Monday, January 7, 2019

GTMTM '18: God of War, the Best Play I've Ever Gamed

The infamous Sigrún. Screenshot: Kotaku

God of War

This is the only God of War game I have played, and to be honest, I never thought I would touch any game in this franchise. I always thought these games looked gross, and then when I watched Anita Sarkeesian's videos, I was beyond repulsed.

But right from the first reveal, this game was different. In particular, I was continually impressed by the game's new director, Cory Barlog. He seemed to have a very different concept for this franchise, and to be a genuine, passionate, and creative guy, and it showed in every trailer and clip released before launch. Finally, when the reviews came in and were almost universally gushing, I decided to give it a shot.


(Before I get into this, yes, this game certainly still has problems, especially with mothers, and one scene in the end was very uncomfortable for me as a mother stood to the side and watched and screamed while two grown boys pounded on each other. I recognize that, despite all the praise I'm about to give it.) 

God of War is a lot of things, most of them impressive. It's the best play I've ever gamed--it's tight camera work, limited cast, familial story lines, and linear progression all reminiscent of theater, seemingly an intentional choice by Barlog. It's a complex examination of the responsibilities and insecurities of being a father, deepened by the father's own troubled past that he's trying desperately not to pass on to his son. If there's anything noble about a man trying to teach a boy how to be a better manGod of War is that as well (be sure to read Cory's description on that video). It's a creative and technical masterpiece at every level. It's incredibly well cast and performed (one of the most amazing scenes, in my opinion, didn't even make it into the game, as far as I can tell). It's also a bold retort to many of the biggest trends in AAA games today--it's not open world, it has no DLC or expansions, it has no subtitle or number in the title, no online component, no companion app, no Alexa skill or other gimmicks.

All of that adds up to a game that is primed to find at least some reason to stick with you. The first time I heard Kratos tell Atreus a story on the boat, I laughed out loud, and purposely took more time rowing around just to make sure I heard them all. The big twist that got a lot of attention because it brought back the Blades of Chaos from previous games got me not because I cared about fire swords (I'm still partial to the axe myself), but because it was an awesome example of ludonarrative harmony (my term for the opposite of ludonarrative dissonance; I don't know if there's an official term yet). The gameplay and the story worked with each other in this moment to enhance the player experience, and help drive the point home: you can't escape your past, but you can change. That's pretty much the whole theme of God of War in a nutshell, and this moment drove the point home with both gameplay and narrative all at once in a maneuver unlike anything I've seen since the ending of Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons.

Finally, God of War mattered to me this year because I beat it. While that term means absolutely nothing anymore, what I mean is I 100% completed it, and reached a new level of tenacity with the boss fights that I don't know if I had ever achieved before God of War. The final Valkyrie, Sigrún, (which is without a doubt the real final boss of God of War, even though she's not part of the main story) was in particular both a difficult and memorable experience. It took me over two hours to finally beat Sigrún on a Saturday afternoon. It took so many attempts, in fact, that when my wife stepped out of our bedroom into the living room where I was playing, my three-year-old son jumped up on the couch and said, "Mommy, Daddy's dying the guy!" For most of my game-playing life, I've been okay skipping the toughest bosses if they weren't part of the main story, but God of War was so good and I was so attached to the journey that I really wanted to tough this one out. I threw myself at it again and again, surprising myself with how calm I could be through the whole thing, because Kratos had been teaching me for 40 hours already how to stay calm, read my opponent, and be disciplined, both in his words spoken to Atreus and in the game's design. (This is another point of amazing ludonarrative harmony--one of the combat mechanics in particular actually teaches you to stay calm and take a breath in fights, because you have to literally pause for a second between blows in order to access a certain set of extra-powerful combos.) When I finally won the fight, it was extremely satisfying, and I felt like I had really earned something. I loved God of War already, but putting that much effort into it made me feel a new level of attachment to the game, like I belonged in its circle now. What I didn't know was that this feeling would be somewhat of a theme for the games that mattered to me in 2018.

(Thanks for reading! This is the first post in my "Games That Mattered to Me in 2018" series, posted one a day between January 7 and January 16, 2019. Go here to see the rest of the series.)

No comments:

Post a Comment