God of War PS4 PREVIEW: A triumphant return and potentially Sony's game of the generation
God of War is Sony PlayStation's next BIG exclusive and arguably it's one which carries the biggest weight of expectation of any PS4 exclusive so far this generation.
Uncharted 4, Horizon and Bloodborne to name just three Sony games were all presented with different obstacles to their success. Be it Naughty Dog somehow expanding on a successful trilogy with new and innovative ways, Guerilla launching a new IP outside of their wheelhouse or FromSoftware finding a creative niche in a world where Dark Souls already existed. They all had a challenge.
But Sony Santa Monica and this new God of War has perhaps had the most challenging task of them all.
How do you successfully revive a franchise that's been effectively dead since 2013 and revolutionise what is still considered one of the biggest and best series of games ever on the PlayStation?
Worse still, how do you do this with a character so iconic and ingrained in PlayStation fans' hearts, without completely alienating them with this, admittedly, very different new path.
Before our preview for the game in London, Director Cory Barlog likened the games' early years as something akin to the 'college years'. A time when they were young, reckless with a chip on their shoulder trying to take on the industry.
This new God of War game though is certainly not that. It is more mature, more assured, more refined than anything God of War fans will have played before.
And it's great. REALLY great. Arguably everything that God of War has been building towards since Kratos first emerged on the PS2 in 2005.
Given that we've played two hours of what is supposedly a 30-35 hour long game, it seemed slightly churlish to write a full-on, in-depth preview.
So instead, we're breaking it down into what we feel are the core elements of the game to give you as full an overview as possible for this sensational new PS4 exclusive.
Keep reading to learn more, just below the amazing new screenshots released today and captured on PS4 Pro.
God of War – Sony PS4 Exclusive Screenshots from Santa Monica Studios
God of War is an action-adventure video game series loosely based on Greek mythology, originally created by David Jaffe at Sony's Santa Monica Studio.
If you've seen some of the existing trailers and gameplay bits from E3 some years back you'll have a decent enough understanding of where the game finds itself.
Kratos has left behind his tragic Greek past having wandered the earth for an as yet undetermined amount of time. But at some point, he finds himself with a family. A new wife and a new kid, Atreus.
We pick up soon after the death of Kratos new wife, which, for reference, is never fully explained in our first two hours. The boy, riddled with grief, also appears to be harbouring some sort of illness, which is referenced very loosely.
Essentially though, Kratos, using as few a words as possible, cannot trust the boy to venture with him to the nearby mountain to release his mother's ashes.
We're holding back on a few details here for not wanting to ruin any big surprises, but soon thereafter you'll encounter your first proper boss fight – no, not the Troll you've seen previously.
The encounter is enough to both shake Kratos to his core and convinces him to expedite the pair's departure from the family home. And so begins the long road ahead.
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There's no getting away from the fact that combat is demonstrably different to past God of War titles. Gone are the days of frantically mashing the buttons and seeing Kratos whirling around like some hellish flailing spinning top.
Now with the camera pulled in tight to Kratos the action is more intense, graphic and above all, fun, simply by being closer to the action.
But that being said, combat doesn't feel exactly alien to what fans of the series are used to either.
Again you may have seen this in several videos online, but you still have an incredible variety of attacking moves at your disposal and you'll still be chaining enemies, launching them into the air, juggling them with moves or using Atreus bow and arrows to supplement your own combo.
We're also only a moment into the start of the game with more moves and abilities to unlock as we progress. It feels, even at such an early stage that there's a wealth of opportunities that'll ensure combat doesn't get old.
The DOOM style finishers are also incredibly satisfying. From stomping on a beasts head, chopping them down the torso or even just full on punching them to death before slamming them (Hulk) style into the canvas leaving a spray of orange blood. It never gets old.
The only drawback and one we feel will be ironed out with more playtime, was simply forgetting to both recall the axe – or the button to do so – mid-combat when we were in a flurry of other attacks.
Who knows though, maybe we were just having too much time whaling on enemies with our fists and shield.
The boy done good
For a while, it seemed like Atreus could become something of a crutch for the game. Early on a lot of questions at the development team centred around whether Atreus would get in the way if he'd be this constant buddy to look after and generally if his existence could become a pain in the *** for all involved.
Which makes sense. Having a constant buddy by your side isn't always easy especially when it can so easily become one long protect mission.
In fact, though, Atreus is the driving force behind the story and often the heart of everything good about how Santa Monica is evolving Kratos.
Gameplay wise and in combat he's helpful and never a hindrance, in one instance, in fact, the enemy reverent could only be attacked when preceded by an arrow from Atreus to distract them.
In our short playthrough, Atreus abilities were limited, but a look at the skill trees in the menu shows that like Kratos there's plenty of growth to evolve his movesets too.
But his greatest contribution comes from his role in the story and the tense friction it produces between him and his father.
Rarely has Kratos had someone else to bounce off previously and here, we have 30 glorious hours to enjoy.
Sometimes it's with a robust shouting match and other times it's found in the quiet. What's clear is that the story is all the better with Atreus in it.
Let's round up some of the other bits which you might be thinking and caught our eye when playing:
THE OPEN EXPLORATION
Cory Barlog has often mentioned that the game offers a degree of openness to it. Not quite open-world but enough that you can wonder of explore a cave and find a new boss etc. In the early part of the game, we didn't see this all too much when we went looking.
That being said, there were one or two deviations to the path we could take and often it lead to a couple of new enemies and some extra treasure. We expect though that the further we get into the game the deeper these opportunities will become.
THE LEVELING UP SYSTEM
Throughout the world, you'll find Hacksilver, which is your currency which you can use to upgrade weapons, armour, both for Kratos and the boy. We tended to find this when we went off the beaten path and found extra chests. Outside of this, you'll also have a series of skill trees which allow you to unlock new abilities from various activities you complete in-game. So nothing revolutionary, but all executed perfectly and easy to understand.
THE ONE CAMERA SHOT
Honestly, when you're playing you hardly notice that there are no cuts. But afterwards it does hit you and you realise 'dear lord I haven't looked away for two hours'. Having this method of gameplay, jaw-dropping graphics on the PS4 Pro and a new camera that's putting you right into the heart of the action just works so brilliantly.
In truth, it wouldn't surprise me if people find themselves completing the game faster than they expected because they're so unable to look away or put the controller down.
And plenty of them, mostly simple stuff in this early section of the game which involves flinging your axe to freeze cogs to either open, close doors, bridges and the like.
We've not pushed a single box around which is good, but in general, it feels like Uncharted 4 levels of puzzling. Which is pleasing, as it would have been a shame if the game was just moving you from one combat zone to the next with nothing to break it up.
JUST LOOK AT IT!
We've only really scratched the surface of what Cory Barlog and the Sony Santa Monica team have been building this last five years and really we want to see how much further the game grows when we're 15-20 hours in.
But what the opening two hours did show us is that the team behind the game have seemingly managed to more than meet the daunting challenge laid before them to drag Kratos and whats become an aged God of War series kicking and screaming into a new PS4 era.
Visually, the game looks incredible, probably, the best PS4 Pro game we've seen. Which after Uncharted 4, Lost Legacy and Horizon Zero Dawn, feels like quite a feat to achieve, but somehow Sony's first-party studio's just keeping knocking it out the park – this time seemingly into the overflow car park just for good measure.
Story-wise we're hooked two hours in. Actually, in truth, the boss fight one hour in had us hooked. And yet, we're still utterly clueless to the bigger picture, but dear lord we can't wait to unravel the Norse mythology surrounding this new adventure.
Then there's the combat, which was our biggest worry as a lifelong God of War fan – but it just works, seamlessly, with zero fuss and a book of further opportunities just waiting to be unlocked and exploited.
Has Cory Barlog created a potential game of the year contender? That's as safe as houses.
The better question is, has Cory Barlog created the best game of the PS4 generation so far? We're starting to think so.