[Best of 2018] God of War is Nearly My Perfect Game

God of War is my favorite game of 2018. It is an impeccable, astounding piece of art. From the game’s opening moments to its climactic finale, God of War enraptured me fully in a way no other piece of fiction did this year. And while it received a ton of accolades this year, it felt specifically tailored to me and was nearly my perfect game.

Best of 2018 – Crunchy Combat

God of War combat shot.

If there’s anything that will keep me playing a game, it’s good combat and God of War delivered the most satisfying combat experience of the year. I wanted to try everything, fight everybody, and, most of all, I wanted to “git gud.” Kratos’ Leviathan Ax is swung with heft by the demigod, crashing and crunching into enemies. Individual ax swings lead beautifully into combos that bring Kratos’ and Atreus’ abilities together seamlessly, granting the combat a sense of power and fluidity unmatched by other games.

Mixing playstyles between the Leviathan Ax, the Blades of Chaos, and barehanded combat is absolutely sublime, and give God of War one of my favorite combat systems in any game. The decision to rearrange controls and put weapon swings on shoulder buttons has drawn comparisons to Dark Souls, which are not unwarranted. And comparisons that bode well for myself, an avid Souls fan. God of War differentiates itself with the game’s progression and unlock system.

Best of 2018 – Commit to the Camera

God of War Kratos and Atreus Helheim.

The “no cut” camera is great marketing bulletpoint but the camera’s handheld feel truly helped bring me into the world. Not only did it give me a more intimate look at the characters but it also gave me the worldbuilding I crave in my games. Kratos and Atreus’ journey is heightened by the idea that it all happens in real time and that there’s not a moment that Sony Santa Monica didn’t attend to. Players spend expanses of time riding around in a little boat on the Lake of Nine, but that time is well spent with its characters. Stories, anecdotes, and quiet moments fill out the relationship between the father and son (and Mimir) in meaningful ways.

In comparison, Rockstar’s Red Dead Redemption 2 pushes for a more “cinematic” approach. Tracking shots, camera cuts, sweeping vistas, “helicopter” footage, and more lend the Wild West epic a much different feel. For a game so intent on immersing players in its world, Red Dead Redemption 2 cuts a lot of that world out, and constantly pulls players out of Arthur Morgan’s boots. The first time I started riding off into the wilderness with a fellow gang member, I was excited. “What are they gonna talk about? How long will this ride be? Will we get interrupted? I’m so excited to just be in this world with these people I want to care about.”

But instead of getting any of that, the game cut from gameplay to a couple throwaway tracking shots, then gave me control back as we reached our destination. Red Dead Redemption 2 continues to do that throughout the game and, in the instances where it doesn’t, all the characters talk about is the task at hand. No reminiscing, no anecdotes, no substance.

God of War, gave me all of those things and more. The dozens of stories from Mimir paint a larger picture for the world these characters inhabit, but also draw parallels and themes to the events transpiring in-game. This approach to world-building and immersion grabbed me in a way I doubt any other game could do as well.

Best of 2018 – Dad of Boy

God of War dad of boy

That innovative camera system helped Sony Santa Monica take the series that began in 2005 to greater heights, and imbue it with more intricate themes and emotions befitting a maturing art form. Sony stablemate Naughty Dog’s The Last of Us inspired the Cory Barlog-directed God of War “reboot” and it shows. The Last of Us was an emotional roller coaster of a game, and stands far above most linear, narrative-driven games. It’s one of my favorite games of all time for those reasons. And God of War had similarly nuanced characters and performances that heavily evoked the signature craftsmanship present in Naughty Dog’s games.

Christopher Judge as Kratos and Sunny Suljic as Atreus carry the majority of God of War‘s emotional weight with them. Judge’s Kratos is a fantastic evolution of the character originally portrayed by T.C. Carson. His reverence and love for Faye is felt through how he speaks of her, and how he attempts to treat Atreus better. Meanwhile Suljic’s Atreus is a wide-eyed child, and one who does a good job at hiding his sadness. One scene, where Atreus finds a sky lantern within the mountain, highlights the performance of both actors. It also makes me tear up every time I experience it.

God of War is, thankfully, a game drenched in a “show don’t tell” attitude. Instead of bludgeoning me over the head with Atreus going, “Father, I’m sad that my mom, Faye, died,” the game showed Atreus grappling with the loss. Every time the father and son ventured somewhere new and Atreus would say, “I wish mom were here,” it would hit me in a new way. Kratos’ reservation and emotional unavailability only heightened the rift, and the pain shared between the two. God of War slowly, confidently and in little ways kindled their relationship. I adored the ways God of War focused on family, because even for antagonists like Baldur, familial love was key to who they were. It may have not been Joel and Ellie but the commitment to character is all the same for me.

God of War. Holy shit, God of War. Sony Santa Monica delivered a fantastically well-executed reinvention of the series. From the combat to the progression to the brilliant story God of War ticked all of my video game boxes. All of its disparate parts seemed laser-focused on pleasing me, even though the avalanche of accolades shows I wasn’t alone. It’s impossible to claim that Sony Santa Monica made the game just for me. But given how it knew exactly how to appeal to my tastes shows that no matter how big a game is, it can still be a small, personal experience.