Since the God of War series launched in 2005, we’ve journeyed alongside Kratos through the depths of hell, annihilated hordes of demonic creatures in a gory clash, and defeated Ares to take his place as the new God of War. It’s a franchise based heavily on intense, fluid combat, enormous boss battles, gruesome finishing moves, and a story that spans the emotions of anger, fear, and revenge. To put it simply – the games are absolutely brilliant and a joy to play. All of that praise for two games from last generation is well deserved, but was Sony able to close out the trilogy with a bang? We advise you to remove any notions you have about why the series is so enjoyable to play, because God of War III absolutely blows the other games out of the park.
God of War III is an action-adventure game releasing next week exclusively for the PlayStation 3, marking the final chapter in the trilogy and bringing the curtains down on the story and struggles of Kratos, an ex-Spartan warrior on a quest to take on Mt. Olympus and the Gods. Developer Sony Santa Monica Studios has taken everything we loved about the first three games (that includes Chains of Olympus on PSP), and made the controls tighter, the combos more satisfying, the violence more gory, the environments more complex and lush, and the gameplay more seamless.
This is a spoiler free review, so we’ll be brief in explaining the story. The game picks up after the events of God of War II as Kratos, joined by the Titans, makes his final attack on Mt. Olympus. That’s all you need to know and all the specifics we’ll share. The story is strong, and again tugs heavily on emotions like fear, anger, and redemption, though if we’re being honest, isn’t quite as compelling as the first two games. Still, if there are moments that feel repetitive or overly familiar, the last couple hours (and the ending) provide undoubtedly one of the best gaming experiences of this generation.
The combat is virtually flawless. You can almost feel the impact of each blade sinking into an enemy. Kratos swings his blades above his head, jumps in the air and destroys five enemies before touching the ground. He throws his blades into a beast’s chest, and pulls himself into the opponent (Scorpion-style from Mortal Kombat) in one flawless motion. You’ll take on even more foes at once than in the previous games. This all works out fine because Kratos is stronger than ever, and with his new arsenal of weapons, abilities, and combos, even the biggest bosses or vast hordes of hellhounds can be defeated. Furthermore, if you are a fan of Greek mythology, you may also be happy to hear that you can tame and ride some classic creatures. You’ll typically ride a beast in a battle situation, but there are other occasions where you’ll use one to cross platforms or solve puzzles.
The new weapons offer an even greater variety of combat options than previous iterations. Whereas before you could rely on one or two weapons through most of the game, in God of War III each weapon serves a purpose, and in nearly all instances they can be used against any enemy. There are even some large battles where you’ll want to cycle through a few weapons to take advantage of your enemies’ weaknesses. At no point does changing weapons become distracting or disorienting. Each of the weapons is associated with a specific magic ability, meaning you’ll need to switch weapons to change magic abilities. Indeed, the ability to change weapons quickly during battles makes for a more streamlined and fluid combat experience. We absolutely love some of the new weapons – our favorite, The Cestus, can bash both enemies and objects to work through puzzles.
Puzzles are alive and well in God of War III. Like the previous games, you are tasked with pulling levers to rotate stone objects, and placing dead bodies on moveable tiles to open barriers. The puzzles can be difficult and time-consuming, but they are a welcome break from the relentless battles. The best thing about the puzzles in God of War III is how they play into the storytelling. The game is as linear as its predecessors, but there is a greater emphasis on your actions driving the story. At one point you’ll find yourself escorting another character in order to ensure their survival, and at the next moment you’ll be rummaging through a titan, looking for an escape.
When playing through God of War III, we truly felt the importance of what had happened in the previous games, and the enormity of Kratos’ task. Defeating a god is never a walk in the park, but somehow Kratos has managed to do it before, so you’ll start the game with a sort of confidence that makes you believe, “anything is possible.” If you go into the game believing that idea, you’ll be even more blown away than you thought possible. That’s largely because there is always something really major happening during the game. You’ll climb the rubble of a building while giant titans war in the background. At some points you’ll be fighting armies of enemies while on top of a titan, which creates an enormous environment to play around on. Fiery balls of earth will plummet to the ground, forcing you to constantly be on edge, looking for the best path to move ahead through each level. There are few moments where the game allows you to take a deep breath because so much happens, on a large scale. With roughly 12-15 hours of game to play, there’s enough to keep you busy for quite a while. Plus, you will certainly want to tackle it again on a higher difficulty setting.
The boss battles offer yet more epic and enormous moments. They seem to come frequently, and with each boss come bigger and harder opponents. You’ll again finish the bosses (as you will some of the bigger, yet normal enemies), with a series of timed button matching sequences. If you played any of the God of War games, you’ll know what to expect, though fortunately, things feel completely fresh nonetheless. The actual death of a boss creature is typically an intense, gory affair. One of our favorite boss endings was from the perspective of the enemy; witnessing Kratos bash his thumbs in our eyes, ripping the bosses head right off its body. It’s those gruesome moments that will drop your jaw. Even if you’ve been up all night playing (like we’ve been), you’ll want to play another level after witnessing a death like that.
Lighting is incredibly important in God of War III. If you’ve been following our coverage of the game’s release, you’re probably familiar with the Helios Head. This is highly useful (and pretty much required), to see your way through some of the more dark environments. The head will also aid you in discovering secrets – such as hidden chests or doors. Sony has touted that the game’s mechanics, such as the stellar lighting, are only possible on the PS3, and after playing through the game, we realize why. Even in the shadow of darkness, there is still an enormity of details in the visuals. Whether you use the head, your new fiery bow ‘n arrow, or your chain-blades to illuminate dark paths, you’ll witness the best use of lighting in any game to date.
The overall visuals are nearly perfect, and like we said about the lighting, some of the best we’ve seen in any videogame. Sony built a brand new game engine, which, coupled with the power of the PS3, allows for beautiful cut scenes that run off the in-game engine. There are no awkward pauses leading up to story cut scenes – instead, it’s stitched together seamlessly. On a very minor note, we found a few voiceover issues in which the character’s lips don’t sync with the actual voice acting. These are very, very rare, but on at least two occasions the issue was noticeable. Beyond those minor quibbles, both the voice acting and scripted dialogue are terrific, just as you’d expect from a God of War game.
God of War III is as close to perfect as a videogame can get, but it is of course not without its flaws, however minor they may be. Opening a chest still requires holding a button – R1, which is also used to access save points, or open gates/doors. There were several occasions where the buttons appeared to have a glitch, meaning Kratos would stop trying to open a chest or door. These glitches continued through most of the game. We were also a bit frustrated when trying to save a game. We’d stand inside the golden light, waiting for the prompt to tell us to push R1, but nothing would happen. Walking away, returning, walking away again, and returning again seemed to remedy the problem, though it still remained a slight nuisance.
When the game finally ended, we were left with our jaws on the floor, completely blown away at what we had witnessed. Jamming this enormous and epic story into three games was no easy feat, but somehow Sony managed to do just that, and so much more. God of War III absolutely dwarfs the first two games – and that’s saying something. The environments, story, and bosses are positively jaw-dropping, while the incredibly fluid action and combat will keep you wanting to put “just 10 more minutes” in before calling it a night. All other action-adventure games pale in comparison to this gigantic endeavor – with God of War III comes a very, very high bar for every other game to rise above. Let’s just hope we haven’t seen the last of Kratos and his gory escapades.