Welcome to our feature on the best God of War games on PlayStation!
Without a doubt, Kratos and the God of War franchise marked a new era for PlayStation gamers everywhere. Before Kratos, PlayStation gravitated towards such cutesy, child-friendly mascots as Ratchet & Clank and Jak & Daxter, but all that changed in March 2005 when the first God of War thundered onto PS2 and ensured that nothing would ever be the same again.
A blood-drenched action adventure series with a distinct focus on ancient mythology, the God of War franchise has long enthralled gamers with its stomach-churning violence, hugely satisfying combat and tragedy stuffed narratives. With the series about to go through a wholesale reinvention in God of War on PS4, now seemed like a good time to chronicle the best God of War games on PlayStation.
Best God of War Games – God of War – PS2 (2005)
Before 2005, there really were only two big names in the third-person, action combat genre; Capcom’s Devil May Cry series and Tecmo’s Ninja Gaiden series. So it was that Sony Santa Monica decided to put its own stamp on the genre with God of War, a furiously violent effort set during Ancient Mythological Greece, God of War focussed on the trials and tribulations of demigod Kratos whose family had been killed by the titular God of War Ares, before having their ashes burned onto his skin for all eternity. This, my friends, was some seriously dark stuff.
More than that though, God of War didn’t just nail the darkness, it also nailed the combat too; now no longer just a series of encounters that you would just shoot or carve through with balletic form, God of War was all about up close and personal savagery. Indeed, when you weren’t knocking people up into the air for juggle combos with the Blades of Chaos, you were quite literally tearing them apart with your bare hands, horizontally, vertically and essentially six ways from Sunday.
There was something almost scandalous about God of War. Sure, we’d seen violent games before (Devil May Cry and Ninja Gaiden were both hardly lacking in this regard), but here, we had a ‘hero’ who in the space of tearing the heads of a pack of demons before kicking their friends off the nearest cliff, would hop on over to handily placed harem for a quick threesome with some local ladies before taking off on his next murder spree.
Though the game might have seemed all kinds of pretty-dumb to onlookers, God of War actually concealed some fairly crafty puzzles underneath all that grit, combat and misery. For the most part they tend to be variations on pressure plate puzzles, block moving puzzled and getting the shiny-thing-to-point-in-the-right-direction puzzles, but they all worked to make God of War feel much more substantial than just some sort of deliriously violent and braindead affair.
Ultimately though, it was the spectacle, the nail-biting, jaw-smashing spectacle of it all that made the inaugural God of War on PS2 so memorable. Whether you were conquering the mysteries of Pandora’s Box atop a hulking titan, or becoming a god yourself and throwing down with a 300ft tall Ares, it all felt scarcely contained by Sony’s then nearly five year old PS2 console. Like God of War II that would come after it, the original God of War was remastered with higher definition visuals and released on PS3 in 2009 and then later on PlayStation Vita in 2014.
Best God of War Games – God of War II – PS2 (2007)
After the breathtaking first God of War, it seemed unlikely that a sequel (any sequel) would measure up and yet, under the keen eye of designer Cory Balrog, God of War II requested someone to hold its alcoholic beverage and the rest was history. Arguably the most astounding technical showcase you could buy on PS2, God of War II looked so polished that in the fervor surrounding its release it’s fair to say that more than a few folk either forgot, or were reluctant to upgrade to Sony’s imminently releasing (and very expensive) PS3 console.
Visual prowess aside, God of War II is where the series truly kicked itself into gear and hasn’t (spin-offs aside) taken its foot off the gas since. With Aries now vanquished, the scope of God of War II increased quite dramatically as Kratos was now, himself, the God of War and became hellbent on discovering the reason why the other inhabitants of Mount Olympus saw fit to allow Ares to slaughter his family.
Unfurling a sophisticated narrative that pits Kratos against Zeus and Athena with unexpected support from the Mother of Earth, Gaia, God of War II set the stage for a rip-roaring showdown that would be resolved in God of War III. Whether you were murdering Theseus, battling the Colossus of Rhodes or literally smashing Hercules in the face until he stop twitching, everything in God of War II felt impactful and added to the tally of Kratos’ tragic spiral into madness.
If you wanted to be reductive, God of War II was simply more of what we got with the original God of War, just bigger, better, bolder and with far larger narrative stakes. And for many, including this writer, it was just what the doctor ordered.
Best God of War Games – God of War: Betrayal – Mobile (2007)
Okay look, I know that God of War: Betrayal isn’t a PlayStation God of War title (and I guess that including it on this list is a betrayal of sorts in itself), but this oft-overlooked God of War spinoff deserves its moment in the sun if only because it took a pretty good stab (pun intended) at bringing the God of War experience to mobile phones at a time where the term ‘smartphone’ really didn’t exist.
A narrative spin-off that had Kratos chasing a mysterious assassin across ancient Greece, all the while slaughtering the deities (and their pets) that crossed his path, God of War: Betrayal was notable because it did a commendable of job of transplanting the series violently satisfying combat, puzzles and platforming elements into a 2D side-scroller that worked far better than it had any right to.
While God of War: Betrayal was far from a full-fat take on the series that had made its home (and name) on home PlayStation consoles, the very idea that someone could make a 2D rendition of the God of War series that was largely faithful to its source causes the mind to boggle at what a true 2D specialist, such as WayForward or Owlboy developer D-Pad Studio could do with the God of War license in that sort of setting.
Best God of War Games – God of War: Chains of Olympus – PSP (2008)
If God of War: Betrayal provided a good, two-dimensional fascilime of God of War on mobile phones, then God of War: Chains of Olympus was an eye-opening statement of intent that Sony’s new PSP handheld console could not only ‘do’ full-fat God of War, but that it could do it almost every bit as well as the home console that birthed it.
Certainly, to this day, the biggest surprise surrounding God of War: Chains of Olympus was just how closely it mimicked the core game of its home console counterpart. A true showcase for Sony’s PlayStation Portable handheld, God of War: Chains of Olympus literally felt like the home console God of War experience on the move with all the hallmark combat, puzzle solving and spectacle of the franchise being completely and faithfully recreated. God of War: Chains of Olympus was nothing short of revelation.
Aside from being an almost perfect match to the experience provided by its home console counterpart, God of War: Chains of Olympus also provided some welcome wrinkles to the overarching narrative of the series, as its prequel set story chronicles Kratos’ ten last years of service to the Olympian gods as he fights off the invading Persian army and seeks to unravel the nefarious plans of Persephone, the Queen of the Underworld.
In short, God of War: Chains of Olympus was the real deal and arguably recognised as one of the most essential games for the PSP handheld. God of War: Chains of Olympus would, much like its sequel, God of War: Ghost of Sparta, be given a fresh coat of high-definition paint and re-released on PS3 in remastered form in 2011.
Best God of War Games – God of War III – PS3 (2010)
God of War III was it. The culmination of two previous core entries and one series spin-off, God of War III brought the world’s angriest godkiller kicking and screaming onto Sony’s PS3 console as he sought to bring an end to Zeus and his cabal of maleficent gods. Despite being more than eight(!) years old at this point, God of War III remains a staggering showcase of what developers could achieve once they managed to tame the exotic hardware architecture of the PS3.
God of War III simply accentuated everything that one would hold synonymous with the franchise; the fights were the bloodiest they had ever been (poor Helios!), the sheer scale of the thing was beyond anything the series had seen up until that point (Kratos literally riding the back of a country-sized Titan into battle in real-time being a highlight), and the puzzles and platforming elements were some of the most difficult they had ever been, too.
There was no getting around it; not only was God of War III a thunderously resonant closer to the core entries in the series, but it was also one of the most impressive games money could buy for PS3 and superbly satisfying action adventure in its own right. Realising that God of War III was one of the finest entries in the series, Sony Santa Monica would later remaster and release the game with all new graphical effects and textures for PS4 in 2015.
Best God of War Games – God of War: Ghost of Sparta – PSP (2010)
Somehow, despite the definitive end that God of War III seemingly brought to the series there was more story to tell and Sony Santa Monica would tell it in their second PSP effort; God of War: Ghost of Sparta. Centered around Kratos’ own family, his mother Callisto and his brother Deimos, God of War’s long-time protagonist finds himself butting heads with Thanatos, the lord of the dead.
Really though, what it’s an excuse for is more, full-fat God of War shenanigans on Sony’s first handheld machine and much like Chains of Olympus before it, Ghost of Sparta feels every bit like a proper, bonafide God of War title; even if the furiously impressive God of War III on PS3 threatened to overshadow it somewhat.
Best God of War Games – God of War: Ascension – PS3 (2013)
Though there was the inescapable sense that God of War: Ascension was yet another spin-off that the series didn’t really need, it’s worth noting that Ascension introduced a whole bunch of stuff that was new to the series at large. In a series first, Ascension brought five different cooperative and competitive multiplayer modes to the franchise where players can fight it out against waves of monsters or each other in objective based games across 15 maps inspired by locations seen previously in the series.
As for the single-player offering, Ascension didn’t disappoint here either. Another prequel, Ascension begins with Kratos imprisoned for breaking his oath to Ares in the first God of War game, and who after breaking out, must use time-travel to stop the mystical Furies from preventing Kratos from ascending (get it?) to godhood.
Pointedly, God of War: Ascension also served as fantastic, swansong technical showcase for Sony’s last-gen console too, with some incredible visuals and spectacle, though nothing quite on the level of the final battle with Zeus as depicted in God of War III. Though hardly essential, God of War: Ascension remains both the last God of War game on PS3 and also the final entry in the ancient greek era that all the previous games would be come to be known to be a part of.
Best God of War Games – God of War – PS4 (2018)
Though the series was relocated from its traditional (and by this point, thoroughly milked) stomping grounds of ancient greece to norse mythology, and though God of War’s PS4 debut lacked none of the spectacle, hyper violence or sheer bombast of its predecessors, it’s obvious that there was much more going on in Kratos’ return then just the usual mixture of eye-rending spectacle and super-violent combat.
Indeed, God of War mused on more earthly matters – chiefly, just what it means to be a father and to have responsibility. Now the paternal protector of his very own son, Atreus, Kratos finds himself surrounded mysterious creatures and unfamiliar, dangerous deities in a land he has never seen before and must both defend and train his ward to prepare him for the challenges that lay ahead.
Aside from the very bespoke shift in theme, God of War’s debut on PS4 explores what made the cornerstones of the series so very compelling to begin with and develops upon them, introducing various improvements and evolutions along the way. Take the combat for example; bereft of his Blades of Chaos, Kratos instead finds himself in possession of a magical axe that can be used both as a melee weapon and also as a ranged attack, too.
More than that, combat in God of War simply feels substantial in a way that it never really has until now. When attacking enemies in the previous games, for instance, your attacks would often go straight through your enemies and thus rob them of any weight or sense of being. In God of War on PS4 however, each strike you land with your axe causes a very brief, micro-second pause that when taken in tandem with the new physics engine, provides the overwhelming feeling that your axe is hitting something solid, and more often than not, something fleshy.
What also doesn’t hurt is that God of War on PS4 is easily up there with the likes of Horizon Zero Dawn and Shadow of the Colossus when it comes to making the most of the PS4 hardware. Certainly, PS4 Pro owners have much to crow about here too as the game boasts 4K checkerboard visuals with additional effects and tweakable graphics settings to make the game look like one of the very best looking efforts you can buy on PS4, or anywhere else for that matter.
If you’re a big fan of God of War, why not check out the other exclusive titles available in our best ps4 exclusives feature?