A true test of man is what he does with power. —Plato
Is it better to be loved, or feared? Does one ever yearn to forge their surnames out of blood, malice, and vengeance? This ancient musing is presented to you upon starting the final chapter of Kratos’ warmongering against the Greek Gods that have pit everything they have against the recently crowned God of War. Following the rubrick of most heralded trilogies, God of War 3 has been a long time coming for those of us who wanted to see this story reach a climax, even if we all foresee a Greek Tragedy rushing at us. Until now, we’ve seen the Ghost of Sparda behead, strangle, impale, eviscerate and raze his way across the pantheon of Greek lore in his sole attempt to wreak his everlasting vengeance upon Zeus and the remaining Gods of Olympus. In his words, Ares couldn’t kill him, the sisters of Fate couldn’t control him, and Zeus will not stop him. Santa Monica set the bar high right out of the gate with the first game, and then shattered the bar entirely with their sophomore effort, leaving the gaming community frothing with salacious ideas of complete chaos and total war on a level never before realized. In a way, GoW3 is as much an ending to Kratos’ story as it is the ultimate test of unbridled, yet beautifully orchestrated violence that Santa Monica pushed themselves to design. Doing what they have shown to do best, God of War 3 exceeds it’s earlier iterations in every manner and brings a fitting close to the tale of our ash-covered warrior.
Picking up right after the end to GoW2, Kratos and the massive titans instantly engage with Zeus and his olympian brethren on the cliffsides of Mount Olympus. Right away we’re shown how the far the scale of this game has been extended, as in several scenes Kratos is shown as but an ant crawling upon the massive forearms of Gaia. This trilogy has grown at an almost geometric rate in respects to size and scope, as Kratos finds himself doing battle in the most literal meaning of the term ‘epic’. Storms rage savagely while Poseidon unleashes his watery rage upon Kratos, all the while Hades is depicted bringing down another titan in the background in an unfaltering 60 frames per second. While the plot of the third game stays in pace and pattern with the prior chapters, one of the minor hiccups of GoW3 is its attempts to construct a cohesive narrative whole that encompasses all three games. Hope and Fear are thrust into the minds of the players as supposed weapons capable of destroying the Gods that have slumbered within Kratos all this time. While it serves as an appropriate mechanic to drive the narrative toward its close, I felt at times that they were simply a means to feel some level of sympathy for Kratos—an idea that never sat well with me. The story of the Ghost of Sparda has been one of vengeance and terror, and to see Santa Monica tweak this aspect near the end made me feel a bit cheated, but I easily overlooked these annoyances as the conclusion was still as grand as it was completing.
The combat, while certainly near perfect in the first game, finally achieves both form and function as Kratos develops his abilities. Most notable among the improvements is the ability to switch between weapons on the fly, ridding the player of the frustrating process of having to switch between weapons via slow menu navigating. Going a step further, enemy hordes are more diverse in their attacks and weaknesses, which pushes the player to utilize two or three weapons in a single battle, instead of sticking with Kratos’ trademark blades. The weapons themselves are by no means unique from each other (i.e. all chained weapons save one of them), so the styles of fighting only slightly vary in the ways of Kratos’ speed and the strength with the weapon, but they remain different enough to give the player enough freedom to pick their dominant style of dealing death. Also, the quick-time death sequences that the GoW series made famous is given a refreshing update by moving the prompts to the sides of the screen as they appear on the Playstation controller (square prompts appear on the left side, Circle prompts on the right, and so on). It may sound more frustrating on paper, but it turns out to relieve the player from the stress of actually having to look at the prompt itself. Now, players can fully enjoy the gruesome deaths and only need to rely on their peripheral vision to catch the next prompt. Once I completed a few rounds with this improvement, I was happily enjoying the fruits of my labor without worry of missing any prompts. It didn’t change my opinion that quick-time events should be shelved from further game development, but it was comforting to see many of the customary pains I had with them disappear and still savor the same effect.
Finally, I commend Santa Monica studios on their commitment to adding a substantial amount of extra content on the disc for fans who may be interested to explore them. Still around is the customary challenge room that players have come to love and hate as it puts their dodging, combo-racking and grabbing skills to the ultimate test. Players will find some unusually easy challenges mixed in with some precisely difficult ones that were either designed by a employee who was recently fired from Santa Monica, or someone with an obsessive need for perfection. But noteworthy among the added content is a half-hour documentary of Santa Monica studios over the two-year process it took to make God of War 3. Here players get to see the people behind the curtains responsible for making this masterpiece and get to see important moments during the development process, such as company meetings testing newly created levels, employees walking through various departments to comment on new artwork, and the fantastic Halloween party they have been known to throw every year. It may not cater to the interests of many gamers, but I for one found it incredibly fascinating and a privilege to see the inner workings of their studio.
It’s been a long time coming for Kratos, but a murdered wife and daughter, a dozen greek gods, several titans, and hundreds of sirens, harpies, ghouls and medusas later, his vengeance finally comes to an end that will linger in the video game world for years to come. In high school theater I learned that anger is by far the easiest emotion to show, but the hardest one to condone. In a world of godly thievery, betrayal and absurd child-bearing, Kratos stood as a man of one single emotion: A force of vengeance that could not be controlled, contained or quelled. We are taught not to champion violence or hatred, but in the case of the Ghost of Sparda, I was willing to let go of moral constraints and simply revel in his hatred. And you know what? I loved every minute of it.
See you in the next level,