That’s right, I finally got to play one of the biggest games on the PlayStation 2; the violent hack ‘n’ slash fest known as God of War. Why I didn’t get to play this game ten years ago is still a mystery to me because I absolutely love this genre to bits. It’s the quick button mashing action that I enjoy more than anything, and, at that time, I must have been playing either Onimusha and Devil May Cry to feed that habit. Having now played GoW, I can see what all the hype is about as it’s certainly a unique and engaging game with a lot of variety offered to players. It’s also evident how it likely influenced the forthcoming generations with how it mixes action, combat and cinematics – creating a “movie-like” feel.
In God of War, you play as the captain of the Spartan army: Kratos, who serves the Greek gods of Olympus in faith that it would help him rid any memories of his past. However, while serving for Ares, the Greek god of war, Kratos invades a village and inadvertently kills his family without the knowledge that Ares had schemed this devastating event from the very beginning. Essentially, Ares anticipated that without any ties to hold him back, Kratos would become the ultimate warrior under his rule – but, instead, he abandons his pledge of servitude. After ten years of laborious service to the Greek gods of Olympus, Kratos summons the goddess Athena. She then proposes to him with one final act: if he wants forgiveness for all his sins and the death of his family, he must kill the god of war, Ares. Be that as it may, the only way to kill Ares is to acquire the Pandora’s Box: a mythological artefact that possesses the power to kill a god.
Personally, I found the story to be striking and engaging with a rich backstory that hooked me in immediately. The plot wasn’t too over-the-top or complex, and blends well with the gameplay. It’s funny that I didn’t think I would find Kratos to be such a likable character to play, but he’s a violent god-like warrior with a human purpose that I found intriguing.
Overall, the design of both the landscape and levels provides a near-faultless, balanced mix of action, platforming and puzzle-solving. The setting of ancient Greece also serves as the perfect playground; from its vast deserts and tall war-torn cities to its historic, larger-than-life temples. It’s often a spectacle to play out, and I found myself genuinely enjoying the exploration of each as no two locations looked the same; which is something I personally prize in a game.
What I found gives God of War that grandiose, “larger than life” feel is the wide range of monsters from Greek mythology the player must battle through in order to finally reach Ares. Why this works so well is because the monsters come in so many different shapes and sizes; each their own unique set of strengths, weaknesses and attacks. The encounters are often very satisfying as a result because you are forced to experiment with Kratos’ generous array of attacks and skills. Rarely does the combat become a chore; which can be very typical of this genre.
I think the biggest draw for God of War is easily the gameplay, which was quite different for its time given the unique set of weapons Kratos’ is given to fight with. The “Blades of Chaos” are still very iconic to this day, being both quick and deadly in action. While in combat, Kratos can perform light and heavy attacks along with grabs. However, what works best is when they’re all combined together to create some of the most damaging and rewarding combos that the genre has to offer. It was very easy to pick up and always a lot of fun; especially when you become outnumbered.
In addition to Kratos’ weaponry and physical arsenal, there are also magical abilities which can be worked into the mix of things; which I found were best suited to large hordes of enemies. Furthermore, you get to experience the origins of when quick-time-events arguably became the next “big thing” in gaming. Understandably, this trend has worn out its welcome in modern game design, so some players may find these scenes a little unengaging. However, I actually quite enjoyed them as they provided a cinematic quality to the gameplay that was previously not possible at that time.
Overall, the nature of the game is ultra-violent and over-the-top gory; which fits perfectly with the theme of ancient Greek mythology. At the time, I’m certain the graphics were probably some of the best the PlayStation 2 had to offer, and, in my opinion, has aged quite gracefully. The attention to detail in the artwork, and effort put into to recreating settings from ancient Greece is quite remarkable; along with each character model being designed with great care. Although, if you find it’s looking just a little too outdated for your liking, there is always the option of the PS3 remaster.
In addition, a special mention must go to the soundtrack which fits perfectly with the epic tone of the game. The orchestral themes put a strong emphasis on the action while the sound effects bring every clash and explosion to life.
God of War is an epic, non-stop action thrill ride that I regrettably missed out on playing all those years ago. However, with the 10th anniversary of the game being this weekend, it provided me with the perfect opportunity to dust off my trusty PS2 and to play one of my favourite consoles once again. In my opinion, God of War unquestionably earns its rightful place within the top 10 PS2 games of all time, and as a paragon which undeniably influenced many games to come. It’s positively a lot of fun portraying the Spartan warrior, as well as violently swinging two blades into hordes of mythological creatures on your path to kill a Greek god. I’m now looking forward to checking out the rest of the series!