God of War is a phenomenal game that everyone should play, no question. And if you're in this article, it's probably safe to say that you're interested in playing it, if you haven't already started. But if you want to really get the most out of its stunning world and its fantastic and definitely not boring combat, then you should really consider playing in Immersive mode.
You'll find an option in the game's setting menu that lets you toggle the game's HUD between Normal and Immersive mode, which removes most of the game's pop-ups, meters, compass, and icons. God of War's HUD is already quite minimal, which is great, but after finishing and playing the latter half of the game in Immersive mode, let me tell you: this is the way to experience God of War.
The idea of no HUD is always a little daunting, for sure. But don't be scared! I wrote this article to assure you that it's totally viable, explain how you can parse information you need, and tell you why the things you're missing out on aren't a big deal.
First of all, why do it, and what are the benefits of not getting every single little detail of information? On a superficial level, God of War is a very, very good looking game. Immersive mode makes sure the entirety of your screen can be used to appreciate the beauty of the environments, character models, and get the full impact of the game's truly impressive camera work with that one, long, 40-hour steadycam shot.
On a more substantial level, being able to pay full attention to the environment without any distractions will help you with your exploration. You'll pay more attention to the details in the environment and you'll almost be guaranteed to never miss a collectible. You'll more easily notice the shine of purposely obscured items, and distinctly hear the tinkling of Odin's ravens. No alternate paths will go unnoticed, and no stray pot or wooden item will go un-smashed, because you're looking so keenly at the world, instead of the icon on a compass.
But most importantly, the Immersive mode will make you better at combat. In action games, it's a common, and completely logical, tendency to always keep one eye on either your health meter, your enemy's health meter, enemy location indicators, your skill cooldowns, whatever. But that's one eye that's not actually watching the fight.
Immersive mode lets you focus completely on using all of your skill to be the best fighter you can be. Hit every parry, dodge every attack, take advantage of every opening. If you're like me, and you know you have a full bar of health, you'll sometimes get a little sloppier because you know Kratos can take a few hits. But why not perform at your absolute best all the damn time? You need to set a good example for Atreus, after all. Is that enemy you're taking on a purple enemy who's supposed to be overpowered for you? Who knows, who cares? If you can beat it, then what does it matter? Free yourself from self-doubt!
Now, I do recommend that on your first playthrough you should definitely spend the early hours with the default HUD just so you can get a basic feel of how combat operates, especially how the stun mechanic works. But by the time you get to the Lake of Nine and the game opens up, you should be good to go Immersive.
However, if you're STILL a little scared to go on a grand adventure without all of this info, there's one thing I've been keeping from you: God of War also has a Custom HUD option which lets you toggle certain elements of the HUD on or off. But best of all, it allows you to assign some HUD options to the PS4's touchpad, meaning you can turn everything off, but take a brief look anything you want to with a gentle tap of the touchpad. So if you're finding Immersive mode hard to get used to at the beginning, give the touchpad stuff a try. Bet you forgot that function was even there!
Okay, so how do you actually manage all the information you need for combat without seeing bars or indicators? Well, God of War has a bunch of in-world cues that make Immersive mode accessible and tell you literally everything you need to know. They're all pretty obvious, but let's run through them for peace of mind.
Watch for enemy attack rings! If an enemy is attacking you, and there's an expanding golden ring coming from them, it means you can and should parry this attack by blocking at the last minute. If there's an expanding red ring, it means it's an unblockable attack, and you should dodge the hell out of there or get Atreus to interrupt it. The game teaches you both of these things.
If you've been wailing on an enemy with light attacks or your bare fists, and see the pulsing red circle around them, it means you can execute your takedown move. Not being able to see how much stun you’re dealing to an enemy might seem like a disadvantage, especially against Revenants, who have a rapid stun recovery. But just keep in mind that if you’re looking to stun someone, you need to maintain focus on them and keep the pressure up regardless, otherwise you'll never get there.
If the screen has a glowing red vignette, it means you're low on health. That's a pretty standard thing. But Atreus will also tell you as much just in case it wasn't obvious enough. If Kratos is blue and icy, it means you've been affected by frost, and your attack speed will be slowed. Poison and shock effects are also pretty obvious--you'll see the distinct colors on Kratos. You don't need to see a little icon to know you're poisoned!
You also don't need the enemy indicator ring to know when you're being blindsided, just listen carefully to Atreus, because he'll tell you when you're being attacked, and from where. When he says “Watch out behind you!”, or “Fire from your right!” it's a good idea to act on that advice immediately.
You see what I mean? All of that knowledge is pretty straightforward and pre-existing. They’re all things you’ll be accustomed to by the time you internalize the combat system. I’m sure you have a bunch of questions and concerns, such as: How do you know when you need to heal? Well naturally, it’s a good idea to save green gems for until you really need them, and you know that when Atreus is yelling at you and your screen is turning red, you need to find some health gems to stomp on, pronto.
Now, remember when I talked about Immersive mode giving you way more awareness in combat? You’ll likely be avoiding more hits overall, which means you’ll likely have more spare health gems lying around, and as you play more you should organically get an idea of roughly how many blows you can take before hitting the red zone. Health then becomes more of a gut feeling thing. For example, if I enter a fight and am aware I’ve taken three or four hits from some Draugr, I can be pretty sure that grabbing one of those green gems will bring me back up to max health. Once the fight is over, you’ll naturally want to clean up all the pickups on the battlefield, which should put you in perfect shape for the next battle. You can check your health with the touchpad just to be sure.
Things a little clearer for cooldowns on your runic weapon and talisman skills, as well as Atreus' abilities. When an ability comes off cooldown and is ready to use, there'll be a handy chime from either the left or right of the screen, where the meters would normally be. Atreus will say "I'm set! Or "Tell me when!" when his arrows are ready after using them all up. That said, it's good to keep in mind roughly how long the cooldown on your chosen abilities are (anywhere from 30-90 seconds) and keep rough track when you use it. Personally, I found myself having a lot more fun with them in Immersive because I would see myself identifying the perfect situation to use a skill before activating it (rather than noticing that it was available to use, thinking “I should use that”, and then kinda wasting it and missing out on a better opportunity moments later).
The tricky one, depending on your play style, is knowing when Spartan Rage is ready to go. I typically only used Spartan Rage during boss fights or particularly large mobs, so I rarely found myself in a bad situation with it. But if you like to use it as soon as you can, as much as you can, you might want to use the custom Touchpad HUD to periodically check on the meters.
Finally your compass. God of War’s open areas are not so convoluted that you’re going to need to constantly follow an objective marker to get where you need to go. Glancing at your world map in the main menu, making a note of your orientation and where your next main or side objective might be, and set off in that general direction, allowing the natural pathways and your perception of major landmarks to guide you usually enough to get you where you need to be.
Okay, so how about all that sweet loot you’re going to find along your journey? In Immersive mode, most of the white highlights you pick up off the ground, and the stuff you find in chests, coffins, and on the water won’t activate a popup. But seriously, don't sweat. It’s probably either just some hacksilver, a small XP boost, or crafting materials. None of these are things you need to worry about immediately!
And let’s face it--every time you come upon a weapon stall, you’re going to check in and see if you can craft or upgrade any new gear anyway. If you have the prerequisite hacksilver and crafting materials, great! And if you don’t, well, see you next time! With Immersive mode, you’ll likely be a lot more aware of hidden paths and pickups along the way, so it’s not like you’re going to miss a whole mess of stuff that's going to stop you from upgrading something, because you wouldn't have been able to anyway.
Now, if you find significant items like new Runic Attacks, uncommon, legendary, or epic gear, legendary materials, Iounn Apples, or Mead Horns, a big pop-up will come up regardless, because that’s stuff that you might find useful immediately. Lore popups and new bestiary entries are pretty straightforward--You can safely assume that once you stumble upon a lore stone for Atreus to decipher, or encounter an enemy you haven’t seen before, there’ll be a fresh passage of text waiting for you to read in the main menu.
Unfortunately for those of you who are super into lore, Both the loot and lore popups are things that can't be toggled individually in the custom HUD screen, and can't be assigned to the touchpad menu. You're either all in or all out. So this might have to be a personal decision based on how badly you want to read the lore immediately, and seeing a popup saying you picked up 5 hacksilver every time you smash a pot.
So that’s a lot of words and time spent to assure you that, yes, playing God of War in Immersive mode can be a completely practical and good option. Again, it's something that I implore you to do because it’ll give you a greater appreciation of just how well designed its environments are for exploring, how deep and exciting combat can be, and just how stunning every facet of this game is. I wish I had done it earlier. Turn on Immersive mode in God of War. It’s the best way to play.