I'm always curious about GoW's high ratings
Since for me, it was just good, not great.
(Warning: long and potentially grumpy musings to follow; I'll try to avoid any spoilers though!)
I recently played through Hellblade: Senna's Sacrifice for the first time. Which, despite the somewhat cheesy name, turned out to be a fantastically bleak tale, with some spectacular graphics and voicework, set within a Norse framework.
So having finished it, I was in the mood for more such things. And seeing as GoW is now pretty cheap on the PS4, and how it has high scores all across the board, I figured I'd pick it up.
And, well. While I played it through to the end, mainly for the story, there was disappointment.
tl;dr: whole lot of grinding and returning to previous areas. Combat is frustrating, and the ending is a let-down
Graphically, it's generally fantastic - I even found myself watching a 1-hour video on YT about how they implemented realistic wind/grass movement for the game. The bit with the turtle in the witch's garden is a particular standout.
And the story is generally pretty well written and interesting; I especially liked the little conversations to be had when travelling by water, especially once Kratos and the Boy get ahead of things[*]. And the awkward relationship between father and son was well done.
OTOH, the way in which the Boy's reaction to certain revelations is handled felt distinctly clumsy, especially as regards how it affects the two dwarves. It felt like something which the game's writers had insisted needed to be part of the plot, only for the director to hand-waved it through as quickly as possible.
And that then takes us to the gameplay, which falls somewhere between Zelda, Metroid and the Batman Arkham series. You run around a series of areas which are designed to look like an open-world map, but which really aren't. And in best Metroid/Arkham style, these areas are filled with puzzles and secrets, many of which can only be solved once you've acquired certain abilities.
Which is annoying on a few fronts.
First, for the ability-specific puzzles, there's often the confusion over whether you've simply missed a bit of the puzzle, or if it can only be solved by something which you don't yet even know about.
Secondly, this also means that you're expected to do a lot of backtracking to previously explored areas. Which can be a pain, since you don't get fast-travel until about halfway through the game - and even then, it initially just allows you to travel back to the central area, and then (after completing some more quests) after that, only to specific "portals" on the map. So you spend a lot of time trudging back and forth, even after you get fast-travel.
(Pro-tip: you don't actually need to walk when fast-travelling. Just go through the portal, and then stand still and wait...)
Thirdly, and perhaps more abstractly, is the fact that pretty much all of the puzzles in the game are designed specifically for Kratos. Which was also true in the Arkham series, but there, they were set up specifically for Batman by the Riddler.
Conversely, in GoW, it just somewhat tweaks my suspension of disbelief when coming across some millennia-old massive mechanism which can only be activated by someone carrying a giant boomerang-axe with the ability to freeze cogwheels. It's almost as if the entire game is just a giant playground...
Oh, and there's also the annoying way in which rifts and chests can be sat in the middle of relatively low-level areas, but which spawn one or more ultra-high-level enemies without warning. Again, I'm guessing this is meant to encourage you to return to these areas once you've levelled up, but I'm really not a fan of any game which expects you to learn and explore via character-death.
And then there's the combat, which I generally just found frustrating.
There's the fact that the God of War - the guy who literally killed every single fighter, animal, demon, monster and god over in the Grecian world - initially has the combat abilities of a spineless hedgehog, and must start again from scratch with gathering XP and equipment to unlock moves and improve his equipment.
And the stamina of said hedgehog, to boot; at the start, one hit from a shambling zombie armed with a toothpick is pretty much enough to take Kratos down.
Then there's the way in which so many enemies - including the Visitor, who's pretty much your first opponent - are partially or completely immune to axe attacks. Which is all the more frustrating in this initial battle, since Kratos does so many cool things - including all those things mentioned in the review, and more besides, such as self-healing - in cut-scenes. WHY IS KRATOS SO LIMITED WHEN I'M CONTROLLING HIM, WHEN HE'S SO AWESOME IN THE CUT-SCENES???[**]
Things did improve once Kratos's abilities were levelled up, and once I got a better handle on using The Boy's archery to distract or stun enemies [***]. But it's still a very far cry from the fluid combat of the original GoW games, and once you pick up the old Blades of Chaos and can indulge in the old moves, it genuinely almost felt like a different game altogether.
And enemies only have a single "stunned" death animation. Which feels a bit cheap, especially when it comes to some of the mini-bosses, such as the trolls.
Finally on the combat front, and while trying to stay spoiler-free, there's a set of optional 1vs1 challenges which can be taken on, once you've got the key to unlock the doors for them.
And these enemies are ridiculously tough. After a lot of retries, I managed to do one, and was debating trying to grind Kratos up to make it easier to take down the others, but then discovered that I'd accidentally reached the end of the campaign. At which point, I just couldn't be bothered!
Which also takes me to the way the campaign ends. Which frankly - and despite an interesting revelation about the Boy - was distinctly underwhelming. Because - and while still trying to stay spoiler free - we only really get to meet (and/or kill) a small handful of Norse z-list characters in this game. Everyone else - including several popularised in Marvel movies - gets little more than a bit of a story in one of the various tales you hear while boating around the lake or fast-travelling.
I don't really have an issue with setting things up for a sequel, but the way it was handled here definitely felt like a letdown.
And then there's various other things. E.g. I'm not a great fan of crafting mechanisms at the best of times, and the plethora of stuff thrown at you in this game felt a bit overwhelming, especially when you can start to socket stuff and/or craft new things. I'm just here to hit things in the face with sharp and heavy weapons!
But that's enough grumpiness for a Monday morning. Suffice to say that for me, it was a good game rather than a great game. And while I'll probably pick up the sequel (assuming I can find a PS5 to play it on), it'll be at some point long after release, when it's in the cheap section of CEX!
[*] Look, I have to get some pleasure out of this Monday...
[**] Admittedly, the obvious answer is that I'm crap at playing this game. Still...
[***] On a brighter note, summoning Ratatoskr is one of the greatest video-game pleasures I've had for a while!