After three long years, the conclusion of the God of War trilogy is upon us. And I can say, with absolute certainty, that it was worth the wait.
The player reprises the role of Kratos, legendary military commander and “Ghost of Sparta”, in his quest for vengeance - vengeance which can only be fulfilled by the slaughter of Zeus, king of the gods and Lord of Olympus. After travelling back in time to the Great War between the Gods and Titans, Kratos takes the latter to Mount Olympus to launch one final assault, destroying the mountain and all of its inhabitants.
Naturally, this doesn’t work. If it did, God of War III would be rather short. The bolt of Zeus sends Kratos plummeting to (surprise, surprise) the depths of Hades, where he (shockingly) loses all of his magic, and most of his health. Interestingly, this is the fourth time that he’s visited the fiery realm, and it looks completely different each visit. In God of War, Hades consisted of a few rocks, a huge amount of lava and some rotating metal structures with no clear purpose. In the sequel, it was a large wall with some minions on it. But, apparently, the Lord of the Underworld hired a new contractor in the few days between the events of God of War II and III, because it’s now an enormous stone structure with technology that we in the 21st Century could only dream of. Anyway, Kratos somehow manages to retain Athena’s Blades, as well as the Blade of Olympus (the sword forged especially for Zeus which ended the Great War and banished the Titans to Tartarus) which, for some inadequately explored reason, he rarely uses.
Gaia makes no attempt to rescue the warrior, saying that he was no more than a pawn. So it is that Kratos ends up alone for arguably the first time in the entire series. His one ally takes the form of Athena, who sacrificed herself to save Zeus only a few days previous. Even she doesn’t do a whole lot, simply handing him his new weapons – the Blades of Exile – and then disappearing for several hours. All of Kratos’ powers, all of his weapons, his abilities and his items this time around come about as the fruition of his own labours. No Olympian, Titan or human gives him any pity or charity. Not that he needs it; he has the aforementioned Blade of Olympus to annihilate everything that moves and is more than 20 feet tall.
Kratos’ questionable psychology aside, God of War III’s story is fantastic. It is an epic adventure from the fires of Hades to the clouds of Olympus, alternating between exhilarating action and suspense, and never failing to deliver. Traditional cutscenes (all in-engine; no CGI to be found here) progress the adventure, while 2D red-and-black animations explore the psychology of the different characters and, on occasion, recap events from the previous games. Though I can’t speak from personal experience, it appears as though a player new to the franchise could easily jump in without feeling overly lost.
The Ghost of Sparta’s personality is certainly deeper than in previous games. His emotions, rather than ranging from indignation to fury, with occasional bouts of self-pity, are varied. At certain points you can even see the loving, caring side of Kratos (yes, it exists). Not that this means the game is any less violent. Oh, no. In fact, it’s far more violent than either of the previous games. Dead foes spray Kratos with blood, centaurs leak intestines, and with the larger scale (there are far more enemies on-screen at most points in God of War III than ever in its predecessors) comes far more simultaneous bloodshed. It’s fantastic.
The Olympians (with the exception of Hephaestus, whom everybody now despises) are brash, arrogant and power-hungry, as you would expect Gods to be. They all consistently taunt Kratos until the moment that he rams his blade through their hearts. From most of these gods, Kratos gains powers, weapons and items, as well as knowledge about his ultimate quest, the Flame of Olympus which allegedly contains enough power to destroy the gods. As the Spartan slays them, however, the world slowly grows darker and more ruinous. Floods sink the land; the sun disappears behind the clouds; plagues infect those who manage to survive. From the halls of Olympus you often have the ability to glimpse these great and terrible sights, with limited camera control which allows you to observe the environment.
Combat in God of War III is largely unchanged from the PS2 games, and this is no bad thing. There is a reason that the series appeals to so many gamers whom other hack and slash games leave cold - it’s simple. Simple, but effective. Many of the combos from God of War and its sequel make an appearance, including (of course) the Plume of Prometheus, fast and strong enough to defeat even the most powerful of the game’s enemies. The Blades of Exile function in a very similar way to the Blades of Chaos and Athena’s Blades. The basic play style is identical. The one main modification is a new move which attaches the Blades to an enemy, and pulls Kratos towards them. This attack is integral to God of War III’s combat (at least, the way I played it), and is shared by three of the four weapons.
GoW3 marks the first occasion in the series where any of the alternative weapons are actually good. Three weapons complement the Blades of Exile. First, and certainly least, are the Claws of Hades. These are, essentially, the Blades of Exile, except for the fact that they are blue, and they deal less damage. Next up are the Nemean Cestus, which you may remember from the original trailer for the game. These are stone gloves which Kratos can wear on each hand. They are slow, but incredibly powerful, and they can destroy the onyx shields and barriers scattered throughout the game. Finally, my personal favourite: the Nemesis Whip. Forged by Hephaestus, this is an electrically-charged contraption consisting of spinning blades attached to a chain. Incredibly powerful, but only acquired near the end of the game. The fantastic thing about the combat is that you’ll find yourself needing to use each of these weapons (except perhaps the Claws of Hades) in their own time. You will almost certainly have a favourite, but you won’t be able to use this throughout the game.
There is a fifth weapon, but one which is rarely used: the Blade of Olympus. Activating the Rage of Sparta (which works exactly like the Rage of the Gods and of the Titans in God of War and its sequel respectively) allows Kratos to use the legendary weapon for a brief period of time. In my opinion, it is rather useless. The blade is painfully slow, and while it deals a large amount of damage, it’s simply not worth it for the most part. Kratos also uses the Blade of Olympus when he wants to slay a God or Titan, usually with a Context Sensitive Attack (quick time event).
In addition to the weapons, there are a number of items which Kratos gains during his travels. These can be used as weapons, but they have wider uses. The head of Helios lights up dark paths and exposes hidden chests, and the boots of Hermes allow Kratos to run up certain walls, etc. These items are powered by a recharging item meter.
Magic works a little differently from previous entries in the franchise. Instead of each power being accessible at all times, powers are tied to the weapons. This is another reason why you have to vary your weapon use - a very strong weapon may have an all-but-useless magical power. However, like previous games in the series, magic does not recharge, and must be regained from the Blue Orbs found in chests and occasionally gained by killing enemies. There are five types of chest in God of War III:
-The green chest rejuvenates Kratos and restores his health.
-The blue chest restores Kratos’ magic.
-The red chest gives Kratos red experience orbs, which he can use to power up his weapons and items.
-The white chest bestows red orbs, and green, blue or gold orbs (which fill up the Rage of Sparta meter).
-The large chest gives Kratos a collectible item - a Gorgon Eye (three of these increase the health maximum), Phoenix Feather (three increase the magic maximum) or Minotaur Horn (three increase item power - not particularly useful, because this regenerates).
For some reason, Kratos now opens chests with one hand instead of two, with the exception of the large chest. It does make him appear to be more of a badass, but he must get a sore arm after a while.
As with any game in the series, of course, there is more to it than just the combat. There are several puzzles littered throughout Olympus which Kratos must solve, though not as many and not quite as irritating as in previous games. At certain times, the Ghost of Sparta can use the Icarus Wings which he gained in God of War II for flight, avoiding obstacles and rocks, to ascend the mountain quickly. At no point does the game begin to get repetitive. The platforming can be a little finicky at times, but for the most part, it works well.
Backtracking does exist, but it’s not as prevalent as in the original two games. And where it does exist, it’s justified. Kratos doesn’t meander back to where he was ten minutes ago where a door has opened. He plunges to locations which he visited six hours ago, and obliterates everything.
There is one exception to the ever-present fantastic gameplay, however. Namely, the first half hour of the game. This is what Santa Monica promised the entire game would be like, and I couldn’t be happier that they lied, because it’s a giant mess. Yes, the cinematography is fantastic, the graphics are stunning, and the camera angles are incredible. Unfortunately, this makes the game near-impossible to play. Gaia flip-flops all over the place and Kratos goes flying. Destroying huge monsters while clinging onto a Titan isn’t nearly as enjoyable as it sounds.
On the topic of graphics and cinematography, both are fantastic. High Definition has done wonders for the visuals of this franchise. Kratos is immaculately detailed, the environments are incredible, and effects are top-notch. The game zooms in and out at just the right times, to highlight the characters or the world around them, without intruding on the gameplay. This is fortunate, because camera angles were a huge problem, arguably the largest, in God of War and its sequel. The camera changes depending on your position and the direction in which you are travelling. Occasionally, Kratos comes across “Ancient Pedestals”, which allow him to look freely over the landscape (his head controlled by the Left Stick) while giving a short caption at the bottom, describing the scene.
Character performance is also top-notch. The gods emanate power in their voices, and Kratos’ voice actor successfully changes emotions to fit the situation. Lip-synching is near-perfect. The music suits the action, with loud orchestral scores during intense moments of action. There are a handful of sound glitches towards the beginning of the game, but these are rare, and disappear entirely after an hour or so. Other than that, the game runs fine, never (unintentionally) slowing down (though a few intentional slowdowns to highlight the action do exist), and I encountered no other glitches.
I played on God (Normal) difficulty, and I found it challenging, but never cheap. New tactics are required every so often, but enemies aren’t overly powerful. I died some 70 times over the course of the game, but most of this was to do with mis-timed jumping.
The game clocked in, for me and most others, at about 12 hours - slightly longer than the previous games in the franchise. But this is 12 hours of intense action, and of fantastic, quality gameplay. There is always the ability to replay the game on higher difficulties, find those elusive collectibles and earn trophies. You can also use costumes earned by beating the game, and items named Godly Possessions littered across the map which bestow incredible powers on Kratos, which cannot be used until the game is beaten. Then, there is the Challenge of Olympus, which is far more difficult than the Challenge of the Titans in God of War II, and slightly more so than the Challenge of the Gods in God of War. Many “making of” videos are also made available, and it can be fascinating to watch the development process.
In conclusion, God of War III is fantastic. It is an amazing experience: exhilarating gameplay is tied together with a fascinating story and mind-blowing graphics. I would say that it’s the best in the trilogy by quite a long way, and among the highest quality games on the PS3, and it brings said trilogy to a close with a bang. Nearly all of the loose strings in the series are tied up, but just enough are left dangling to warrant another entry in the series. I hope that the next entry does exist, because while God of War III would be an excellent end to an excellent series, I still want more, and that’s a good sign. If previous games in the series have left you cold, God of War III will not suddenly appeal to you. But if you found any semblance of enjoyment in its predecessors, this is a game which must be played.