April was a slow month for games. Yakuza 6 rolled through quietly without anybody noticing or caring and Nintendo’s biggest game was a DIY cardboard kit. Perhaps all for the best, because our winner this month might have otherwise massacred other worthy Game of the Year contenders as can happen sometimes in this ruthless gauntlet (sorry Super Mario Odyssey). Luckily, God of War (2018) for PlayStation 4 went largely unchallenged this month.
Games have matured quite a bit since the original God of War released in 2005, and gamers along with it. The series, while intended for adult audiences, appealed mostly to teenage boys through its manly man protagonist Kratos who could rip 100-foot beasts apart with his bare hands and make swarms of topless women flock to him. While sufficient for the time, these games with its one-dimensional protagonist and repetitive combat, would be heavily criticized by today’s standards. The simple themes of loss and betrayal that encompassed Kratos’ journey throughout the series were once compelling, but as gamers and game developers matured, so have our expectations for more nuanced storytelling. God of War attempted and succeeded in creating a new entry in the saga for today’s audiences that honors its history by pressing into what made the series both great and problematic.
If we had to describe God of War in one word, it would be “intentional”. There is not one thoughtless line of dialogue nor a side quest that doesn’t help you contextualize the story and the characters’ motivations. Sony Santa Monica has proven their mastery of every aspect of game development from the combat, to the puzzles, and even down to the marketing. The result is a very meaningful experience that feels complete and memorable.
Ambitiously, the game attempts to take you through the entire journey with just a single camera shot. Many great cinematographers and directors are able to do this in films for tens of minutes at a time if they’re really skilled, but to carry this trick through a 25+ hour journey is a grueling bet that works beautifully. Aside from these large innovations, God of War introduces smaller quality of life improvements that modernize established conventions. For instance, fast travel often becomes a vessel for organic storytelling between characters instead of a static loading screen.
God of War will be among the top of most outlets’ Game of the Year list. While only time will tell if it will reach the peak, it clinches an easy victory for being one of the greatest games in PlayStation history. And more humbly, it rests confidently as Top Shelf Gaming’s April Game of the Month.