I've been both looking forward to and secretly dreading the release of the newest God of War. With God of War III, I knew I was in for one of the most amazing gaming experiences of my life. But this release also marks the end of the incredible saga -- at least for now. I'm optimistic we'll see more of Kratos and the superb efforts of Sony's Santa Monica Studio, but for now, the road to revenge is over. And what a hell of a ride it has been.
The King -- no, God -- of Third Person Action Games Returns
As any gamer can tell you, the God of War games are AAA, top notch productions. Quality at this level doesn't come cheap, and it was recently revealed that the budget for God of War III was an impressive $44M. I think it's safe to say SCEA got their money's worth. Not unlike the previous games in the series, God of War III is a system seller and one that no gamer should be without.
The obvious stated, lets get to the details. III picks up right after the events of II, which had Kratos riding on the
back of the Titan Gaia as she and the other Titans began their climb to Mount Olympus. Kratos' anger and thirst for revenge against the Gods had led him to this point -- Zeus was going to pay, and if that meant the end of the world as we know it, so be it.
If you haven't played or seen the videos by now, the opening twenty minutes in III is nothing short of breathtaking. I could literally feel my pulse pick up as the music pounded, the graphics awed, and the gameplay got me fired up and captivated. The momentum is so powerful it feels like you're at the end of the game, not the start. The pace calms down soon after, but the excitement that is part of playing a God of War game remains. This excitement reaches a whole new level on the PS3 though...
Those who have played the previous God of War games will feel right at home. Even if you haven't, tutorial messages (that can be disabled) will help get you going. For the most part, Kratos controls exactly as before, but there are several changes that deserve mention. First, Kratos will utilize more weapons and items than in previous games. You can switch between weapons with the d-pad, as each direction corresponds to a weapon. You can also quickly switch between one weapon and the next one with L1+X, great for combo attacks. Your magic abilities are tied to your weapons now, so you can only cast the one magic power for the weapon you have currently equipped. That might sound like a limitation but with fast weapon switching, it works out really well.
With R2 being used to cast magic, L2 is assigned to item use. There is a third meter in the HUD in attention to HP and MP. The yellow meter measures your item level, or points. The meter drains quickly, but also refills within seconds. Some items are passive in that you acquire them, but don't actually use them in the normal sense. These special items include the Golden Fleece armor, Poseidon's Trident, and several others, including a few that are for puzzles. Normal Items are called upon by pressing L2 and one of the face buttons.
Other control changes are less noticeable. Chests are opened by holding down R1, instead of having to tap it. Quick Time Events (QTEs), something the original God of War made popular in gaming years ago, are still a major part of III. I like what SCEA did here -- instead of the required button appearing on screen, right in the middle of the battle, the button you need to press is now shifted all the way to the edge of the screen that corresponds to the placement of the face button on the controller. So if you need to press Square, you'll see a white bar with a Square located on the left side of the screen. The idea of course is to let the player enjoy the animation while still being able to partake in the QTE with peripheral vision. This works quite well, and is a far superior system to the previous ones.
It's also worth pointing out that in addition to Gorgon Eyes and Phoenix Feathers, players will want to look out for Horns of the Minotaur. These Horns will increase the Item meter in the HUD. Gorgon Eyes and Phoenix Feathers still increase your max HP and MP. The only difference now is that you need only collect three of each, instead of five, to make the sacrifice.
(Negative) Thoughts On Gameplay
These changes in the control scheme and the additions to the gameplay that they facilitate are great, but one area that still bugs me with God of War is platforming. Normal jumping, like in battle, is fine, but too many times I fell to my death because of trouble with jumping. In III, players can tap X to jump, tap again to double jump, and then hold X to glide with Icarus's Wings. Throughout the game, there were quite a few times when I would run, jump of a ledge, and it just seemed like I hit an invisible wall and I could not get my double jump or glide going. Failure to do so at these numerous points meant an instant death, but fortunately III uses a lot of checkpoints so I was never too far behind -- but it does diminish the immersion and fun factor.
I've never been what I would call a great platform gamer, but I thought III could have done a better job with these areas. There's nothing worse (ok, other than getting frozen by a Medusa in the middle of a crowded battle) to break the flow of the game than a 'cheap' falling death. The 'all or nothing' design of these areas does increase the intensity and satisfaction of completing a jump successfully, but I wonder that the effect of falling to your death several times in a row doesn't detract from that. The frustration when you jump and fail to get Kratos to glide or you run into one of the many invisible walls is palpable. I would estimate that two thirds of my deaths in game were due to falling deaths as opposed to combat. In short, let me just say I wouldn't have been opposed to some other kind of falling design. For example, maybe have a passive item that completely depletes my item meter but allows me a second chance at a jump, rather than killing me and forcing me to restart at a checkpoint. Or heck, dock some of my health, but not all of it unless I'm really low. I think there's a balance between what Prince of Persia did with infinite forgiveness and what is done here in III.
About my only other issue with the gameplay of God of War III is the continued heavy reliance on slider puzzles and levers. Almost all games in the genre do it, but I was hoping, expecting even, for more from III. Don't get me wrong, there are far more memorable and amazing moments than not in III, absolutely. But when the whole point of a sequence is to pull a lever that opens activates some object I passed up a long time ago, it just doesn't seem right. Same with the slider puzzles. Kratos can now rotate objects ninety degrees, which is nice, but I'm still moving around the same kind of objects to achieve what feels like a really contrived goal. Sometimes that goal isn't very clear, further adding to the uncertainty of this design. While there's nothing outright wrong with this type of design, so much about III is so powerfully awesome that I just expected an experience without these proven, but cliched design elements.
This game screams 10/10 from the moment you pop it in, and while its tempting to score it as such, there is still room for improvement, hence the above rant. Now how the designers will go about improving the presentation will be interesting to see because III looks and sounds simply divine. I can honestly say this is best looking game I've ever played, from both a technical perspective and even an art direction perspective. It's a pleasure to experience what the Sony was able to pull off here in terms of sheer 'wow factor' with the graphics, and of course the sound -- how I love the sound. The score is every bit as powerful as the gameplay or graphics, which is saying a hell of a lot. It shouldn't be too surprising though, since presentation quality has always been an important part of previous God of War games. And while I and II are still impressive today, even more so with the HD update the Collection provided, III will blow you away, time and again. Oh, and there are no load times -- ever, except of course when you die or load a save game. Other than that, from the moment you press "New Game" from the menu, it's on, from start to finish.
Having just completed my first run through a few hours ago, I'm still awestruck at what I just played. I've watched a few of the included 'making of' HD videos which are great, and I now also have access to Chaos Mode and Challenges to try. There's a Combat Arena to unlock and now I can use some of the special items I found during this initial play through too. The 'dark' costume I unlocked means Kratos and his enemies deal quadruple damage, making for a much faster paced game which in turn makes multiple play throughs all the more accessible and feasible despite a busy schedule. I haven't been this excited to replay a game I just finished in a long time.
You know, outside of the minor points I made earlier, God of War III just plays like a dream; a really, really awesome dream. It's hard not to be giddy about how amazing this game, this series, has been. Makes me so happy to be a gamer.
To the summary...