God of War (the new one, that is) has been a long time coming, and while fans usually know what to expect from a sequel, Kratos’ next adventure has so far been a bit more of an enigma. There have been a few gameplay demonstrations and story trailers, but with so many drastic changes coming in the new installment, it still hasn’t been easy for fans to wrap their heads around. EGM finally got idea of what’s next for Kratos, having played over two hours at a recent God of War preview event.
The demo began at the very start of the game, with some impactful story moments that won’t be spoiled here. As fans already know, tragedy strikes Kratos’ new family in the form of the death of his new love. After quickly teaching his son the ropes of survival, he and the boy set off to spread the mother’s ashes atop the highest peak in the realm. Kratos, as a character, rarely ever evolved beyond the bloodthirsty meathead we knew from previous games, but the older, more tempered veteran we play as in the new God of War seems to have personality traits beyond just angry and angrier.
This is due largely in part to his son, Atreus, for whom Kratos is now the sole caregiver. The boy is ambitious and brave, but inexperienced, which proves to be an almost constant source of conflict between the duo at the outset of their journey. There are several moments in which Kratos makes clear efforts to be more fatherly, but he always pulls back, foreshadowing some much needed development in the pair’s relationship.
Kratos’ short temper and high expectations may not make him father of the year, but the strongest metals are forged in the hottest fires. Atreus may be inexperienced, but he does not shy away from a fight, and the player can use this boldness to their advantage. On command, Atreus will fire arrows at marked targets, stunning them and giving Kratos a combative edge. Some of Atreus’ maneuvers that were seen in earlier coverage of the game were seemingly not available in this demo, such as elemental attacks and jumping on enemies’ backs, so Atreus must have as much progression to look forward to as Kratos. One enemy from the demo required Atreus to stun them before Kratos could attack, but a large troll enemy—seen in the game’s reveal trailer—didn’t even seem to notice the arrows bouncing off him, so it is currently difficult to gauge the boy’s usefulness. If the game’s array of enemies is a vast as those in previous installments, there will likely be more than a few that necessitate Atreus’ attention.
Kratos, on the other hand, made it very clear in the demo just how effective he is at killing. The game’s over-the-shoulder perspective and lack of a dedicated jump function are two of the aforementioned changes that fans have struggled to get their heads around, and they definitely veer the game away from its familiar path.
The moments in which you are precision dodging attacks or performing pre-animated takedowns on enemies are the moments that provide flashbacks to the God of War games we all once knew, but the general, minute-to-minute gameplay of the new experience is a different beast. While the combat design of the old games had players accounting for everything in an environment at once and acting accordingly, part of the challenge in the new God of War is simply keeping track of all the threats around you with the much tighter camera and limited mobility. The difficulty is eased somewhat by the combat being a little slower and heavier, making it more of a chess match as you tactically deduce how to take down your target without making yourself vulnerable to his friends.
The changes in environmental management are further pronounced in the boss fights. In previous God of War games, many of the iconic boss fights took place around, or even on, the bosses themselves. From the small handful of trademark encounters I faced in the new game, the boss enemies were more like Kratos in the sense of being included in the environment, rather than fully taking it up. That is not to say they weren’t epic in execution, but I will keep the demo’s most impressive example under wraps to save its impact for fans.
Fighting God of War‘s new smorgasbord of Norse-inspired enemies will not involve Kratos’ trusty Blades of Chaos, but instead a new armament that seems to be just as versatile. Kratos’ Leviathan Axe will be his primary tool of death on this adventure, used in conjunction with a collapsible shield mounted on his arm.
The Leviathan Axe started out as a fairly average melee weapon on a basic level. As the demo progressed, however, I learned some tactical benefits that got increasingly more useful, largely centered around the ability to throw the axe and call it back to you. The axe can be thrown horizontally or vertically, but what makes the action innovative is that players can use the reactive nature of the axe’s return trip to their advantage. Whether or not the thrown axe hits its target, players can call it back, and any enemies it hits on the return trip are damaged. The axe can freeze targets it is embedded in, and while axe-less, the player can still engage enemies in hand-to-hand combat, using the shield to deal extra damage.
The ability to jump around an arena with lavishly balletic combos is gone, but the new game devises a satisfying combative balance of its own. Hacking an enemy to pieces before throwing the axe at an enemy at range while ripping apart a third target with your bare hands is awesome enough, and that’s before you call your axe back to stun an enemy in the back of the head right before they hit you. It is the exact gratification you look for in God of War.
God of War held onto its old ways for much longer than most series. It worked while it lasted, but now it is choosing to catch pace with the rest of the world. The upcoming installment may be a mild shock to the system for the most hardcore of returning fans, but for gamers who are simply on the hunt for quality, this recent demo gives me confidence that developer Santa Monica Studio will deliver as always.