Playing “God of War” makes me feel as if The Game Awards were established for the sole purpose of awarding it Game of the Year. That’s how good this game is. Despite 2018 being a very strong year for video games, “God of War” clearly stood out from the pack, primarily because it achieved the lofty goal that all art aspires to: provoking a conversation, which couldn’t have come at a more appropriate time.
In a world where definitions of masculinity are a contentious issue, “God of War” delivers a sophisticated take on topics of masculinity and fatherhood by shifting the franchise-defining protagonist Kratos, from the hyper-masculine brute of the previous games to a conflicted father determined to protect and train his young son, Arteus. Throughout the game, this thematic change is best expressed when Kratos teaches his son about the cruel world they live in. Despite seeming harsh on the surface, these moments have an inner tenderness revealing the true purpose a father fulfills in a son’s life. Set in the backdrop of Norse mythology, Kratos and Artreus embark on a quest to fulfill the dying wish of their recently deceased wife and mother, respectively. This epic journey takes the player through the nine realms of Yggdrasil where the pair encounter monsters, giants, elves and gods. Each character in the game, particularly Kratos and Atreus, is exquisitely written. At every line of dialogue, I consistently found myself hoping that Kratos would show Arteus just a sliver of affection, only to realize that I was missing the point. “God of War” wants the player to think Kratos is a bad father. The player’s unapproving perception combined with the actual threats Kratos faces are metaphors for the unrealistic pressures, both mentally and physically, that men face today. Like most men, Kratos does care, however, when being hunted by giants and gods it doesn’t come out in the nicest way.
Another shift that “God of War” benefits from is its reworked gameplay — replacing the previous 3D, isometric view with a third person perspective standard in most current action-adventure games. The combat makes use of a cleaver toggle system that allows the player to fight in their own style. Enemies can be taken down from afar with Kratos’ recallable weapon, the “Levithan Axe,” or challenged up close. With each unlocked move, Kratos begins to feel almost divine. However, these supernatural abilities never make Kratos too powerful, as enemies also evolve in interesting and often puzzling ways. Though minor enemies can be fun, the pinnacle of “God of War” is its boss fights. These adrenaline-inducing encounters against deities and colossal beasts are packed with so much ethereal movement, I truly felt like I was amongst the gods.
Having played every game nominated, “God of War” stands far above the rest. It wasn’t the grandest or flashiest game of 2018, but it was the most artistic. I can’t think of a more deserving winner of 2018’s Game of the Year than the incomparable “God of War.”