Here is my idea for the perfect action game: just make 100% of a game based on 10% of God of War 3.
God of War 3 was released in 2010, so you will be forgiven for forgetting the current state of Kratos when this title first hit the Playstation 3. God of War (1) was a self-contained tale of a man that loses his family, blames the God of War, and then fights through hordes of mythical monsters to eventually grow to substantial size and murder/replace that other, equally vengeful god. But, despite this story ending on whatever is the opposite of a cliffhanger (sorry, too many Marvel movies have erased the concept of “finality” from my mind), there were multiple sequel hooks established in a host of unlockable endings. One such finale made the assertion that Kratos was aided on his quest by the almighty Zeus, and the thunder god was only so helpful because Kratos was one of his many bastard children (not going to judge here, Zeus was just not the kind of god that was fond of monogamy or protection). 2007’s God of War 2 decided to run with this thread, and the majority of that game was Kratos defying the Fates to earn an eventual confrontation with his deity daddy. But the deicide/parricide would have to wait, as Athena suffered the killing blow in place of Zeus, and the Z-Man escaped. But! Kratos was joined by the enormous and equally vengeful Titans, and GoW2 ended with the promise of a rock monster versus Mount Olympus battle that would justify the console generation upgrade. You can’t have those kinds of celestial fights on the piddling Playstation 2, mortal!
So three years later, the Playstation 3 granted us the conclusion to the Kratos(-is-super-angry) Trilogy. One thing was certain: Kratos was going to fight a lot of gods, and get all sorts of revenge on Zeus. But the in-between could be virtually anything! The God of War titles were never real time strategy games, so how would the multiple assaulting titans be handled? Would Kratos separate from them immediately? Would there be “titan-based gameplay” like what was seen in Shadow of the Colossus? Would Kratos be thrown to entirely new locales by the fury of war? Would you have the ability to summon titans to at least marginally aid in your dirty work? The possibilities were endless!
… And… well… God of War 3 was ultimately a typical God of War title. Kratos dies almost immediately, and once again must fight his way out of Hell/Hades. There are hordes of mythological monsters, and they all can be ultimately trounced by smacking the circle button until something or other is decapitated. Most of Kratos’s surrounding environments are either “magical (deadly) temple” or “generic (deadly) Grecian architecture”. There is the opportunity to participate in a sex-based mini game (this time with a goddess while also cucking a god you are about to murder). And the end of the story is exactly what everyone expected: Kratos formally overcomes his Oedipus complex by punching his father to death… even if that means the collapse of human society. Everybody, please, get over it. Kratos was working through some stuff. If half of Greece must be downed, destroyed, and exposed to a brand-new pandemic to get there, sorry, but Kratos really needed this release. If Zeus was your dad, you would be a lot more understanding.
But long before Kratos is within grappling range of Zeus, there is the start of God of War 3. And the absolute beginning of GoW3? That is one of the single best openings in gaming.
God of War 3 does pick up exactly where God of War 2 left off. Kratos is literally standing on the shoulders of giants, and he is about to have a big, grand adventure assaulting all of Mount Olympus. And the trick of what happens next? It never stops. Kratos weaves his way in and out of the titans’ assault, and there is not a single moment when the screen is not shaking from a war that will ultimately shatter everything. This is still the beginning of a modern videogame, though, so there are plenty of tutorials, and the narration does seem to assume the player has never so much as pressed an X button before. But even if there are disembodied instructions for how to run following everywhere Kratos cares to go, Kratos is going places. An epic battle is raging, and Kratos is wiping the floor with the legions of heavenly warriors, monsters, and one entire god (on watery crab-horseback!). There is the prerequisite “learn how to push things” block puzzle in there, but it is snappy enough that Kratos can learn how to coddle cubes and get back to the battle in short order. And other than that? It is all battle, all the way, with Kratos utilizing all his end-game abilities from God of War 2 to cut a bloody swath across the area. And even though it feels like the war is never ending, there are still moments in there to introduce important items like save points, the Chains of Olympus, and a few glimpses of areas that will be visited much later in the game.
But whatever the details of the opening of God of War 3, the result is the same: the adrenaline is pumping, and flowing along at an amazing rate. When you are barely ever in the same spot for longer than thirty seconds without a massive flaming boulder destroying the place, you stay alert. When you are constantly fighting, using techniques that are both crushing and (visually) stunning, you are truly feeling the rage of Kratos. And you are already at maximum level from the finale of GoW2! You don’t have to so much as gaze upon a menu to power Kratos up any further. Your anti-hero is already as good as it gets, and all you need to focus on is the death of thousands by your bloody hands.
And then Kratos goes to Hell, and it all goes to hell.
Upon defeating Poseidon and officially ending the prologue, Kratos falls from Olympus down to Hades. Once there, he accidentally bathes in the River Lethe, loses 90% of the acquired abilities of GoW2, and 100% of health and magic powerups. Oh, and since there is a river involved, Kratos has to swim, which is the most boring thing Kratos ever does in his opening trilogy (leaving some wiggle room here in case Dad of War ever makes swimming fun). From there, you are back to normal God of War “action”. Sure, there are epic battles again (sometimes against Titans, for a change), but it is all very… interruptible. Clear out some ghouls, and it is time to use your red orbs to power the weapon of your choice. Earn a new tool, and then you have to do a tutorial puzzle at the speed of snail to “learn” your new ability, and then perform another two puzzles just to prove you really know what you are doing with your new skill of “can run faster”. Beat a boss, and there is an inevitable refractory period where damn near nothing happens for like three screens (and maybe there is more swimming!).
Basically, once God of War 3 gets going, it frequently finds reasons to stop going. Do damn near anything, and you will be forced to pause to utilize any spoils of battle. Stop and smell the roses, Kratos. You’ll live longer.
And can you think of a worse way to spend an action game? I didn’t come here to pause! I came here to swiftly murder every mofo between here and the top of the mountain!
So here’s my ideal action game: just focus on that intro. Drop the leveling. Drop the pressing against every wall to find hidden health powerups. Drop any puzzle that cannot be solved outside of thirty seconds. Drop the tutorials for every new thing that comes along. Absolutely do not give a player time to “get used to” a new skill: just drop it in there, and if Kratos dies while trying to figure it out, let ‘em die. Keep the pace. Keep Kratos running, jumping, and swinging his chains around like a madman. Do not let the poor, undead godling breathe. Speed never had a twenty-minute intermission where Keanu Reeves had to navigate a skill tree, and Crank never had Jason Statham solve a crossword puzzle for a half hour. This is an action game, dammit, give me some action.
So what do I want from a new action game? The very beginning of God of War 3, and nothing. God of War 3 isn’t a bad experience, but its opening is sublime. And if we could get that, and only that, as an entire game? Well, that would make me as happy as a Kratos with a dead god-dad.
FGC #641 God of War 3
- System: Playstation exclusive, though that may be Playstation 3 or Playstation 4. I think some of these screenshots are technically from a copy of the HD version being played on the Playstation 5. I can’t remember exactly which controller I was holding at the time…
- Number of players: Kratos gives friends no quarter.
- Other Offenders: On the subject of keeping the action going, while God of War 3 does not commit this particular sin, I can safely say that a “Mission Clear” grading results screen is a lack of action, too, Devil May Cry. While we’re at it, Sonic the Hedgehog is on notice.
- Favorite Weapon: The Nemesis Whip is all sparkly and green, so why would you need anything more? Truth be told, I just like it because it feels like typical “Kratos whip blades” gameplay, but is just different enough to distinguish itself from the previous two games of swinging around the same stuff. Conversely, the Nemean Cestus feels appropriately bulky, but is too much of a departure from the reason I’m playing the game in the first place. You can punch out bad guys in any other game…
- Favorite God: After lauding the opening, you might think I would choose Poseidon, the deity that caps off that section. But, truth be told, I prefer the “fight” against Hera, as she pretty much just keels over after drinking herself to death. This is an inglorious end, but I appreciate the fact that the designers did not attempt to create a three-part boss battle out of the stages of alcoholism.
- Favorite Boss Battle: If we are going outside the gods, you have to respect the enormous fight against the gargantuan Cronos the Titan. This really feels like something that was intended to be in God of War 1, but was axed for hardware limitations. But now you can attack a giant’s thumbnail like it ain’t no thang! What more could you ask for?
- Stuff to do: There are a surprisingly high number of ridiculous minigames in this serious game about serious people. There is a “flying” section that seems like it would be more at home in a Sonic the Hedgehog game, some ridiculous puzzles in the labyrinth, and, of course, harp hero. I am not certain who on the design team wanted Kratos to participate in a rhythm game, but please find them, and commit Kratos upon them.
- Did you know? Kevin Sorbo is the voice actor for a Hercules here that is very different from Sorbo’s role in Hercules: The Legendary Journeys. This is being noted because any appearance by Kevin Sorbo in 2022 is tinged with a bit of… disgust.
- Would I play again: Why not? This is the most God of War of the original God of War trilogy, so it will likely see a playthrough again before ever touching the PSP “side game”. And, hey, if I get bored, at least the best part of the game is all right there at the beginning…
What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Portal 2! It’s still alive! And coming next week! Please look forward to it!