Action adventure games of the quality of God of War don't come around often. God of War takes a tale of vengeance, set against the backdrop of ancient Greek mythology, and turns it into an epic adventure filled to the brim with bloody, stylish, over-the-top combat, challenging puzzles, and highly impressive production values. So many games within the action adventure genre tend to limit their focus so heavily to either the combat or puzzle-solving side, while leaving the opposing side as little more than an afterthought, but God of War does nothing of the sort. Instead, it blends these two equally important parts extremely well. To put it in no uncertain terms, this is one of the best action adventure games on the PlayStation 2, and it should not be missed.
Meet Kratos, one of the meanest yet most sympathetic antiheroes you'll ever meet.
God of War revolves itself around the trials and tribulations of Kratos, a muscular, pale-skinned, heavily tattooed Spartan warrior who, at the outset of the game, is on the verge of suicide. Citing that the gods of Olympus have abandoned him, Kratos throws himself off the tallest mountain in Greece, plummeting to his seemingly desired doom. As he falls, the voice of an elderly narrator cuts off Kratos' death before final impact and tells us of how things had not always been so dire for our hero. Flashback to three weeks prior--to the beginning of Kratos' adventure--where we find him on a wrecked ship in the middle of the Aegean Sea, fighting his way through scads of undead warriors and a rather large, multiheaded hydra. Though the story begins here, you won't learn much about Kratos until quite a bit later in the game. The initial impression you get from his adventures is that he is, for lack of a better term, a mean-spirited, unlikable son of a bitch who would sooner slaughter his own mother than let anyone get in his way. While some lingering aspects of this perception will last throughout the game, you'll come to learn over time that Kratos is a deeply tortured soul who wants nothing more than to wash away the sins of his past.
The main plot of the game revolves around Kratos carrying out a mission from the gods of Olympus to stop the renegade god Ares (incidentally, the titular "god of war") from destroying the city of Athens. The only way a mortal like Kratos can kill a god is to acquire the mythical Pandora's box, a weapon so powerful that even the gods themselves tremble before its power. As you follow Kratos' journey to find Pandora's box, you learn more and more about his troubled past, how he was once a conqueror of fearsome reputation, and how he was eventually led astray by Ares. These bits of story are told through stylishly directed flashbacks that appear at specific intervals. The game's whole method of storytelling takes sort of a slow-burn approach, giving you almost nothing to work with and no understanding of Kratos at the beginning. By the time the game is over, however, you'll know nearly all there is to know about Kratos, and you should find yourself sympathetic to this flawed but repentant warrior. Even though the story is, in itself, a fairly basic tale of revenge, it isn't any less impactful because of this when you reach the final confrontation.
A big part of what makes Kratos so endearing, despite his cruel and unforgiving demeanor, is how much of a total badass he is. In combat, Kratos is a thoroughly capable warrior, thanks in part to his default weaponry: a pair of axelike blades called the "blades of chaos." These blades are actually seared into Kratos' flesh via a pair of chains that are wrapped around each arm. The basic attacks with the blades of chaos let you pull off a lot of nifty, whiplike maneuvers. Over time, you'll earn new combos as you collect and spend red orbs, which are plentifully available throughout all the worlds. All the combos--even the most powerful of them--are rarely difficult to pull off. Though one could try to criticize the combo system for being a little too forgiving and because it almost plays itself a little bit, it's really a moot point, because the attacks are just so much fun and so satisfying to pull off. Even if you are only alternating between the two attack buttons seemingly at random, each and every hit feels great and looks awesome.
The blades of chaos aren't the only weapons at your disposal, either. As you progress, you'll occasionally encounter one of the many gods of Olympus, who are only too happy to aid you in your quest to slay Ares. Each god will provide for you a new weapon when you encounter him or her. For instance, Zeus gives you the power to toss bolts of electricity; Hades lets you unleash the souls of the underworld; and Artemis actually provides you with a huge sword to use as an alternative to the blades of chaos. Along with the blades of chaos, all these weapons and magic types can be upgraded via the red orbs you collect, providing you with greater attack range and more power each time. Each of the different types of magic is useful in its own right, and none feels superfluous at all. Quite the opposite is true, actually. The combination of different magics, along with the weapon combat, creates an excellent variety of attacks that turn Kratos into a serious force to be reckoned with.
The combat system is a ton of fun, despite not being the deepest system you'll ever encounter.
And he'll need to be, too, as God of War is not light on challenge. Make no mistake, if you're expecting some kind of excruciating level of difficulty, you won't find it...at least not on the default level. The hard mode, which is immediately available, will definitely provide you with a stiffer challenge. Still, even with that said, the game is no pushover on the normal difficulty level, thanks largely to the wide variety of tough and creatively designed enemies. Each of the game's baddies is based on a creature from Greek mythology. You'll find cyclopes, gorgons, minotaurs, undead warriors, and winged harpies, among others, on offer. Though some of these enemies amount to mere grunts that can be cut through reasonably quickly, the game tends to throw lots of them at you, meaning you'll need to be quick with your attacks and well versed at using the block mechanic.
Some larger enemies, while fully beatable via normal combos, are more easily bested by engaging in one of God of War's many context-sensitive attacks. When an enemy that can be killed by one of these attacks appears--once you've worn it down, that is--a button icon will appear above its head. Hit the button and you'll find yourself engaged in something of a rhythm-based minigame. Each time a new button icon (or in some cases, an icon dictating a specific rotation of the left analog stick) appears, pressing it quickly will cause Kratos to pull off a new maneuver. Others still simply require button mashing to simulate a struggle between Kratos and an enemy. There are loads of these different contextual actions in the game, and they're all fantastic. They truly do a wonderful job of making you feel like you're right in the thick of the action, rather than just having you sit through a cutscene of your character doing something cool.
Yes, that's a flaming minotaur you're fighting. Yes, he's as tough as he looks.
The boss fights are where the game really shines, however. Though there are really only a scant few major boss fights, each boss is unique in its own way, and each requires quite a lot of quick attacking and footwork to beat. From the multiheaded hydra that guards the end of the first stage, to the god of war himself, you'll never fail to feel challenged and shouldn't be bored with any of the game's boss fights. The final confrontation, in particular, is immensely satisfying and well done. We obviously won't give away what happens, but let's just say it does the age-old concept of the "multitiered" final boss battle extremely proud.