God of War’s PC port is an improvement on perfection • The Register
The RPG Greetings, traveler, and welcome to The registry plays games, our monthly gaming column. May this trajectory of PlayStation titles eventually coming to PC continue for a long time to come – because we now have God of the war.
How do you make a perfect PlayStation exclusive even better? The answer seems to be to port it to PC, which happened with God of the war January 14. In 2018, The register was lucky enough to receive a copy before its original release. We played it and loved it, although without a dedicated place on the site for games it would have been odd to suddenly write about the experience.
Things have changed. The RPG has entered its third year as a God of the war becomes the latest of a number of former “exclusives” that have made the leap to the desktop. In that vein, this column has already covered the PC versions of Death Stranding (not for everyone) and Days gone (not perfect), and we learned that the measure of a port is “how badly did they screw it up?”
Because while the aforementioned items were shining examples of stability and performance, the process doesn’t always run smoothly. Horizon: Zero Dawn, the other PlayStation stablemate to be brought in, was a dumpster fire at launch. We never got there precisely for that reason. There are no such concerns with Santa Monica Studio God of the war.
Sadly, it’s not often you can describe a video game as “magical” – but God of the war corresponds to the invoice. Santa Monica has been developing the series since 2005 on the PlayStation 2, where it started out as a hack-and-slash action game with a fixed camera view, but the PlayStation 4 entry, which shares the same name with the first, is a soft reboot of sorts, a fresh start and a new direction. You can safely start here without having touched previous titles.
The franchise follows Kratos, a Spartan warrior who becomes a Greek tragedy after being tricked into murdering his family by the god of war Ares. He is unleashed on the impulse of rage and revenge, slaughtering much of the Greek pantheon over the course of three matches. He turns out to be a demigod and a son of Zeus (the main deity’s habit of raping mortals is well documented).
Now hiding in Midgard – not the literal “Earth” as such but a representation of the realms of Norse mythology where gods, dwarves, elves, dragons and other monsters dwell – Kratos (now voiced by Stargate SG-1 Christopher Judge) appears to have cooled down a bit, grown a sickly beard, and fathered a son, Atreus, whose mother died under unexplained circumstances early in the game. His dying wish was for his ashes to be scattered from the top of the highest peak of the realms. Therein lies your quest. It sounds simple, but the resident gods have grown suspicious of Kratos’ presence, and the trip turns out to be anything but.
This God of the war changed things up by switching to a third-person, over-the-shoulder camera (à la The last of us) where the player can freely watch and go anywhere. As such, it could be loosely defined as an open-world game. There is a large hub-like map that can be freely explored, where you will find a substantial but not overwhelming number of secondary objectives available as the story progresses, ranging from dungeons to collectibles to optional bosses.
One of the biggest changes, however, is Kratos’ weaponry. Ashamed of his past, his “Blades of Chaos” were dropped in favor of the “Leviathan Axe”, an enchanted heirloom he inherited from his dead wife, though the blades are bound to reappear down the line. As a nod to Thor’s hammer, Mjölnir, the ax can be pointed and thrown at enemies, returning to the wielder’s hands at the push of a button, while also being used as an incredibly powerful melee weapon. The visceral mechanics surrounding the ax are some of the best in the game and never get old.
The approach is more grounded than older titles. There are no crazy jumps, although Kratos can jump obstacles, lift huge boulders to pass underneath, and scale cliffs. During combat, however, he will often be surrounded by many varieties of enemies with different attacks and abilities at once, which means that you kind of have to multitask – be aware of what’s behind you, who’s about to launch a magic projectile. on you, blocking, parrying, dodging and rolling before counter-attacking to stay alive. So the hack-and-slash element has been preserved, but it can also feel like a brawler (Bayonetta, Devil May Cry) – just heavier, more brutal, slower.
On that note, God of the war is joyfully violent. One of the first boss fights – and another one up there with the game’s best – is between Kratos and a man who can’t feel pain. Although his identity is obscured for the narrative, students of Norse mythology should be able to figure it out. This guy knocks on the door of Kratos’ house and starts slandering, drawing him into an all-powerful brawl where the attacker gets smashed through a house and a hill, crushed by a huge boulder, and has the broken neck. He leaves. In addition to health, enemies and bosses also have stun bars, which are built most effectively when Kratos sheathes his ax and takes them bare-knuckled. Once filled, the player can trigger a variety of brutal execution animations – so (I think my expression says it all).
But in addition to ultraviolence, progress in God of the war has depth and complexity. You don’t “level up” simply by racking up experience points – these are used to unlock button combos and attack abilities. Instead, there is a crafting system, with the help of the dwarves Brok and Sindri, to create or improve armor, weapons, trinkets and talismans, paid for by hacksilver and rare items dropped by defeated monsters. The better the item you equip, the higher your level will be – so it’s important to be on the lookout for drops that can help craft rarer gear (denoted by the classic MMO color code of green
On to the graphics then. My God. It was mind-boggling what the developers could achieve with the PlayStation 4 hardware (now next-gen and superseded by the console’s fifth iteration), and that’s where the port shines. Midgard is a wonderfully dramatic and colorful place, ranging from lush enchanted forests and valleys to snow-capped mountain peaks, and now you don’t have to mess around with the framerate locked at 30 fps!
Some set pieces really stand out as capturing The God of War magic – your first encounter with Jörmungandr, the World Serpent, a truly spectacular entity on the scale of Titanic, or the colossal tortoise anticlimatically named “Chaurli” who lives above the Wood Witch’s house. It’s like living again The never-ending story in the form of a video game. The bosses can be imposing too, with trolls and ogres regularly ambushing Kratos and Atreus. The latter can be mounted while weakened and used against other enemies.
Then there is the central machinery, sunken in a lake, a mysterious set of buildings and towers built by the gods for the purpose of traveling the realm (there are nine worlds in Norse mythology). Once Kratos has the Bifröst (the rainbow bridge of old tales but in-game a key-like object), he can interface with a representation of the cosmic tree Yggdrasil. The process of traveling to another world is pure eye candy, with the roots of the tree twisting into a bridge. Just… take it from me. Everything about the game is pure eye candy.
There are a few graphical settings with finer granularity that can be changed if needed. “Original” is the PlayStation skin, already fantastic and with the framerate unlocked to boot. If your rig can’t handle that there’s “Low”, otherwise going to “High” or, even better, “Ultra” will push the port to its full potential. We played on “Ultra” and the performance was flawless. We opted to use a gamepad, simply because it felt more familiar since we played the original, but the keyboard and mouse controls also seem perfectly viable.
So, “how badly did they screw it up?” the answer is: not at all. It was a perfect action-adventure game on PlayStation 4 that was only bettered by the port. I couldn’t find any bugs or quirks anywhere, and honestly the PC gaming community should jump at the chance to play. It will enthrall fans of Norse mythology with its many references to Eddic lore, and delight players with its meaty mechanics and Kratos’ gradual development from a stern and aloof father to something almost resembling tenderness. God of the war should stay in Scandinavia for the next episode, Ragnarok, This year. We can only hope that it will one day come to PC too, otherwise it might be time to grab a PlayStation. ®
Rich played God of the war on Twitch like excellent sword. Toss him a follow for more video game impressions as they happen! Every Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday from around 8.30am to 9pm UK time.