When a game starts you out in the middle of an epic battle, you don’t get a whole lot of time to reflect on what the experience is going to hold. Once you take the leap into God of War 3 you are thrown literally on to the backs of titans storming Olympus with the intent of destroying the gods and goddesses of ancient Greece. It’s quite an opening scene, and right away gets you set up for a game that will demonstrate just how small you are in terms of scale, but how big a role your character will play in this war. When you begin the game as a mere speck on a screen filled with giant monsters, most of which you are simultaneously dispatching at the same time the camera pans out to show the vastness of the whole scene, you can sense the gravity of the whole battle and the power of forces that are at odds.
For those out of the loop, the most succinct way I can think of describing God of War 3 is action game where your primary objective is to beat down a series of enemies, moving through the worlds by doing so. The challenge of the game revolves around blocking and countering at the correct times, using combos to control massive waves of enemies and understanding each of foes you face, some of whom require different tactics and weapon combinations to defeat. Amplify the violence to the highest possible scale, a level in which you will witness an eye being pulled slowly from its socket and the ocular nerve severed in the process and put it in the Greek mythological theater and you should have your expectations set well.
How it plays…
I had a lot of skepticism walking into the game as to how the combat would be handled. Having played a few games similar to this, though not within the series, I was mostly expecting a lot of desperate button presses to finish off a room filled with enemies. What I found was an experience that was best enjoyed on the hardest difficulty available for me, not something I usually attempt. The game offers you a challenge, giving enemies sufficient ability to reduce your health swiftly and larger enemies (including bosses) power to best you in only a few hits. I find this is the best way to learn the game, as you are forced to learn timing for dodges and blocks as a matter of progressing at all instead of simply conserving health. Once you have learned that there is always a way out – a move is always able to be dodged or blocked and countered giving the right timing – the game completely opens up and allows you to explore the weapons and abilities that you will be given throughout the experience.
The progression of weapons in the game is steady and well paced up to the end. Your first set of weapons are standard for the series, a pair of blades attached to your character’s arms with chains that allow you to take enemies at a medium distance and swing around in circles to dispel crowds. You will eventually encounter a set of blades that are stronger and best for approaching enemies from a bit further of a distance, and then metal cestus (or battle gloves) to pound and knock away enemies in closer proximity. The game even makes it easy to switch through these weapons on the fly, or even in mid-combo, which is a feature that will come into great use when you are surrounded and need to quickly switch out depending on the enemy that approaches. The last weapon in the game does feel a bit tacked on, though, and while it is relatively powerful it failed to be as useful as my other weapons which I had mastered at that point.
Along with the weapons are sets of items that enhance your combat ability and allow you to progress through the levels. You are given a bow and arrow to best enemies keen to take you out from a distance. It also gives you a buffer to soften larger enemies as they approach, and even stun them to start a series of combos with your primary weapon and serves as a key to opening doors by lighting bramble on fire with flaming arrows. All of the items in the game over similar benefits, such as a light source that blinds enemies and reveals secret doors and items (that you would be good to keep a look out for).
Every metric in the game is measured in orbs; glowing balls of light that represent the various meters in the game. Green orbs are for health, blue are for magic and white orbs fill up a special meter that unleashes an attack sequence where you are nearly invincible. When you defeat any enemy, break objects or open special chests you will receive red orbs. These represent experience and each weapon and item in the game requires a specific amount of red orbs to progress to a new level. For example, the Blades of Exile (your first weapon) may require 400 red orbs to reach the next level which will offer you new combos and increased damage dealt. Depending on which item you favour, you choose to add orbs to it to progress its abilities. It’s nothing to worry about in terms of quantity, as it is very reasonable to assume you will reach the maximum level on almost all your weapons by the end of the game.
Other mechanics and death…
The gameplay is very centric around having you follow prompts on the screen. When a large enemy is downed, a flaming circle appears above their head, indicating you can grapple the enemy to start a series of quick-time events to do serious damage. It is all canned animations, but they are fluid and entertaining, and the fact that the screen displays the button your are prompted to press on the side of the screen that coincides with the actual position of that button on the controller is a great addition. It allows you to focus on what is happening on the screen and keep the prompts in your peripheral vision. The most difficult prompts can often be ones where you must move the analog stick in a specific motion, but the penalty for missing these is often a little bit of life lost and at worst death.
Death is handled reasonably well in the game, and since I died quite a few times I think I can say that with authority. The checkpoint system feels mostly fair, although during certain boss fights the amount of effort put in only to be bested by a quick-time event can be frustrating when you have to repeat that same sequence again. This happens very few times in the game and even in the worst spots I did not encounter a situation where I had been auto-saved at a portion of the game where I died instantly when it started. The game actually seemed to increase my health at moments like this to ensure that I did not die as soon as the game began.
There are a handful of sequences in the game that break from the normal beat-em-up portions. This usually involves falling or flying down a tunnel and dodging debris and objects that litter the small tunnel you are traversing. These sequences can range from the overly short and seemingly pointless to long and punishing. They serve the narrative as a way for Kratos to move quickly from one environment to another, and it is a welcome break in the play style the first couple of times but it becomes a bit tired later on in the game. There are not too many of these sequences, so it is a minor frustration on my part.
What is the story…
Your character is a oft-betrayed mortal who is bent on revenge against the gods of Olympus, ultimately the king of gods, for crimes done onto him in previous games. The story is presented in stylishly animated sequences that do a decent job of showing off the events of the previous entries, but certainly leaves a few gaps that may require a good read or playthrough of the games to fully grasp.
The adventures of the lovable Kratos were a mystery for most of his existence in the gaming world. Not having played the first two games in the God of War series and having no real insight as to the plot lines, my experience with the game was all second hand and generally positive. Kratos himself had never seemed like a particularly engaging character, mostly due to my knowledge of his dialogue consisted of shouting and everyone that surrounded him seemed to be out to get him. The story in this entry to the series does not change that much, although it does try to add a more positive message and a bit more sympathy surrounding Kratos. It did not really impact me, but I did not find it overly dramatic or out of place and it did not affect my overall opinion of the game. The only frustrating part to me story wise was the fact that almost every character you interact with in the game manages to be antagonistic at one point or another, which just fuels more anger from the protagonist and seems to be the driving force of the narrative. It’s a bit disappointing, and it felt like the characters of Olympus and Kratos himself could have been explored just a bit differently.
In terms of the violence and how it relates to the narrative, it can seem a bit excessive at times. You watch as someone has their face literally beaten to a pulp, or having their eyes gouged out, or even eviscerating an enemy and watching their innards spill out. It is uncomfortable to watch for the squeamish, and while it seems to fit the whole environment and tone of the game, it loses a bit of the subtlety and makes your character seem more like a cruel and brutal killer rather than some sort of sympathetic anti-hero on a quest for revenge.
Environments and level design…
Each environment of the game looks unique and is easily identifiable from the rest of the world. This is notable especially when you will end up in the same places quite a few times during the game, each time revealing some new part of that environment or having a new perspective based on events throughout the game destroying a large portion of it. At first, this retreading revealed some parts of the game that I could not interact with at the time and assumed that I would have to come back to on a second play. My assumptions were incorrect, however, as things you may notice at the beginning of the game as an item you can interact with given a new weapon will often come back again. For example, I saw a glowing rock in an environment I had to navigate with difficulty to get to, yet I could do nothing once I reached it. Later, I received the item I need to break that rock and just assumed I would keep it if I played the game again. Not something you should worry about, as you will get the opportunity to come back to areas that you may have noticed but been unable to get to previously later in the game. It all seems to come together.
Part of the level design that I enjoyed were the puzzles. While the vast majority are fairly simple and act as more of a stall point between action sequences, there are some legitimately challenging puzzles in the game. One of which I spent quite a bit of time unraveling even though it wasn’t necessary to progressing through the game. Some bonus chests containing red orbs was my only prize, and the challenge was enough that I was not able to find a way to access the last one even after a half an hour of attempts. It is a surprisingly level of complexity and a welcome break from the standard simplistic thoroughfare of most big-budget adventure titles.
How it looks…
Even from the screenshots displayed in this review, it is easy to see the quality of the visual experience. Environments are vast and seamless, transitioning from the back of a titan to the side of a mountain without skipping a beat, all the while witnessing all the chaos and anarchy that occurs even when your character is not present. The characters are all well animated, if not a bit canned for some of the enemies, and while some of the main characters can look a bit flat at times it seems to fit in with the artistic style of the game. At times it can be approaching that hyper-realism so many seek with the current console graphics, but it mostly maintains a visual sense that is just outside that. Comfortably so.
All the effects of swinging a weapon and the damage that it does to each enemy splashes colours and light across the screen, giving you a great sense of how a battle is progressing. The cues that each enemy demonstrates before they attack, whether it is a subtle glow or a wind up, is easy to catch and shows how the visuals enhance the mechanics of the game. Each environment looks unique, and though some of the environments will be retread from time to time, each moment when you return to a particular spot it feels like it has purpose and reveals more in the world.
The lighting in the game is well captured, casting shadows and bright lights all across the screen in all the right places. The shadows of the characters can seem to fall in random spots at times, but the protagonist fills the space well and each time you step out of the dark and into the light you see how well developed each the skin on Kratos’ back is textured. It took me aback a few times at just how well God of War plays with the light and how seamless it really is as a part of the world.
Once you’re finished…
Once the story is completed you unlock a set of tidbits for you to play with after. The first is Chaos Mode, which is a very hard difficulty that I do not recommend trying for anything less than pure curiosity or some sense of masochism. The game also unlocks videos, including behind-the-scenes looks at the game, and extra costumes that add special skills should you attempt another play through. All the collectibles you have gathered during your time with the game are also added to your items list should you start a new campaign and can add special skills like triple damage and maxed out health, magic and item power. With these enabled, though, you will not be able to get any new trophies, so do not fall back on to that trap if you intend on using them to conquer Hard mode.
You are also given a special mode that is a series of special arena challenges meant to test your combat skills. These include such events as killing a series of enemies only using your bare hands (grapple attacks) in a limited amount of time, avoiding Minotaurs while they run around the screen attempting to gore you and other interesting variations that can easily keep you entertained as you try and determine the best solution. It does feel a bit lacking as there are only seven challenges displayed once you’ve completed the game [as of writing this review I have completed 4/7 challenges and no others have been unlocked], so it does feel a little more tacked on and less fleshed out than it possibly could have been.
What I’m really trying to say is…
The conclusion of the trilogy is an excellent iteration on the work that has been done in the previous God of War games. While perhaps not as revolutionary to the genre as the previous entrants in the series, it is a refinement on all the mechanics and weaponry that has been present and the addition of a few great mechanics that set it as a great benchmark for any action game of its kind. It is challenging, but never unfairly so and the mechanics are balanced enough were becoming an expert makes you a force within the game and can be very satisfying. The game’s use of scale is unmatched, allowing you to sense the height and breadth of the largest enemies and environments and making the world of Olympus seem cohesive rather than a series of levels that you enter. The audio is crisp, if not a bit spotty for certain bosses and the graphics – including textures, character models and effects – are a visual spectacle throughout.
It is a game that embodies the type of experience you would expect utilizing the power of the current generation of the consoles. It is a theater of pain that can be both visually astounding and uncomfortably gory but is mechanically one of the most satisfying gaming experiences I have had in a long time.
God of War 3 was developed by Santa Monica Studios and published by Sony. Game provided courtesy of Sony and is now available in stores for $59.99 (CDN). Game played for approximately 10 hours and single player campaign complete on Titan (Hard) mode. Four of seven Challenges of Olympus completed. Kill to death ratio…about even.