The release of God of War saw the popular franchise semi-rebooted with a new Norse coat of paint. While still very much entangled with the chaotic adventures of Kratos, the ethos of the game switched up drastically. Yet despite being the sequel to God of War 3, Santa Monica Studios allowed it to stand alone. There are, of course, plenty of references for returning fans to pick up on. However, the game seems deliberately sculpted to be an ideal entryway into the series. As someone who played the latest game before any of the former, I actually enjoyed my playthrough order immensely. I even believe the game is the only one you need to play before the release of God of War: Ragnarok. This is why I believe you can play God of War 2018 first.
Mystery of the Ghost of Sparta
An interesting aspect of the Norse mythology games is that Kratos’ past is kept somewhat mysterious. While fans of the original will know exactly who he is and where he’s from, it’s rarely focused on. The game treats Kratos’ past as traumatic and something he wishes to distance himself from. As such, it only makes sense that the stoic and withdrawn character would rarely speak openly about himself.
The reason this works, even for players unfamiliar with the prior games, is due to the character of Atreus. While players assume direct command of Kratos, his son Atreus is the other main character. It’s his perspective that new players will find the most in common with. An admiration for Kratos’ strength, but a curiosity and somewhat uneasiness about his closed-off nature. We, as the player, want to know more, and part of the game’s intrigue is the hope for answers. By contrast, returning players will sympathize more with Kratos’ wish for privacy. This in turn can sour a player’s perspective of Atreus when he seems disrespectful.
In many ways, you can play God of War 2018 first due to the idea that less is more. While knowing all of Kratos’ deeds against the Olympians adds to his infamy, his self-defense against Asgard is equally telling. We don’t need to see him defeating the entire Greek Pantheon to also appreciate his skills against Baldur. It’s plain that Kratos is an infamous individual throughout the game, but the mystery is as compelling as the truth.
A Tonally Different Experience
An important thing to consider with the latest God of War entry is a significant shift in tone. While still recognizably the same series, the storytelling has opted for a different approach. The first few games were characterized by an unapologetic energy of pure chaos and rage. Hyper violent and fast-paced, the games leaned heavily into the revenge plotline. Similarly, Kratos was outfitted to match that tone, being loud and quick to anger. He was provided a larger arsenal of weapons to devastate the Olympians, which he wielded to bloody consequences.
The latest game is, by contrast, much slower and contemplative. While there is no shortage of enemies that need defeating, it feels like an obstacle rather than the goal. While both games involve Kratos losing a wife, the first sets him on the path of revenge. By contrast, his journey in Midgard is essentially one long funeral procession. Driven solely by the wish to scatter his wife’s ashes, it feels like Kratos would avoid conflict if possible. Instead, the story is presented as a strained father-son bonding experience that sees both of them developing.
I believe you can play God of War 2018 first, but it’s not because I believe one tone is superior. It’s simply that there isn’t much crossover between the general feel of both games. Despite the critical acclaim the game received, there were some older fans who complained about the dissonance. They claimed that the game, while still good, lacked the former feel of the franchise. Similarly, there are a lot of people who were only able to get into the game with the latest entry. One is a bloody power fantasy, while the other is a power fantasy with responsibility.
Two Styles Of Play
The newest game is also quite the departure from the original playstyle of the series. Renowned as a hack and slash game, the earliest entries were linear and fast-paced. Kratos would take on waves on enemies in a near unending onslaught towards the next boss. The Blades of Chaos allowed him to fight in both close and long-range combat. Fights ultimately unfolded as chaotic sweeps of the blades, attacking hordes on enemies both near and far. The more focused experience also allowed for more frequent boss battles and even semi-platformer elements.
The newest game overhauled combat to be much slower and more methodical. Each hit from the Leviathan Axe feels heavier and more precise. The ranged aspect of the weapon also required a more deliberate aim. The camera is also brought in much closer to the action, forcing the player to focus more on individual targets. Atreus also adds a companion aspect to the combat, with his arrows being essential for stunning enemies. Outside of combat, the game is open-world, although not quite as open as others in the genre. The experience feels guided, but the locations are designed to be revisited and with multiple routes of exploration.
I don’t value one gameplay style more highly than the other by suggesting you play God of War 2018 first. It’s simply a matter of acknowledging that the experience and muscle memory of one game won’t translate to the other. Achieving veteran status in the old games won’t make the transfer to the Norse saga any easier. Additionally, God of War: Ragnarok will be maintaining the more recent style, making it more essential to master.
A New Saga
The fact of the matter is, it does not matter if you’ve played the original games or not. They in no way hinder the newest game, but they also aren’t essential to the experience. Santa Monica Studios seized the opportunity to circumnavigate the barrier of entry that affects any long-standing gaming franchise. With so many mainline and spin-off titles, many players might not be willing to experience the entire series. The developers instead found a way to begin anew without casting aside everything that came before. We will all arrive at the same destination regardless of when we joined the ride. All that matters is that they managed to make the journey fun the entire way.