God Of War: A Journey Begins
Literally minutes into my first-ever gameplay of the revisited God of War franchise, I was greeted with this frame -- if you're like me you might've already felt intimidated and slightly exhaled while mumbling, 'strap in buddy,' to yourself before hitting the 'New Game' option on the menu. Which, might I mention, was seamlessly integrated within the game itself; a nice surprise.
From what few Playstation games I've played, I've noticed that they do a phenomenal job with integrating gameplay into what seems to be cinematic cut scenes, this being no exception (i.e. menu to gameplay integration). Outside of the gameplay integration, I'm also consistently impressed with the overall extent of the camera work that PlayStation brings to the table with their exclusives. They're very good at taking the player on a very intimate journey through a lot of their games, now, if that's the decision of the big boss at PlayStation or the studios themselves, it works wonders, especially games with deep-rooted storylines.
Before we get started, I wanted to quickly touch on my experience with the God of War franchise since it has left a bit of a mark on PlayStation, both before and after the revisit release. I've always been aware, but never acclimated, to the God of War franchise. Growing up in a very sheltered, religious household, it was hard for me to get my hands on the games themselves. System limitations and the release years of the previous titles didn't make it any easier for me to experience them first hand; unless it was at my uncles who always had every game known to man it seemed. So, not being familiar with the lore I was happy with the fact that I went in almost completely blind.
The only thing I had going in was the BTS (behind-the-scenes) footage. I can confidently say that I probably knew more about how the game was made then what actually takes place in the game and because of this, I applaud the BTS crew at Santa Monica Studios (and affiliates) for being able to show fans how a masterpiece was made without giving away any sort of plot spoilers. But enough of my preconceived notions on what to expect. Let's get into what you're here for, my genuine reaction to said gameplay.
Now that I've bored you with my first impressions going into this game and how little I know about what is to come, let me introduce you to how I start my adventure. A riveting tale of triumph and valor. A journey which isn't taken by many and those who take it don't tread lightly. The beginning. I mean, this is the first post, right? Shouldn't there be some thrilling opening reaction? Oh yeah, you betcha there is.
Cue me sitting aimlessly in front of my TV after hitting the 'New Game' option, waiting for the typical cinematic cut-scene that almost 90% of games I've played have. After a minute or two of nothing, controller on my desk, looking like an idiot, the game screams at me, "Hey, push THIS button." to which I begin chopping this tree down after having a minute with it (see above). The sheer force that Kratos uses to chop down this tree is terrifying but it gives you a glimpse into the anger and aggression he is supposedly known for, collapsing the tree in just five massive swings. I'm sure it'll tell me in due time but I can't help but wonder what this 'mark' on the tree actually means. Asking all the right questions early, trying to get ahead of the game and make my own theories and completely ruin my immersive experience. Not two minutes in and I'm already ruining it for myself.
The first thing I immediately notice - outside of its visual beauty and sound design is the soundtrack. I can already tell it's going to be a large proponent in driving emotion in this game. I'm sure I'm not alone when I say that I love a track with emotion and opening with this track couldn't have set the tone for this game any better. Immediately I thought to myself, 'yep, I'm gonna cry. Shit.' Which, normally, I wouldn't mind but from past experience whenever I get into this mindset before I set out to do something lord knows I'm going to cry and I'm gonna cry hard. I know that I said in my introduction to the series that I was going to be as transparent and real with the reader as I possibly can but the day I cry might be one of the days I skip.
And then for the next ten minutes or so it's the tutorial nightmare telling you how to walk. Yes, I know it's needed but it's just a pain. It also gives time to build lore, which I need.
The Vikings Prayer & The Stranger
Shortly after being introduced to Kratos we are then greeted by his son, Atreus, who is helping his father transport this mysteriously marked tree to their cabin in the woods. Their relationship appears to be strangely distant and uncomfortable as if Kratos doesn't want to connect fully with his child referring to him as 'boy' continuously. If you're like me and late to the party, the internet memes of this phrase got to you before the context of them did. I'm not complaining but I hope I get some closure eventually. He is also very dismissive of his son's curiosity about the ever-changing feeling of the forest. It definitely makes you wonder why Kratos is acting the way that he is. This man, famous for being unhinged when it comes to anger, the (former) Greek God slayer is putting forth a calm dismissive demeanor? Why? Is he doing this for his own sanity? Is he protecting his son? Did he find solace in something other than violence?
The scene that follows gives you a glimpse into why Kratos might be acting strange. As you return home and the camera follows Atreus inside the cabin, the imagery that unfolds gives players the moment to become emotionally invested early on. A beautifully wrapped body lies on the table surrounded by dimly lit candles, lifeless, as Atreus, who is maybe 10 or 12 in this game recites what is known as 'The Vikings Prayer' (or his own version of it):
Lo, there do I see my Mother.
Lo, there do I see my Father.
Lo, there do they call to me.
Unfamiliar with the origins of this 'prayer' I did some research and came across a few articles and posts regarding the fictitious nature of said prayer, showing up in the movie The 13th Warrior in which it's used twice; once at a Viking funeral and once at a large battle. Since this is opening with a funeral it's safe to say that the first of the two is what they intended to go for. For context, it's basically claiming that eventually, 'I'll see both my mother and father in Paradise one day. Valhalla is calling me'. Beautiful nonetheless. This scene is another moment when you see Kratos slip-up and show his true character/feelings as he encourages her freedom in the afterlife. Definitely a hard open and a huge emotional burden for the player to take on so early in the game. I know this is just the very beginning of the game but I couldn't help but ponder the question of how well the relationship between father and son will evolve throughout this gameplay. Interesting to say the least.
After embarking on a long hunting expedition post-funeral with Atreus teaching him the basics of survival and death, you return to your cabin, collect the ashes of your beloved wife and head inside for a much-needed nap. But not before solving a few puzzles, killing a few interesting bad guys, brutally ripping apart some Draugr's, attempting to figure out the "basic" gameplay mechanics, and dying multiple times to a troll who is stealing your game. The gameplay was definitely a little rough around the edges for me, or maybe I'm just that bad of a gamer, but it will take some getting used to for sure if you're fairly new to the gaming world. Luckily they give you the option of wanting to play the game for the story, a mix of story and difficulty, or just stupid hard God of War mode. Cause you know, sometimes I hate myself too.
However, once you return home with Atreus your napping agenda is quickly cut short by a mysterious knock on the door to reveal a man that is later referred to as 'The Stranger'. Who didn't care to introduce himself and just proceeded to blackmail Kratos in front of his son which leads to a surprisingly INTENSE 'boss battle'; which I'm proud to say that I didn't die AT ALL but somehow the troll before this killed me twice, I don't know. Just when you think it's over and you've won it's another cut scene with more talk and then more ass-kicking.
Now, I've played a few games where they put a boss battle at the very beginning of the game. In doing this, they force a player to essentially lose because the boss is incredibly difficult (but not impossible) to beat, that way it builds a story arch. I'm not entirely sure if this game has that aspect to it, however, I can see it going either way. You lose and the story progresses or you win (like I did) and the story progresses but with an alternate ending to that scene. Maybe on my second playthrough, I'll test that theory. But, after defeating The Stranger you realize that it's no longer safe for you and your boy so you pack your things and go. Beginning the most important journey, the last request of Kratos's wife, to spread her ashes on the highest point of the nine realms. Atreus with his trusty bow and you with your badass Axe, which is appropriately named Leviathan.
See, that moment would be the appropriate time to stop my gameplay and just wait to explore the wonders of the game at a later date but I got a taste and I wanted more. Luckily for you, there's not really that much in terms of story development for me to write about outside of the few enemies I discovered, like, Reavers (angry ice people), Heavy Draugr's (bane of my existence), and The Revenant's (poisonous witch people). As my open-world gamer mentality takes over I spend more time exploring every nook and cranny of my predetermined route than I probably should have to solve every puzzle, collecting every scrap of metal/currency the game can offer me, and religiously stomping on life crystals like it was my day job.
I'm very excited to have you follow me on this adventure across the nine realms to spread the ashes of my deceased wife. I'm also interested to see how Atreus grows in the cold, cruel world that lies ahead. Hoping that the relationship between Kratos and Atreus forms into an unbreakable bond. And finally, go head-to-head with the 'god-like' bosses that the franchise is known for.
It's going to be a long road but just like any story - the journey has to start somewhere and with this small taste of the father-son duo traveling ancient Nordic lands, the appearance of 'The Stranger', the death and funeral of my wife, the integration of Norse mythology vs Greek mythology, and the inevitable anger that comes with me dying so many times, I think I'm finally ready to take on this story with full force. And I hope you are as well.
I can't thank you enough for starting off The Very Late Gamer journey with me this way and hope you stick around till the end. Again, feedback, criticism, suggestions, or just general conversation is always welcomed and encouraged. Be sure to follow me on social media to stay up-to-date on the latest articles. Hope to see you next week!