The God of War franchise is one of the most celebrated first-party exclusive series on the PlayStation format. 2005’s PlayStation 2 original broke new ground not only in drawing a staggering visual quality from its host format, but also in what was believed to be possible in action games. A quality of design previously unseen in the genre – and rarely replicated since – spawned an incredibly successful sequel and both PlayStation Portable (PSP) and mobile phone releases in the franchise. All of which were warmly welcomed by their audience. And now, with God of War Ragnarok having finally arrived, we look back at Kratos’ quest for revenge. In God of War III, we see a turning point for the franchise.
God of War
God of War III thankfully doesn’t shy away from the spectacle of its predecessors. In the opening sequence our anti-hero is riding atop a huge titan once again engaging in battle with gods. Stepping back into the shoes of the Ghost of Sparta is as comfortably gruesome as ever. The control system remains largely the same as ever and the abilities and weaponry Kratos will discover on his journey will be instantly familiar to fans of the series.
Newcomers meanwhile, should have no problem adapting to the swift pacing of the combat. Much like the elaborate combo construction of the Soul Calibur series, God of War III’s horizontal and vertical slashes are designed to make the player feel empowered. Just a few jabs at the control pad are all that’s needed to make you appear skilled. And yet, those looking to draw the most from the system will find depth beyond a few spin attacks and flips.
A huge variety of enemy types will task the player with mixing-up combos to find the most effective attacks. Many larger enemies can be downed with greater efficiency by engaging in the Quick-Time Event (QTE) sequences when prompted. Referred to in-game as “mini-games”, though never more than a few button presses, the QTE sequences are well presented to eliminate confusion at times when every press counts. Boss fights frequently utilise QTE sequences not only for the final blow, but also for progressing through the many stages of damage most can sustain.
God of Genre
Compared to the genre stalwarts – Devil May Cry, Ninja Gaiden et al – God of War III’s boss fights are much more staggered experiences. However, these constant breaks and changes of pace allow for some truly dramatic sequences. Often on an epic scale. Players will frequently battle with giants and mythological beings several storeys tall. Gruesome creatures and fanatical warriors, each with their staging broken into numerous different patterns rather than the typical two-or-three that competitors pride themselves on. Of course, Kratos has a number of powerful weapons and abilities to take on these beasts with, and finding a new weapon – despite the familiarity of many – remains a joyful experience. As is tradition, these weapons can be upgraded with red orbs collected from defeating enemies and treasure chests, earning new moves along the way.
God of War, Not Platforming
While God of War III’s combat would be hard to fault, the same cannot be said for the design of the platforming sections. More frustrating than challenging, God of War’s preset camera returns without the foresight of a player’s need to interpret distances or angles. Simple dexterity challenges or visual puzzles can often become obscured or are easily misjudged due to the uncompromising camera. While previous God of War titles had been designed with this series convention as an unignorable commitment for the arrangement of areas and challenges within, it appears that God of War III has been designed for grand events in spite of it.
The control system also proves unconvincing within the platform challenges. While Kratos’ double jump is better used for height than distance – with the Wings of Icarus providing the extended measure through gliding – the input has an infuriating need for accuracy. A split-second either way of the incredibly slim window will require the player to retread their steps and attempt the challenge again. Although this is only a minor issue early in the game, when the length of such trials began to extend the player will often find themselves having to repeat several minutes of gameplay to possibly fall foul at the same moment.
God of Graphics
The visual quality of God of War III is frequently stunning. Even 12 years after initial release, the game remains an impressive graphical achievement. There’s the occasional slip in design where the detail of an area works to be counterintuitive to gameplay, and some enemies clearly haven’t had quite as much attention paid to their animation, but graphical glitches are very rare indeed. Many of the locations visited are striking as players venture through the skies, underground caverns, ancient monuments and crypts thick with an air of death and decay. The animation is fluid and the lip-syncing is among the best yet offered on the PlayStation 3. The in-game animation as a whole is almost faultlessly fluid. Of an equally authentic quality is the voice acting. Predictably borrowed from Hollywood’s impression of beasts and gods, yet certainly maintaining the suspension of disbelief through a familiar association.
God of War III is quite easily one of the biggest games to have launched on PlayStation 3. Both in terms of anticipation and scale. More than a decade later, it’s unlikely to disappoint in either respect. Innovation may not be it’s game, but almost everything God of War III does have up its sleeve is delivered is with confidence and grace. The soft-reboot of God of War was right to take the series in new directions, but this is simply due to new possibilities on more powerful hardware opposed to any fault in the delivery of God of War III.