GOTY 2018: The Top 10 Games of the Year: #5
Welcome to the Tenth Annual Silicon Sasquatch Top 10 Games of the Year list! Using our tried-and-true methodology (i.e., we play a lot of games and argue until we’re tired,) we've finally narrowed down the 10 games that we feel accurately represent the best and most important that 2018 had to offer.
#5 — God of War
SIE Santa Monica Studio | April 20th, 2018 | PlayStation 4
Even now, months after finishing the soft reboot of a franchise I'd almost entirely written off, I find it hard to believe that this new, sanded-down version of Kratos exists. The last time I embodied the titular God of War, I'd had more than my fill of sophomoric violence and the paper-thin revenge plot.
Almost a decade ago, in God of War III, I was forced to watch Kratos dig his thumbs into Poseidon's eye sockets—a scene mostly shot in first person, with the player looking through Poseidon's eyes until the moment of his death. That fight, and the entire game, was pure excess. It had nothing to say about, let alone justify, its protagonist's penchant for violence other than: "You thought the previous games were violent? Hold my beer."
Those of us who remember the first God of War remember a series born of that excess, of viscera, of—in retrospect—snuff. In 2005, that was daring enough to win over a “core gamer” crowd desperate for "mature" experiences.
But five short years after its debut, the franchise peaked. Its most shocking and base proclivities had become exhausting to all but the most diehard fans.
In so many words, the franchise was overdue for a mothballing by its third entry. Even after Kratos' story had seemingly ended, an incessant barrage of middling prequels and side stories didn't succeed in keeping God of War relevant, and after 2010, it quickly fell off the industry's radar. Kratos was no longer a top-tier mascot for the "mature" PlayStation brand.
But here we are. The 2018 version of God of War is the best of the franchise: a testament to "killing your darlings," an adage encouraging creators to be unafraid to challenge, tweak, and even destroy their most beloved ideas. Director Cory Barlog was given a completely clean slate to revitalize Kratos, and he took complete advantage of that freedom to make us give a shit about a one-note character.
That Barlog and Santa Monica Studio focused not just on mechanics, but on narrative, is a feat worth celebrating. Kratos is more human—more relatable. He's a bit wrinkled. He's slower. His beard is flecked with grey hairs. He's once again a father, this time in an unexpected coming-of-age adventure expertly written by Barlog, Matt Sophos, and Richard Zangrande Gaubert. And while the plot treads similar ground to other dark, brooding, psychological examinations of a parent and child thrust into extraordinary circumstances, the trope breathes new life into the franchise here. Even the best examples of these themes—think The Road and more contemporary work like The Last of Us—haven't dealt with a human-turned-god-turned-father dynamic.
I was simply blown away by Kratos’s and his son Atreus's believable and heartfelt grappling with what it means to be a god in a world where all you want is to find peace and atonement for the vengeful life you once led. A tight script and refreshing change of scenery wastes little space and offers an electric new take on well-tread ground.
The combat is slow and methodical in the first half of the game due to the exclusive use of the Leviathan Axe, which replaces Kratos' Blades of Chaos. The combat matches pace with the slow, introspective plot. It encourages us to play a Kratos who breathes, who pauses, who hesitates. He's no longer the Spartan who blindly charges into battle to spill blood—in fact, he tries to avoid combat at all costs, until he's pressed to defend himself and Atreus.
Honestly, the combat is just fine. It's not the main draw. Neither are the gorgeous art direction and extremely crisp fidelity. They're expected components of a major AAA release. What makes God of War one of the best games of the year is its dedication to reinvention. Subverting the expectations we have of a famously profitable franchise is an undertaking few would volunteer for. That Santa Monica Studio was courageous enough to reinvent this wheel, and succeed in doing so? It makes God of War perhaps the most remarkable series to ever successfully renovate its rotting foundation. —Aaron Thayer