God of War (PS4, 2018 Santa Monica Studio) is the best console game I've played in 20 years.
I've loved console games for as long as there have been consoles and gamepads for my fingers to fondle. My relationship with consoles have been largely cock-blocked by the universe to prevent me from becoming the bleary-eyed, [late-to-work because i stayed up all night playing <whatever>] gamer-addict that I'd otherwise be naturally inclined to become.
As a teenager, I really couldn't dedicate expansive amounts of console-gaming time because of job, chores, school, or mandatory family time. As a young married adult, the Unreal Championship matches were thread like a needle between crazy-work hours and date-nights. Bottle feedings instead of clan raids, tech start-ups for business equity instead of leveling up my Call Of Duty [x] stats.
Milleniuals call this Adulting, right?..
I do, occasionally get to eek out a mastery of a beloved title. Played some Call Of Duty at a middle-high-level. Tournament-level Halo before it jumped the Cortana-Terminator shark...
I think for many of us geeks-turned-dads, the barrier to entry on satisfaction for modern console games is they [have been] heavily multiplayer focused with lopsided matchmaking that requires an extensive time investment to not be frustrated. Part of why I like arcades and pinball so much. Coin up, play a match and move on. For those single-player campaigns of console games that I have played, they seem shallow and a little too "on-rails" to feel any stakes for the characters.
That's what makes the 2018 PS4 release God of War such a breath of fresh air. It feels like a game made by dads, for dads and shows a keen meta-awareness of these frustrations and solves many of them.
Don't get me wrong, I started off skeptical.
As a fan of the original series, the smash-and-squish-and-crush rage-monster Kratos gameplay, I immediately started to side-eye this game from the first moments. An older, kinda craggy and slow looking Kratos hugs a tree.
In my mind:
Wait. I finally get to play Kratos in 4k and he is literally a tree-hugger now? WTF is this? The same dude that would essentially destroy the cosmos to get revenge. The blood thirsty Ghost of Sparta is a peace-loving tree hugger AND he's tied up in Norse mythology now?! I AM OUT!
Then.. I played it... and it is awesome..
The story is epic, engaging and oh - so - good.. Krato's cringeworthy screaming-one-liners from the earlier installments have been replaced by the vocal talents of Christopher Judge (Teal'c from Stargate SG-1). The difference is welcome and immediately noticeable. Chris brings Kratos into a fully developed character but still maintains the often-funny use of shortened sentences and clipped delivery. "Indeed." The delivery is somewhere masterfully between barely-bottled rage or zen-master calm.
The story carries you through a father-son adventure that navigates partially remixed aspects of Norse mythology. The overall story has a ton of heart - great character beats and is a fantastic ambassador to the Norse mythos.
I went in with an unfamiliarity with the norse mythology and left wanting to learn more. I highly recommend Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman for those of you left with a thirst for lore in this topic. The charming Marvel-imagined Thor is replaced with the more-ominous but equally dull equivalent from Norse myth. More of a dumbed-down Jason Momoa than Chris Hemsworth. In the God of War franchise, the gods are vengeful, spiteful, mean-spirited assholes. The game remixes aspects of the mythology in service of story and it works.
Kratos' new weapon, the Leviathon axe, is more like Jarnbjorn than Mjolnir and completely different than The Blades of Chaos. You might say, it is not as clumsy or random as the Blades of Chaos. An Elegant weapon... for a more civilized age.. Once you get acclimated, it is pretty awesome. If you find yourself missing the circular-360-spastic glory of the Blades of Chaos, well: hang in there. They have something in store for you, too.
The world is expansive and you are free to explore it. It includes a myriad of travel dynamics, side quests and hidden treasure. Some of these will keep you playing even after the primary story-line. The main story is 16 quests and took me about 6-8 hours, spread out over a week on medium-low difficulty. Some parts had me contemplating turning it to the lowest difficulty. I easily spent over an hour on one um, 'mini'-boss.
Can your kids play it? Well, that's a parenting decision you'll have to make based on your sensibilities and the maturity of your kids. The M rating alone, typically means No - not for kids. If you are a strict sort of parent that shields your kids from the secular evils of the world, you won't want them playing. If you are a "video games as a babysitter" sort of parent you'll probably let them play. If you play video games with your kids, it is an opportunity to pass the controller back and fourth and talk casually about the violence and language when it arises and how they fit into your world view. You do: you. :)
God of War has always been a mature franchise. A little sexual innuendo, language and gore were staples of the franchise. This one has no sexual content or nudity (some muscular dudity, though) some language and plenty of gore. The majority of the language in this game comes from the blue dwarf, Brok. I feel like the M rating is mostly attributed to a handful of F-bombs from this single character and is mostly gratuitous.
The majority of the gore is in the creative deaths of mythical creatures and bad-guys. Game-of-thrones inspired ice zombies spirt blue blood, etc. There are a number of brutal hand-to-hand fistfights with powerful humanoids. There is head smashing, limb-breaking, stabbing and a particularly messy impromptu cardiac procedure with one large foe. It doesn't "sound" like the gore is tamed down but it did "feel" a little more tame than previous games in the franchise.
Ultimately, the themes of the game story are about family, honoring those we've lost and aspiring to be better than we have been. Excellent work Sony Santa Monica Studios. Speaking on behalf of all of the Dads I can speak for - you rock and I'm looking forward to the next installment in the franchise.