God of War 2 feels more like an expansion pack than a new game.
Unlike the first game, which had our anti-hero Kratos seeking to destroy the traitorous god, Ares, this game takes a darker and sillier turn. Whereas the last game was a story of revenge and seeking some redemption for his past crimes, this game decided to make our bloody warrior the antagonist of this story. To any who are expecting to see Kratos continue redeeming himself for his sins, prepare to be disappointed. Rather than do something silly like that, the Ghost of Sparta is now basically the antagonist. He has become a warmonger, seeking to have the entirety of Greece taken over by his Spartan followers. His motivation for doing this is the nightmares of when he murdered his wife and daughter, something that was shown to be quite a problem for him in the first game.
Basically, the story is that since the gods won’t take away the memories of him killing his family, he is going to destroy everything they love. Forget about the fact that he already killed the god that did this to him, Ares. He’s basically throwing a god-like temper tantrum and wants to see Greece suffer for his crimes and the perceived slights of the other gods against him. Of course, when he finally ends up getting punished for his actions, he gets angrier. It’s kind of like the Incredible Hulk, complete with the child-like mentality. So we come to the goal of the game: get revenge on Zeus for punishing Kratos for throwing his little temper tantrum and embroiling Greece in civil war.
The game seems to have a bit more substance once you begin playing it, but to anyone who has played the first game, it will likely not feel that way for some time. It seems as if all of the brutal combat, in all of its gory combo-laden glory are still totally intact. There is plenty of that to be had, but the problem is that most of it doesn’t feel any different from the first game. The looks of most of the combo attacks have changed, as have their function in some cases, but the game plays almost exactly the same. I mean, when you fight enemies from the first game, the moves Kratos uses against them are exactly the same as the ones he used previously. That is really lame.
The major gameplay change is in the new spells and weapons that you get to raise hell with. This is a strength and weakness since you trade off the good spells from the first game for some new attacks. Anyone who played the first game will have fond memories of the ever-helpful Poseidon’s Rage, and you will get to use it early in the game, but by the time you have played for a few hours you get a replacement instead. While it may seem cool to be able to make Kratos stomp his feet to use an earthquake type attack or to leave balls of lightning that shock enemies who come too close to them, in reality they aren't as useful as they may appear. That's not to say that you won't use them at all, but you really need to put effort into making them work, which almost feels counterproductive. It’s also quite annoying to find that the useless ability from the first game, Medusa’s gaze, made it into this game fully intact. To any who are unfamiliar with this ability, essentially it allows you to use your magic to turn your enemies to stone from which you can summarily shatter them. This is more of a novelty than it is a useful ability since it takes too much magic and it takes time to actually turn them to stone, very much like how it works when the medusa type enemies try to petrify you. It’s more of a novelty than a useful ability.
I will say that they did a good job with the alternate weapons. As opposed to the Blade of Artemis, they give you two good weapons: the Barbarian Hammer and the Spear of Destiny. While you don’t need to use either of them they can make your life easier in some cases. When you use the Hammer you gain immense strength and the ability to summon ghosts to aid you in your fights, whereas the Spear gives you some ranged attacks free of magic cost. You can not only fire shards of the Spear at your foes, but you can also leave pieces on the floor like a mine or propel your enemies in the air with them. However, if you never grow comfortable with them, then you can simply power up Kratos' ever-present chain blades, his main weapons, and simply focus on them. So while they are useful, they aren't necessary to completing the game.
Outside of the combat, the game still feels almost like the first one but they did a good thing by taking out most of the push block puzzles and replaced them with more interesting ones. You will gain the ability to do things like slow down time to a near stop, float on your newly obtained wings and trying to solve these time based puzzles amongst a bunch of smaller, fairly inventive, puzzles. The puzzles can be a serious drain on you, though, if you don’t have fast enough reflexes. At one point in the game, when Kratos is attempting to block off two energy beams, you will be forced to move a statue into a specific spot and raise it up to block one beam. However, there is only a limited amount of time before it lowers again, so you have to slow down time, get into position and then reflect the other energy beam with your newly acquired Golden Fleece armlet. It can be tough to do, and you will be trying it over again, but it never got frustrating to me. The sad part about this is that I found the puzzles in this game to be a bit more fun than the combat.
They decided that the ability to climb up just walls was too limiting, it needed to be enhanced. In the first God of War, Kratos had very little in the ways of platforming ability, only able to double jump and climb up walls (in set areas of course). While simple in theory, SCEA really managed to make us hate this by implementing the now infamous spinning blades in Hades. Well he can still climb walls, but rather than use his hands, he uses his blades to do so. Doesn’t that just exude pure machismo? Since he has gone for a more stabby approach to climbing, he can now climb certain ceilings as well. By jamming his blades into what is above him, he can go hand over hand and make his way across pits. However, when you are moving across the ceiling the controls get a bit weird. I was never fully comfortable with this mechanic as the control change is jarring and usually the direction you are pushing on the analog stick isn’t the direction that you will move in.
They also gave him the ability to grapple to set points on the environment. Kratos can use this maneuver to swing to set points in the environment and use them as a means of getting across pits. Basically, the way it works is fairly simple: you leap forward and wait for an R1 button prompt to appear onscreen. Once this occurs, you press the button and Kratos will throw out one of his chain blades and latch onto the closest grapple point. It all sounds simple enough, and you would think it would be a breeze to use. Well prepare to be surprised. I found many times where the prompt came up and I hit the button only to have nothing happen. So I would fall to my death and then have to get back to that point, hoping that the button would work this time. It’s a good thing that the checkpoints are given to you pretty liberally in this game.
A major gripe is that the combat feels repetitive if you have played the first. There have been changes made to the way the game works, but most of them almost seem as if to hamper your ability to enjoy the game. As opposed to the first game, where the combat was chaotic but focused on a few enemies at a time, this game chooses to have huge brawls, with you fighting off a veritable army of enemies. While this sounds like fun, most of the time it isn’t. Instead of fighting one or two hard enemies or a large group of weaker ones, like the last game, you instead get up to, if not more than, five enemies mauling you at once. It gets to feel overwhelming at times and when you find yourself caught off-guard you will realize how unfair these fights can be. I have had one very prominent experience with this: When fighting a huge group of enemies, I dodged the wrong way and was summarily juggled by the enemies. Getting knocked up into the air and bounced off the floor, I was repeatedly pummeled eventually losing more than half of my health in the onslaught. You would think that this was likely a one-time experience, right? Wrong. You will have to get used to these odds and not even during the boss fights like most other games would have. Oddly enough, most boss fights actually tend to be easier than fighting the enemy hordes you will encounter.
One of the highest points of the first game, the boss fights are more numerous and feel more climactic than even the last ones. As opposed to the meager three of the first game, there are numerous bosses and mini-bosses to fight in this game. While most of them are simple fights, requiring that you figure out their attack patterns and then strike when it’s advantageous, there are others that are like puzzles unto themselves. You must figure out how to fight them, or to weaken them, and then go after them. And those who were fans of the button press, interactive segments will find them here in droves. While some of them can be a bit much, requiring close to ten button presses, they are fun to watch and incredibly gory.
A good example of this is a barbarian boss you will fight fairly early in the game. When the fight begins, you must start with a button press game to avoid taking too much damage before the fight starts, which is pretty harsh. You then have to fight him on horseback, eventually knocking him off and killing his horse. You must then fight him through several forms he will take; all the while he is inflicting serious harm on you with each hit of his massive weapon. However, once you do enough damage, you get to turn his hammer back on him and, in another button press game you get to reduce his head to a fine red mist. It felt incredibly satisfying to finally take him out.
Although, as a huge fan of Greek mythology, one of the best parts of this game was meeting figures from the Greek pantheon such as Perseus and Theseus and getting to kill them in a variety of gory ways. Each of them will be fought using something related to the myth that they came from, even if it is a serious stretch. For example, Theseus was the one famous for killing the Minotaur in Greek mythology, but now he is working for the Gods to impede your progress. He will summon twin minotaur’s to assault you while you try to fend off both the minotaur’s and his ice magic (which is kind of clever if you know that he is supposed to be a son of Poseidon, God of the Sea). While it sounds chaotic, and it is, it never really gets frustrating and finding the weak points in his armor and weakening him enough eventually leads into a gruesome, and really cool, button press game. Although, with all of the things they adopted from Greek Mythology, the flaming Pegasus thing you will ride in the flying segments seems really out of left field. To those who don't know, a Pegasus is traditionally depicted as a white horse with angelic-looking wings. Well Kratos is too cool for that sort of mount, so he ends up riding a black Pegasus with flaming wings and mane. While it looks cool, and during some of the moves you do during the flying segments it looks awesome, it makes me wonder if a plain Pegasus was simply not hardcore enough for Kratos.
You will play through a couple of these flying levels and, honestly, I really felt they were a weak spot in the game. Essentially, you are on a track and you must ram and hack the enemy griffons out of the air. After a few hits you can jump onto a griffon, cut off its wings and then freefall back onto your mount. It all looks wonderful, but it plays horribly. The controls are a bit spastic, you can expect to be hit constantly and it essentially becomes a giant button-mashing segment of a game already high on button mashing. I do like the direction they were moving in and I have high hopes for the next time they give us these missions. For now, I really don’t like them.
One major thing that irks me about God of War 2 is that it seems to draw too much from Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver. You get raggedy wings to glide with, the major focus of this game is revenge against a god-like father figure, there’s a time traveling twist that stinks and the game is essentially just a lead in for another game. Mind you, that at least in Soul Reaver you were righteously fighting back against a person who had betrayed you. Kratos has essentially made his own bed and now doesn’t want to lie in it. I never felt bad for him in this one, and I got really sick of the way the gods were being portrayed. Not like they were nice people, but Zeus is too over the top with how spiteful he is and it comes off as more of a laughable thing than it does as him being this great force of evil. Even should we find out that Kratos was being misled, I’m pretty sick of this fallen god.
All in all, God of War 2 almost feels like an unfair game to charge a full price for, what with how much it feels like the last game all over again. It’s shorter than the first game and it doesn’t bring much innovation to the series. To say nothing of the fact that what little innovation it brings sucks. Another annoying thing is that you don’t get a full story in it. It serves mostly as a segue-way into the next game and this really dampens the effect of the story overall, as poor as I felt it to be. A story should always feel epic in a game like this, not like it’s been cut off.
When you come into this game, keep in mind what you are getting and I advise you rent it before you buy it. You might just be surprised… I know I was. I had expected the game to build off of what God of War 1 had laid out and then innovate most of the other aspects of the game. However, much like the aforementioned Soul Reaver games, God of War basically rehashes everything from the first game, adds some more of the stuff we loved, but then absolutely demolishes itself when it starts trying to add new things. Had it not been for the unfair fights, repeated moves from the first game and the ridiculous story, this game could have been much better. As it is, you’re better off playing the original again than you are playing this game. Do feel free to give it a rental; it only lasts about 12 hours or so anyways.