God of War is the father-son epic you never knew you needed
The guy in the behind-closed-doors session didn’t believe it. He asked twice whether or not God of War was running on a regular PS4. Rob Davis, lead level designer, had to physically show him the console.
It looks so far beyond what’s come before in the series, with its Heavy Rain-standard character acting and absurd lighting, that it’s easy to suspect shenanigans. But it isn’t. It’s the real thing. Up close it’s mind-blowing.
I understand the scepticism. While God of War wowed the Sony press conference last night in Los Angeles with its next-level technology, it looks so far beyond what’s come before in the series, with its Heavy Rain-standard character acting and absurd lighting, that it’s easy to suspect shenanigans. But it isn’t. It’s the real thing. Up close it’s mind-blowing.
The show demo is the same as the conference level but with extra content. Davis outlined a bunch of stuff I’d been too bamboozled to notice in the press conference as a colleague played.
Kratos is now a father, and God of War was described by Davis as “essentially a father-son adventure”. The son you saw in the demo last night is basically a side-kick, and he grows and progresses throughout play. This isn’t just about Kratos. The whole thing, based on what we saw this morning, centres on the relationship between the two characters, to the point that combat includes a “son button” with which you can call in special attacks from the boy, using him to interrupt attacks and more.
The son seemingly dictates a bunch of design choices in this entirely new Kratos adventure. Davis laboured on the position of the camera, for example, which is now very low to the ground so Kratos can constantly keep his son in view. The cut-scenes aren’t cut-scenes: the camera never cuts away, so it can focus on the moments the father and son share with each other. This is not the same thing as has come before.
The camera allows the developers to push in minor story-telling elements such as a flock of birds rising as a foreshadowing of danger. Handy. There’s danger aplenty.
So, combat. There was so much going on here I’m afraid I can only give you an approximation of what was shown, and I apologise in advance if any of these details prove to be incorrect. It all happened really quickly and Davis was speaking very quietly relative to the sound of the game. But here’s what we saw.
As was shown in the press conference, Kratos is attacked by two main types of enemies in the demo, the grunts, which are called draga, and a large troll. An initial fight against only draga showed verticality as the monsters attacked Kratos from above, launching down from rocks.
There’s obviously a lot we’re not being told yet about different weapons and elemental damage.
It also introduced the axe, Kratos’s only weapon in the demo. Davis said this is an entirely new combat system which uses R1 and R2 at its core to deliver traditional melee attacks, but also includes short, medium and long-range attacks with the axe. The combination of axe and general strikes mirrors the depth of combat in the older games with the chain-swords, but we only saw a taste of what’s going to be eventually available.
The axe is going to play a big part in God of War, and not just in combat. Kratos can use it, for example, to smash chests and other points of interest in the environment to gather resources.
During the troll fight, Kratos smashes the ground with his axe. If you watch the video, you’ll see all the axe attacks are blue, denoting frost attacks. The trolls attacks are red, as they’re fire-based. Davis only touched on this, but there’s obviously a lot we’re not being told yet about different weapons and elemental damage, but you can wait. You don’t have much choice, I guess.
One last thing. The environment itself represents a serious departure from previous games. While there’s still only one way to go, the paths are wider and offer more options in combat. Davis described exploration as a “pillar” for this new God of War.
But action aside, this is a next-generation story about Kratos and his son. Davis kept coming back to this throughout the entire presentation. Kratos has a rage meter in the corner of the screen that he can use to protect his son when it fills out, and the skills related to the “son button” were kept under wraps apart from the super-arrows and the interrupts. There’ll be more. We saw very little.
It was enough, though. If there’s a binary question as to whether or not this is going to be playing on your PS4 after its as-yet unspecified release date, it’s obvious there’s only one answer. God of War looks bloody amazing. Hopefully that release date won’t end with an eight.
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