Let's Re-Think That: God of War
by Polly

You know, for some silly reason I kinda like to think that over the years my knowledge and opinions on games and how I express those things has matured at least somewhat. I mean, it's only natural that as our tastes grow and we experience new things, as well as how we might let others' unique viewpoints mold and subtly influence our own, that it'd be easy to look back at some ways of thinking we had and see that maybe we've outgrown them in some way or perhaps let too narrow of a view drive our opinion on something.

I was as closed-minded as they come in the site's early days, sometimes to the point of cringing at some of the stuff I barfed out, but it's also a good reference point to where I feel I am now, and like it or not, the time spent on those articles and reviews is still a part of me, this site, and this community, so I can't ever truly hate it.

Needless prattling aside, this isn't something I plan on doing a lot, and hell I don't even know if I'll ever do one after this! What the hell, man? A SITE UPDATE? THESE THINGS DON'T GROW ON TREES! I just kinda felt the gentle urge to take a look back at one of the reviews I wrote early in the site's younger days and see how my thoughts may or may not have changed on it.

So, with all the mumbo-jumbo out of the way...

Let's Re-Think...

Back in good ol' 2005, when my potty-mouthed little thoughts came spewing forth from the brainmobile on Sony's brand-new AAA giant God of War, I found myself rather nonplussed by the whole thing. Little did I know that David Jaffe's brooding, grey-skinned nightmare of a fictional avatar would be one of the most recognizable faces in gaming today and would have plenty of acclaim to back up all those sequels. Well, maybe except Ascension. People seem to agree that one's poopy.

God of War just didn't hit me the way it seemed to hit others. Friends, co-workers, and reviewers/journalists I respected all seemed to be having the time of their lives hacking and slashing their way through Kratos' bloody mess of a revenge plot. I however stood in direct defiance of their opinions, feeling (for some really stupid reason) that they'd all been duped somehow! Good god, do you know how insufferable that way of thinking is? I think anyone can enjoy anything they want so long as they're not hurting anybody these days, but man, I bet it wouldn't take me long to punch ten-years younger Polly in the goddamn mouth. WHY SO SERIOUS, TEN-YEARS YOUNGER, POLLY? JESUS CHRIST, YOU NEED TO SERIOUSLY CALM THE FUCK DOWN, HOLY SHIT!



A year or so back, a friend gave me the God of War Saga for PS3 as a Christmas gift. HE OBVIOUSLY HADN'T READ THE SITE! (I'm just kidding, I love you!) I figured nine or so years removed from the game may have been enough for me to look at it again at some point, so I was actually pretty excited to give the games another look, and hopefully this time with a more clear mindset.

But before I get to that, I think I need to address the possible reasons that I may have been so harsh on God of War initially. Well, actually, let's just say it's less reasons and more like just THE reason.

Capcom's Devil May Cry 3: Dante's Awakening had found its way out just a few short weeks before Sony's God of War and was a game that simply blew me the hell away. I'd had tremendous doubt over Devil May Cry's future after the boring slog that DMC2 turned out to be, but those doubts were stylishly whacked to bits the moment DMC3 entered my PS2.

Devil May Cry 3 felt like the pinnacle of what action games could be, and to this day it remains one of the most lauded titles in the genre not only for its hugely technical approach to action which required players to either "learn it or you're just not gonna win," but also its sheer amount of style and ridiculousness. It's hard for me to not still see DMC3 as a watershed moment in what action games could be...

...and this is what God of War had to compete with in my mind.

The deck was almost clearly stacked in DMC3's favor from the get-go. God of War and Kratos were unproven and untested. They were the fresh-face that showed up early in the morning, bright-eyed and bushy tailed, ready to make an impression on anyone that would give them the time of day. Much to their misfortune, they ended up having to answer to me, the uppity "hur-hur dese modern gams r dum," wannabe critic who'd decided she'd already been impressed to the point to where it didn't matter what any game had to say afterward.

The thing I can look back at and realize now is that God of War and Devil May Cry aren't really even trying to be the same thing. Sure, both are stylish action games featuring protagonists with immensely strong presence and versatile movesets, but what the two respective series are trying to offer (at least at that point in time) was pretty different.

I guess the comparison I would make is that if Devil May Cry 3 is Street Fighter III, then God of War is Streets of Rage 2. Now, I know I'm mixing my genres up a bit here, but let me explain.

Devil May Cry 3 is a game packed with depth in its combat systems. If I spent the time here trying to explain all the systems, styles, and various ways they interact with one another, this article would be about four times the length. DMC3 is a game you really have to wrap your head around and dedicate some time to actually get good at in order to just finish the damn thing. Street Fighter III is equally dense, if not more so, honestly. SFIII's initial lack in popularity wasn't just because they'd gone and thrown in a ton of new characters and ditched old ones, but also that it was stuffed with new systems to understand, adapt to, and utilize.

God of War takes on the guise of a game similar to Devil May Cry but goes the complete opposite of that. It strips away ideas, concepts, and mechanics that may have seemed too perilous for some and offers a simpler and easier to pick up and play experience. God of War does have its own bit of depth in some areas, but it's not a game you have to be incredibly great at to succeed, and it offers two higher difficulties for anyone feeling the need for a bit more challenge. While it has elements of platforming and juggle combos that can go for days which are the staple of DMC games, God of War definitely feels more akin to Streets of Rage to me...in a GOOD way now, mind you.

Another point that I can't help but address now is that Devil May Cry had been around since 2001 and had been afforded the time and experience to refine itself into the great piece of work that is DMC3. God of War spent three years in production before it finally came out. It was the first in its series with only its own ideas and the inspiration the developers took from others to guide it.

To some degree, it's not really even fair to compare the two. Well, maybe that's not what I mean...Maybe it's okay to compare the two, but understand that while they're both doing something similar, they're coming at it from very different points and differing levels of experience.

"So, Polly, what do you think now?"

I think, "Ya know? God of War is pretty alright."

It's not something I really expected to be hearing myself say when I fired up the collection my friend had gifted me, but I found myself immediately struck by just how simple, fun, and easy they made the first God of War to get into, and even more surprised by how quickly the game makes you feel like the baddest bad ass that ever bad assed on the planet.

You start the game by cutting your way through a horde of enemies (and innocents alike, because why not) on the hunt for goddamn hydra that's sinking the ship you happen to be on. It's still not quiiiiiite as amazing as taking down a goddamn Metal Gear in the tutorial mission of Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance, but it's a pretty damn impressive first showing.

As you brutalize your way through the ship's interior and exterior, you'll find yourself warding off smaller attacks from the Hydra while the game dishes out the basics of combat and controls. It's not until you come face to face with the giant three-headed freak at the end of the sequence that the scope that this game's going for really comes into focus and the tasteful way it makes use of quick-time events to help the player do things they can't normally do with a game's limited controls really drives home not only how much of a badass Kratos is supposed to be, but how awesome it'll feel for you to be doing those things AS Kratos.

It's in these opening moments that I realized another stark difference between DMC and what God of War was going for: Devil May Cry is stylish, graceful, and technical. God of War is brutal, violent, and offers instant gratification even if you don't want to engage with the subtler minutiae of its combat.

And that's TOTALLY RAD! Polly of Now can totally see why both games are very good at doing what they do, while Past Polly really just had an axe to grind because she spent $50 on a game and didn't feel like she got the same kind of experience she did from the other $50 game she bought. Polly of Now is 255% capable of enjoying something more technical like Bayonetta, but can also have herself a good time with something more simple and streamlined like Darksiders.

Isn't growing up and having your own mindset change and become a bit more open to other ideas pretty awesome? I think so!

So, what else did this recent playthrough of God of War drop into my ol' brain bucket?

I guess the first thing that really stands out to me is, again, the game's sheer scope, size, and how it presents all of that. Big ugly monsters and humongous setpieces are just par for the course these days, but when games like God of War, and most notably Shadow of the Colossus hit the scene with larger than life places and beings the entire ballgame felt like it got switched up. Things got bigger, meaner, uglier, and had more detail in ways that we hadn't really seen before, and though God of War may not be the only pioneer making these changes, it certainly does a great job of pushing the envelope on creativity.

Equally creative and engaging is the game's interpretation of Greek mythology and the various gods, goddesses, and prominent figures that inhabit it. God of War doesn't actually say a lot about its setting, it goes about it by showing you the wondrous sights and sounds of ancient Greece as the game's writers and developers have envisioned it. These are things that obviously get further elaborated upon as the series continues, but the first game sets a pretty good precedent and its sense of place and the way it handles its own mythology is both cohesive and really engaging.

From what I currently know about Kratos (having still only played the first game, mind you), though I don't find him a sympathetic figure in any way, the writers did humanize him to some degree. He's a man who gave up everything he had and sold his soul to Ares, the God of War, for the power to destroy his enemies in an act of cowardly desperation. For that, he lived in servitude of Ares, slaughtering countless people in his name, only regretting his actions when his own family became victims of his bloodlust and rage.

Kratos' thirst for vengeance against Ares is never really presented as something that makes sense. At least it never felt like that to me. And even when Kratos claims victory over the fearsome god, though the other Greek gods see fit to forgive him for his sins (a mere platitude), they can offer no reprieve from the visions and nightmares he has every day and night of what he's done, nor from the curse of wearing the ashes of his family, which stain his body grey. The story of the first God of War wraps itself up in a fitting fashion and though it's still not the most thought provoking or deeply meaningful things out there, at the very least DMC3 was just as hokey if not more so.

I guess my only real sticking points from my previous review relate to the game's sometimes intensely awful fixed camera. For the most part, action gets framed decently, but I honestly can't figure out how some areas of the game got through testing with some jumps being very hard to read and incredibly easy to miss or enemies being hidden either off screen or sometimes obscured by the UI. I also still feel that the infamous bladed pillar climbs in Hades have some notoriously atrocious hitbox detection and the camera work and can really bring progress to a screeching halt.

But I guess I'm not here to re-review the game, even if it feels that way. That old review is just my thoughts at the time and at the time they were my "correct" thoughts you might say, even if I can see them as being kinda unfair now.

In the end, I'm pretty satisfied with what I got from this experience. It's really not often I look back at games, but I don't really feel every game deserves that benefit. Sometimes something's just not for me, but in the case of God of War I'm able to see it for the big, dumb thing that it is, just as I can see and appreciate Devil May Cry for the big, dumb thing it is.

And I mean, come on, I love Contra so it's no real surprise that I really love big, dumb things!

If you made it to the end of this sprawling little mess, thanks for reading. If you have any similar experiences with a game, feel free to post about them in the discussion topic down below!

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