In development from Sony’s first-party studio Santa Monica Studio, God of War [PS4] is the fourth title in the main line God of War series, the eighth title in the franchise, and first title rooted in Norse mythology. Centered around Kratos, the Ghost of Sparta, and his son, a story line focused hack-and-slash title finds a new face on modern consoles. Over the course of two-and-a-half acts of story, God of War features beautiful 4K graphics, solid and varied game play mechanics, a wonderful story, and amazing polish. Short of a somewhat disappointing ending that leaves the player wanting more, God of War on the PlayStation 4 is one of the best titles released on the platform to date, and a solid candidate for Game of the Year in 2018.

Graphics – 5/5

There is no comparison on the PlayStation platform today that meets what Santa Monica Studio reached graphically with God of War. Simply put, no detail was spared to push the PS4 Pro to its limits and if the title were reviewed exclusively on looks, we could end the conversation right here. Throughout your adventures with Kratos and his son Atreus, details seamlessly pop and fade with terrific draw distances and high definition texturing designed to help push perspective to important game play and story elements. Santa Monica Studios attention to detail in motion blur proves that the company won’t let you fall out of a dramatic moment with a strange texture swap or focal blur misstep. While playing God of War on the PlayStation 4 Pro even the simplest aspects of real life had the experience at the forefront. In fact, if you’re looking for the distinguishing differences between God of War and any other title, you might appreciate this quote I found myself saying during the game’s first act, “Wow! They even rendered the Goose Bumps around his nipples!”

During action scenes Santa Monica ensures that you don’t lose your sense of focus, as blurs for both action and attention to where you’ll need to go will quietly drive your eyes to weaknesses and strengths for Kratos to gain advantage in the battle. Particle physics and subtle glows are built in to to separate gameplay aspects of the series from beautiful background effects. Designed with intent, the mythical and designed elements blur the line between what helps you play and what a Rune or Spell would look like in this world. There really is nothing like this on PS4 today.

Gameplay – 5/5

As excellent as the Graphics for God of War are, game play has always been at the core of the series. Hack and Slash aspect of the series seem to give way to tactics and depth without forgetting the roots. Starting out as a narrative focused in Norse mythology and building the bridge between the old and the new, Kratos will smash and grab as much as ever, but will now include use of a new Norse magic infused axe and his Boy.

Throughout your adventures with Kratos and his son Atreus you’ll enjoy evolving and increasingly more impressive skills found using Runes and Relic-like objects. These can be found in treasures in Midgard and the other Realms of Norse mythology, and will serve as a good push for replay-ability at the end-game. As you acquire more skills throughout the adventure, you’ll find that no two skills are specifically more powerful than the other, but they do allow Kratos some diversity in a few specific button combos. Rather than build up an eternal list of combo varieties, the game keeps simple what can be made simple, and builds the character the way the player wants Kratos to be built. A very satisfying system, ready for any player.

Story – 4.8/5

Built on a story of Norse mythology, Kratos has stepped away from his life as the Ghost of Sparta as in all 7 previous God of War games. Now married with a child, Kratos has settled down into an immediately shaken life style as the player arrives in Kratos’ new life. As we step into the story, Kratos’ wife has died and has set the family on a Father-Son bonding quest to spread her ashes on “the highest peak in all of the nine realms”. Among these nine realms is Midgard, where you have lived for years, and serves as the realm of Humanity. During your adventures with your son Atreus you’ll quest along many of the nine realms solving riddles, learning and developing the skills of both Kratos and his son.

Without building a road of spoilers for you, God of War drives an excellent narrative. As your son grows to learn his origins and learns more about who you are, external strife turns to internal struggle. God of War includes excellent cues to old series events to flesh out backstory without feeling repetitive. Despite an extensive and developed 40+ hour campaign, God of War slips in one of very few categories by possibly prioritizing story cues in the wrong order, however. After facing off against one particular adversary, it wasn’t until 15-30 minutes later in the campaign that I realized that he was the “final boss” fight in the campaign. Given the story elements that followed, I was under the impression that we would face something larger and stronger yet still. With the inclusion of the Nine Realms aspects of the game, and the fact that only 6 realms could be explored, the narrative of the story dictated that there were greater struggles ahead. Despite this, the campaign ended on an open-ended conclusion.

While not hollow, the story seems to intentionally leave you wanting – and not as a cliffhanger. For this reason, I couldn’t justify saying that this was simply the best story on modern consoles, but it does come quite close.

Polish – 5/5

Sony’s Santa Monica Studio went all out in the polish department with God of War. While for the first few weeks players received an update nearly every night, we also never experienced a single glitch while playing God of War. That said, polish is about more than simply not glitching out. Polish is about the flow of the game and game play. Transitions from cutscenes and game play are flawless in God of War. The third-person camera works without a hitch, and requires little-to-no user control to point you in the right direction, without leaving you with that “on-rails” feeling. Simply put, the experience is truly immersive in your adventures, and nothing gets in the way of the narrative that the end-user was supposed to absorb. Simply superb.

Replay Value – 4.5/5

After completing the main-line story, there are plenty of nuanced subplots in tiny side-quests to whet your pallet. Be they treasure hunting, exploring for Odin’s Ravens, opening chests, or trying to face off against the most difficult enemies in the game – the Valkyries, you’ll find something to keep you going. God of War serves as a decently difficult “platinum” trophy as well, but clearly has something down the line in terms of DLC. This category only truly suffers because of the inherent nature of the single player experience in God of War. When you’re finished with the main story and smaller sub-quests, you’ll only be able to piecemeal together personal achievements as there is no option for a multiplayer experience.

That said, you knew that there would be no multiplayer experience going into God of War, and after 40+ hours of game, God of War serves as a great experience and an excellent bang for your buck.