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Beautiful, but Something of a Disappointment

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    God of War

    Rating: 3.5 – Good

    Beautiful, but Something of a Disappointment

    First, I want to say that playing God of War was enjoyable, overall. It is set in an interesting world, seen in cutting-edge graphics and color, and it has an absorbing story. It was very cool to see the smooth transitions from play to story and back again. But¡­ it just feels too different from the previous titles to be considered a true God of War game.

    I think the developers focused WAY too much on the story and downplayed other aspects of the game. For instance, the fighting becomes repetitious when there are always the same enemies doing the same thing over and over. This is always a drawback in the GoW series. Even the ¬°¬ģdeath scenes’ for the various mini-bosses were always the same. Cool to see it the first dozen times, but after that you’re reaching for your drink or maybe going to the restroom while Kratos goes through his routine. You’d think by now the developers would have come up with more animations and a wider variety of creatures by now. At least they are maturing; I think this is the only GoW that doesn’t have Kratos leaping into bed with a woman and offering the player a mini-sex game. So more kudos to them, I guess.

    However, there isn’t much to do in this game except follow the plot-line, which is mostly movie, not interaction. Sure, it’s a great movie, but that’s not why I bought the game¬°¬≠ it’s more of an animated movie with interspersed sections of gameplay, as opposed to a game with little animated shorts scattered throughout to sketch a storyline. This can be a good thing, as long as the gameplay doesn’t suffer. (But, well, it did.)

    Kratos is different too. His weapon of choice, his demeanor, his body (well, we’re all getting older¬°¬≠) and the fact that he brings a companion with him throughout the game markedly contrasts with previous GoW games. The controls were different also, which could be expected since the primary weapon for the first 2/3 of the game is an axe. It took a little getting used to, and the axe behaves differently than the Blades of Chaos, so maneuvering in effective patterns is more difficult initially. However, once you learn the weapon, the enemies aren’t very challenging except in terms of sheer numbers thrown at you.

    Another (geeky) gripe ¬°¬™ as good as the story is (and it IS engaging) it is also a bit annoying. The Norse mythology surrounding Baldur is ¬°¬ģtweaked’ somewhat, and Thor and the other gods are only briefly explained. Players who have never read anything about them may be a bit confused about some issues. Also, if you missed something that was said by a character in the movie, too bad. No way to ¬°¬ģrewind’ and no way to access a script so you can review the information at your leisure. So don’t blink, okay? Pay strict attention to the movie or you’re going to maybe get confused. There’s a talking head (which was awesome!) which spouted some interesting bits of mythology, but it could have led to another means of interaction with the game, as opposed to being merely another character rattling off dialogue. The game’s focus on telling its story took precedence over EVERYTHING.

    Oh yeah ¬°¬™ How about the fact that the son of Kratos can’t be damaged at all during a fight?! It took a few encounters for me to clue in, but once I understood his role in the game I felt both relieved and disappointed. Sure, it’s kind of a cheat that the game itself GIVES you, but it gnawed at the back of my mind. Of course, I abused him like a rented mule to take the heat off of Kratos and scrape away at the enemy’s life bar, meanwhile buying me time to rejuvenate or prepare for a major attack. Why not? The kid is completely invulnerable! The only reason to upgrade his equipment is to give him more skills, NOT for protection. This makes him more valuable as a pawn, but that’s all he is, really. Once I understood the son’s role in the battles, they weren’t very intimidating. I didn’t die nearly as often as I did in the older God of War games (playing at ¬°¬ģNormal’ difficulty) and there’s no sense in raising the bar here. The strategy remains the same: throw the axe; use the kid as a shield and have him shoot arrows; retrieve the axe; use a heavy attack; use the kid as a shield and have him shoot arrows; throw the axe; retrieve the axe; use the kid as a shield and have him shoot arrows; use a light attack; rinse and repeat¬°¬≠

    But here’s my big problem with the game — the world is not really an ‘open world’. It’s an enchanting place, and at first it seems HUGE and it’s exciting to anticipate wandering around in it, but once you’ve tramped around for a few hours it seems much smaller than first imagined. The map is vague (purposely so, it seems) and that raised my hopes for many undiscovered areas, shortcuts, and broad exploration, rather like Dark Souls or Resident Evil (with the original huge, creepy mansion which eventually led to a huge, underground complex). However, as you are led from place to place via the plot-line, it soon becomes obvious that there is really just one big circle of locations, and you will have to circle back again sooner or later (as you develop your abilities) in order to access locked doors/areas.

    The promise of an open-world situation ended up feeling like a lie. After playing games with true ¬°¬ģopen world’ exploration opportunities, this seemed like a letdown. You’re not dumped into an ocean; you’re plunged into a larger aquarium. No matter how pretty it is, it’s still NOT the ocean! Sure, there are a few new worlds to ¬°¬ģsort of’ explore, but we can’t explore them because our interaction with them is limited. And there are a few more worlds that are hinted at but we can’t even peek at them (but we’re told about them and shown their locked doors) and that’s frustrating! And this world NEEDED to be bigger, as did the two worlds that we COULD explore a bit. The huge open-world feel quickly disappeared after a few hours and it just felt, well, disappointing.

    When the plot-line releases you from its grip, you can follow the clues and map to head toward each goal as the story requires, or you can deviate from the plot a bit and paddle around to different locations for side-quests. You might get away without doing any side-quests, but I think you’ll have to do a few. The experience points (which translate into new devastating attacks) and materials necessary for equipment upgrades are necessary to handle the tougher foes ahead ¬°¬™ at least they were for me. Again, not that the enemies were difficult, but there were SO MANY thrown at once¬°¬≠ So I did a lot of side-quests to gain skills (mostly for the boy) and buff my armor, but I left many undone as well. However, by the time the story was told and I’d ‘won’ the game, I realized I didn’t really need all the skills and armor buffs I’d earned to make it. That was something of a letdown. And the stuff I didn’t do? Well, it seems rather tiresome to plod back through the same areas again just to get a few more experience points, or items to craft more armor. There’s no reason to do so, unless you’re bent on getting every trophy or award available. Remember, this game is more about the story than the gaming. So after a week I finished it, repackaged it, and traded it in for something else.

    Yes, I love the idea of a story being told as the primary reason for the fighting rather than as an ¬°¬ģincidental element’ of the game. Yes, the story itself was very engaging. However, the basic elements of gameplay just weren’t there. I would have preferred more interesting opponents with unique fighting patterns, or even just a larger variety of opponents (as opposed to just MORE of the same heaped up in one location).

    What’s there to do besides follow along with the plot? Not much, really, because once you’ve explored an area you are largely done with it. You might return to access locked doors, but why? You don’t need to do it to win the game. The side-quests weren’t that interesting because they didn’t lead to anything new and the rewards were rather meager. They simply forced you to revisit some areas so that you could get more experience points (to gain more skills) and materials (so you can craft or improve armor) and that grinding feel got really old really fast.

    For such a beautiful world to be limited like this is a shame. It needed to be bigger, bolder, with very difficult bosses scattered throughout that you might have stumbled upon accidentally. These bosses would have forced you to retreat ¬°¬™ until later, of course. That’s a true ¬°¬ģopen world'; one that allows players to wander off into trouble and forces them to ¬°¬ģlearn better’ or be better prepared before they go traipsing through potentially DANGEROUS territory. But it didn’t feel very dangerous in this GoW game. It shattered any illusions of ¬°¬ģindividual’ play or exploration; I was just following the script. Other than the ‘dimensional rips’, which are easily avoided early in the game (and after that they’re no problem) there are no hidden foes too difficult for you as you come upon them. Dealing with swarms of enemies (while using an axe) is the challenge, not the enemies themselves. Of course, once you have the Chaos Blades, you will be strongly tempted to do side-quests just to get the points necessary to get the skills so you can use them more effectively¬°¬≠ but that felt rather empty and unfair, to me.

    However, all this being said ¬°¬™ it’s definitely worth renting and playing through, at least once. Draw your own conclusions about the overall gameplay, the swarms of weak enemies, the son’s role, and the side-quests and recycling through areas for additional items. It’s a unique game that focuses on an excellent story, but sacrifices compelling gameplay and open-world exploration. The frosting was delicious, but the cake was just so-so. Pity.

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