Yes, the third entry in the God of War series has just come out, but I figured I’d take a quick look at the original and some of the aspects that made it stand out.
- Kratos, the protagonist of God of War, is an ideal lead for the game. He’s vicious and perpetually enraged, but he’s also a broken down soul searching for salvation. Kratos is promised an end to his pain by the gods, and he’ll do anything for that reward. This nicely sets up the game and its plethora of brutality.
- Kratos’ main weapons are the Blades of Chaos, two large daggers/cleavers fused to this forearms by long chains. The weapons provide an instant fix to short and long-range combat as they can be held by their hilts or swung around by their chains.
Each swing also produces an orange-tinted trail of energy, masking collision and clipping issues while creating a visually appealing “ballet of violence.”
- The upgrade system is somewhat interesting as it forces the player to hold a button in order to drain a 2D vial (often multiple times) of its contents. This gives the upgrading process a somewhat kinetic feeling and forces the player to more thoroughly reflect on the collected experience points.
- Unlike so many of its clones (and sequel(s), from what I understand), the upgrades to the moveset come in batches. I actually prefer this approach as it rewards the players with stronger attacks, new types of offense, and new move combos all in one package.
The alternative is to let the player purchase upgrades individually, which often results in messages stating that the player can now do a “X, X, X, X” combo instead of a “X, X, X” one. Maybe it’s my background with fighting games, but I personally dislike this. As the player, I always have the ability to push a single button four times in a row, and I somewhat resent a game for not letting me execute that combo until I pay for it.
- Each enemy in the game has a different attack pattern, but their overall abilities and techniques are pretty similar. The main two exceptions are the Gorgons and the Cerberi.
The gorgons emanate a green beam that automatically follows Kratos, forcing the player to roll out of the way or simply run away. If Kratos is in the beam’s path for too long, he turns into stone. He can shake out of it if given enough time, but while in the stone state, a single hit will shatter his body. A neat little touch is that Kratos will die if turned into stone in mid-air as the fall will instantly break apart his body.
The Cerberi on the other hand are pretty standard enemies that often start off as little pops. If given enough time, though, they’ll grow into large beasts that are much more dangerous, encouraging the player to focus on eliminating them first in virtually any scenario.
- The player cannot control the camera, but this is used to set up and frame some pretty dramatic shots. One of the first involves running up the stairway to Athens where two large pieces of cloth are suspended over the city’s gates. The camera pans down to Kratos’ feet, looking up at him as he ascends the steps, and as he finally enters the city, it zooms away to show a gigantic version of Aries laying siege to Athens itself.
The automated camera works well for the most part, but it does tend to fall apart when backtracking through levels as it can leave Kratos running towards the screen with the player unable to see where he’s actually guiding the character.
- The puzzle elements are of the pretty standard block-pushing/lever-pulling variety, but some can be real head scratchers. They also provide periodic breaks from the combat and tend to be action/timing oriented.
- Some of the puzzles require multiple steps and are deeply tied into the linear level design. A perfect example of this are the concentric Rings of Pandora that need to be individually rotated and aligned. With each successful rotation, a new level opens up that must be completed before moving on to the next step of the puzzle.
- Since the levels are pretty linear, the incentive to defeat the enemies is often represented by red energy walls that dynamically create mini-arenas where all monsters must be killed in order to proceed.
- Certain enemies — especially the slow, lumbering ones and the archers far off in the background — tend to hit their own allies during the chaos of battle. This is always fun and entertaining, and provides some unexpected breaks in the combat.
- Although Kratos is meant to be a ruthless and powerful warrior, he can’t grab or indiscriminately whale on anyone but the weakest enemies. Many will avoid or interrupt his combos, but various cues are used to telegraph these moments.
The audio hints are especially useful as some of the smaller enemies can be hard to pick out in the midst of battle.
- Various enemies can be finished off with a quick-time event. These not only serve as a visual reward, but have a bit of strategy associated with them.
All enemies release experience orbs when defeated the old fashioned way, but some will drop either health or magic recharging orbs when finished off with a unique “fatality.” This approach gives the player an organic way of selecting which reward he’d like to receive.
- Although Kratos is not an acrobat, there are numerous traversal segments that break up the combat. These include sliding down or shimmying across ropes, scaling vertical walls, balancing on thin walkways, and jumping across various platforms.
The vertical scaling is particularly fun as it allows Kratos to quickly move around by pressing the jump button while letting him slash at enemies and grapple with them. By pressing the throw button, Kratos can pull down the enemies above him by their ankles, or grab the enemies beside him and slam them face-first into the wall. A neat aftereffect of this is that falling enemies tend to hit and take down their partners, and after the enemies fall off-screen, red orbs fly up to indicate that they’ve been defeated and the player hasn’t been cheated out of a potential reward.
- In one section of the game, Kratos must physically move some statues in order to block the spawn points of enemies. It’s a neat puzzle as it happens during combat and must be completed in order to safely walk across the tight-beams leading to the exit.
Another example of this type of organic combat-puzzle is using the Medusa head to turn an enemy into stone as it steps on a pressure plate.
- During Poseidon’s trial, Kratos comes across a room full of soldiers suspended in cages. He must first lower one of these still-alive prisoners, then kick the cage down to a small incline and push it up to the temple’s entrance. As Kratos moves the cage, he must occasionally deposit it in front of some rock outcroppings to prevent it from sliding down while he fights the enemies that spawn along the way.
Upon finally reaching the temple, the cage is placed on a pressure plate that makes two columns extend from the wall and turn to face the cage at either side. Once the setup is complete, a final lever is pulled in order to make the columns spit fire and burn the victim trapped inside, awarding Kratos entrance to the next area.
- Hades’ very-red underworld has a neat visual effect where countless souls are perpetually falling down from the sky while Kratos jumps from platform to platform.
- The penultimate battle has Kratos facing off against his dopplegangers while trying to protect his family. The enemies attack both Kratos and his wife and child, and the player has the option to hug his family, restoring their health while draining his in the process.
- The bosses of the game are definitely its highlights, epic in scale and requiring a specific strategy/environmental interaction to defeat. Among many abilities and attributes, the bosses are unique in that they can restore Kratos’ health and magic mid-battle following a particularly successful attack.
Another common aspect they share are the health bars, although each one is presented with a slight variation. The Hydra has three individual bars for each head, the Minotaur’s healthbar is actually obscured by a metal plates that fall off once his armour is smashed (until the bar is revealed, he cannot be damaged), while Aries himself shares a healthbar with Kratos and each successful hit heals the attacker while damaging his opponent.