Estimated reading time: 5 minutes
Everything about God of War is epic. The story, acting, characters, boss battles, mini-battles, powers, music, animations, cut-scenes. God of War games are so filled to the brim with awesome moments that anytime you think the imaginative and epic apex has been reached, another moment comes and blows you even further than the one prior had done. After having your jaw dropped to the ground several times by the many impossibly sexy moments, you just let it lie there. Known for generating interest in Greek Mythology amongst younglings, God of War on release was a sleeper hit, and quickly established itself as one of the dominant forces available on the market. Each successive game bought bigger thrills, longer boss battles – but the absolute grand-daddy of them all has to be The Desert of Lost Souls.
By the time you reach The Desert of Lost Souls, the game has had several great levels / moments: the opening Hydra battle; rooftops of Athens; first encounters with Minotaur in the Gates of Athens chapter; Medusa boss battle. While these are all great, unforgettable sequences with unparalleled production, they all quickly pale in comparison to the chapter in question here. And while this chapter is less than an hour long if you know what you’re doing, the impact it leaves upon the player is deep. Calling The Desert of Lost Souls the pinnacle of God of War’s experience is somewhat risky, but it definitely can be used as a great example of how when God of War decides to go big, it spares no expense.
After traversing the magnificent sewers of Athens and scaling its many fantastic spiraling staircases, your puzzle-solving will eventually unlock a rather large set of doors. When you enter through it, you will be greeted by a statue of Athena. The immediate cut-scene that follows is still arguably one of the greatest in all of video games. The swooping camera work is to be noted – but the icing on the cake is the one brief shot of the Titan, Cronus, crawling through the endless desert on all fours, the legendary Temple of Pandora chained onto his back. The camera stays just long enough for the doomed Titan to give an anguished glance to the player… before carrying on with his punishment. In the Greek Mythology, Cronus, or Kronos, was the leader of the Titans; before being overthrown by one of his sons, Zeus, and imprisoned in Tartarus (a prison for immortals). The Cronus that appears in the games, just like the rest of the game, is loosely based on his Mythological counterpart.
The gist is this: seek and destroy the three deadly Sirens to open the door of the ruined temple that sits in the middle of the desert. In it resides the Lesser Horn, which further opens the pathway to the Summoning Horn. In Greek Mythology, Sirens were beautiful yet dangerous half-women, half-birds who resided on small islands and lured sailors to their deaths by their seductive singing voices. The Sirens that appear in this game however, are drastically changed in appearance – they have busty bodies and deformed faces – but retain the alleged sonorous musical voice from the Mythology (and with it, a penchant to scream like a banshee to scare you silly). The idea behind this level is to locate the Sirens via following the trail of their hauntingly operatic song.
The implementation of a rather different approach to discovering an enemy before you tackle them, along with the challenge that comes from the extreme low visibility due to the perpetual sandstorm, makes Desert of Lost Souls, although a piece of the same puzzle, a little more intimidating and attention-worthy than the rest put together. Imminent danger notwithstanding, the desert itself looks pretty spectacular – especially when you encounter hints of a once thriving civilization: majestic dilapidated statues, building wrecks, broken down wells. The production of Deserts is simply superb. It takes inspiration to pull off something like this, but true genius to turn it into something this memorable.
When the three Sirens have been dealt with (and the occasional Minotaur defeated), the door of the aforementioned temple opens, granting you access to the Horns. Once inside, you come across a conveyor belt of sorts with a rotating spike grinder at one end and a high wall at the other. This puzzle doesn’t require too much thinking, but since I’m no Aristotle, it never once occurred to me to destroy the killing contraption. Doing so would have eliminated one danger and I would then be free to tackle the endless spawning Undead Legionnaires while pushing the crate towards the wall. Once this is achieved, you come across the Lesser Horn.
Activating it creates an aperture through the ceaseless sandstorm, leading straight to the Summoning Horn. As soon as you approach it, it disappears and a horde of Sirens appear and attack you. Unlike the three fought previously, these Sirens don’t pose that much of a threat and can easily be taken down with simple combo attacks. When the last Siren is defeated, the Horn re-appears; and when you activate it, a lengthy cutscene follows, showing Cronus crawling towards your position and Athena narrating how Kratos scaled the Titan for three days to reach the top of the Temple of Pandora.
Here ends The Desert of Lost Souls. With a great introductory cutscene, thrilling and at time scary gameplay, and one fantastic production, Desert may seem outdated and rather nondescript in front of the series’ other grand-scale moments – but here in God of War, it is nothing less than a watershed moment and the first true example of great things yet to come.