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God of Backtracking

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    God of War

    Rating: 3.0 – Fair

    God of Backtracking

    God of War for the Playstation 4 is a continuation of sorts for the highly regarded series that started on the Playstation 2. The game follows the further adventure of Kratos and introduces his son, Atreus, as a companion to the journey that they are going to take together. This title had a lot to live up to if it wanted to match the intensity of the originals, but instead opted for a different approach that will leave hardcore Kratos fans feeling disappointed.

    God of War takes place many years after the events of God of War III. Kratos has adopted a simple life on Midgard and has kept himself out of the spotlight of the Olympic gods he once contended with. The opening of the story is that a woman that Kratos has loved in the time since he left the godly scene has passed away and it was her wish that her ashes be spread from the highest point in the realm. It is at this point that the player is introduced to Kratos’ son and the beginning of new gameplay mechanics.

    The first thing fans of the series will notice is the loss of the Blades of Chaos around Kratos’ wrists. Instead, Kratos is armed with a large single handed axe that he can use in close combat or throw at enemies and with a button press it can be returned to his hand. Additionally, as Kratos trains his son to survive, you get the opportunity to have Atreus help Kratos in battle by shooting arrows at enemies at your command.

    If this astonishment at the new weapon is not enough, one of the largest problems in God of War is brought to the forefront that the players will have to contend with: the fixed camera angle. In previous games, the camera was centered behind Kratos and would back up as needed to encompass additional scenery or enemies on screen. The camera angle in this version is fixed behind Kratos and to his right. It is also slightly up and over his shoulder, so the camera is essentially facing downwards the entire time. This is a humongous problem and I wouldn’t be surprised if it caused people headaches in addition to flat out ticking them off.

    The issue with the camera is that pushing UP on the controller makes Kratos run straight forward to HIS line of sight. But this is not how the player sees things ¨C the field of view for the player is actually diagonally to Kratos’ left. You CAN see in front of Kratos to some degree, but straight ahead from the view of the player is not straight ahead from the viewpoint of Kratos. It makes running around difficult to do because you visually see where you need Kratos to go and you push your controller in that direction, but you actually need to modify the button press to match what Kratos himself can see. It can be confusing and while players do adapt and make it work, it never feels comfortable and I found myself wanting to sit on the side of my 65¡± TV so that my viewpoint on the game matched the strange angle I was seeing.

    The camera makes tracking your location and the simple action of looking around in your environment a real chore. Kratos can’t look straight up — it is like he is clenching his shoulders and has to tilt his torso to see upwards. Seeking items that need to be hit to advance in an area can be a real pain to see and you may not notice them at all since the camera is also continually pointed downward over his shoulder. It makes it very easy to get lost because you can’t see far enough to the right; imagine you are walking around and your neck is hurting you and you can only look to your left. Think about how difficult it would be to navigate unless you turn your entire body around to look to your right. God of War is an entire game of doing that.

    Fighting is also very difficult thanks to the camera system. With the camera set up about 10 feet behind and not centered behind Kratos, tracking and locating enemies is a challenge. When enemies attack from Kratos’ right or behind him, a colored arrow appears on screen to let you know something is attacking. The problem with this information is that you are getting directions from YOUR field of view as to where the enemy is and NOT from Kratos’ field of view.

    The fighting is vastly different than in previous installments. The axe Kratos wields is an ineffective tool for battle. Getting up close to many enemies, especially on higher difficulties or towards the end of the game results in your death far too often. New players often spend the first few hours of the game doing nothing but throwing the axe at enemies because fighting up close will get them killed. The axe also has very limited ability to handle crowds of enemies, so you won’t be tasked with fighting more than 4 enemies at a time. Unlike previous iterations where Kratos would be swarmed, he simply doesn’t have the tools necessary to combat waves of creatures, so the fighting is fairly limited.

    Many newer players also dislike having Atreus around to help Kratos fight. Tapping the square button makes Atreus fire his arrows to damage, distract, and sometimes inflict status changes on enemies. It takes a while to get used to, but late game and especially with the optional bosses, you will rely on Atreus stunning enemies and keeping them looking away from Kratos for a few moments because Kratos can only deal with one or two enemies at a time on his own. It begins to feel very natural to have Atreus around after a few hours, but many new players will be turned off by having him around when you are commanding the mighty Kratos in battle.

    As players continue the story, they realize that Kratos has given up any reference to godly status and he would like to keep his son in the dark about it as well. Unfortunately, a Norse god ¨C Baldur ¨C appears and challenges Kratos as he and his son are about to embark on their quest to spread his beloved’s ashes. A large battle ensues, but players are now aware that Norse gods are going to be the major focal point and drive the story along.

    The story itself is hit and miss. I like Norse mythology and there is a lot that can be done with it. God of War touches upon a fair amount of it and at times delves too far into individual backstories of Norse gods that play no role in the game. The player will get a chance to visit several of the 9 Norse realms, but there are few that won’t be used. My only problem with the other realms is that there isn’t much to do in most of them and they are noticeably smaller than Midgard. All of them you will visit combined aren’t as big as Midgard, which seems a bit odd. There is also only one way to traverse them, so it is time consuming to go back to the one room every time you need to change locations.

    Midgard however, is huge. You will spend the majority of your time here. Unfortunately, you spend that time in various fetch quests looking for materials and to gain experience points and craft better items. Speaking of experience and crafting ¨C this portion of the game really bites.

    Leveling in this game doesn’t require a set amount of experience point. You can find items to increase your HP and your Spartan Rage meters, but experience points are used to upgrade different attacks that you can do with the axe, fighting barehanded, upgrading the arrows Atreus uses, and another weapon you obtain later on. The thing is, you don’t really need much of it. Late game you will need to upgrade these abilities to get more power, but the moves don’t do much without upgrades to your weapons and armor, which leads us down another rabbit hole.

    Weapons and equipment need more than money to upgrade. Most require specific items found in large chests or during the various fetch quests around Midgard and beyond. God of War starts out fairly linear, but has an open world (and realms) to explore on your own. As you gain new abilities, you can open chests that you came across previously during the story that you couldn’t open. This leads to an enormous amount of backtracking. Repeatedly. Often. And it gets boring.

    Never mind that you won’t remember all of the chest locations that you passed up because you didn’t have the means to open them when you came across them in the story. By the time you have the ability to open some of the chests ¨C and you remember where they are and that you need to backtrack to go and open them ¨C you will probably already have stronger armor than you could get with the item from the chest you can finally open.

    For example, to craft a new piece of chest armor that is stronger than you have, you may need some kind of special steel. You have the other components, but you need this steel to make the armor. The steel you need is locked away in a chest that you can’t open. Several hours later you acquire the ability to open the needed chest, but you have forgotten where the chest is because there are a LOT of similar chests. Even more hours later you are backtracking to the area for the umpteenth time and you come across the chest and get it opened. You go to the blacksmith to craft the armor only to find that it is now weaker than the new armor you have already come across. This happens frequently in God of War, essentially negating the entire point of the backtracking and wasting your time.

    The game should really do a better job of directing you back to these chests so that you don’t waste time opening them and not being rewarded for your time. As there are additional abilities you gain even later that requires you to backtrack to areas AGAIN, it can be a tedious process that extends the playtime of the game, but only artificially. It doesn’t move the story along and the rewards for your time spent are virtually nonexistent.

    Visually, God of War is a mixed bag as well. The entire series is known for its grand vistas and this title continues with this vibe. Large statues, elaborate buildings, and bright visuals will surprise the player on a regular basis. Where God of War falls short is in its oversaturation of color and in its shadows.

    Many areas of the title have a very difficult time with shadows and shading. Caves are a prime example, as they appear overly dark and muddy in appearance. Rock walls really don’t appear as defined as you would like and large areas of caves are empty black space which is fine if it is real life, but staring at a virtually blank television screen in an action/adventure game isn’t much fun.

    There are also areas where there is too much color. This causes the colors to become muddled together and lose definition as well. An example is Freya’s forest, where most of the grass and shrubbery is an orange tinted mess. As the orange grass sways in the wind, it mixes with the colors of the other flowers and it resembles someone trying to paint the colors with a large brush. This makes finding minute items or pathways difficult because every color is jumbled together and looks like one big grassy area and it really isn’t.

    Although the story is self-contained, it left me with an unsatisfying feeling by the end of it. Too many things were hinted at throughout the title that weren’t dealt or resolved. It is expected that there will be more games in this series and they will take on many of the hanging fruit that God of War touched upon. For me personally, knowing that these loose ends were mentioned, I wanted to go and tie them off and the game didn’t do that. Unlike the very first God of War on the PS2, which ended with a resounding and satisfying finish, this title gives you a sense that you completed a journey but there is another immediately on the horizon.

    Continuing the story of Kratos is what many hardcore fans were looking forward to and this title opens up a whole new band of gods to contend with and several realms to explore. However, it doesn’t feel like the original series. At all. It feels like an entirely new game that handpicked a popular character to fill the role as the protagonist. It will turn off many fans who want to see Kratos kick ass and take names like he is known for — instead of a quiet individual who fights only because he must.

    If you can handle the unusual camera, the endless backtracking and fetch quests, and deal with the rather basic battling system, God of War is a decent game. The story of Kratos was enough to keep me playing (and backtracking even MORE to earn the Platinum trophy), but the entirely new gameplay system may keep many people away. If it weren’t for all of the various knocks on the gameplay, camera, and constant backtracking, this would be a stellar title that any Kratos fan would love to play.

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