For as long as I can remember I’ve tempered my excitement surrounding new game releases by plotting out which titles are on my must-play list for the year. Back in the 90’s it was based upon the newest issue of EGM that arrived in my mailbox. For my teenage years, it was based on articles and previews I scoured on videogames.com or IGN, even though my dial-up in rural Wisconsin had trouble loading 112k images with any semblance of speed. These days, I basically know what I will and won’t play based on my years of gaming knowledge. God of War was not on my list. Like, at all. I thought that at some point it would receive a deep discount and I might noodle around with it then. Due to a very slow drip of great games in 2018, I basically “What the fuck”-ed my way into buying God of War because it got some good reviews. I’m happy to report I’ve slept exactly 5 hours every night since this game’s release and I can’t stop playing.
Besides curbing almost everything that was annoying about God of War as a franchise (re: mostly yelling and loud grunts mixed with smashing and ripping shit apart), Santa Monica Studio, led by God of War series veteran Cory Barlog, have created a loose spiritual successor to Castlevania Symphony of the Night. That’s not a coincidence, as Gamespot reported that Barlog has often uses the template of what is debatably regarded as the finest game ever made (I’m in that camp) as a guide for all of his games. The way in which the world of God of War walls off certain hidden areas, peppers breakable walls and branching pathways throughout, down to the excellent pacing of character progression perfectly hooks the player to explore “just one more boat landing.” Coupled with excellent, fluid combat, precise collision detection and multi pronged combat strategies, God of War almost conjures up the same feeling of “holy shit, this is really something” that only Symphony of the Night and few others have.
I think what makes God of War such a satisfying experience is something that I can’t necessarily share with others. Since I was expecting nothing but a Horizon/Assassin’s Creed clone from the new God of War, I didn’t spend months anticipating its release, and therefore I had no baked-in expectations. The only other similar pop culture sleeper hit comparison I can think of that comes to mind is when I stumbled into The Wire. I heard a couple people mention it and I wrote it off as another procedural cop show, but rated R and with boobs (because HBO). Then I got a root canal and got hopped up on vicodin for three days and watched the entirety of the Shakespearean-quality masterpiece that is The Wire. With deep, intertwining storylines and characters I had never seen portrayed on TV (whispers: complex black characters), I was floored. Not knowing anything about it made it that much more impactful. God of War: same.
Then the real question starts noodling about the noggin — would I like this game as much if I had been waiting for it for years like some others? Or is it that little delightful surprise feeling that pushes it over the edge? Until I get my hands on one of those time machines that hackers used to frame Joy Ann Reid and make her look like a homophobe, I’ll never know. I speculate yes, because any way you slice it, God of War is a genre-defining game. Similar to The Last of Us on PS3 — you can only understand so much from hearing about the game’s accolades — you have to experience it to grasp how the game makes you feel. Personally, I feel like God of War eclipses The Last of Us in that regard, but I’ll reserve that judgement for when I see the credits roll. Until then, play God of War.