Side quests of War

I’ve been slowly making my way through God of War, a game from a series I’ve never played before and known very little about. It’s fun, coming to a series like this in its older-and-wiser stage (I supposed it’d be like having Uncharted 4 as your first Uncharted game, or Logan your first Wolverine movie). It’s an engaging story, and combat is fun even if I find it really, really aggressive (which, then again, is kinda the name of the game).

I will admit, I did find the narrative lacking momentum in the beginning, probably because I didn’t really know who Kratos was (is he a god? Or is he just a godkiller?). But I steadily got invested in the slow burn of Kratos’ relationship with his son Atreus. From then on I’ve been invested, and really eager to see how things develop and where things go.

It’s just a shame the game can’t get out of its own way. God of War is a semi-open world; there’s stuff to do beyond the main quest and little nooks and crannies to explore to find cool gear and mini-bosses. It’s cool, to be sure, and I do enjoy noodling around Midgard and the handful of other Norse realms available to me. It just brings the story to a screeching halt when I’m off doing Sutr’s challenges in Muspelheim. 

The core story of God of War is really elegant: Kratos and his son seek to honor his wife’s dying wish and slowly learn to love each other along the way. Atreus is a terrific foil to the gruff and stoic Kratos and also serves as an antagonist to his father, slowly wearing down his uncaring facade. But I found that the freedom to turn away from the narrative and pursue smaller sidequests detracted from the tight plotting.

The side quests put the relationship on hold, keeping Kratos and Atreus in limbo and reducing their dynamic to Atreus’ eagerness and his father’s reticence. I get why; these little bits have to be able to take place at different parts of the story, depending on when the player decides to take them on, so they need some narrative flexibility. Nonetheless, it introduces some shagginess to what’s an otherwise wonderfully tight story. 

And look, fighting my way through Muspelheim is certainly fun, but it stretches us away from Kratos’ monomaniacal quest to put his wife’s ashes to rest. Finding a Valkyrie near Karatos’ home rewards backtracking and is a cool fight, but it feels hollow that his and his son’s homecoming gets barely a remark (especially when the trip back as part of the story is so much more intense).

Of course, I don’t have to do the side quests, I’m just someone who likes to do everything in a game. This complaint is very much one of my own making, where if I’d just ignored the side quests and kept my head down and played through the narrative I wouldn’t have this issue. But, then again, why would they be there if they weren’t meant to be played? It’s that classic tension between narrative and gameplay, one that sadly God of War kinda whiffs.

All the same, I’m still enjoying it and looking forward to how it ends! Just gotta finish up Niflheim first.

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