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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 18 June 2018

Game review: Here's why the new God of War is better than ever before  

God of War has to be the best-looking game of this console generation, and certainly on the PS4

Kratos is joined on a quest by his son, Atreus, in the new 'God of War' (2018). Courtesy Sony
Kratos is joined on a quest by his son, Atreus, in the new 'God of War' (2018). Courtesy Sony

Reinvention, revolution and reboot – three words that get thrown around a lot by games developers and publishers.

They may excite games journalists eager to get clicks, but they often fill gamers with dread, especially when the game about to get one or more of the three Rs applied to it is one that holds a special place in the hearts of fans.

God of War is one such series loved by legions of fans. It all started with 2005’s God of War on the PlayStation 2, which introduced the world to the hyper-violent protagonist Kratos. Over seven games, Kratos slaughtered his way through a fantasy world inspired by ancient Greek mythology. The over-the-top violence and jaw-dropping set pieces helped to make the series a critic and fan favourite around the world (the earlier games were not approved for release in the UAE).

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When word came that Sony was planning a new, unnumbered entry in the series that would do away with many of the things that had defined God of War, fans were understandably concerned.

But it turns out that all those worries were for nothing – God of War (2018) achieves that rare feat of updating a classic in a way that makes it even better than it ever was.

So, how exactly do you revitalise and reinvent a beloved franchise while keeping its existing legion of fans happy and also drawing in new ones? The recipe followed by Sony’s Santa Monica Studio goes something like this: add copious amounts of facial hair, one tiny companion, a new main weapon and camera angle and an entirely different mythology to mine for characters, creatures and story inspiration.

Combine it with incredible graphics and a voice actor who seems to have been born for the job (Stargate SG-1’s Christopher Judge), and wait for the critical acclaim and record sales numbers to come streaming in.

The new game is defined as much by what it takes away as by what it adds: gone are the classic dual blades, replaced by a magical axe that takes more than a little inspiration from Thor’s magical hammer, Mjolnir. Throw it at enemies or other objects, and it stays there until you summon it back to your hand.

Greek mythology is out, and Norse mythology is in – and it’s obvious the visual artists involved had the time of their lives bringing various aspects of the latter to life in creative and often astounding ways.

God of War has to be the best-looking game of this console generation, and certainly on the PS4. It looks even better on the PS4 Pro, especially when using the “Favour Resolution” mode while playing on a 4K television.

Yes, the tech on display here is amazing, but it is used in service of the art instead of the other way round, resulting in something truly aesthetically pleasing instead of merely being arresting for its technical achievement.

The visuals are accompanied by an amazing soundtrack courtesy of composer Bear McCreary (Battlestar Galactica, The Walking Dead, Outlander) that provides the perfect musical backdrop to this epic yet incredibly personal adventure.

The fixed cinematic camera used in the previous games has been replaced by an over-the-shoulder camera. All the action, from start to finish, takes place in one shot, with no cuts or fades, and this helps to create a sense of intimacy in keeping with some of the new themes: that previously mentioned tiny companion is Kratos’s son, Atreus, and it turns out that being adept at killing monsters does nothing to prepare you for the challenges of fatherhood.

Atreus helps you during combat, and his abilities grow just as yours do. The combat is weighty and visceral, with difficulty levels ranging from slightly challenging to Dark Souls-esque.

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While God of War has undergone a revolution, it is paradoxically also a throwback: it’s a single-player-only game in an age where multiplayer is all the rage. There’s not a single loot box in sight, and it plays perfectly on day one – no need to wait for weeks or months for the developer to bring out a patch to fix issues that should never exist in a game’s final release form.

It will undoubtedly go down in history as one of the defining games of this generation.

Marvel’s Thor-wannabes, and fans of action games or Norse mythology will have the time of their lives. But be warned – it’s not for children or those who don’t enjoy Game of Thrones-levels of bloody violence.

God of War shows just how far gaming has come since 2005, and if even only a handful of other developers can apply the lessons on display here to their own games, then we’re in for an incredible few years.

God of War was released in the UAE last month