This is a rant that I wrote many months ago, after playing God of War III. I don’t usually buy games at release, but did so with GoW3. I knew I was taking a big risk, since the body language of the devs in interviews etc. was very under-confident. Unfortunately, GoW3 failed to deliver.
God of War lost its soul. The makers of the latest in the series seem to have forgotten what Kratos stood for. The nuances have disappeared, leaving a hollow version. The story-telling, variety, puzzles and sheer atmosphere have all suffered.
The first problem is that the designers just decided to pack the game as chock-full of brutality and rage as they could. Previous games had reason to the madness, which made it interesting. Not this one.
The story is also affected. Previously, there some reason, however vague, to how you fell into Hades. Here you blunder into one place, there’s maybe 5 seconds of something going on, then you’re blasted into Hades and before you even realize it you’re looking in wonder (supposedly) at things in Hades. It’s just way too abrupt and it’s no way to tell a story. And this pervades the whole game. There’s no rhyme or reason for anything. The designers wanted to insert a fight. How do they do it? They just inserted a disembodied voice that pronounces, “to proceed you must now fight” and then the fight begins. It’s literally that bad. The wonderful storytelling of the first two parts is gone.
The dialogue is much worse this time around. It’s surprising because the dialogue in the first two games was fantastic. This is especially true of the biblical-style dialogue delivered by disembodied voices, gods or titans. Both the words and the delivery are real wannabe stuff, meant to be imposing but just sounding silly.
The graphics are eye-popping, but also uneven. Even if textures are high res, it seems what the eye really notices is differences in texture quality, not normatively defined levels of texture quality. GoW3 makes a cardinal mistake here: they sometimes put low-res and super hi-res textures right next to each other! So, although in some areas you can see some incredibly detailed texture+dynamic lighting combination, there are others where you’re taken aback at the lo-res texture sitting right next to the beautifully hi-res one. One example of such a low-res texture is the initial fight on Gaia, where the grass texture below Kratos’ feet is almost PS2 quality.
The animation. Most modern games include simple but effective touches, like when a character runs up against a wall, their legs stop moving and they wait until they can move again. Not so with Kratos: he’ll stand and keep running in place. Not that this matters much by itself, but it’s one of a series of touches that you expect from a next-gen title. It just gives a feeling of a general lack of next-gen polish. There are other such things. The insistence on finish an animation before allowing the player to control Kratos might be a combat design choice, but it feels outdated. This isn’t how we usually play this generation. Similarly, when you press R1 to read a message of some sort, the game pauses for about 3-5 seconds before you get a X prompt that lets you move on. This might not seem very long, but sometimes it happens right before a tough fight. It can get pretty aggravating to wait that long every single time you restart the fight.
One of the things that gave the game its characteristic atmosphere in the first two installments was a mediterranean feel. Hades in the first two installments was unique, sui generis. Here it’s got Gothic elements. To me, this makes it worse and detracts from what it should be. Darksiders is Gothic. Devil May Cry is Gothic. God of War is not Gothic.
In the previous GoW games, you were part of something bigger a huge proportion of the time spent in the game. You were running around inside a gigantic environmental puzzle. In GoW2, for example, it was the Colossus in the beginning. In GoW1, it was Pandora’s Temple. Fighting, climbing, running down corridors and scaffolding and marbled halls, you always knew that you were part of something really big. You were trying to solve something. This element is also gone from GoW3. Just now, I swam underwater for no reason. I jumped into the water. Dived, swam, climbed out, then dived into the next segment and swam some more, opened an underwater gate, swam some more. I did all of this without any reason for doing so. There was no immediate puzzle, but it was also not part of a bigger puzzle. I was required to jump through a few trivially easy, pointless hoops just for the sake of it. Nothing in previous games was pointless. It degrades the game.
What about intricacy of design? Think of the circles of Pandora’s Temple. Think of the Strings of Fate level. The spinning crankshafts in Hades. Each of these was finished with a certain level of innovation and creativity that is simply lacking in GoW3.
And where are the puzzles? 1 & 2 had wonderful level-sized puzzles, and puzzles within puzzles, like a fractal in a game. GoW 3 has nothing.
Finally, let’s get to the fighting itself. I played GoW1 & 2 years ago, but I can still vividly remember many of the set-piece fights in those games. Each fight had something unique to it, not just in gameplay but also in the ambience, backstory and the characters in the fight. The fights in GoW3 were bigger, more graphically stunning. But they were simply not as memorable. The fight against Poseidon, for example, was actually quite boring. It can’t hold a candle to any of the bosses in 1 & 2.
I think Sony Santa Monica struggled so much to make this game a graphical masterpiece that every other aspect suffered.