God of War has a complex and entertaining combat system, but you wouldn’t know it from my first playthrough of the game. Sure, I knew about all the moves and combos that were available to me, but I spent most of my time relying on the same handful of attacks.
I’ve been playing the recently added New Game+, which let me start a new game on a higher difficulty with all the armour, weapons, and enchantments I had at the end of my first time through. As my colleague Gita Jackson wrote last week, God of War’s NG+ really does better reveal how fun the game is once you’ve got its full toolkit to play with.
By the time I’d unlocked all the coolest moves and best gear in my first playthrough, I’d largely run out of things to do. I did a few Valkyrie fights and beat a few waves of enemies in the fire and mist realms, but there just wasn’t much beyond that. In my NG+ playthrough, I’ve got an entire game’s worth of regular encounters to mess around with, and it’s been a blast. I’ve made it to the end of Kratos and Atreus’ first journey to Alfheim, and in the process have begun to master a bunch of combat manoeuvres that I basically never used the first time. Combat manoeuvres like...
1. Everything Related To The Light Axe-Throw
Kratos can throw his axe using either the heavy or light attack button. On my first playthrough, I used the heavy throw by default, and I barely registered that the light throw was an option. That was a huge oversight for a few reasons: the light throw gets better distance and is better for solving environmental puzzles; you can purchase a skill that lets you skip your axe around and target specific body parts; I also have an axe pommel that makes my light axe throws do more damage.
Forget Thor’s hammer, this thing is more like Yondu’s Yaka Arrow.
One of my favourite movies now involves tagging a number of enemy body parts, then throwing and watching the axe whup the crap out of the foe I’ve targeted. Why wasn’t I doing this from the very start? Now if only I could get the hang of precision hits…
2. The Quick-Turn
Another move I never used is less exciting but no less important: the quick-turn. Hitting down on the D-pad causes Kratos to do a 180-degree spin, which lets you quickly take on enemies attacking your flank. Or, if you’re me on my first playthrough, you can just slowly wheel the camera around while rolling to the left or right to avoid attacks. As soon as I began actively considering the quick-turn as part of my combat repertoire, I found myself playing differently and with more agility.
3. The Witch Time Dodge
This one isn’t an innate move, so it’s more understandable that I never got the hang of it. In Alfheim, you get a talisman that lets you activate slow-motion on any last-second dodge, similar to Witch Time in Bayonetta. I love Witch Time in Bayonetta, and I would have loved to have a similar ability in God of War, but I so quickly got a better, higher-level talisman that I never internalised Witch Time as a mechanic in the game.
In New Game+, you get a high-level version of the same talisman that can eventually be converted into an armour enchantment, which basically gives Kratos an innate Witch Time ability.
It is very fun! It’s as fun as slow-mo dodge always is, with the same exciting risk/reward proposition and the same satisfying “ha ha you can’t stop me from whaling on you” payoff.
4. Dodge Attacks
With both the axe and the blades, there are a few attacks you can do by pressing dodge along with the attack button. Kratos might leap backwards and spin his blades or fly forward with an axe-cleave. I usually rolled and dodged my way through combat, but it can actually be much more effective to relocate with a dodge-attack.
The dodge attack is a great way to close with enemies while still doing damage.
It’s taken some reprogramming of my muscle memory to get away from constantly rolling everywhere, but it’s been a lot more fun.
5. Basically Any Stance Shifts
Some of Kratos’ most powerful attacks involve stance shifts. You attack, then pause, then attack again, and you get a special attack. With the axe, that usually means spinning the axe around Kratos in a growing radius, hitting any nearby enemy. With the blades, it means pushing forward with hard-hitting stabs. I’ve always liked this kind of attack, where you have to press a button, wait, and then press another button. But I also button-mashed my way through a lot of the fights my first time through God of War.
On NG+, I’m making an effort to pause more in combat to unleash a second-stance attack. I’m still getting the timing down, since it occasionally leaves me open to an attack from my flank (this is what the Quick-Turn is for, turns out), but when I get it right, it feels, and looks, pretty cool.
I’m a fan of New Game+ playthroughs, just like I’m a fan of replaying games in general. God of War’s New Game+ enhances the game to an unusual degree because it lets me experiment with abilities that I’d either ignored my first time through or obtained after I’d run out of things to do. Now to see if I can beat Sigrun a second time...