I’ll try my best not to overhype this, but God of War is an easy, early entry for 2018’s game of the year.
Okay, I may have failed that hyping part, but that’s exactly how you’ll feel too after getting your ass kicked by the first semi-boss battle thinking this is the same game you conquered years back. After trying, and failing, to hack-and-slash your way through that battle, you’ll quickly realize how much more depth this game has compared to the God of War games that came before it.
The first thing that jumps out at you is the series-lead Kratos. He’s now bearded, looks older, and definitely acts wiser. Going through the first hour or so of the game, you’ll see that this is not the same vengeance-seeking beast that unleashed a vicious assault for one Greek god after another.
Kratos is now more measured. Retribution is no longer his single driving force. It’s more a sense of duty — duty to fulfill a promise to his wife who had passed and a duty to raise their son Atreus, who’s a key part both in the story and the gameplay.
Atreus is the man
The idea of a vengeful Spartan warrior fueled by rampage having a son seemed unimaginable at first, but bringing Atreus into the fold proved to be the perfect way to expand God of War. The passing of his wife leaves Atreus in his care; Atreus adds depth to Kratos.
At the beginning of the game, he teaches the child how to hunt. You can hear the frustration in his voice as the boy fails in his first attempt. Instead of going ballistic, he reigns himself in before providing stern and sound advice.
The interplay between father and son is present nearly the entire duration of the game. Their dialogue goes on not only in cinematic scenes but even as you go through the game whether you’re searching for clues, solving puzzles, or just trying to figure out where to go next.
Atreus aids you in battle. His arrow can stun opponents or take their attention off of you, and his proficiency and power grow as the game progresses. However, that’s not the only area where Atreus proves helpful. The boy is able to read ancient writings that provide clues on how you can solve puzzles or move on from a certain point.
One shot is all it takes
One of the biggest technical accomplishments of the game is how it’s a one-shot story, which means there’s absolutely zero loading screens. That’s a challenge both in game production and storytelling. From the get-go, it puts you right in the heart of the action being in the shoes of the central figures of the story. It makes for an ultra-immersive experience that will leave you invested in how their relationship develops.
It doesn’t feel like a straight-up tutorial, but the game uses the first 8 to 10 hours to show you the ropes. From attacking, using Atreus, upgrading your equipment, and many others. After that, it opens up to a slew of side quests that can be as satisfying as pushing the story forward. While it is by no means a true open-world game, it’s wide enough that it lets you explore, but not too wide that you feel overwhelmed by all the possibilities.
It’s still about Kratos
With all of that said, this is still a God of War game, meaning Kratos is still at the heart of it. In many ways, this new Kratos mirrors the game’s growth. In the previous era wherein he unapologetically laid waste to the Greek gods, Kratos seemed more one-dimensional. He had one goal and that was to exact revenge and the games’ hack-and-slash approach reflected that.
This older Kratos appears to have grown as he is forced into a situation where he has to care for his child. Fatherhood puts the Spartan warrior in an unfamiliar place. While there is still rage within him, he appears more subdued. At times he struggles with how to speak with Atreus and it’s that very struggle that shows a side of Kratos we likely have never seen before: a tenderness that’s somehow out of character.
Don’t let that fool you, though. There’s still plenty of raging Kratos here. What this game has masterfully done is retain the identity and history of the previous God of War games while infusing it with learnings from the games that have come during the franchise’s hiatus.
The easiest comparison you’ll see is how it’s a more casual-gamer-friendly version of Dark Souls. And while I did think that, the approach feels more derivative rather than a direct recreation.
Nothing communicates that experience better than Kratos’ new weapon: the Leviathan axe. Gone are the chain blades that devastated draugrs and gods alike. Kratos’ axe is infused with ice magic, able to stun opponents. One of the most badass parts of the game is how you can throw the axe and summon it right back. But don’t think for a second that Kratos will be helpless without the axe. You still have his shield and his bare hands, and that’s sometimes required to defeat certain foes.
The battle system still feels as satisfying as ever. It requires more thinking than straight-up slashing which should be a welcome challenge whether you’re a veteran of the franchise or you’re being introduced to it through this game.
God of War
Even though Kratos has aged, nothing about this game feels old. There’s still enough God of War oomph that endeared it to its long-time fans while adding elements that can easily be embraced by a newer generation of gamers looking to dig into the lore of the franchise.
This is by far the easiest single-player, story-driven game to recommend to anyone this year. If you have time to play only a handful of games on the PS4 this year, God of War should be on that list.
Playdate is a handheld gaming system with a crank
Yes, an actual crank
If you’re bored of the current gaming console landscape or are simply waiting for the next-gen PlayStation to come out, there’s this new handheld system that might keep you a little busy.
From a company named Panic, which is known for developing the popular game Firewatch, comes the Playdate. It may seem like a simple gaming system at first, but look to its right and you’ll see its defining feature: a crank.
The developer says that some titles will use this analog controller exclusively, while some won’t at all (which, to me, sorta defeats the purpose of placing that game on this console). Everything will be played on its monochrome screen with no backlighting.
You can see it in action here:
Oh yeah, the crank! No, it doesn’t power the device. It’s a flip-out rotational controller that puts a fresh spin on fun. Some games use it exclusively, some use it with the d-pad, and some not at all. pic.twitter.com/XYW97nLZKK
— Playdate (@playdate) May 22, 2019
The spin here is that the Playdate will come with a subscription of 12 games — delivered to you once a week for 12 weeks. It’s part of the initial cost of US$ 149, but there’s no word yet if there’ll be subscriptions after that and how much they’ll cost.
Each game will be a surprise, which may or not be a good thing. Spending this much on an unproven console — and possibly more for succeeding subscriptions — could end up becoming a costly risk.
Orders will be accepted later this year, while actual shipping will happen in early 2020. For now, you can sign up through the official website to receive updates on its progress.
Here’s an early look at the Sony PS5’s raw performance
Spoiler: It’s fast!
Even though Sony dished out some early info on the upcoming PlayStation 5 (should they choose to stick to the numbered naming scheme) and revealed that it’s more than just a mere upgrade, we don’t have any tangible data on what exactly to expect.
Fortunately, Wall Street Journal tech reporter Takashi Mochizuki was present at Sony’s most recent gaming presentation and had this video to show us:
Sony’s official video comparing performance of PS4 Pro vs next-gen PlayStation pic.twitter.com/2eUROxKFLq
— Takashi Mochizuki (@mochi_wsj) May 21, 2019
What you see here is a comparison between the loading times of the PS5 and PS4 Pro. Make no mistake here: The next-generation console is incredibly fast! A lot of credit must be given to the built-in SSD the PS5 will ship with.
This should be taken with a grain of salt, however. Tech demos are often fixed to make the newer (and more expensive) product seem superior. To the next-gen console’s credit, it’ll come with the latest eight-core Ryzen chip and a custom GPU from AMD’s Radeon Navi, which are capable of 8K gaming and ray tracing when put together.
Sadly, we still don’t have a release date and Sony won’t announce anything at E3 next month. For now, savor your PS4 and its growing library of classics.
Minecraft Earth is like Pokémon Go but with building blocks
In a move that makes loads of sense, Minecraft is coming to mobile though an augmented reality app similar to Pokémon Go.
It’s called Minecraft Earth and it’s arriving later this year with a beta phase happening during summer. The developers offered this trailer, but it does little to explain how the system would work.
Check it out:
The official website’s FAQ section, however, delves into more of the info we actually care about.
For one, it’ll be free to play and will include several of Minecraft‘s traditional features including world building and discovering/fighting mobs.
Concerning regional availability, the developers aren’t confirming these details just yet. If it’s anything like the issues Niantic experienced with Pokémon Go before, chances are this rollout will be gradual, too.
Finally, for the “Will Minecraft Earth have loot boxes?” question, the website has a definite “No” to answer that.
Minecraft Earth will be available on both Android and iOS. Fingers crossed that there’ll be no delays. 🤞
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