This summer, Henry Wolski is playing the God of War series from the 2005 original all the way to last year’s God of War on the PlayStation 4. This is the “Summer of War.”
Check out previous reviews of the franchise below:
The game released on March 13, 2007, almost exactly two years after the first game. It serves as one of the last Sony IP’s to have a new installment on the PlayStation 2, as the PlayStation 3 launched in November of the previous year.
Sweet, Sweet Vengeance
The story follows a similar structure to the original game. Kratos has immense power, is betrayed by a God, and goes through several mythical locations and gauntlets to find a MacGuffin that will kill that God.
However, this one improves on the story tenfold. Kratos starts this tale by taking the mantle of God of War and is quickly betrayed by the other Gods, who are uncomfortable with a vicious bloodthirsty mortal holding that much power.
However, Gaia, a Titan and the narrator of the series, saves Kratos and sends him on a journey to find the sisters of fate, three mythical beings that control all of time and space.
Gaia seeks to aid Kratos on his quest to kill the King of the Gods due to Zeus’ actions during The Great War. He defeated, weakened and in some cases imprisoned the huge Titans during the war, making them mere shells of their former selves.
A Host of Mythology
Kratos goes through several locations during his quest, including the Island of Creation, The Underworld, The Bog of the Forgotten and The Steeds of Time. He also comes face to face with Greek legends like Icarus, Theseus, Prometheus and Perseus.
Several monsters from the previous games make a return, such as Minotaurs, Sirens, Harpies, Satyrs, Gorgons and the Cerberus.
The game also includes 14 boss battles, much more than the four from the first game. Some boss battles include fighting the Kraken, the Colossus of Rhodes, Euryale (the much larger sister of Medusa) the three Sisters of Fate and Zeus himself.
These fights are breathtaking spectacles that push the PS2’s hardware to its limit and are still exhilarating to play a decade later.
A consistent strength of the series is the level design’s ability to make Kratos feel incredibly small compared to the world around him, while still making it believable that he could destroy anyone and anything he desires.
As you can tell, this game doubles down on the epic scope and scale of God of War and introduces even more of the Greek mythology.
The main event of God of War II is the gameplay, as it is largely unchanged from the previous installment, but that’s not a bad thing.
Kratos now wields Athena’s Blades, and they work the same way as they did in God of War. The player fights several waves of enemies, using a combination of the Blades and four different magic attacks.
Killing enemies and getting high numbers of hits without taking damage earns Kratos red orbs that can be used to upgrade his weapons, awarding the player with a variety of attacks and increased damage.
This is the series’ bread and butter, as hordes of enemies are thrown at you, yet it is never so overwhelming that you suffer many unfair deaths. Kratos is well up to the challenge.
There are a huge number of different kinds of enemies so combat never gets stale, and it is a ton of fun to mow these forces down.
The Ghost of Sparta rips Hydras apart by the wings, slices enemy soldiers in half and brutally kills everything that goes against him. It is visceral and satisfying to watch.
God of War II doesn’t fix what isn’t broken and makes small tweaks to keep the combat flowing more smoothly than its predecessor.
What’s New, Then?
New weapons are introduced as well, including the massive Barbarian Hammer and the Spear of Destiny, and are effective in close quarters.
Another change to the combat is the Golden Fleece (found by ripping it off of Jason the Argonaut’s half-eaten body and killing a Cerberus), which allows the player to block enemy attacks and send counter-attacks to them. It works well and is crucial in the final boss battle against Zeus.
Like all good sequels, this game has time-stopping mechanics with the Amulet of the Fates. Using this when next to statues that emit a green orb, Kratos slows down time to solve puzzles, platform through previously unreachable areas and find hidden secrets in the world.
It adds more depth to the gameplay and doesn’t overstay its welcome. However, it can be a bit difficult to initiate it, as you have to press the L1 and R1 buttons simultaneously.
I often found myself getting into a blocking stance three or four times before it would work, but that could just be my fault.
The platforming is further bolstered later in the game, as Kratos literally rips the wings off of Icarus’ back and gains the ability to glide.
This makes it easier to reach far away platforms and is a cool visual.
Also introduced is the Pegasus, which Kratos rides twice in the game, first to reach the Titan Typhon and once again to reach the Island of Creation.
These sections are pretty fun while they last, with Kratos fighting off Griffins, Ravens and the riders who handle them.
God of War II isn’t perfect, as it falls into one of the cardinal sequel traps, that being starting off the game with all of the powers acquired through the previous game, then stripping the protagonist of them after the first level.
You are in “God Mode” essentially (pun intended) throughout the whole fight with the Colossus of Rhodes that starts the game off, and it’s a whole lot of fun.
Then Zeus kills you and takes away all your power, reducing your health, magic and abilities/damage with Athena’s Blades back to where they were at the start of God of War I.
You also start the game off with no magical powers. Plus, as you collect them, they turn out to be the same powers from the first game given new names based on Titans instead of Gods (save Atlas’ Quake).
It’s a small complaint, but it makes the work done in God of War I feel worthless.
A problem carried over from the previous game is the camera. It is largely cinematic, and the player has no control over it. Most of the time, it works fine and gives huge setpieces the presentation they deserve.
Other times, it will get stuck behind a wall and you’ll take some unfair damage from it. It doesn’t happen often enough to be a real issue, but it’s annoying that it didn’t get fixed.
The story also ends on a massive cliffhanger with Kratos accidentally killing Athena and learning that he is the son of Zeus. He uses his powers over time to bring all of the Titans back to the present day, as they storm Mount Olympus and the remaining Gods unite to stop the uprising.
Thankfully, I have the collection with all three games, but I imagine playing this at the time and having to wait over two years to see the conclusion was maddening.
However, all of these complaints are pretty minor compared to what you get.
Once More, With Feeling
Ultimately, if you liked God of War I, God of War II expands and improves everything from that game, while adding new mechanics, enemies and a grander story.
This feels like an expansion pack to the first game, and I have no problem with that. It adds enough new stuff to stand out and prove that the first game’s success was not a fluke. It was also highly profitable, becoming one of the highest-selling PS2 games of all time.
It also follows the practice of the first game, adding in tons of bonus arcade-like challenge modes after beating the game, new costumes and abilities to use if you want to play the game over and hours of bonus behind the scenes content.
This game was released with an extra DVD full of behind the scenes interviews with the creators of the game and a look at the cut content and creative process used to make the game.
And you didn’t have to pay for it separately. It came with the base version of the game. Truly those days are gone, though most things like this would be released on YouTube and social media sites now.
This is a great game that is a blast to play, and I recommend it to anyone who enjoys the action-platformer genre. I can’t wait to see what’s in store with God of War III.