How God of War Looks Different But Feels Familiar
The God of War games have always been known for their incredible combat. Well, that and extravagant moments of extreme violence, but it was the combat that put it in the company of Ninja Gaiden, Devil May Cry, and Bayonetta as some of the best action games around.
God of War PS4 took a lot of huge risks. One of those was dramatically changing that combat system, to the point where it really doesn’t look anything like a God of War game. But once you really dig into it, you’ll see that it’s built of the same incredible and fundamental core of the previous games.
Note that we have to go into some late-game content, so spoilers ahead.
One of the things that made the original God of War stand out was the versatility of its combat system, and that was largely due to the Blades of Chaos. The Blades were such a unique weapon in that they were fast, but felt extremely powerful; they could be used from close up, but also could be used from far away; they could throw enemies, or they could pull enemies in.
And the best part of all this was that the versatility showed through in how you dispatched enemies. Wraiths could be ripped from underground, juggled, and then you could break their back in midair. Harpies could be grappled to, slammed, or grabbed from the ground to rip their wings off. Regular enemies could be used as battering rams or projectiles to deal huge damage to other enemies.
All of this versatility is not only present in the new God of War, it’s been taken to the next level. Kratos has so many tools at his disposal and not a single one is wasted. A lot of this is thanks to the sheer versatility of the Leviathan Axe, which can be used both as a melee weapon as well as a recallable projectile. This opens up so many doors that have never been explored before in a game like this.
Fast and mobile enemies can be tripped by aiming at their legs; wyrms that burrow underground can be juggled to keep them from escaping your combo; weak enemies can be frozen with a heavy axe throw, then kicked into stronger enemies to spread the frost and slow them down. And all of this without even mentioning the Runic Attacks, Atreus’s abilities, talismans, or the weapon that I’ll talk about in my third point. Versatility is at the heart of the God of War series, and God of War PS4 has it in spades.
Another key defining element of God of War’s combat was that in addition to being a great test of skill and reflexes, it was also surprisingly strategic. Enemies could be killed in ways that would provide great benefits to the player, and things like magic and equipment could be seen as the resources you brought in to a fight.
Once again, God of War PS4 understands this, and evolves upon the concept. By filling up an enemy’s stun gauge, you can execute them, and each enemy has a specific execution animation that usually also comes with its own unique effect. Draugr’s create an explosion can sets nearby enemies on fire; Big Boy Draugr’s can be used as battering rams in a clear call back to previous games. And perhaps most importantly, Ogre’s can be ridden and can completely wreck surrounding enemies, making them a prime target to stun and execute first.
Beyond that, Kratos has a ton of moves at his disposal that can quickly dispatch of an enemy through the usage of his environment. A simple sparta kick can knock an enemy off a ledge, or into a wall for huge stun damage; the heavy axe throw can instantly freeze an enemy, and then a charging shield attack can shatter them; and juggled enemies can be carried and gently dropped off a cliff.
Just like in previous God of War games, when you get stuck on a tough combat encounter, the breakthrough usually doesn’t come from a change in how well you press buttons. It comes from a change in how you think about the battle.
The Blades of Chaos
Everything that I’ve said so far is about how God of War PS4 still manages to feel like a God of War game with its combat centered around a completely new weapon: The Leviathan Axe. But halfway through the game, what’s old becomes new again with the introduction of The Blades of Chaos.
Well, okay the bread and butter square, square, triangle combo has been replaced by square, square, square, triangle, but otherwise they’re the same. Capable of wide sweeping attacks that can take out crowds of enemies in ways that the Leviathan Axe simply can’t compete with, explosive combo enders that knock enemies flying, and a ranged grab that can snatch enemies and then knock them away.
The best thing about the Blades of Chaos this time is that they’re equally useful and just as fun to use as the Leviathan Axe, despite being entirely different, leading to a malleable combat system that simply doesn’t get old throughout the entire game and beyond.
Mitchell Saltzman is IGN’s Lets Play and Livestream producer and is currently cursing his way through a Give Me God of War playthrough. You can find him on twitter @JurassicRabbit.