use “boy” when referring to his son. Kratos and Atreus are the focus of the game; a father and son with a less-than-perfect relationship. The game hints that Kratos is a source of intimidation for the young Atreus, yet there is a subtle hint of respect based on how he wishes to prove himself to his father. The game shows how these two characters are subtly helping each other. Kratos must learn to let go of his fears of Godhood, while Atreus must learn the ways of the warrior.
As someone who sees his father as an intimidating presence, this story resonates with me deeply. However, much like Atreus learning more about his father in Alfheim, over the years I’ve come to learn that my father always has my best interest at heart, and he will never abandon me.
Atreus’ character becomes even more interesting when the end of the game reveals his identity.
“I guess there’s just one thing I don’t understand… My name on the wall—The Giants called me ‘Loki’?”
This reveal caught everyone by surprise. Throughout the game, there is a very noticeable absence in the game’s mythos. Thanks in no small part to Marvel, everyone knows Loki as a member of the Norse pantheon. Nowhere is Loki ever mentioned until the very end. YouTuber Good Blood has a great video going into detail about the nature of this twist and what it means in the larger story.
The other characters, while not as important, have enough going for them to stand out. When it comes to Faye, an integral part of this story, the characters only mention her in passing. From what I can gather from Kratos’ stories, Faye was a fierce warrior with a heart of gold, always looking to help others, a trait that gets passed down to Atreus. The dialogue between Kratos and Atreus indicates they both deeply cared for Faye. I just wish we got to see a real look at her.
Along the way, you’ll meet two dwarven brothers, Brok and Sindri, legendary blacksmiths who have created some of the most legendary weapons of Norse myth, namely Thor’s legendary hammer, Mjolnir. The brothers also created the Leviathan Axe, which was made for Faye. These guys can make something better with a single strike of a hammer, that is how good they are. Brok is a crude dwarf with no qualms about the concept of modesty. He names his beast of burden “Fucking Gratitude” and then later eats her; that is the kind of character he is. Sindri is the opposite, a neat freak who will throw up at the mere mention of something gory. The two had a falling out some time ago and are constantly looking to one-up each other when it comes to improving the Leviathan Axe. Brok and Sindri are both funny, coming at the expense of Kratos’ patience.
Freya is a very major character in the story, a woman who enforced far too much control on her son, Baldur’s, life. She serves as a dark reflection of a parent, cursing her son to not feel anything to spare him from death. Her attempt to reconcile with her son later in the game is met with rage and resentment, showing how far Baldur fell because of his mother’s curse.
Near the midway point of the game, you will come across Mimir, the God of Wisdom, and the self-proclaimed Smartest Man Alive. Odin trapped Mimir in the roots of a magical tree for reasons based purely on paranoia. For plot-related reasons, Kratos cuts off Mimir’s head, at his request, and has it resurrected so that he may offer his vast amount of knowledge and wisdom to the father and son. The funniest thing about Mimir is not the fact that he’s a severed head bobbing off Kratos’ belt, it’s the fact that Mimir isn’t the first severed head Kratos has carried around.
God of War (2018) continues the series trend of portraying Gods as power-hungry tyrants. Odin, and the Aesir in general, cause 90% of the bad things that happen in the world you’re in. Odin is desperate to prevent the coming of Ragnarök, so he’ll kill anyone whom he perceives is a threat to his rule. Thor is simply a bloodthirsty psychopath with the immense power to get what he wants. Spoiler, you never face off against Odin or Thor in the game. The main antagonist in this game is Baldur, a sadist with the ability, or lack thereof, to feel anything.
God of War (2018) is focused on telling a coming-of-age story centered on the rocky relationship between a father and his son, and that theme ties in with the myriad of broken families you see throughout the adventure: Brok & Sindri, Freya & Baldur, Magni & Modi, the Reaver & his son to name a few. It’s no wonder that the most emotionally resonant moments in the story have to do with family: Atreus venting his frustrations in Alfheim, Brok & Sindri reuniting, Baldur’s death & Freya’s subsequent promise of revenge, the moment with the wine, and quite possibly the greatest hype trip in the entire franchise.
You know what I’m talking about, the moment when Kratos returns to his home to retrieve the Blades of Chaos. Atreus has fallen ill, and the only cure exists in the frozen wasteland of Helheim, where Kratos’ frost axe will be useless. I cannot describe properly how excited I was when the camera focused on Kratos’ forearm and he said, “Then I must return home.” I knew instantly what was coming. The entire build-up to the moment is nothing short of suspenseful, with thunder cracking in the sky and Kratos seeing visions of Athena. As a fan, it’s impossible not to feel anything when the camera pans down to the blades, Kratos’ eternal curse, the weapons that once claimed his old family now being used to save his new one.
Visually, the game is gorgeous. I thought God of War 3’s Kratos looked impressive; this Kratos is hyper-detailed down to the loose strands of hair in his beard. Everything in this game is stunning (except for the water, it looks way too much like jello). Environments are gorgeously detailed and nothing in the art style ever feels out of place. I think God of War (2018) is one of the best-looking games on the PS4, beaten only by Ghost of Tsushima.
The sound design is high quality, and the sound cues are excellently placed. Attacks have a great sense of impact and weight. The satisfying crunch of my Axe slamming into a Dragur’s skull will never get old; and yes, I realize that sounded sociopathic. Bear McCreary composed the game’s soundtrack, utilizing big string, big brass, and an epic choir (the DNA of a God of War score, as McCreary puts it). The main theme is great for its foreboding atmosphere; the theme for Faye is memorable with its sorrowful choir. If I am perfectly honest, those two are the only pieces of music I can remember off the top of my head. The soundtrack isn’t bad, but it doesn’t carry the same weight as previous soundtracks. Especially God of War 3’s
The game sports impressive cinematography. The entire game gives the illusion that it is shot in one take; the camera never cuts, even when the game switches from cutscene to gameplay. Everything is seamless. The only time when the camera fades away is when you die, but that is to be expected. This stylistic choice grants the illusion that you, the player, are as much a part of this journey as the two main protagonists, a silent observer along for the ride.
The Heroes’ Journey
Everyone knew the God of War series for its fixed camera perspective. With this new title, the camera is mainly focused on Kratos’ back. Success in this game requires you to have a good grasp of your surroundings, not only for combat but for puzzles as well. Pay close attention to the threat indicator to get an idea of what attacks are coming from beyond your field of view. Besides that, both Atreus and Mimir will warn you of an oncoming attack.
The Leviathan Axe is your main weapon throughout most of your adventure. R1 and R2 execute light and heavy attacks respectively. It was a strange shift at first because for years I used square and triangle for attacking, but I adapted to the change quickly enough. You can switch the control scheme in the pause menu if you so desire. Holding L1 will bring up a target reticle where you can throw your axe with either R1 or R2. Triangle will recall the axe back to you, in a similar manner to Marvel’s Thor. What’s even better about this mechanic is that enemies can be damaged from the recall, providing an extra sense of tactical thinking when throwing the axe. Whoever thought up the recall mechanic deserved a promotion. I can’t properly describe how fun it is to launch to axe over a hill and watch as it flies back into my hand.
If you don’t feel like using the axe, you can go full-out fisticuffs with bare-handed attacks. Barehanded attacks fill up an enemy’s stun meter. When filled, you can press R3 to execute a special attack that allows you to achieve great damage or outright kill your opponents. These execution moves can also damage nearby enemies. Every enemy has one execution animation, an issue that every God of War game has had. Watching Kratos use his foot to smash a guy’s head gets tiring after a while.
On the subject, God of War (2018) continues the series tradition of the rage meter or Spartan Rage in this game. Fill it up by attacking enemies or stepping on some orange stones and you can enter of state of concentrated rage where your only concern should be punching that one asshole to death.
Later in the game, you’ll get access to the greatest unlockable weapon in video game history (besides maybe the Master Sword)—the Blades of Chaos. The blades serve as crowd control weapons, having more range and coverage than the axe. Using the aim function with the blades will reveal that Kratos did learn some new tricks from his time in Mortal Kombat 9. Kratos can imitate Scorpion and pull an enemy towards him with the blades when using aim and R1.
In addition to your basic attacks, you’ll gain access to runic attacks for both the axe and blades. These are powerful moves you can activate to give you an edge in combat. Runic attacks can damage, apply status effects, or stun depending on the attack equipped. You can have two runic attacks available at any given time, light and heavy; activating one of the attacks puts it on a cooldown period, preventing you from spamming them. Another thing to keep in mind is that runic attacks cannot be switched when they are on cooldown. I suspect this was implemented to prevent cheese tactics. What’s cool about the Runic attacks for the blades is that some of them are classic moves from the previous games, like the Hyperion Grapple or the Cyclone of Chaos.
You also have access to talismans, which serve as more utility tools than damage dealers. Talismans tend to do things like slow time and create defensive barriers around your character; although, one of the talismans is a straight-out reference to the Infinity Gauntlet.
Defeating enemies and completing certain tasks called Labor earns you XP, which you use to unlock new abilities in the skill trees. The skills can vary from passive damage increases for Atreus to new moves Kratos can utilize. There are skill trees for just about every aspect of combat. Some upgrades allow you to perform new moves if you pause briefly after a hit. These moves range from an area of effect spin attack to a single target ranged attack. A distinctive animation and sound cue will let you know when you can execute these moves. There is a skill tree for every form of combat in the game, even for Spartan Rage; the final tier in that tree allows you to dig a boulder out of the ground and toss it for massive damage.
Don’t ever worry about not having enough XP for upgrades. This game showers you with XP when you just play the game normally, doing main and side missions, destroying Odin’s ravens, killing things, etc. Late game, you can exchange XP for currency, so there’s always a reason to complete challenges.
The enemies you encounter are ripped right from the pages of Norse folklore. The common fodder comes in three flavors, Dragur, Seidr, and Hel-Walker. Each flavor has a variety of different classes to fight. Later, you’ll encounter things like dark elves, ogres, and werewolves just to name a few. You also come across The Travelers, incredibly hardy bastards who do not stagger easily; their massive swords hurt, so make sure you know how to dodge. Some enemies get on my nerves, like nightmares. They have very little health, but they have an exceedingly small hitbox on top of ranged attacks, kamikaze powers, and the ability to empower other enemies with constant health regeneration. Nightmares are a nuisance, but the Revenants can rot in Helheim. They not only have an annoying area of effect spell, but they also like to teleport away from all your attacks. Revenants are my least favorite enemy in the game easily. Still, I’ll take them over the satyrs in God of War 3.
God of War (2018) has all the features you would expect from a combat-heavy action-adventure game: blocking/parrying, dodging, locking on, it’s all here and accounted for. Rather than the fluid, combo-heavy style from the games of old, God of War (2018) requires you to survey your enemies and use the abilities that would be most effective. For example, I would use hand combat against ogres to fill up the stun meter, then I would use the ogre to trample surrounding enemies. If I see a ranged enemy, I’ll throw my axe at it.
Six statistics formulate Kratos’ power: Strength, Runic, Defense, Vitality, Cooldown, and Luck. Each stat is self-explanatory in what they do. Strength increases basic attack damage while Runic increases the power of runic attacks and status effects. Defense decreases the amount of damage you can take; meanwhile, vitality increases your overall health and reduces stagger from enemy attacks. Cooldown synergizes with Runic in the sense that the cooldown timer for your runic attacks decreases. Finally, Luck increases perk activation chance and increase money and XP gains.
Brok and Sindri act as the game’s merchants. across the world are Dwarven Shops with one of the brothers offering their services, but they function the same way, implying that the two are on equal footing when it comes to skill. Dwarven Shops are how you craft new Armor and upgrade your existing gear. Some armor will focus on a specific stat over others, so if you want to focus on runic attacks, you may want to use something like Sindri’s Royal Dwarven Set. Your gear is what ultimately determines your power level, a statistic that helps determine how Kratos fares against enemies. The higher the gear level, the higher the stat increases. Brok and Sindri have other services as well, such as purchasable resurrection stones. Resurrection stones allow Atreus to revive Kratos after he dies; however, you can only carry one at a time. Always keep a resurrection stone on standby, it is a godsend. Don’t be like me and forget to buy one constantly.
Enchantments are used to further augment your equipment with passive increases to stats as well as perks that may activate when a certain stipulation is met (the chance is increased if the player increases the Luck stat, as stated earlier). God of War (2018) is a game where continued play results in an increase in power, an aspect I find very enjoyable.
Arguably the biggest addition to the game is Atreus himself. He accompanies Kratos throughout the adventure. Atreus never dies, he can walk off any hit like it was nothing. All of Atreus’ commands are mapped to the square button; this applies to his arrows and runes he can deceiver. His arrows have a cooldown timer, so you can’t spam them all the time. Depending on which element he is using (light or electric), his arrows can be used to increase an enemy’s stun meter or apply area-of-effect damage. Atreus will also occasionally lock enemies in a chokehold, allowing you to get in a free hit. Atreus is easily one of the best video game companions in history, right up there with Elizabeth from Bioshock: Infinite. Atreus never once feels like a burden, but rather an extension of your toolkit. With all of Atreus’ utility and witty banter, there is no one else I would have at my side.
If anyone was worried that God of War (2018) would do away with the grand scale the series is so well known for, fear not. God of War (2018) has more than its fair share of epic moments, many of which feature dragons. Watching Baldur and Kratos’ clash break the very ground they stand on is nothing short of amazing.
When it comes to Boss fights, the game does flounder a bit. The game reuses the trolls way too many times for my liking. Change the names and the occasional ability all you want; the trolls still feel the same. The Ancients are not any better. Once you figure out how to beat them, it’s just far too easy. When the boss fights are great, they are fantastic; the fights against Baldur at the beginning and end of the game are both fantastic. Magni and Modi can also provide a decent challenge on harder difficulties. The boss roster isn’t bad, it just pales in comparison to previous series entries, especially God of War 2 and 3.
Like in previous entries, God of War (2018) rewards the player with goodies for going off the beaten path. The game is not exactly an open world, but everything does connect. The Lake of Nine is the central area of the map, filled with treasures you can seek out if you want to seek them out. Also, I’m glad this game is not an open world because I am fucking sick and tired of developers continuing to think a giant empty sandbox is revolutionary. It hasn’t been revolutionary since the PlayStation fucking 3. Mini rant aside, the further you progress through the main plot, the more the Lake opens to the player. Take caution, as some areas will have enemies that are a significantly higher level than you, something that can lead to a one-hit kill. One thing that felt a bit strange were the climbing mechanics. Any other game with climbing mechanics, like Uncharted, would have you jump onto a new ledge regardless of if it was off-screen or not. In this game, you can’t jump from ledge to ledge unless it is on screen, granting you the circle button prompt. It makes the climbing feel restricted.
A good portion of the game will have you rowing a boat from place to place. If you stay in a boat for some time, the characters will chat about all manner of things. Once you get Mimir in your party, he will provide stories that offer more backstory to the world. When you land ashore anywhere, the characters will break the story to “focus on the road.” The story will resume where it left off when you enter the boat again. There is a surprising amount of dialogue for the boat rides, about half an hour’s worth if I am not mistaken. I often found myself sitting at a shore waiting for a story to finish its course before I exited the boat.
God of War (2018) offers plenty of things to do outside the main scenario. You can find spirits around the Lake of Nine who offer side quests. Brok and Sindri also offer side quests that can earn you some powerful items for your journey, something Kratos appreciates greatly.
The two optional realms, Muspelheim, the Realm of Fire, and Niflheim, the Realm of Fog offer varying degrees of side content. Muspelheim is the game’s challenge area. The challenges can vary from killing enemies in the same time frame to fighting enemies with regenerating health. Unless you’re playing New Game Plus, there is very little reason to go after the Muspelheim armor sets as they easily get outclassed late game; however, if you want the blades’ tier five upgrades, you need to complete Muspelheim.
Niflheim is a bit more complex. The area consists of one major location, Ivaldi’s Workshop, which changes its hazards every time you enter. The layout is always the same, but the hazards always change. Inside Ivaldi’s Workshop is randomly generated chests that contain mist echoes, a resource that is used to craft some of the best armor sets in the game. You want the Niflheim armor for one other thing the realm has in store. Inside Ivaldi’s Workshop is a blanket of deadly mist. A pink bar will tell you how long you have until the mists kill you. The Niflheim armor sets to increase your resistance to the mist, so you want to quickly get the mist echoes necessary to craft the set you want.
My only issue with Niflheim is the fact that fully completing the realm requires you to grind an abundant amount of mist echoes to spend on chests with worthwhile loot, meaning you must fully run through Ivaldi’s Workshop an astronomical number of times. It does not take long to see every possible combination of traps you can come across, and all the enemies are things you have fought before. It sucks when my current run is filled with Revenants, the last thing I want to see. Thing is, you need to complete all the Niflheim stuff to get the final Axe upgrade, and you want to get all the powerful equipment you can get for the real fights ahead.
Those two realms are small potatoes compared to God of War (2018)’s real endgame challenge, the Valkyries. Throughout the realms are eight corrupted Valkyries who have been trapped in the physical plane, and it’s up to you to free them so that they may return to their duties as the sorters of the deceased. Each Valkyrie has a repertoire of unique attacks you need to watch out for. Unless you are properly equipped and have a good understanding of each Valkyrie’s attacks, they will fuck you up faster than you can say ODR BRODIR BLINDIR. You can find four Valkyries in Midgard; the other explorable realms each has its own Valkyrie to vanquish. Defeating all eight of the Valkyries unlocks an incredibly tough fight against Sigrun, The Valkyrie Queen. She not only sports more health than her other sisters, but Sigrun is also equipped with every single Valkyrie attack you have seen. Even with a fully upgraded Ivaldi’s Cursed Mist Set, Sigrun put me through the wringer. When I finally bested her after a few attempts, I felt like an unbelievable badass.
I think going after the Valkyries is worth it, not just for the challenge, but for the reward you get. When you defeat Sigrun, you get the Axe Pommel Retribution. It lets you throw your axe miles away. Just being able to see the spectacle unfold is reward enough.
Having played this game again since my initial playthrough in 2018, my overall feelings towards this game have not changed over the last four years. God of War (2018) is still one of the best games I have ever played. None of the game’s shortcomings are even remotely deal-breaking. The game is available on PS4 and PC. If you haven’t played it yet—why haven’t you? This game is well worth your time and money. Word of advice, however, if you plan to play this game on Give Me God of War, be prepared to die at the tutorial fight—a lot. But for now, the calm has lifted, and only Ragnarök awaits.