So after not being that interested for most of the time leading up to release, I finally jumped on that bandwagon and am playing God of War (Dad of Boy version), and right now I'm somewhat undecided about it. Was intending to wait a bit longer before talking about it as I usually do, but so often that ends up with me repeating stuff and being redundant in the Completed Games thread, so I thought I would talk about it while my opinions are still changing.
My first impressions were pretty mixed. Quite hot-and-cold. I really like what they've done with Kratos as a character this time around. They've handled him and his past really well. This is a version of Kratos that is disconnected by events of the previous games by an extremely long period of time, and you can tell it has changed him, but in a believable way. He's moved on from what he used to be, but he hasn't forgotten. He does a better job of keeping his anger under control now, and is more conscious of what it did to him as a person. But at the same time he's become sullen and reserved. Something which is understandable and natural, but brings in its own character flaws too. So it may be shocking to actually say it, but Kratos is now a character who has subtlety and depth. Atreus isn't bad either. He's a good counterweight to Kratos, as his natural curiosity pokes and prods at Kratos to get him to open up about things, in at least a minuscule way. He has a frank openness too which can make for some amusing moments as it cuts through the tension of things Kratos would rather not acknowledge.
Combat though, I really didn't enjoy to begin with. With the exception of the early boss fight with the Stranger, which was pretty great, I've found combat to be rigid and slow, with an aggravating lack of spatial awareness. The really close camera means it's a pain to see what's going on around you, and it often feels kind of unfair with how much you get hit from off-screen. The little UI thing you have to show you where enemies are isn't really sufficient, and is also kind of a non-diegetic crutch, the presence of which somewhat highlights the flaws of this system. The closeness means movement is limited on an artistic level too. Kratos simply can't do anything as dynamic or impressive as in the previous games, because the camera just wouldn't be able to deal with it. It feels like something of a downgrade in terms of what's possible with the combat system, even if the previous games may not have fully explored the possibilities they had. I also found the pacing of the game in regards to combat encounters to be a big problem. It felt like combat was way too infrequent, and to a lesser extent, fights were over way too quickly. It ended up feeling like I couldn't get in to a groove with the combat, and actually understand the flow of it and get good at fighting specific enemy types, because the opportunities to do so are so few and far between. It also means that when combat does happen, it often feels like something of an interruption of the mood the game had been creating up until that point, for half an hour or more. Just for a few minutes of panicked, sloppy flailing. But with that all said, I have to say, I think I'm starting to come around to it.
Lately I've been ignoring the main story and exploring around doing side content, and I think it's finally starting to click. I think a big reason for that may be the change in pacing compared to the main story sequences. What I've been doing is exploring around the edge of the lake that seems to be the centre of the game world. Seeing what things I can find, and doing the few side quests that appeared as I was exploring. During that time, it feels like time between combat has become shortened, and I actually started to feel like I was beginning to understand the flow of it, and better manage groups. During that little excursion I also managed to collect a decent amount of XP, letting me buy a bunch of moves to help widen out my options in combat a bit. So I finally started feeling like I was in control of what was happening, and not just panicking and being mobbed from all angles constantly. Although, I think part of that might be because I was going back to more basic enemies, rather than the annoying Dark Elves I was up against just previous to my little detour. But regardless, I was liking it more. It also helps that the combat does feel pretty satisfying on a kinaesthetic level. Combat may be pretty slow, and somewhat basic, but hacking stuff with the axe does feel fantastic. The game does that thing where it slightly slows down the animation of the swing just as it makes contact with an enemy that does so much to give combat systems like these a sense of weight and impact. The animation for recalling the axe is great too. The way it sweeps its way around in the air and satisfyingly thumps in to Kratos' open hand. Feels great. It also helps that the sound design is really good too. Especially the sound of the axe smashing and clashing against the rocks as you recall it.
In between fights they also did some pretty good characterisation. As I was rowing around in my boat, Kratos was regaling Atreus with stories to keep him entertained. Poorly reciting Aesop's fables, and even telling a metaphorical story about his own past from the first God of War. It was a really good vehicle for Kratos to show the kinds of things he wanted to teach Atreus, and also for Atreus to call Kratos out on his nonsense, or preciously poke fun at him for his poor storytelling skills. It also worked very well for doing all this without taking control away from the player, and slowing down the game to make sure you pay attention to this very emotional father-son bonding moment.
So yeah, right now I'm pretty positive on the game, although I'm still not entirely sold on it. Even if I'm understanding the combat better, I'm still not really sure I would say it's exceptional in any way, aside from a polished presentation. So far, it's somewhere between alright and good. Unsure where things will go from here though, as I go back to main story content. Yet, I am also aware there is a certain something that happens later in the game that shakes up combat quite a bit, so I'm hesitantly looking forward to that.
I also find it very interesting to compare this game to Hellblade. Even if the game has a ton of other obvious influences, that is easily the closest comparison when it comes to most things to do with this game, an exception being the world design I guess. Perhaps by sheer coincidence too, looking at the development timelines. In terms of combat, I think I actually prefer Hellblade, but for some perhaps counter-intuitive reasons. Hellblade, being a game of much smaller scope, has far less different enemy types. Pretty much all of them are humanoids that try to hit you with some handheld weapon. Some are fast, but most are relatively slow. Meanwhile God of War has a greater variety, including enemies that burrow under the ground, and several that have ranged attacks. The lack of those enemy types in Hellblade really helps you maintain control an awareness of a situation in a fight. Makes for far less situations where you feel like you're being blind-sided by something you can't see, or hit from an enemy you can't reach. Hellblade also tends to put you up against less enemies at a time too. But another difference, which I think is big part of why Hellblade is so fantastic in general, is how they deal with giving you awareness of when enemies do attack you from off-screen. You hear the voices in your head warn you about incoming attacks, and they do so from the direction the attack is coming from. It's genius! Fully diegetic, keeps the UI clean, gives you better ability to react (since humans can react faster to sound than sight), and even helps strengthen the main narrative and artistic goal of the whole game. Way better than just a little cluster of white arrows at the bottom of the screen.
I also just started playing Omensight. I very rarely pick up indie games when they first release, since there's just so many competing for attention, but for this one I made an exception due to it being a spiritual sequel to Stories: The Path of Destinies, which I really enjoyed. Same developer, set in the same fictional world, with very similar gameplay and overall structure/central conceit, but with all new characters and story, and an overall different tone as well. I'm still pretty early so far, but I'm enjoying it at the moment. This one takes a more serious tone than Stories. The comedic tone of that game was one of its biggest highlights, but I'm okay with them going for a different direction for this one. There are still some fun characters though. But while in Stories you played as a roguish character repeatedly failing his way to saving the world, this time you play as some mysterious harbinger of the apocalypse, as you work backwards from the very last moments before the end of the world, trying to piece together what happened to cause it, so you can stop it. The main character doesn't speak, and doesn't have any personality really. They're more a silent observer. Only intervening in events to learn more about what happened, not to take sides. Her design is fantastic though. In a world full of anthropomorphic animal characters, she doesn't really have any distinguishing features, but has glowing blue skin and a long flowing ponytail-like thing that wisps around as you move, and a pretty cool set of armour as well.
Right now the story seems pretty intriguing. You join different characters as you make your way through levels, to see what their perspective on events was, and getting to know them. Two in particular I liked were the general of the evil empire, who is actually a pretty honourable and concerned person. Wanting to try to do things with a sense of justice, and as little bloodshed as possible. She holds a level of respect for her enemies too. The other standout character is the leader of the resistance against the imperial army. She's a little mouse character who is also a bard, and has a good sense of humour about things. Is rather fond of jokingly ribbing her troops for failing to do things properly. The way they introduce her is pretty cool too, as you break her out of prison when she's singing a song on her lute. It's a very nice piece of music.
Combat isn't bad either. It's a Batman Arkham style of thing, but it's incredibly fast and snappy. So you're dashing around the battlefield, slicing away at enemies, getting combos and counters, etc. It feels pretty good. It's another system that is more or less lifted from Stories, but here much improved. This game feels like that one, but sped up two or three times. It can be a bit sloppy though. Sometimes it's hard to get the game to hit what you actually want. Pointing your stick at a certain enemy helps, but it's still not perfect. And if you don't use the stick, and just let the game do what it thinks is best, it doesn't really work. Doesn't seem to have any prioritisation system, and just flies around the battlefield at random.
The game also looks pretty great. It's gone for a look with clean, flat textures and fantastic use of colour. Architecture is pretty impressive and unique as well. There's also a hub area you go back to between levels which houses a magical tree, which is the source of your power, and it looks fantastic. Glowing blue, like your character is, with branches splaying out in intricate, but very organised patterns. It's very nice.