Check out our God of War preview, watch gameplay footage and check out what we learned from writer/director Cory Barlog
God of War, from Santa Monica Studios and Sony Interactive Entertainment, will be available for PlayStation 4 on April 20. We recently got to head down to Santa Monica Studios to play a few hours of the game, as well as have a chat with creative director at Sony Interactive Entertainment’s Santa Monica Studio, Cory Barlog. Barlog has an extensive history with the game, and he’s the writer and director of the new installment in the series. Check out our God of War preview and you can also watch new gameplay footage in the player below.
As you likely know, this is a redesign of the game. Kratos is older now, and has left Greece. This time around, we’re delving into Norse mythology, and we meet a bitter and tired Kratos and his son at a difficult time in their lives. They’re setting off on a journey, but Kratos is not sure that his son Atreus is ready for it. As a player, you might not feel like you’re ready for an AI follower, but I can tell you, as someone who hates AI followers, Atreus isn’t going to drive you crazy. In fact, he’s actually really helpful. The cool thing here is that Atreus has a single button to attack. You don’t have to think about it. He’s helpful in a way that is beyond refreshing for gamers.
Barlog told us that adding Atreus was a “controversial decision.” He said, “Many, many, many people tried to talk me off that ledge initially.” He said that it was important to make Atreus easy to deal with. “This cannot be intrusive,” he said. “This character’s role, from a story perspective, is to pull the humanity out of a character who’s lost it completely. Is to see the world with that wide-eyed enthusiasm of everyone who’s played this game will see it because it’s new to them. It’s not new to Kratos.” He explained, “With Atreus, he can’t just be there to be story. He can’t just be there to fufill the little MacGuffin. He can’t be there just to say, ‘Hey, I’m going to guide you to the next point. He has to be all in.” He said that the decision to make Atreus’ actions one button was made early. “You don’t have to memorize a list of commands… I get to tell him where to go. I never get to take over Atreus. You never play as him. As a parent, you never get to take over your child and go to school for him. You have to arm them with what you can and hopefully they learn the right lesson.” Even during a point in the game where Atreus is having trouble moving forward after a profound scare, you can only encourage him. It never takes you out of the game. It’s part of it.
Atreus is especially helpful (and this is just from the few hours I got to play) when you have to deal with enemies that you can’t see. The camera is closer here than in previous games. It absolutely helps with immersion, as it would be in a real battle, you can’t see them coming up behind you. You’ll get an arrow, but if you ask Atreus to shoot at the enemy, you can see the direction the closest enemy is coming from by watching him. Barlog talked about the change in the camera. “The early God of War games had the ‘cinematic camera,’ they called it, right? I hate that word, by the way… anything the camera does is cinematic… the cinematic camera is great for a controlling person like me who is like, you only get to look at exactly what I tell you to look at all times. I loved that. But at the same time, I hated it, because I wanted to look at what was over there. I love the idea of getting to a location and taking your time and really soaking it in. Graphically, we were able to do more… I want to live in this space. I want to live there. So having a user-controlled camera was a cornerstone. It was a puzzle piece that started this entire puzzle that we’re building. So I know right from the get go, we needed to make some serious changes to the game, but we needed to make them with intelligence.” Barlog told us that Atreus didn’t completely click until late in the process, but that it was incredibly important that it worked. Having played the game, I can say that, in my opinion, it absolutely does.
With regards to the camera, Barlog told us, “You have to rely a little bit on your son, who is saying, ‘Behind us, two more draugr.’ He’s keeping you a little bit more battle aware.” He continued, telling us that the idea was that if you want to feel like Kratos, there is a bit of claustrophobia in battle that needs to be there. “We never wanted to make it feel like you’re out of control and slow, but we do want to make it feel like he’s older. As you get older, you don’t necessarily need to zip around and dart around. You’re a little bit smarter. The wise aspect comes in… I can keep an awareness that comes from age and experience. I feel like we were able to achieve that in play.”
This time around, Kratos has a new weapon. He’s using an ax, which on paper might not seem as cool as the weapons we’re used to with him. I promise you, it is. It’s a tool as much as a weapon, and you’ll use it to solve puzzles. When you’re attacking enemies, you have light and heavy attacks. You throw it and aim easily, but you have to choose to call it back. It’s much more effective than you might expect.
“The switch to a new weapon was a very divisive thing on the team, which I knew then was going to be super divisive for the players. But it would be all down, if you pick this weapon up and start playing, that’s the ‘ah ha, I get why you did this.’ Partially because, if you just sit down to play a God of War game or if you’re a fan of it, square, square triangle is your position, and you just want to go back to that… if we had the blades, you’d just be going back to that same thing, and we actually even included a classic controller mapping, because people kept asking for it in the play tests. So we said, cool, we’ll do this, and almost everybody who switches to classic controller mapping plays that way for about 20 minutes, and then goes, I realize my mistake, I have to go back to the old way.”
When you don’t have your ax, you fight hand to hand. While this might seem like it would be less effective, consider who we’re talking about here. It’s Kratos, and he’s a god. When you fight this way, you invoke a stun bar. When you fill up an enemy’s stun bar, good and very violent things happen with R3.
The game mechanics have been spoken about before, and you can see a demo in the video below. What I’d like to say here is that what we got to see was a joy to play. Grumpy older Kratos is actually fun to discover, and kicks even more ass than you remember. The play through was completely immersive to the point where I forgot to drink the water in front of me. You’ll lose hours here, just as a warning. From what we saw, this is a worthy successor to the last games, and especially to God of War III.
Are you guys excited for God of War? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.