Today marks the 15th anniversary of the release of God of War for the Playstation 2 on March 22, 2005. I was 19 when God of War was first released and since first playing has gone on to become not just a favorite PS2 game, but on the list of my all-time favorites. I can still remember my very first time playing the game….<wavy, flashback lines>
I had just finished my shift for the day and went to a nearby video store(remember those?) to look through the games section. I was fortunate enough to have a Playstation 2, Xbox, and Gamecube at home that I shared with my younger brother, so being able to walk down the aisle of rental games and having my choice of anything I desired to play was one of the most exciting things in my wonderfully uneventful life. While browsing the PS2 games I saw God of War, a new(er) release as the sticker on the cover indicated. Working in the electronics department, I had noticed the game stocked in behind the glass of the game case and thought it looked interesting. I knew absolutely nothing about the game other than it was set in Ancient Greece and any combination of video games and history(these are few of my fav-o-rite things) I was willing to give a chance. I rented the game and immediately popped the disc into the PS2 to try it out. I can vividly remember sitting in my bedroom on the old loveseat next to my window as I was completely blown away by God of War. I had never seen such an incredible mixture of buttery-smooth gameplay and cinematic presentation on such an epic scale. For further context, this was 2005 – a time when most AAA titles fell into category of “sandbox-type GTA clone” or “sci-fi FPS Halo ripoff”. This was also several years before Sony first-party developer Naughty Dog would begin to hide their stride with the release of the first Uncharted game.
The Gods of Olympus have abandoned me. Now there is no hope…
God of War begins with Kratos standing on the top of a cliffside peak lamenting his abandonment by the gods of Olympus as he casts himself down below into the Aegean Sea. The opening level is still as awe-inspiring and captivating as when I first played it. You begin playing the games as Kratos squares off against Ares’s hordes of undead legionnaires, the numbers are not in your favor, but you’re armed with the Blades of Chaos – jagged blades bound to Kratos’ forearms by chains. In addition to an army of Ares’ minions, the ferocious three-headed Hydra has appeared and is attacking anything nearby. You must then fight your way across your ship, then traverse the entanglement of other merchant ships before finally facing the giant sea serpent. The game blew me away with the ease and fluidity of which Kratos can attack and outright obliterate enemies. The only other game I knew of that featured such slick combat and animations was Devil May Cry; the hack and slash-style combat in God of War has some similarities to DMC, not only in fluidity, but also in combo-stacking and accumulating red orbs with which to upgrade your equipment and attacks. The opening boss battle against the Hydra is still one of the most epic boss fights I can remember, culminating in you impaling the “main” head of the Hydra on a broken mast as you then must venture into the giant serpent’s mouth to retrieve the captain’s key from the unfortunate Ship Captain(who will go on to make a couple more appearances in subsequent games).
I remember playing as much God of War as I could over the three day rental period. The game was such a perfect mix of action, adventure, blood, violence and history my 19 year-old self was immediately hooked. Rather than renting the game over and over, I decided I would just attempt to save up $50 from my meager part-time job paycheck so I could buy it for myself. My younger brother and I put some money together to buy a copy of the game and were finally able to make our way through the puzzles of Pandora’s Temple and journey the depths of Hades before finally the final and admittedly, a little disappointing battle with Ares in which Kratos opens Pandora’s Box and gains the power of a god, growing to the size of a titan to fight Ares in what I thought seemed a little too similar to one of the MegaZord/Monster showdowns in the final moments of a Power Rangers episode.
For the few faults I could find in God of War, like the couple areas where combat or traversal could be easier with a controllable camera angle, the intoxicating feeling of power when annihilating wave after wave of enemies made it easy to overlook. The feeling of slicing through hordes of enemies before grabbing an undead archer and being able to literally tear it in half never gets old, even the outdated quick-time events as you finish of a stronger enemy such as delivering the final blows to a cyclops or ripping off a Gorgon’s head are still enjoyable. A number of fixed camera angles that can a missed jump here and there, along with some of the puzzle/platforming elements that were clearly inspired by Prince of Persia games. The battle arena were a perfect balance of challenging without the being “cheap”. There is only three boss battles in the entire game – the Hydra, Minotaur, and Ares in the finale, each boss fight descending slightly in impressiveness.
God of War creator David Jaffe has stated he wanted to make a game combining the Ancient Epic feel of Clash of the Titans with the hunt for mythical relics of movies like Raiders of the Lost Ark. The gameplay is an amalgam of the combo-based combat of Devil May Cry with some puzzles and light platforming as you would find in the Prince of Persia series. Santa Monica Studios did a phenomenal job of creating a game with mechanics and controls that were quite basic(Light Attack, Strong Attack, etc.) but offered enough variety and challenge to prevent the game from getting tedious. Much credit also goes to Santa Monic Studio for God of War’s graphics; the game featured the most amazing visuals I had ever seen in a video game and easily among the best of any game on the Playstation 2. God of War is one of those games in which you can somewhat easily pinpoint its inspirations and doesn’t necessarily represent anything revolutionary within the genre, but the level of quality it achieved in each area. A video game set in Greek mythology may not have been a new concept(Kid Icarus?) and exploring the vast expanse of Ancient Greece has been better materialized in games like Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey, but God of War is still a classic and one of the greatest in the Playstation 2’s incredible library of titles. Kratos also remains one of gaming’s most iconic characters whether in Greek or Norse mythology.