Yahtzee reviews the latest God of War.
Whoops! I hear the enchanting sound of freshly-disembodied giblets raining upon the roof; I think we're getting a visit from that lovable nutter, Kratos, video gaming's favorite god-botherer/god-pulverizer! But then we start God of War 4, and it's like our crazy alcoholic friend showed up to the party and quietly asks for a mineral water 'cos he found religion in prison. You want to go out and murder some people who mostly don't deserve it, Kratos, mate? "No, I have to set an example for the kid now."
Oh, for the love of God... of War, Kratos! Last time we met, you pulled a guy's head off 'cos he had glowing eyes and you needed a flashlight; now you're all teaching your kid about restraint and mercy and the only decapitation is consensual. Maybe there was a feeling God of War needed to age with its audience, but the original God of War's unique selling point was its sheer, ridiculous audacity and violence, and now I feel it, like Evil Within, has been sacrificed on the altar of the "serious hairy dad" game pioneered by The Last of Us (that I still say is overrated).
I should probably admit to being somewhat biased against God of War 4 - and yes, I am going to insist on calling it that - 'cos I hate when a big game comes out on a Friday and takes up my whole weekend that I could have spent wasting time playing video games instead of wasting time playing video games for work, but also because I remember the first God of Wars on PlayStation 2; specifically, I remember how they used to start: with Kratos getting dropped into a room full of enemies, yelling "If anything's still alive in thirty seconds, I'm going to get a real narc on!", and splattering them all against rocks like he's doing the laundry. Meanwhile, God of War 4 starts with Kratos very slowly carrying a big lump of wood home to cremate the missus. I'm slightly insulted by the way the game insists on making us press buttons and push "Forward" to progress this glorified cinematic; like we've got any fucking choice! Maybe I don't feel like carrying the body to the pyre; maybe I think it'd look nicer on the privet hedge.
I say the game starts this way, but really, the game "starts" about six times; after the funeral, Kratos takes his little cum-sprout hunting, and then the game finally starts when a troll shows up and the combat kicks in, but after we formally introduce him to the inside of his chest cavity, we just go back to bed. Finally, the game actually starts when an introductory boss appears, or at least, after we kill him and set off on the big journey; then we play through some linear levels for a while before we unlock the boat, the world opens up, and the game can truly begin! ...right after you get to Týr's temple and unlock the nine realms, anyway. This is like listening to a story being told by a very old person and waiting for them to get to the fucking point, eventually realizing there might never have been one in the first place.
So yes, the plot: having ensured that the ancient Greeks now have to pray to a skiff full of guts and severed heads, Kratos is now hiding out in Norse mythology. But after the death of his wife, the local gods start noticing the four-mile radius of disembodied goblins surrounding his house, and he and his son must go on a road trip through Midgard and the nine realms - well, four or five of the nine realms; got to save something for the fucking DLC - to smash Odin and Thor's heads together until they start making squishing noises. Oh, wait, no, not that, sorry; I forgot we're a serious hairy dad now. We're just going to scatter the wife's ashes, learn valuable lessons about maturity, and maybe get some ice cream. In fact, despite the game constantly banging on about Odin and what a violent, paranoid fuck-face he is, he never fucking shows up, and what I assumed at the time had been a rather bland and heavily-scripted boss fight as a prelude to the final chapter of the game ended up being the final boss. And then, at the very very end, the game does a very cheeky thing by setting up an explosive, climactic battle, and then going, "Whoops! Here we go again!" Freeze frame, roll credits like it's fucking Happy Days.
I know there's no law saying that games have to end with boss fights, but when I looked back on God of War 4, I felt like nothing much of consequence happened: we tootled around Midgard for a while; at one point, a dragon pops up out of nowhere, which we smack straight back down with a rolled-up newspaper; and the only major Norse god we got to beat up was Baldur, who, it seemed, had never recovered from being in Too Human and became addicted to meth. I partly want to blame this on "Save It for the DLC Syndrome" and partly on the open-world design that, it seems, is now as mandatory for AAA games as picking up a case of crabs on shore leave; it means the plot can't be so consequential that we can't blow it off for three hours to go winkle-picking. And the game's really not subtle about pushing that aspect: "Hey, we could continue the plot, but then again, we could piss about for a while. What do you say?" says Kratos' precocious little sperm deposit on three separate occasions. Nice try, game, but if I explore, I'm damn certain I'm going to find treasure orifices that can only be spread apart with the magic anal beads we don't get 'til Plot Mission 9 or whatever.
"You haven't mentioned the combat yet, Yahtz." All right, fine; the game's pretty good for majestic landscapes, and I felt moved to progress just to see what the next environment was and if we could get souvenir postcards to bore Kratos' neighbors to death with once we get home. "Um, I was actually asking about the combat." And I suppose the relationship between Kratos and his overgrown pubic louse is quite nicely written, and watching them mutually develop over time is the big draw of the plot, even if the open world thing also makes their arc a bit stop-and-start. "Yahtz, tell us about the comb--" The combat's not great, all right?! Are you happy now?!
It's overly complex, for one thing; it didn't take long for me to start finding it really hard to decide what combat upgrades to unlock when I knew damn well just from the descriptions that I wasn't going to use any of the fuckers. "Press R1, and then pause, and then hold down R2, and bite down on the trackpad to do the Spartan Gurgling-Death Bum-Wiggle." Thanks; I think I'll stick to just mashing "Light Attack" and pressing "Dodge" or "Block" when appropriate. Oh yes, and later in the game, remembering to switch between my ice weapon and my fire weapon, depending on whether the current enemy has orange or blue steam clouds coming out of their armpits.
Also, I know you've long admired Kratos from afar, camera, but now he's let you into his life, there's no need to be so fucking clingy. The way the camera stays right up his bum the whole time makes it hard to gauge distance and your surroundings, which isn't ideal for melee combat, and I know for a fact that the game fully agrees with me, because it had to put visually off-putting, hard-to-read, glowing arrows around you to indicate when something's standing right behind you with a smile and a massive stiffy. Seems like the much more elegant solution would have been to just draw the camera back a bit so it's not giving us a constant rectal exam.
God of War 4... God of 4? God of 4 is absorbing and imaginative enough to keep me going and perfectly satisfactory in a vacuum, but I can't help thinking of it as yet another classic series sacrificing some of its unique identity for the sake of making itself more like the standard AAA game of today: grindy side-quests, item crafting, and standard camera bum-hugging instead of the arty fixed camera angles overseeing combat like watching a lawnmower blade inside an overheating tumble dryer. The younger Kratos was never relatable, but he was pretty fucking interesting to watch when he had a narc on and two fistfuls of cyclops nut-sack; "Serious Hairy Dad" Kratos is more human, but also boring, stuffy, and aloof. Yeah, Kratos really seems like a guy concerned with maintaining his dignity; that's why he colored in his face with a red biro and put on a cheerleading skirt.
- Bit of an Ares-hole: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw
- Also, fair warning, you might have this game's plot twists spoiled for you if you read too much about Norse mythology
- My dad never took me troll-murdering