- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 19, 2018

The Greek god-slayer Kratos moves to the Nordic realms to battle a new set of deities and deal with the scariest entity of all, his young son, in the epic God of War (Sony Computer Entertainment and Santa Monica Studio, rated Mature, $59.99, reviewed on PlayStation 4).

This massive reboot of the legendary hack-and-slash franchise, exclusive to the latest PlayStation gaming consoles, continues its brutal blockbusting dive into expanding the mythos of one of the more tragic figures in video game history.

The major theme realized during the story offers the question: Can a gruff warrior with enormous anger issues and a horrendously violent past comfort and train his unassuming young son after the death of his mother?

That’s the dilemma as Kratos and his 10-year-old offspring Atreus now exist in Midgard. As the pair mourns the recent loss of Faye, the most important female in their lives, they begin a perilous journey and must work together to scatter her ashes from the highest peak of all realms while a new set of gods challenges them along the way.

To set the cinematic scope, I quickly noticed some parallels to Hugh Jackman’s final portrayal of Wolverine in the film “Logan” as the time- and battle-ravaged Kratos must teach his gifted child to survive amid a violent world much like the famed X-Man did with his genetic offspring X-23.

Developers spend plenty of time establishing and evolving that fragile parent-and-child bond but equally challenge a solo player in a roughly 30-hour campaign that will introduce plenty of creatures and gods plucked from Norse mythology to slaughter and confront along the way.

Most important to the violent battles of the game, Kratos wields an ice magic-infused ax called the Leviathan.

Gone are the Ghost of Sparta’s chain-tethered Blades of Chaos and replaced with a weapon crafted by the Huldra brothers and near equal to functionality and might of Thor’s Mjolnir.

He can throw the ax long distances, targeting terrain or enemies, and it returns like a boomerang when called upon, leaving a swath of destruction during both trips. That’s one heck of a trick that I never grew tired of.

It can cleave the skull of an ogre, freeze a group of undead Viking soldiers in their tracks or simply chop down a tree. Of course, with cash and experience upgrades, it can be upgraded to further deliver moves such as cutting off heads, or thrust it to the ground to knock back a small army of enemies.

Kratos also gets an awesome retractable circular shield that can be used for defense as well as offense. He can thrust it forward to deal significant damage by repelling projectiles or spin the shield around to pummel an encroaching group of enemies.

Additionally, he unleashes Spartan Rage, just like in the old days, upon opponents that could consist of pounding or stomping the ground like the Hulk or hurling boulders.

Atreus also helps his dad in near every encounter. He’s a feisty pint-sized archer in the making. A player can have him fire a limited amount of arrows at enemies (including electrified arrows) that can also unleash a flock of falcon spirits or an ethereal wolf upon them. He can even jump on a creature’s back and choke it until Dad has a chance to go in for the kill.

As far as the lead characters’ burgeoning relationship, it’s would be quite amusing if not for all of the multicolored blood-spilling amid decapitations, vivisections and head stompings going on against their opponents.

Trying so hard to remain calm with his offspring, Kratos seems forever aggravated by Atreus’ presence as he often cajoles and corrects the little fellow for his possible deadly mistakes such as losing his knife, “That was careless,” or “I’m always serious.”

Kratos also gets stuck dealing with unusual situations with his son. I never thought in my life that I would witness this often blood-soaked warrior picking flowers to help a witch heal a wounded boar shot by one of his boy’s arrow.

As far as the freckle-faced Atreus, he acts like precocious but slightly bumbling 10-year-old. He’s full of questions, tries to offer tips (“There isn’t a way back up here you know?”); takes shots at his old man (“Wanna try using your eyes, there’s a room right over there,” or “For someone so strong, you sure do worry a lot”); and reacts to some of the amazing things in environments (“There’s the mountain”), like he’s visiting a theme park.

While a player will appreciate the environments concocted by the developers as well as the single, extended cinematic shot during the entire breath of the game (that would even amaze “Birdman” director Alejandro González Iñárritu), he will also feel like he has never explored enough of the terrain to capture all of its secrets.

Hidden amid the dense forests, grassy hills, cliffs, mines, lakes, mountains and caves are pottery and crates to break and glowing chests to smash offering sacks of hacksilver (the games currency for shopping with the Huldra brothers), and magical items and raw resources that can increase health, increase his rage and magic powers.

All of these areas will require a player to roam and roam before continuing the narrative to add experience points by defeating all of the bad guys and to collect resources and artifacts. The payoff is the ability to add clothing upgrades to the pair, craft new gear, increase skills and even restore life with resurrection stones.

For those looking for lore and context to their adventure, an easily accessible codex covers near every myth and creature encountered, such as the Stone Ancients, Nightmares (large floating eyeballs), Reavers (think White Walkers from “Game of Thrones”), Revenants (female floating witches) Tatzelwurm (burrowing lizard cats), and assorted ogres and trolls.

I applaud the latest “God of War” for not only its reinvigoration of the franchise and its more methodical approach to character development but equally for its story crafting that balances intense action and one of the most important relationships in the universe.

Suffice it to report, “God of War” makes for an action-packed as well as dramatically satisfying masterpiece.

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