God of War
From: Sony Interactive Entertainment
Who it's for: Anyone who enjoys frantic action that happens to come with a deep story.
It's been a while since we've seen a new "God of War" game. The Sony series, previously on PS2, PS3 and PSP, seemed played out after the mediocre "God of War: Ascension" in 2013.
The series' only appearance on PS4, the excellent "God of War III Remastered," seemed to keep fans happy while Sony released other excellent games like "Uncharted 4" and "Horizon: Zero Dawn."
The problem, both for the fans and presumably the developers, was where to go with the series. After all, where do you take the lead character, a Greek demigod, after he kills Zeus? Hint: Fighting the Furies just doesn't cut it.
Fast forward five years to "God of War." Though it shares its name with the series' first installment, it shouldn't be considered a reboot. The setting has changed, moving from Greece to Midgard (Norway?), but this is the same Kratos with all the muscles, attitude and baggage that made him so popular in the first place.
As the game opens, we don't know why Kratos now dwells in the land of Vikings. His tattoos haven't changed, though he now sports a luscious beard and a wicked axe. Oh, and a son named Atreus and yet another dead wife (newly deceased at the start).
Unlike previous franchise installments, this "God of War" delves deeper in nearly every respect. The addition of Atreus isn't merely window dressing. The father-son relationship finally gives Kratos a third dimension. Once a single-minded, combat-obsessed paper doll, he now shows real emotion (other than anger) as he tries to teach and lead his son through a world no less dangerous than before.
Gone is Kratos' signature dual-blade weapon, replaced with the previously mentioned magical battle-axe, Leviathan. Much like Thor's famed hammer, the axe can by thrown by Kratos and it will return to him. When the axe doesn't feel quite right, Kratos still has his powerful fists, ready to rain down pain on any creature that looks sideways at him.
Atreus can take care of himself, too. Though small, the lad shows bravery in combat and wields a mean bow to give his father ranged support. It's amazing how a well-placed arrow can distract a monster just long enough for Kratos to gain a more advantageous position.
At its heart, "God of War" remains an action game. Enemies appear out of nowhere, attacking from all sides, and bosses require strategy and skill to bring down. The game takes character progression a few steps forward, though, with more traditional RPG experience and crafting systems. You'll have the chance to decide what armor to wear (do you value greater strength or higher defense?) and which runes give you better attacks when attached to Leviathan.
While leveling up Kratos and son isn't complicated, it provides a nice level of satisfaction and makes you really feel like you're getting stronger as the game progresses.
From a graphics standpoint, "God of War" stands with "Horizon: Zero Dawn" and "Monster Hunter World" as the best the PS4 has to offer. The lush and varied environments pop off the screen whether you're playing in 1080p or full 4K UHD (the latter only on the PS4 Pro and with a 4K set). The frame rate is solid, though it does dip a bit in true 4K, and there's virtually no pop-in or artifacting at all. The music lives up to the series' high standards, and the voice acting is well done, particularly with Kratos.
What makes "God of War" such a must-play, however, is how everything comes together. Sony has repeatedly shown it can provide great action, but "God of War" goes beyond. You'll actually care about the characters and their journey. You'll ache as Kratos tries to connect with Atreus and feel his rage when his son is in danger. Most of all, you'll sit mesmerized as the game unfolds before you, taking pride in every puzzle solved, every gigantic beast felled, every obscure chest or artifact discovered off the beaten path.
"God of War" continues Sony's recent string of fantastic spring releases and gives owners a reason other than allergies to stay inside.