We put Santa Monica Studio's upcoming epic through its paces, testing its fighting and RPG systems ahead of next month's launch
We got extensive hands-on time with Santa Monica Studio’s bold re-imagining of the classic series, and now we know that the new God of War plays as good as it looks. The new God of War hits like a freight train, with crushing combat that will put any skeptic’s mind at ease. But underneath its hardened, intimidating exterior lies a pulsing heart.
If what I played is anything to go by, God of War is going to land like an asteroid impact this April, wiping away the old and forging the new in one triumphant blow. Where the old titles were ferocious arcade-style brawlers, this God of War is more methodical, more deliberate in its carnage.
I immediately noticed the new control scheme, which felt more in line with Bloodborne than a traditional God of War title. The attacks map to R1 and R2, and with full dual-stick camera controls, the action feels more dangerous, more immediate.
One thing hasn’t changed: Kratos hits hard. The Leviathan Axe is his new weapon of choice, and it’ll make you forget all about those Blades of Exile. Press R2 to send smaller enemies flying; tap R1 and you’ll cleave foes with fast slashing attacks. Naturally, you can chain these together to juggle airborne enemies. For series fans, this part will feel broadly familiar.
But it gets better. Hold L2 and Kratos will wind up to hurl his mighty axe. Toss it at a smaller enemy and it’ll get pinned down for a few seconds, enough time for you to target another creature that may represent a more immediate threat.
During this time, you’ll rely on Kratos’s skull-cracking bareknuckle blows, which can stagger enemies and leave them open for an instant kill (R3).
Then you can tap Square to recall the axe, Thor-style, and it’ll smash anything between it and Kratos’s hand. This basic pattern —throw, fight, recall — feels super satisfying, and brings a natural ebb and flow to combat that will keep you thinking.
Couple that with a shield that can block and parry incoming attacks, as well as powerful new runic magic abilities, and you’ve got a much deeper, more in-depth God of War game. The combat feels brutal in a way that will tickle series veterans, but its meaty strategic core is likely to attract fans of games like Bloodborne and Dark Souls too.
When you really need to lay the smack down, Spartan Rage (L3 + R3) sends Kratos into a berserker frenzy, sprinting at enemies in a blue of fists and feet.
I’m surprised by how much I love the bare-knuckle combat. It feels so satisfying and so crunchy that I employed it as often as possible, launching myself into enemy mobs and rending them to pieces.
Then there’s Kratos’s son Atreus. Far from being a chore to manage, Atreus is an extension of Kratos, hovering on the periphery of battles and calling out enemy positions. At any time you can focus on an enemy and tap Square to have Atreus fire a powerful arrow, critical for stunning certain enemies who can evade Kratos’s attacks.
The game’s RPG side is far bulkier than before, offering gear, stat upgrades, some weapon customisation, and combat skill trees. I confirmed with Santa Monica Studio that players will not be able to max out every skill and statsduring the game, so it’ll pay to specialize in a build — defense, ranged, runic magic, etc — and invest wisely.
On the technical side, God of War looks sharp. Played on PS4 Pro with a 4K TV, the textures are impressively intricate. Kratos’s design is hyper detailed, too. Look closely, and you’ll spot glimpses of his classic outfit poking out from beneath his battered leather armor.
All in all, God of War gave me the same feeling I got when I first played The Last of Us. Basically, when can I play more?