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Review – God of War Saga

Amongst all the games revealed and available to play at Sony’s Playstation Experience event in Las Vegas, many of which looked incredibly promising, was a small confirmation that there will be another entry in the lauded God of War franchise. Considering there are already two trilogies and a comic book miniseries, this news could come off as very exciting, or smell like the curdled funk of a publisher milking a successful property. Nothing can ever have finality in the videogame industry. Regardless of your outlook, what better reason to look back on the titles that have built the story of Kratos (and his need to put a sword through anything moving on screen), into one of the premier videogames available on Sony’s console. I’ll be looking at the Complete PS3 Collection for the purposes of this review, as well as in chronological order. (*included at the bottom are some trailer links for the unfamiliar)

God of War: Chains of Olympus (2008)

Coming second chronologically in the series, Chains of Olympus did exactly what it needed to do as a portable entry in the series, but not much more. The gameplay revolves around mixing the two attack buttons together to create combos and juggle the variety of mythology-inspired enemies until you can press the O button, alternatively titled the “Be the most brutal badass in the room” button. It has the fast-paced, hack-and-slash style of combat, the brutal finishing moves, and upgradeable magic attacks and weapons that are cornerstones of the franchise. However, in retrospect, this outing comes off as the weakest in the series. This isn’t due to it being bad or having any particularly obvious flaws (nothing is fixed that wasn’t broken), but it’s clear that this one is the lite beer of God of War games. The story mode doesn’t take very long to reach the end (about 6 hours), the fights don’t reach the same “Epic!” level of all the others, and the game doesn’t really have that much replay value. The plot starts off with Kratos having to don his Sherlock hat in order to uncover who or what incapacitated the sun god, Helios, and ultimately return the deity to the sky. It’s only within the last hour or so where things get really interesting, story-wise. Kratos is  loses sight of his original objective and is forced to make tough decisions. Following the final boss fight, a tie-in occurs with a character from God of War 2. Some highlight moments like the monster fake-out at the beginning, a brutal boss kill including a chest full of treasure, and going toe-to-toe with Charon on the River Styx, are entertaining and help the game stand out. But for the most part, it is a simplified God of War game. The gameplay is fun on the whole, but this one is easy to go one-and-done with.

8/10

God of War (2005)

The original game still holds up incredibly well. Many of the recurring motifs found in every other game all started here: Epic first levels/boss fights, getting into a scrap with a sea monster, taking a trip to the Underworld, Quick Time Event sex minigames, collecting phoenix feathers and gorgon eyes, the spiral staircase downward camera shot, and bumping a bitchin’ soundtrack whilst putting deities in the ground. The chainblades which became the distinctive staple of Kratos’s combat repertoire still feel incredibly satisfying. They are easy to figure out how to use, but the game has some punishing higher levels of difficulty for those looking to be challenged. (The final boss on God mode still gives me war flashbacks) The game also allows the player to cast four different magic abilities upon acquisition. Poseidon’s power is given within the first level and players can look forward to receiving those of Zeus, Hades, and Medusa. Separate from those is a Rage of the Gods berserker mode, as well as a secondary weapon in the Blade of Artemis (which is so comically large that its only competition is with Cloud’s Buster Sword). There are only three bosses in God of War, but the journey is peppered with iconic beasts to mame and murder. Cerberus mongrels, minotaurs, cyclopes and satyrs will contest you all the way up to the final showdown with Ares. The game mixes in some puzzles and platforming sections for good measure, but to mixed results. Puzzles are generally decent breaks from the action, but platforming is a different story. Anytime Kratos has to carefully maneuver around spikes (found in the Hades portions of the game), it is an absolute nightmare of game design. It’s during those parts when you realize how much Kratos is NOT Jak and Daxter, regardless of the fact that he can double jump. Also, the Desert of Lost Souls level, which has the player wandering around a screen obscured with sand until you find and kill 3 moving Sirens, is the definition of tedium. Fortunately, these problem areas are few and far between. They don’t bring down the otherwise amazing game, but do require the player to grit their teeth and push on to get back to the good stuff.

9/10

God of War: Ghost of Sparta (2010)

Kratos’s life has never come even remotely close to something that can be called cheery, (seeing Kratos smile would be like hearing Kate Upton fart) but beginning with the Ghost of Sparta, everything starts to tumble even further downhill for the cursed warrior. Visually, the game is the best of the titles not initially made for the PS3. ReadyAtDawn studios took the “leftover” ideas from Sony Santa Monica, and constructed a truly awesome side story for the newly-crowned god. (The Atlantis and Sparta levels, as well as many of the story elements, originally started as either unlockable bonus videos from God of War 1 or content that didn’t make it past the cutting room floor of God of War 2) No longer wielding the Blades of Chaos, Kratos now uses the golden, yet functionally-identical Blades of Athena to carve his path through Atlantis and the realm of death in order to find his long lost brother, Deimos. For the most part, everything’s still working as you would expect. Notably however, the Rage of the Gods system, which previously worked upon collection of red experience orbs from slain enemies and acted as a one-time burst of invincibility and enhanced moves, is replaced with Thera’s Bane. The new ability imbues the twin blades with flames and allows Kratos to do more damage and break through certain armors which are otherwise unaffected by his normal attacks. It’s not as flashy or cool, but it’s good to see new ideas being tried out. Likewise, the secondary weapon, Kratos’s old spear and shield, can function as both melee and projectile attacks. Like Thera’s Bane, it’s neither offensive nor showstopping, but works to make GoS unique in the series. Kratos has always been a belligerent antihero, dangerously mixing emotional instability (bordering on bipolar disorder) with dogged hubris and unstoppable willpower, but the character’s descent starts to become noticeable with this entry. Kratos really stops giving a f*** about anything he does or who he offends on Olympus. A pot on the brink of boiling over is the perfect material for a pre-sequel. It should be noted that Ghost of Sparta has what may be the most utterly depressing ending in the series, On the positive side, the sex minigame is the best of the series. How can one not be amused by somehow managing to bed an entire, goddamn brothel? Exactly, it’s impossible.

9.25/10

God of War II (2007)

If there were ever the case being made that Kratos was an ass, God of War 2 would be exhibit A thru Z. Beginning once again in appropriately epic fashion, Kratos fights an animated Colossus of Rhodes statue hundreds of times his own size. Soon after, Zeus reveals he doesn’t really like the arrogant mortal-become-god, and swiftly shanks Kratos. Things begin to go off the rails once time travel is introduced into the plot. Because of course, in order to get revenge on Zeus, Kratos is told to seek the Sisters of Fate and change his own destiny. Upon the initial playthrough, it’s pretty easy to be enamored by the Rogue’s gallery of Greek figures the game brings to the table, and never pay too much mind to the logic at play. Because this game has holes like swiss cheese when you start to put even a modicum of thought into it. So Kratos is set out on another journey to a place from which no mortal survives, fraught with terrors abound, and the god of gods hates him. It’s an uphill battle to say the least, but overcoming the adversity (which in his case includes Greek heroes like Perseus and Theseus), and watching the final cutscene, feels exceptionally victorious. Bust out a Kleenex box, because the twists at the end, to say nothing of the epic cliff hanger of all cliff hangers ending, will have you crying tears of awesomeness. (Like when Batman climbed out of that hole in DKR) You love/hate Kratos for what he’s doing. On one hand, it’s incredibly selfish and destructive, yet on the other hand, you have to give him his props for standing up to literally GODS and seeing his vendetta through. When the guy puts his head to something, get out of his damn way. GoW2 is nice and varied with its level structure. I enjoyed fighting Euryale (Medusa’s sister who loved cheese puffs and lard, apparently) and the Kraken. Riding Pegasus and fighting off griffins was also a pleasant addition, but weirdly, he just sort of disappears from the game. Oh, and the three alternate weapons are a disappointing lot. The cumbersome Barbarian Hammer is too slow to be effective, the Spear of Destiny moves too quickly for its own good, and the Blade of Olympus can only be used in minor instances at the start and end of the game. Dabble with them for a fight or two, if only just to realize how much better the blades feel to control.
8.75/10

God of War III (2010)

The crescendo finally reaches its ultimate climax in God of War 3. (You know it’s serious business when there are James Bond-style opening credits) The only one of these five games to have been developed for the PS3 truly embraces the larger-than-life reputation set forth by its predecessors, as Kratos is flung from one jaw-dropping moment after another. GoW 3 is as impressive as it is ambitious. Part of that is because of the immense scale many of these levels/bosses are capable of realizing due to the increased console power. (PC elitists can go crazy now) Things that simply couldn’t happen on the PS2 happen and happen often in Kratos’s PS3 debut. Fitting, since the plot revolves around the assault and subsequent devastation of Olympus itself. Like how the last game saw the death of so many Grecian figures, so too does this one, however on a heavenly level. Hades, Hercules, Poseidon, Cronos, and the 4-part Zeus battle, are all memorable boss fights. Each one harkens on different mechanics to highlight each Olympian’s unique traits. As well as incredible visuals and technical prowess on display, the story and gameplay are also very strong, outside of some minor nit-pickings. The main theme of GoW 3, that hope can overcome all obstacles, courses through the story framework pretty harmlessly up until you meet the Pandora character, who is just two conversations away from being gratingly annoying. Seriously, the end of the game hammers the word “Hope” into your head almost as much as Kratos hammers his fists into Hercules’s face. Oh, and remember how I said that Ghost of Sparta had the most depressing ending, well… that was a lie. After building a strong connection to Kratos, spending so many hours living out his doomed life (assuming one has played all the games to this point), the ending could leave you feeling wrecked for an hour or more. It’s a good ending, to be sure. Honestly, it’s the only one that would fit thematically and realistically. But, it has the strong potential to leave some devastated (and fortunately not in the Mass Effect 3 way). Up until that point though, Kratos gets to go ham with four different types of chain blade weapons. Ditching the chainblade+something you might not like combo of previous titles, GoW3 allows the player to get familiar with all the weapons as they all play similarly but simply in different styles. The only time one might find themselves going “wtf…,” gameplay wise, is when one of the “puzzles” in the game is actually Lute Hero and has the actual PS button icons IN the game. Aside from that trivial quibble, it’s one of the most memorable action games ever put out by Playstation and is a definitely a must-play for owners of the system.

9.75/10

Obligatory Number at the End for the entire series (so far): 9/10