A game review from the unique perspective of a total newbie gamer who has only just started to indulge a life long love of video games, who also happens to be an adult(ish) woman.
I finished this game (except for Sigrun. Damn it, Sigrun) on my birthday, and I have thoughts! Let’s get stuck into it.
WARNING: Spoilers. Duh.
Can we just talk about how much I love beardy, old man Kratos? They’ve really changed up the character a lot. Oh, he’s still ridiculously muscular. I mean, he must have to eat several boars of an evening to maintain that amount of mass. Still, there are some appreciated changes, however.
For starters, his lats no longer look like weird proto-wings, which is nice. His waist is thicker, too, instead of teeny-how-on-earth-could-it-support-those-shoulders-tiny, as it has been in earlier incarnations of the character. These much more realistic proportions did not make me roll my eyes or laugh in derision, as previous God of War games have done.
Also, they’ve replaced the douche-goatee with a full beard, and I. am. here. for. it. I much prefer it. There’s no reason for that. It’s a purely aesthetic thing.
Now, to the stuff that really matters. I adore this Kratos. Like, a lot. Unlike the earlier versions of him, where he is nothing but a cardboard cut-out of toxic masculinity, this Kratos is rich and complex, with a range of emotions, and a deep internal life and actual personal growth that peaks through ever so beautifully during the game. In previous games, I felt nothing for the avatar. He was just the thing you moved across the screen in order to kill tonnes of shit. At the end of his three part original saga when he “died,” I could not have cared less.
Now, however, right at the end of the game, when there is that image of Kratos behind the torn fabric… you know the one… I teared up. I got concerned. I was worried for Kratos in a way I had not ever been in any of the games before this. Kratos became a real (fictional) person in this game; unsure, grieving, and incredibly wise at times, and it was glorious.
Also, casting Christopher Judge as Kratos was a stroke of genius. There is a certain gravitas that Mr. Judge brings to the character that was simply missing before. Granted, the writing in previous games was, well, nothing special. Even still, the emotional range Mr. Judge brought to Kratos was something special, and it was never more clear that the warmth in that amazing voice whenever Kratos spoke of his late wife…? Wait, were they married? Lover? Spouse? Partner. I’m going with partner. This is particularly evident when Atreus asks if his mother was a good fighter and Kratos answers, warmly, “Yes. She fought beautifully.”
By the by, I’m not saying that anyone at Santa Monica read my review of God of War III, but I’m fully taking credit for the casting of Christopher Judge. So there.
All of this to say, I love this new Kratos. So much so, I’m going to have to revisit my F**k, Marry, Kill list and make some hard choices.
Atreus is adorable. There’s not much to say about his physical design. He looks like a kid, which is great. There are some scars on his face, which are never really explained, which, now having finished the game, I have some ideas about, based on who he is (something about the venom of a serpent, something, something, pagan Scandinavian myth something). It’s his character that really got to me.
He could not be more unlike his father when the game starts. He wears his emotions on his sleeve, and believes in kindness for kindness’ sake (a trait which, we are told, he acquired from his mother). He’s eager to please, and happy to make friends with literally everyone he meets. His enormous heart influences his father more than Kratos’ emotional stagnation influences Atreus, and Kratos does good deeds on the urging of this adorable kid.
Like the new Kratos, however, Atreus is not a one-note character. He struggles, particularly with relating to his father, whom he loves very much and wants to please. This struggle manifests in really interesting ways, and sometimes really frustrating ways in game. The frustration is earnt, though, and an important point in the telling of the story. But more on that, later.
It is really hard not to love this character, even if there isn’t much to speak on about him. At least, not without delivering unforgivable spoilers.
Baldur, the main antagonist in this game, was such a great character! I adore the tattoos on the character. It tells me the team did their research. There’s plenty to suggest that the medieval Scandinavians were, like the Celts of the Iron Age, tattooed. Baldur is not the only character with tattoos. Atreus has some, as does Magni and Moði (sons of Thor, and yet more antagonists to Kratos and his son), and Freya. It’s a small detail… except in the case of Baldur, where almost his entire body is covered, but it’s an accurate one, and I adore the game designers for it.
Baldur’s build is much slighter that Kratos’, and that makes for some really interesting visuals in game, and also a huge surprise as he is easily as powerful as our hero. Also, pretty much invincible. Almost. NO SPOILERS. Okay, some spoilers.
Anyway, what’s really great about this character is how messed up he is. Once again, the interiority of the character is paramount to how much I like them as characters, and Baldur’s interior life is wonderfully twisted. He is so embittered and full of hatred, making his mental state the real thing to fear here. And it’s so damned interesting, and makes Baldur, not someone I can empathise with exactly, but someone I can kinda understand.
I also want to make a special note of two side characters that also serve as the comic relief.
These two dwarven brothers are almost my favourite in the game. Sindri is a germophobe, which is the basis for a lot of the adorable laughs that I had from this game. Brok is a gruff, cranky sort, who got a lot of amused snorts from me. Their appearance in the game did well to lighten the tension, and provided many laugh out loud moments. They’re a huge part of the reason why this game is so much fun. The best part, is that they weren’t stupid comic relief. The writers did a wonderful job of creating characters that were funny without being unintelligent. Often the comic relief is poorly written, and inspires more eye rolls than giggles. I’m pleased to say that these two provided many of the latter.
There are more characters, but I’m not going to list them here. This section is already too long as it is, and I can cover at least one more later. But I’m impressed with the differences in character design. No one felt like cardboard cut-outs, but rather full, intriguing and complex characters. My hat goes off to the writers for crafting such a fine balance, and to the voice actors for bringing them so beautifully to life.
I am a complete sucker for parent-child bonding stories. It’s what I loved so much about The Last of Us, and I absolutely adored it here. Kratos learning what fatherhood is, and Atreus breaching through literally several lifetimes of dehumanising conditioning to reach his father was a story that grabbed my heart, squeezed, and would not let go. I loved it. It made me smile. It frustrated me. And by the end, I was so invested in the blossoming father-son relationship that the vague threat of ending it made my eyes water.
Ostensibly, this is a story about a man and his son trying to honour the last wish of their dead loved one (partner and mother). The whole point of the journey is to release her ashes atop the highest peak in all the realms. But that’s not what this story is about.
This story is about a damaged man learning to undo the chains of toxic masculinity that has been trained into him from birth, and in so doing, bonding with his son, with whom he could not relate before. There are a couple of beautiful bookends here. At the beginning, when Atreus is in need of comfort, Kratos cannot even bring himself to put his hand on his son’s shoulder. By the end, there’s practically a side-hug. That barrier is broken.
It first starts to crumble when Atreus kills a man; the very thing he did not want to do, and the thing Kratos tried to spare him from, in the old temple thingy. That little moment between father and son almost made me cry.
Similarly, the toxic tropes that have plagued Kratos; gods killing gods, sons killing parents, the fear of the same probably part of why Kratos feared to love his son more fully as a father, is slowly torn away by Kratos’ own hand. He continually cautions his son that Atreus “must be better.” Better than Kratos. Better than the gods. At the end of the final boss battle, when Kratos announces that “the cycle ends here” and Atreus questions what being a god means, Kratos wisely counsels his son, “Who I was is not who you will be.” It’s a moment of grave profundity that I was not expecting in this game. I want to take the time to unpack it all, but I’ll perhaps do that in a different blog post, and not here.
The quest is to fulfil the wishes of a dead loved one, but this story is about so, so much more and it is profound, and meaningful, and deserving of an essay all of its own. I loved it so, so much. So much!
Also, a shout out to the refreshing take on the Aesir. They are nothing more than powerful bullies, these gods, and it’s nice to see it be taken from that angle, instead of what we usually see about the Aesir in modern takes of mythology.
There are two main women in the game, and one of them is dead before we ever get to meet her. The others, however, impressed me with how they were treated. There were, of course, the Valkyries, who were antagonistic until they were not. While I have a slight issue with the whole ‘crazy bitches need rescuing by a man and then they become good’ thing with them, but they did make for some excellently challenging fights that I really enjoyed. As of writing this, I still have yet to defeat Sigrun, despite three hours solid of trying, but I will, damn it! I also really enjoyed that they were so tough, and so competent at combat. I also really loved that there was a small bit of lore on each that you could read up on once you’ve placed their helms in their seat at the Council. I’m a nerd, and seeing the developers have put in their research like this made me so fucking happy!
The one female character we get a fair amount of in-story interaction with during the game is Freya.
I really liked this version of Freya. She’s remembered most as the Norse goddess of love, but this version of her harkens back to her older roots: leader of the Vanir, and a remarkable warrior in her own right (so remarkable, that under her leadership the Aesir failed to defeat the Vanir during their war, and Odin tricked her in order to prevent her from fighting ever again… ’cause he’s a sneaky bastard and a coward. Ahem). I love that they paid special attention to her role as a leader and a warrior, and how it was stripped from her.
She is also a great character. She’s sassy (one of my favourite lines is “Still a god” when Kratos comes seeking aid), and holds her own, but has room in her heart to care for Atreus and help Kratos when his son falls deathly ill.
They don’t shy away from her darker side, either. She turns vengeful when she loses everything.
She’s a great character, though I would like to see a little more realistic musculature. She’s supposed to be a warrior, capable of hours of swinging a sword. It would have been nice to see a little more muscle on her.
It’s a tiny gripe, considering how wonderful the character is overall.
Given how few women there are in the game (literally only one that could be considered a character, per se), I am still quite happy with how they treated her. I’m also happy that there was no forced romance.
While Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice will forever hold a special place in my heart for how brilliant their combat system is, this game was nevertheless really fun to play. Most of the time, the errors made were me forgetting which button was dodge, and which was action.
There were some issues with buttons that were used for more than one thing. The dodge button, for example was also the collect item button, which means that on more than one occasion, I tried to dodge, but instead stomped on some health, and then got slaughtered. That was incredibly annoying. Also annoying was the tendency for the tracking feature to suddenly stop tracking for no damned reason other than the enemy flying past really quickly, go flying out of frame, or something. It had me screaming bloody murder during some fights (*cough *cough Sigrun *cough), and was by far a pretty frustrating part of an otherwise excellent experience.
Also, I thought that I would love the Leviathan Axe as my primary weapon, but the Chaos Blades were too much fun! They became my primary weapon for most of the later half of the game. I also might have gotten a little too excited when I realised that I would be able to get them as part of the game play.
The gore fest that God of War is known for is not ignored in this game, though I will say that it takes a welcome backseat to story and character.
All in all great game play.
I’m making special mention of the music here, because it’s absolutely stunning. This soundtrack is exceptional. So exceptional, in fact, that I ran out and bought it the first opportunity I could. Honestly, Bear McCreary is in top form here.