So there’s this video game called God of War. Maybe you’ve heard that it’s really good? Well, it is.
On this week’s Kotaku Splitscreen, Jason Schreier and I had an enthusiastic, spoiler-free discussion covering some of the reasons we’re so impressed by Sony Santa Monica’s upcoming PS4 epic.
You can download an MP3 here.
Below is a lightly edited transcript of a couple segments of our chat, where we talk about why the game’s one-take “camera” approach works as well as it does, and break down some of what we like about the combat.
Jason Schreier: The other thing that’s mind-blowing is the no-camera-cuts thing. Because they pull that off, there are no camera cuts in the game, unless you count that there’s a couple of moments where the screen will fade [to white].
Kirk Hamilton: For the most part though, yeah.
Jason: For the most part, there are no camera cuts in the game. And that has such an interesting effect. It adds this style to it that I’ve never seen before in any other game, because you know that you’re never gonna cut away, you’re never gonna see what the villains are planning in some hidden lair somewhere. You’re never gonna see dialogue cutting back and forth between two faces.
Kirk: And you’re never gonna leave Kratos’s perspective, either. You regard [his son] Atreus from his perspective at all times, which can be used in interesting ways that people can probably imagine. Again, there’s a sense of… no specifics, but these games were always about scale. The way they accomplished that in the past was to zoom way out and show this flea-sized Kratos climbing up the face of some monster the size of a mountain. And that was really effective at the time, and really cool.
This game takes the exact opposite approach. The camera is tight in on his shoulder, and yet he’s still doing unbelievable shit. So there are these times, in the middle of a boss fight or something, where Kratos goes in to do the ridiculous whatever-he’s-gonna-do at the end of the fight, and I’ll just think, “Holy shit, we are doing this, we’re going in here, with him, to do this insane thing he’s about to do.”
The camera is always right there with him. So in the quiet moments, it works one way. When shit gets loud, it works a totally other way, and it’s really effective and impressive.
Jason: So one of the things that comes with the Nordic mythology is that your main weapon is this axe called the Leviathan Axe. And this core mechanic is basically, if you’ve seen The Avengers, it’s Thor’s Ma-hol-neer [horrible mispronunciation] mechanic…
Kirk: Mjölnir. [correct pronunciation]
Jason: [oblivious] …and then summon it back to your hand. And I don’t think any other game has done this, at least not done this as well. It feels so friggin’ good to just throw the axe and then summon it back to your hand. The graphical effects, the sound effects, everything about it is perfect, to the point where I’m just throwing the axe at random things as I walk around, just to see what happens.
There’s a central hub area that’s in this lake, so at one point I just threw the axe into the lake just to see what would happen. And it has this unique splash effect that is just the axe going into the lake. And then you call it back and it comes out, and it’s just incredible. It just feels really good to use as a core mechanic.
Kirk: The combat in this game is fucking amazing.
Jason: It is. It’s so good.
Kirk: It’s extremely good. It’s way better than I was expecting. It feels terrific to play. It’s a really smart merging, basically, of God of War combat with Dark Souls-style combat.
Jason: And it’s hard!
Kirk: It is hard. It gets easier as you level up, because you do get more powerful, and you can kind of over-level enemies and then you’re kind of wrecking them. But yeah, it starts out tough.
Everything is very intentional in this game. You throw your axe, and it doesn’t just boomerang back to your hand. You have to [intentionally] get it back. Sometimes though, if you throw your axe into an enemy, it hits him and freezes him in place. So if you have two enemies you’re taking on, you can freeze one for a while and then, once you’ve thrown your axe, you can go to [hand-to-hand] combat. Which is totally effective, and a whole separate thing. You have separate moves, a separate skill tree.
So then you’re punching guys. As you punch guys, their stun/K.O. meter goes up. It does health damage, but not as much as the axe. When you’re punching them, if you get a guy all the way up on his stun meter, you can do a Doom-style right thumbstick click like, rip the guy apart, or grab him and punch him. Which is a thing you would do in the old God of War games as well.
So you’re in this constantly shifting, very layered system. You have one ranged attack. It throws away your one melee weapon. You can summon the weapon back, and as you’re summoning the weapon back it will hit things on the way back to your hand.
Jason: Yeah, so you have to think about the spatial awareness of that.
Kirk: Right. And the enemies are designed really well: you’ll get in a fight where there’s a little enemy that floats in first, and those are spitting things at you from a distance. You have to throw your axe at that, but then another enemy can close with you really quickly and he can stab you, so you have to be ready to dodge. And then, uh oh, a couple tankier enemies with shields come out, so then you’re getting pushed around a little bit by them. You’re still dealing with the guy with the sword, a couple more floating things come in, so you’re throwing your axe, pulling it back, attacking, doing an area-of-attack on the smaller guys, and then, maybe, a big-ass ogre comes in! And then you’re getting really bullied around and you’re getting pushed around. And it winds up being this super dense and really, really well-designed thing. There is so much fighting in this game and all of it is is just… rad? And that alone makes me want to keep playing it forever, because it’s endlessly entertaining and interesting. It’s so well done. I really can’t say enough good about the combat in this game.
Jason: The axe mechanic is also used really well in puzzles.
Kirk: That’s what I was about to say, and that’s not even getting into the puzzles! This game has a billion puzzles in it, it’s not just a fighting game.
Obviously, we both like God of War a lot. For more on the game, read Chris Kohler’s full review, watch Tim Rogers’ new video, and listen to the full episode. (Though honestly? My recommendation might actually be to stop reading and watching things about the game and play it as fresh as possible.)
This week we also had on former game developer (Treyarch, Telltale) and current Twitch streamer Ryann Weller to talk about his transition from making games to streaming them, his charity work, and his time on Twitch’s new competition show Stream On. You can find Ryann streaming regularly on his Twitch channel.