Move Over Ares: The God of War Saga Review
This game was reviewed on the PlayStation 3
If the prospect of adding a mixture of value and violence to your gaming collection has you salivating, then Sony has potentially released the perfect combination for you! The God of War Saga, recently released for PlayStation 3 tells the story of Kratos, the famed antihero, from his early childhood right up to his defining battle with Zeus, the ruler of the Olympian gods of Greek Myth. Comprised of five games originally released over three different platforms, the Saga mixes a selection of uber-violence, simple puzzle solving and some epic set pieces, all for a budget price, which, if you haven’t played the games before, makes for an extremely attractive package.
The package is a combination of the God of War Collection (God of War and God of War II), the God of War Origins Collection (Chains of Olympus and Ghost of Sparta) and the most recent release, God of War III. If that sounds like a lot of content, it is, and for a price of 40 bucks, it’s a difficult deal to turn down. In fact, the only real downside, unless you already own the games, is that Chains of Olympus and Ghost of Sparta don’t come as physical copies, and are instead offered as downloadable games via the PlayStation Store. For some, this may not be too much of an issue, but for those of us with bandwidth caps (particularly in the Great White North), the 16Gb total download for both titles may be a little hard to swallow, particularly when you consider that the two games were originally released on a compilation disc just over a year ago.
But enough about the packaging quirks; how do the games themselves hold up, both individually and as a complete saga? Of course, being released on the PS3, God of War III is the powerhouse amongst the group, but each of the other games does enough on its own to be worthy of your time. In all, the Saga will take almost 40 hours to get through on a basic run, which further highlights the value that gamers receive with this package. This total doesn’t include collecting everything on offer within each game, and the sheer amount of bonus content offered with each title is astounding, from developer diaries to extra modes and levels, incentives for second run-throughs and unlockable difficulty levels. Unfortunately there isn’t anything new here for those who already own any of the games, but for newcomers to the series, there’s certainly enough here to take up a chunk of your time.
With God of War and God of War II released on the PlayStation 2, and Chains of Olympus and Ghost of Sparta released on the PSP, it would be understandable to have questions regarding just how they hold up on modern-day HDTVs. There’s certainly no real reason to worry, as the HD upgrade to each game has been executed admirably, with the PSP games in particular looking especially impressive. Considering the difference in screen-size between the 3.8 inch PSP screen and a 32-inch HDTV, I was delighted with how crisp and clear the visuals came across, even if they were a little blocky at times and certain textures were a little lacking in detail. The original two God of War games have received similar loving attention, and it actually results in Chains of Olympus resembling God of War in terms of visual fidelity, with Ghost of Sparta closer to God of War II. Obviously, being the most recent release, and with the most processing power to draw from, God of War III stands head and shoulders above the rest, but the other four games in the collection certainly don’t suffer.
Perhaps the biggest changes that can be tracked throughout the evolution of the series are in terms of the gameplay mechanics included within each individual title. The original God of War has environments that seem a lot more planned and artificial than the later games’ levels, with the Pandora’s Temple section being perhaps the most obvious example of this. Environments in the later games, in particular God of War II and III, seem a lot more natural, but of course, if you look hard enough you can see the developer’s hand guiding you in the right direction. For some reason, the first God of War contains player choices which aren’t really choices at all, and thankfully these have been removed from later games. A good example of this is in the City of Athens, where you are given the choice to take a key from a corpse. You can select to either take the key or leave it, but if you do neglect to pick it up, you can’t exit the area and continue with the game. It’s almost as if the game is asking you a rhetorical question, yet still gives you the chance to answer, and it doesn’t really make sense why the choice is in the game.
Understandably, controls vary slightly throughout the series, although this can prove a little confusing initially, especially when you move directly from one game to the next. Magic, as an example, jumps all over the control pad, from holding R1 and pressing a face button in God of War to D-pad buttons in Ghost of Sparta (easily the worst control decision in the series, as taking your thumb off of the analogue stick to hit magic buttons can prove fatal), to simply tapping R2 in God of War III. There are some inspired decisions made as the series progresses, such as button-tapping being made less intensive, being able to hold buttons to open chests instead of tapping, giving Kratos the ability to jump up ladders, and altering the dodge mechanics from the PSP titles. Having played Chains of Olympus in its original incarnation on the handheld, I can say that being able to use the PS3 controller’s right stick to dodge as opposed to holding down both shoulder buttons and using the PSP’s solitary analogue nub is a much easier way to execute a fairly vital move.
In terms of actually getting from the start to the end of each game, the series doesn’t do a whole lot to mix it up from one title to the next. From the beginning of God of War to the end of God of War III, you’ll be fighting enemies in visceral and gory combat, solving simple puzzles (which often involve moving a block from one place to another), upgrading your weapons, and finding secret areas to increase your health and magic meters. It’s to the developer’s credit that the formula never really gets too old, although if you sit down and play all five games one after the other, you may experience burnout by the time you reach the end of game four and start up game five, depending on what order you play the games in. There are different ways to do this, as playing through them chronologically in terms of release is different than playing them chronologically in terms of narrative. God of War I, II and III all follow on fairly closely to one another, whilst the two PSP games feature a mixture of both back- and side-story to Kratos’ adventures.
The main series tells the tale of Kratos’ battle against the gods, from initially working for them to destroy Ares, to becoming God of War, to the subsequent betrayal by his fellow gods and his pledge of revenge, followed by his execution of said revenge. Although the first God of War could almost be viewed as a standalone story, it does contain elements crucial to the latter two games. God of War II, on the other hand, finishes with a cliff-hanger (almost literally) that gets picked up immediately at the start of God of War III. Chains of Olympus is set before the first God of War, but Kratos is still in the employ of the gods, and the narrative does eventually set up aspects of the Titan narrative experienced throughout the ‘core’ series. Ghost of Sparta jumps around a little more, and whilst it focuses mainly on the time between the end of God of War and the start of God of War II, it also gives players the chance to see a little of Kratos’ childhood and some of his family dynamic with his mother and brother.
In fact, Ghost of Sparta is perhaps the one game that stands out most from the rest of the series, mainly due to the variety it brings to the table, in terms of both environments and gameplay elements. Whilst the three main games, in particular, feature a number of locales, such as the cities of Athens, Rhodes and Olympia, as well as more mythical regions such as Hades, Mount Olympus and the Islands of Creation, each game tends to focus for a decent length of time on one particular area. Kratos spends a lot of time in God of War exploring Pandora’s Temple, the Islands of Creation are heavily featured in God of War II, and God of War III takes place mainly in the depths of Hades. Ghost of Sparta, on the other hand, sees Kratos travel around a little more, visiting places such as Atlantis, Crete, Sparta and the Domain of Death. The Sparta section is particularly intriguing, as it’s the one sequence in the entire series where violence isn’t the main objective. In fact, the gameplay almost slows to a halt, giving players the chance to guide Kratos through the city streets as his fellow Spartans salute him as their idol. Ghost of Sparta also contains a number of Uncharted-style action sequences, featuring Kratos jumping from crumbling buildings and rock faces through a mixture of Quick-Time Events and environmental puzzling.
Whilst the God of War Saga is one of the more error-free titles that I’ve had the pleasure to play recently, it would be a lie to label the collection as ‘perfect’, as there are definitely some issues that need addressing, especially in the earlier games. The original God of War has camera issues, particularly when in combat, with both monsters and the environments obstructing the player’s view at crucial times. Chains of Olympus has camera issues of a different variety, in that is it easily apparent that the camera flies through objects in the scenery, and often leaves awkward-looking corners or edges still visible in the player’s field of vision. God of War also has a couple of instances of clipping issues, the most persistent being in the Hades section where you need to climb a revolving, bladed tower. On multiple occasions Kratos fell through the scenery, revealing the ‘underworld’ (pun intended) of the game. There were also multiple instances in the first game of the ‘O’ button prompt above enemies’ heads not triggering a kill move/animation as it was supposed to, with many examples of such resulting in Kratos’ death.
When viewed as a part of the complete package, these issues are fairly minimal considering just how much is on offer in the God of War Saga. For anyone still on the fence about whether to pick up the collection or not, I would say, without hesitation, to go ahead and buy it. The Saga offers fantastic value for its contents, in that it contains five of the best games over a range of three different systems. The HD upgrades have been handled with an admirable amount of care, the gameplay is addictive, the narrative is surprisingly engrossing, and the violence is a wince-worthy level of awesome. The only downsides to the collection are the previously mentioned downloadable-only Chains of Olympus and Ghost of Sparta, and the fact that you can’t take the PSP games on the road with you via the PlayStation Vita due to their HD upgrades. As a slight consolation though, you can play a couple of the games in the series through the remote play function on the handheld.
Sitting alongside the other titles included in the PlayStation Collections line, such as Infamous, Ratchet and Clank and the upcoming Killzone, God of War does more than enough to hold its own. For those excited for next year’s God of War: Ascension, or for those who haven’t had a chance to experience Kratos’ epic tale just yet, the God of War Saga comes recommended without reservation. It’s unfortunate for those who already own the games that this package doesn’t contain any new content or features, but the value on offer for everyone else cannot be overstated.
The God of War Saga scores a Rage of the Titans inspired 3.75 out of 5
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