About 20 hours through God of War, I was sprinting from a boat dock to a shop in order to unlock a new piece of armor I’d had my eyes on for hours. Kratos threw open the shop’s gilded black doors for what felt like the twentieth time and rushed to the shop. Nabbing the brand new belt, I was eager to run to the next objective when something interrupted my frantic rush. Atreus had struck up a conversation with the shop owner, inquiring into his family affairs. I paused to listen.
When I turned to resume my journey, the gorgeous detail of the room suddenly floored me. I spent the next few minutes just staring at the room’s lighting, listening to the sounds of the forge, and remembering the awe with which I’d first entered the room. After hours of chasing down side quests and barreling through the epic story, the question loomed: when did I start rushing through this awe-inspiring game?
At the adventure’s start, I walked everywhere. Literally. I didn’t sprint or even push the analog stick to its full extent to make Kratos jog. I just walked through the environments, taking my time to appreciate the incredible craftsmanship that went into each minor detail. This just felt like the appropriate way to inhabit the role of Kratos, an experienced warrior unphased and unconcerned by anything the world could possibly throw at him. Why would he rush anywhere?
Eventually, I realized that doing this would extend the game’s runtime to an absurd length so I started sprinting and jogging, rationalizing it as Kratos wanting to complete his journey sooner. I fell into the frantic rhythm I described at the start of this article, completing quests to earn the rewards and see everything, rather than to live in the experience of the journey. Over time, the game started to wear on me and I felt fatigue at what had once inspired.
Then I remembered something from my own past. I remembered playing Bioshock Infinite for the first time in 2013. Red Dead Redemption in 2010. Breath of the Wild last year. I recalled the mixed feelings of satisfaction and sadness at finally completing each one. Satisfaction because each of these games concludes an epic story in spectacular fashion. Sadness because you never get to experience those stories for the first time again. And here I was not taking the time to savor what I knew I would one day yearn for.
It’s easy to set out with certain goals for a game. Maybe you don’t want to use fast travel at all in Breath of the Wild or you want to investigate every dialogue option in Dragon Age Inquisition. Sometimes these goals stick. Sometimes they don’t. The sheer time investment required to complete some of the best games often precludes the thorough intent that these goals begin with. Even when a game is so good that you can’t stop playing it, it is appealing to play unconsciously, in the manner that’s easiest and usually quickest. After all, it’s not like the story changes just because you’re getting there a bit quicker. But I think something does change when you rush through a game; when the fatigue resulting from an unconscious playstyle sets in and makes what once was a wondrous world or a refreshing gameplay mechanic simply a system to progress through. It becomes more mechanical, less alive. And God of War is a game that is SO alive.
The in-game dialogue crackles with character. The combat system is visceral, smooth, and overloaded with spectacular fighting styles. Environments are works of art in themselves and so are the various creatures you rip to shreds. The relationship between Kratos and Atreus is smart, subtle, and mature. Secrets hide around every corner and this interpretation of Norse mythology is creative and engaging.
I love that the innate curiosity of Atreus, for all intents and purposes my son for the previous 20 hours, reminded me to appreciate the journey, and not to worry about the destination. It was like the game itself was communicating with me, telling me to slow down and appreciate the world around me. The fatigue faded, and I felt inspired once again. God of War is a game I’ll remember for a long time. It’s a game I’ll most likely play several times before this year is over. But I’m not in a hurry to rush to that future and I’m enjoying a somewhat absurd game length. For now, I just want to savor the journey, while it is still surprising, fresh, and full of wonder.