Hands-On: ‘Stranded Sails’ Is a Relaxing Farm Sim AdventureHere’s an Hour of Incomprehensible ‘Death Stranding’ Gameplay Stay on target The God of War series is one of the best out there, but even long-time enthusiasts have to admit it had run its course creatively. Simply releasing a new game with the same old mechanics and storylines wouldn’t cut it. For it to survive, the franchise needed a serious overhaul. Thankfully, this is exactly what Santa Monica Studio has done with the latest entry. Serving as a soft reboot, God of War expertly introduces new gameplay mechanics and a fresh setting while retaining the core elements of the franchise. This is exactly the overhaul the series needed.After the events of God of War 3, series protagonist, Kratos, finds himself in the land of the Norse gods. Here, he attempts to find absolution for his murderous past by starting a new life. After the death of his wife, Kratos and his son Atreus go on a journey to spread her ashes from the highest peak in all the nine realms. The story’s deceptively simple premise quickly turns into a harrowing tale of sorrow, betrayal, self-discovery, and what it takes to become a worthy god (or man).Kratos has mostly been depicted as a selfish brute who gets his way through violence and bloodshed. While the character has a certain level of pathos (particularly in the first and third installment), he is rightly considered a villain. Though Kratos is still very much a powerful demigod, he has become a somber, more contemplative man. He has painfully learned from his mistakes, and does his very best to ensure his son doesn’t follow in his bloody footsteps.Actor T.C Carson has voiced Kratos since the series’ inception. For this entry, the developers chose to go with Christopher Judge of Stargate SG-1 fame. Judge’s performance as Kratos is simply flawless. While Carson could have convincingly portrayed a more subdued Kratos, the decision to go with Judge was wise. Since Judge uses his natural speak voice, there is a certain depth to Kratos’ character that wasn’t there before. Fans of Judge (like myself) will no doubt love his performance in the game. And yes, SG-1 fans, Kratos does say “indeed” at least once.Voiced by 10-year old actor Sunny Suljic, Atreus injects the game with a sense of childlike wonder. Even in these faraway lands, Kratos remains detached and unimpressed by the marvels around him. Atreus, on the other hand, is exploring the world for the first time and is in awe of everything he sees. In some respects, this is really Atreus’ story given his growth throughout the game. He truly is the lynchpin that holds everything together.Much has been made about God of War’s “new” gameplay. While there are certainly new approaches to mechanics and systems of the past, this is very much a God of War experience. Yes, the camera angle does make it seem different, but it’s treading familiar ground. Players still explore a mythological world, battle all manner of unique creatures, find hidden treasures, and upgrade their equipment. This is something I’m sure long-time fans will be happy about. This is still God of War, just from a different perspective.Every entry in the series has used a locked camera angle. This worked well in the past, but these days, gamers want more direct control. To that end, the camera is now firmly fixed behind Kratos. This allows users to move it wherever they wish. While this camera angle is unusual for the series, it helps to expand the visual borders of the world. The only real gripe some will have with the new point of view is how close it is to Kratos. Unless you are running, you only ever see his upper torso. Countless other games have this type of camera angle, so it isn’t something folks won’t recognize. It just doesn’t always work for this game, especially when engaging in combat.Battles in God of War games have always been vicious, and the same is true in this installment. Using various weapons, Kratos can truly bring the pain down on foes. Taking out creatures like undead soldiers, wolves, trolls, and elves is always satisfying. While Kratos can dodge out of the way of attacks, he can also defend himself by using a shield. As with previous games, you can upgrade Kratos’ weapons to make them more powerful. Upgrades to armor and accessories provide additional defense and also make Runic attacks more potent. You can also have Atreus help out by shooting arrows or unleashing his own special attacks. He also acts independently of Kratos, which is great since you don’t need to watch over him. With proper mastery of Kratos’ weapons and abilities, you can utterly decimate anything standing before you.Though exciting, there is one flaw in combat: the aforementioned camera angle. It feels as though this closer angle is better for one-on-one battles. I never had much of an issue facing off against bosses since it was simply them vs. me. When dealing with mobs, things get trickier. The game indicates oncoming attacks via on-screen arrows that go from yellow to red. While this is helpful, it isn’t foolproof since you can only see whatever is directly in front of you. Pressing Down on the D-pad makes Kratos quickly do a 180 turn to face enemies behind him. Despite the temptation to unleash a big combo on a foe, it’s best to hit them a couple of times before dodging to a new position. This will prevent you from getting sucker punched into infinity.You’ll get an idea of a monster’s strength by the health bar above its head. A green bar means enemies are either weak or close to your level. A yellow bar means the enemy is tough, but you can bring it down if you’re careful. A purple bar means you should return when you have better equipment because you’ll die mighty fast. You can disable health bar displays from the main menu if you wish. However, I would advise against that for first-time players.You can upgrade Kratos’ equipment with items found in chests, from slain enemies, or which lie on the ground. Different rune stones provide different attributes. Some make you resistant to elements, while others allow you to deal elemental damage. Base stats like strength, vitality, and luck are also augmented by runes. Each weapon has a slot for runes, and upgrading weapons allow for additional slots. Armor also has rune slots, and different armors protects against specific elements. On top of that, there is a skill tree for both Kratos and Atreus with various branches focusing on different types of attacks. The game is generous with experience points, money, and upgrade items, so you can start experimenting with different sets fairly quickly.The upgrade system allows for versatility never before seen in the series. You can create a Kratos suited to your specific playstyle. If you continue to fall in battle, you can select runes and abilities that give you health boosts. Want to unleash complete hell on foes? Select items that give boosts to strength and elemental attacks. You can also select different special attacks for your weapons. I’m not one who usually experiments with equipment; I always go with whatever gives me the best stats. For this game, I enjoyed seeing what the armors looked like and what the runes I collected did during battles.The best way to get additional rune stones and new armors is to complete side quests. Thankfully, there aren’t an overwhelming amount of side quests to complete. This helps players stay focused on the story. You get side quests from dwarven blacksmiths or from spirits found in the open world. There are other types of side missions which I won’t spoil here. I will say some have you facing off against the most powerful enemies in the game. Others take you to unusual realms where you can complete challenges. Different types of collectibles are also found across the land. Again, the amount of side content isn’t vast, but they are certainly worth completing. Especially if you want the very best gear in the game.One of the hallmarks of the God of War series is its level design. Most games have areas which circle back around each other. This helped created an interconnected world in most titles. This worked great within the limited confines of previous installments and does so again within this larger world. Each area has several paths to follow, and it’s always worth taking the time to explore each of them. They inevitably lead you back to the beginning; making future exploration much easier and efficient. Exploring the larger world is something new, but it still relies on the same principles as searching through smaller areas.There are various portals found across the land. Each one allows you to travel back to the game’s central hub. From there, you can go to any previously discovered portal. You can also use the hub to journey to other realms. While these worlds aren’t as expansive as Midgard (Earth), they contain their own secrets to discover and puzzles to solve. If you wish, you can also simply travel around Midgard by boat to take in the sights and enjoy banter from the boat’s occupants.The environments are truly stunning, and deliver a unique take on the world of Norse mythology. Everything, from snow-capped mountains, frozen lakes, massive structures, mysterious caverns, and statues of ancient gods are convincingly rendered. This same attention to detail is also true for each of the game’s characters and their apparel. God of War is without a doubt one of the best looking games ever released. The way Sony keeps pushing the visual envelope in its first-party exclusives is nothing short of spectacular. This is a feast for the eyes.Those who own a PS4 Pro get the added benefit of playing in either resolution mode or performance mode. Resolution mode is for those who own a 4K TV and want to get the most bang for their visual buck. Performance mode displays a 1080p image. However, it has the benefit of running the game at higher frame rates. It isn’t a locked 60fps, but it’s certainly close. Personally, I went with performance mode since it makes the game feel smoother. With that said, even if you have a standard PS4, you’re still getting one of the best looking games out there.I won’t mince words: God of War is without a doubt one of the best exclusives of this generation. It expertly revitalizes and modernizes the popular franchise. Though the new camera angle isn’t always ideal, it is a small chink in an otherwise pristine piece of armor. Everything from level design, visual quality, sound design, and story is simply top notch. It’s safe to say this game will help PS4 continue its dominance this generation. God of War is a remarkable achievement, and I look forward to seeing where the series goes from here.Let us know what you like about Geek by taking our survey.