The original action adventure game God of War was a masterpiece of fantastic violence and sensational storytelling in 2005. It was a huge success according to critics and sales records alike. Now, with GoW becoming a very promising franchise for Sony and developer SCE Studios Santa Monica, we have the sequel. One problem with a breakout intellectual property is that if you are able to genuinely wow the public the first time, they only want more the second time around. That “problem” is the main issue I had with God of War II. Everything is done nicely, but it just doesn’t feel like the next step in the GoW universe, it’s more like God of War 1.5 instead of an evolutionary sequel. This isn’t to say the game is a slouch or anything like that, you’ll have loads of fun here, especially if you don’t expect anything truly jaw dropping or overly original. It’s just more of the same God of War you know and love.
As far as the plot goes it is somewhat flawed, but still manages to be the best part of the game. Be warned, for those of you that haven’t played God of War II yet, there are spoilers in this review. Part two picks up almost exactly where the first game left off. Kratos is the god of war and his army of Spartans fearlessly fight in his name. Athena (Kratos’s main ally in part one) has finally had enough of Kratos’s unquenchable thirst for war and death, and takes away some of his power (after he refuses her attempts at reasoning). Zeus steps in to help Kratos by giving him the Blade of Olympus. Kratos must then channel all his power into the sword, but after Kratos does this Zeus betrays and murders him. Kratos then goes to hell and must fight his way back to earth with the help of his new ally Gaia. Kratos’s new goal is to find the Sisters of Fate so he can convince by words or force (I’m sure you’re betting on force), to reverse time to when Zeus kills him in order to stop his own death and deal out his revenge.
My main problem with this otherwise totally solid storyline is that if and when Kratos finds the Sisters and gains the ability to rewind time, why would he only go back to when he died by the hands of Zeus? At the end of the game Kratos will gain the amazing power of time travel. The big deal that the developers kept hitting us over the head with in God of War was that Kratos couldn’t forgive himself for murdering his own wife and child. By asking Ares (the previous god of war) for help in part one, Kratos cursed himself, pretty much drove himself insane with his overwhelming guilt and bloodlust, had to survive multiple attempts on his life by the gods, and killed his family. Here’s a query- if Kratos is going to be granted the ability to change the past, why make him so short sighted that he can’t realize he could save his family long since passed? This is a huge question that never gets asked, addressed, or even hinted at in GoWII let alone answered. We’ve seen that while yes, Kratos can act like a wild beast through most of the games, he is still far from being a dullard. He should immediately know that he can stop the deaths of his wife and daughter. So unless his hunger for chaos has surpassed his love for his family, that part of the plot really makes no sense. He should be risking his death to restore life, not take it.
The rest of the plot of God of War II will have you doing everything from fighting old enemies, to battling a Colossus, to riding on Pegasus, to scaling a mammoth titan, to steering the Steeds of Time, to tearing off the wings of Icarus to use them for yourself. You’ll also visit lots of varied places such as Typhon’s Caverns, Lahkesis, and Hades.
The gameplay is pretty much tried and true. The controls are very accessible and a breeze to master. Grappling with Athena’s Blades is the best new addition to your arsenal of moves (the section where you swing from crumbling column to column is fantastic). Fighting is also really easy, perhaps a little too easy. As Kratos you’ll be given weapons like the aforementioned Blade of Olympus, Spear of Destiny, and the Barbarian Hammer. These weapons do have beneficial upgrades, but 99 percent of the time you’ll be fine with sticking to your trusty blades. They’re your most useful weapons and they look the coolest by far, so why would you want to use anything else? You’ll get some nice magic abilities too like turning foes into stone or causing earthquakes, but they all pretty much feel like the same ones that were in the first game.
The botheration of the fixed camera angles is back for the second go around. The platforming levels are especially effected by the inability of the player to move the camera for a better view point. Jumping from here to there just doesn’t mix that well with the GoW controls. It’s not close to being so frustrating to the point that you’ll want to stop playing, but it is annoying that something like jumping becomes more complicated than it actually has to be. The angles present far less of a problem (but still a problem nonetheless) for the boss fights too. Not seeing your entire enemy can result in some cheap hits every now and then, but for the most part boss battles are still a great piece of the series. The thing about the bosses in God fo War is that you’re not always doing the same thing to defeat them (a la Lost Planet). Here, since many of the characters are towering menaces you may have to dodge an assault, hit your foe a few times, dodge again, climb on the boss to hit a weak point (only to be captured and thrown back off), fight some low level minions while again dodging boss attacks, counter the barrage with your own offensive, launch yourself at the freak of nature, and trigger a Shenmue-like quick time event to finally bring down your once mighty adversary. Over-the-top encounters like this are always extremely satisfying.
The graphics are undeniably above par, but I didn’t get magnetized to the visuals like in the first offering. I get the sense that the Playstation 2 has been pushed to its limits, and it genuinely shows its age. On many levels GoWII aesthetically loses out to earlier games such as Fable and Ninja Gaiden for the Xbox. Coupling that with the fact that there are next gen masterpieces on the market like Gears of War and Rainbow Six Vegas just makes it that much harder to go back to obsolete hardware.
The audio is completely top notch. The music is stunning and matches the mood of the game perfectly. The score adds an extra dimension that truly immerses you into Kratos’s world. The sound effects are dead on also. The scream of metal against metal, the sound of arrows as they slice through air to reach their target, footsteps, the crystal clear clanging of your chains are all painstakingly accurate. And of course, the dialogue is flawless. The gaming industry has come a long way from the days of the original Resident Evil when concerning voice acting. You can tell the actors really cared about their part of the project. The pride of everyone really shines throughout the game. The acting shines in everywhere from the crowds, to minors characters, to major players, to Kratos himself.
Overall God of War II shouldn’t be missed by fans of the first God of War. There really isn’t much new here to speak of, but the magnificent storyline does continue which is a huge plus. Fans will love that the game is exceptionally violent and makes no attempts to apologize for it. You won’t find any brain teasing puzzles, but it still manages to feel like it’s much more than just some forgettable hack-n-slash game. The ending also reveals a very memorable surprise that you may or may not see coming, but one that will definitely make you want to play God of War III immediately after the credits end. God of War II is still as much fun as anything else on store shelves right now, and its 10-12 hour adventure will most likely be a blast to play for the majority of gamers out there.