In this week’s Breaking Down the Backlog, I became enraged at being fooled by the most obvious trick ever and so went back in time to murder every man, beast and god in Greece.
I seriously enjoyed the first God of War game. The combat was visceral, the scope was impressive for a Playstation 2 game and going around murdering Greek mythological figures never lost its appeal. God of War 2 is pretty much the exact same game only with a stupider story, some new abilities and some awe-inspiring set pieces. Which, I am not going to lie, is rather disappointing.
I shall start off with some of the problems I have with this game. The one that comes immediately to mind was the entire plot. The first God of War was hardly a showcase for story-telling in a game, but its sequel is on a whole different level of stupidity. Within the first five minutes, Kratos does something so mind-blowingly idiotic in order for the rest of the game to exist I could not believe what I was watching. Zeus, unhappy with Kratos’ murdering from the last game, decides to come down and kill him. How does he do this? By creating a sword that drains all the power from its wielder and transfers it into the sword. So he tricks Kratos to use it, thereby draining him of all his power and kills him easily. As soon as Kratos touched the sword, I knew exactly what was going to happen and what the plot to the game was going to be. That is, quite frankly, poor writing. There is nothing lazier than writers turning their main character into an idiot in order for a plot to happen.
A second and perhaps the most glaring issue is how familiar it all felt. God of War 2 is probably the most iterative sequel I have played whilst writing BDTB. Almost all the enemies were recycled from the first game and even the QTE sequences you do to kill some of them in a special way (particularly the Minotaur and Medusa) are completely copied over. I understand that Greek mythology only has a limited menagerie of creatures to draw from, but a bit more effort would’ve been greatly appreciated (even if it was just a pallet-swap). The combat, too, hasn’t evolved. Yes, God of War‘s style of combat can’t change too much as it is intrinsic to the franchise, but even with some new weapons and the new ability to reflect attacks it felt all too familiar. What was really egregious was the magical abilities bestowed upon you. They are almost exactly the same. There is a second Medusa head and a new lightening ability that acts like their previous incarnations, an area of effect spell and something that fires long range missiles. It was like the developers ran out of imagination and thought, “Well, fuck it! Lightning and Medusa heads worked, let’s do it again!”
A third and final problem I have is perhaps the most damning, in a sense, was that the bosses were very mediocre when compared to the first game. For all its bombast and attempts at epic boss battles, it is telling that the best bosses were the human ones: Jason, Theseus, Barbarian King and Perseus. The Gods and the huge mythological beings felt so bland, whilst the humans were a lot better designed with attack patterns and gimmicks I hadn’t seen before in the God of War games. The finale against Zeus was especially disappointing compared to the excellent Ares fight from the last game. I’d always heard that the God of War series were based around these big, set-piece boss battles but God of War 2 felt by-the-numbers, even though it was only the second in the franchise.
Despite my problems with God of War 2, it still has some great things about it. The locations you visit throughout the game are excellent and are one of the few places where the game truly feels different from its predecessor. Sure nothing beats the level on top of a roaming Titan from the first game, but travelling through Atlas as he holds up the world or exploring a truly gargantuan chariot were excellent changes of pace. Yes, later in the game there are too many giant temples that you have to fight your way through, but the levels are uniformly well made and filled with puzzles, some of which actually made me think, and hidden treasure chests. I really can’t fault the game when it comes to graphics and scale, especially for a Playstation 2 game.
I know I lambasted the game earlier because the combat was too similar to God of War but it still remains a real highlight. Murdering mythological creatures is never dull. The combat isn’t that deep, but it is still exhilarating when you get a big combo going through judicious use of your regular attacks, spells and reflecting ability. This is the case throughout the game, until you face groups of enemies that mix Gorgons with Sirens. Gorgons turn you into a frozen state where you can die from a single hit, whilst Sirens through small blue orbs that can be difficult to see when lots of shit is popping off. You combine two and you have frustration in its purest form if you aren’t quick enough with the blocking.
God of War 2 is a fun game but it is too iterative for its own good. This is a similar problem I had with Uncharted 2 whereby the game itself is excellent, but it was far too similar to the previous entry. But this game feels even more of a conservative sequel. You can almost feel how desperate the developers were to do everything in their power to avoid scaring off any fans. I hope the third game is a lot more ambitious.
Next on Breaking Down the Backlog: Gears of War 3