Wednesday, May 23, 2018

May Gaming: Dad of War

This game is awesome, Boy.

Whaddup, Nahmi.
Deadpool is going to have to wait, folks. The lead up to this weekend involved an indie (Cardboard Utopia, Canadian) title called Children of the Zodiarcs, which is a tactics RPG with dice-rolling to remind you that RNG reigns supreme in these kinds of games. Between battles, there is deck building and dice crafting, and Children brings all the best parts of a combat-based tabletop game without the feeling of being locked into a 6-hour game that just. Won't. End...*cough*. The battles last from 5-20 minutes and that's all you need to commit. Mechanics aside, the playable characters are brown in majority, and the dialogue is funny and mercifully skippable if you have to replay a level because your character died :). The music is not a strength, and you might need to grind to your own soundtrack, but the game was also $10, so I can't complain. The aesthetic is neat, the drawn portraits are beautiful, and the change of pace to tactical RPG combat is a relief to balance the shooters I'm playing.

Ohh snap! We in trouble!

Speaking of shooters, I started Wolfenstein 2 and got a solid 2 hours in before I got hopelessly lost, losing my interest in the game, too. There is a map in this game with mission objectives and everything, so it's hilarious that I spent 30 minutes walking in circles, but I just wasn't connecting the dots. Ohh well, I'll try again later! There are priorities...

My friend Aaron broke some wonderful news to me that he'd completed God of War and was ready to loan it to me. After 6 other titles of revenge-driven, violent hatred of those-who-are-bigger-and-meaner, this game's director took a slower pace. I remember God of War 3 ended with a minigame where you repeatedly mash a button to mash Zeus's face, bloodying up the screen until you could only hear the meaty bashing. Don't get me wrong, Zeus was an asshole, and the multi-stage boss battle is pretty engaging and a raging climax for the angry series.

The new God of War follows an old gruff Kratos, who becomes a widower left with his somewhat-estranged son, Boy Atreus. The game starts with the two going about the death rituals of Kratos' wife Faye, and the last thing they need to do is place her ashes at the top of a mountain. On the first mission of training Atreus how to hunt, Kratos is terse with his son as they feel out each others' combat prowess and personalities. Assuming that the other God of War titles are canon, it's understandable that he's not the warmest father figure. He was tricked into killing his wife and daughter long ago, got his revenge, and then again on the dubious gods as the situation was escalated. Between God of War 3 and this one, Kratos settled down again, just to lose his new wife. I am only a few hours into the story, so I'm not sure if the previous titles are canon, nor how exactly Faye died.

That looks...painful.
Either way, as you go about trying to place her ashes on the top of a mountain, the seemingly bleak father-son banter of the excited youth being reminded to control his feelings and mind his surroundings gives way to the characters sharing their grief and eventually bonding. There are plenty of stories that start at a low or sad point that provides the catalyst for plot to get moving, and God of War is no exception. The narrative succeeds by having the memory of a character act as a passive third character who shapes the story every bit as much as the main two characters who are alive.

Gently down the stream, Boy.
The game feels a lot like a cross between Last of Us and Uncharted in terms of gameplay and production design. There is not one cheap texture in the game, all the characters look solid, Atreus' AI is intelligent enough to feel like a real partner. It's also obvious that the characters' relationship takes over the plot in the same way that Naughty Dog games do so often and so well. There is also some researched lore on Norse Mythology that amounts to more than everyone is naked and the gods are selfish that previous titles featured. While exploring, the characters tell stories to each other that are interrupted as soon as you get to an action point, and continued when things calm down. I first saw this in Uncharted 4 and it's a great way to enrich the mundane parts of the game. The combat is a little slower and quieter than the previous God of War games, but has a lot more variance to the attacks and is still really fun. So far, the violence is less visceral than ripping a (demi-)god's head off through a quicktime event as the music pounds.

The newest God of War is such a good experience. While there's no shortage of games powered on male fantasy, the grieving demigod hacking and slashing his way through realms to save the world is augmented by bonding with his son and being a protective father. It's an exciting, immersive experience and this major change to the series is as good as it gets.

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