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Played in 2023
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This review contains spoilers
you ever get into a lengthy-ass argument on the internet with someone, and then after they've posted another long rebuttal against you, you type out another of your own long refutations, and then you just... delete the message, and decide not to send it?
if you've ever done that, congratulations, you understand the ending.
A quick note that I only finished this on hard mode, and not on Titan; Think of this more of an “impressions” writeup than a full review.
Still plenty of fun to be had here; It’s classic God of War, which is a formula that’s almost impossible to actually make badly. Unfortunately, there are a lot of changes here that really make this worse than it should be. It’s a shame because with a few tweaks, I could see this being one of my favourites in the series.
The most obvious change of note is the new rage system; meter fills up as you attack with the Blades of Chaos, and Kratos can’t use certain combos that he previously had access to until he fills up that meter. Probably the most infamous change, but I think there are a lot of other aspects to its design and what surrounds it that just make it feel like even more of a middle finger.
To first focus on the rage system itself, a good chunk of Kratos’ (Already smaller) moveset DOESN’T fill the meter; Throws, finishers, parries, and world weapons. It’s only standard attacks from the chains that work. Throws, I can understand, seeing as they give i-frames and are some of the safest moves in the game. But the lack of rage on parrying is baffling given the fact that it’s already been nerfed (L1 + X and endlag instead of just L1), and hasn’t seemed to have gotten much stronger. World weapons not giving rage is also just another reason to barely use them, if most of them lacking much in the way of significant attack power isn’t enough. The second is its extremely punishing nature: Get hit, and the meter drops. And if you’re hit while in rage state, poof, you’re out. As a result, unless I was abusing the shield glitch, I didn’t find many moments where I actually wanted to keep the rage state up instead of just immediately expending it on the special attack.
That second point ties into the enemy design. In principle, I like how ridiculously aggressive the enemies in this game are; Some of the most aggressive I’ve seen in an action game to date. But a good chunk of them are harder to stun than in past games, and they seem to have a greater quantity of difficult-to-avoid grabs that force you into QTEs and instantly drain all of your meter; See the Sirens, and Gorgons for the worst examples of this. And in the case of the Talos enemies, they straight-up can go into a state where if you light attack them, you just get hitstunned. Combine this with the chaotic as ever encounter design of classic God of War (Though fair play to the game, it doesn’t ALWAYS throw those enemies at you, and there are a good number of encounters where the game actually pops off), and a generally weaker Kratos with more limited tools, and I found myself falling into boring, defensive play that devolved into spamming magic for i-frames more often than I would’ve wanted.
Then we get to Kratos’s actual toolset in this game, and… It’s a mixed bag. To add in some positivity, the new grab system I really like. Kratos can now leash enemies from afar, and drag them around the arena, being able to slash with the chains (Which DOES build rage), evade, slam or throw enemies. Gives a lot more dimension to the already fairly unique grab system of this series. But outside of that, the elemental Blades of Chaos are a pretty weak substitute for having multiple weapons, with the main attacks on each of them being mostly the same and the variations stemming from magic, rage attacks, and L1 + Square and Triangle. And the world weapons, while interesting in concept, generally fall apart in practice. 3 of the 5 weapons’ are largely unhelpful, with the best move upon obtaining them to chuck them away immediately for decent damage and stun, and the shield being completely broken due to a glitch that allows you to switch elements while using the plumes, causing it to fire off multiple times at once.
Balancing in this game is generally not great, with probably the highest quantity of tools in the series that feel mostly useless, and as per usual for God of War, a few tools that are absurdly overpowered; To give a couple of examples for each, respectively, we first have the Ice of Poseidon on the chains, which does some of the worst damage amongst the elemental options and whose freezing barely works. When you DO manage to freeze an enemy, it takes an absurd number of hits to actually shatter them which by then, the enemy will have already unfrozen from time. On the second front is the Oath Stone of Orkos, which is an item has a high area of effect, damage, stun, and recharges fairly quickly. You really want to throw this one out a lot later in the game.
I’ve been relatively harsh on this game, but that’s mostly because I just find it to be less than the sum of its parts. You could easily pitch this to me in a way that would sound like a perfect God of War game; A revamped and more in-depth grab system, meter management that rewards both strong offense and defense, some of the best sound design in an action game to date and graphics and art direction that are still jaw-dropping today? Fuck yeah, sign me up. But I came away from the game feeling with a general sense of “meh”; Here’s hoping for a re-release on newer consoles at some point at least, so we don’t put that last point to waste. Will probably revisit this again in the future on Titan mode to try sorting out how many of my problems with this game were just skill issues, since at the end of the day, I still find a lot of its ideas compelling.
This review contains spoilers
A lot of people online went on about how this was better than the first game in every way, and I can't help but feel the opposite.
Before I get into my issues though, I'll say that I DID enjoy this game, albeit for different reasons than the first. I liked the more open-ended nature of the game, both in terms of the overworld map design, and in how you can approach enemies. Encounters in general give you a good amount of leeway between going aggressive, stealthy, and evasion, with that philosophy being extended to some bosses like the Guardian, who's able to be skipped altogether. Stealth also being built upon was also much appreciated, and now it actually feels like it has more of a seat at the table, mechanically speaking. It definitely ended up being one of my favoured approaches.
The more focused, and personal story also definitely had its moments. I did get reasonably invested in Sebastian himself, and generally enjoyed seeing him change from a miserable alcoholic, back into the father he used to be before the events of the first game, though I miss his old VA.
With all that being said, I thought that this game was overall a lot more generic than the first. First way that's the case is in the art direction, which I'm not the first to point out. I really don't think they used STEM to its full potential the way they did with the previous game; The setting is largely just an ordinary town that while sure, is broken up and floating on multiple islands, isn't itself all that strange, or twisted, outside the final chapters of the game. I think there was some missed potential for seeing the town either gradually become stranger over time as opposed to just it abruptly being set aflame, and then being made completely desolate. And even when the game decides to go for a less grounded style in its levels, like Theodore's tower, or the theater, I don't think it stacks up to the first. But there are some moments where the art direction pops off pretty hard, like at the end of this one sidequest, where you see a ghost(?) of Stefano capping some dude in the head, and right as he fires, it cuts back to our "reality" where the dude is just getting blasted in the head on repeat.
In addition, I think the story of the game isn't particularly good either, even if it IS more focused, and personal. Now don't get me wrong, the first game's writing was also pretty bad, but this game's bad writing is bad for different, less entertaining reasons. A huge aspect of what made the first game's bad writing so much fun was how it seemed like none of the characters gave a shit about what was happening to them despite how utterly insane the setting was. Now, we just have poorly acted and written melodrama about Sebastian's wife and kid, who we don't get to see enough of. And don't even get me started on some of the plot choices. Like, apparently, Lilly was found, and kidnapped by Mobius, because her standardized test scores were just that high. Also not a fan of how this game handles its villains: Stefano just dies halfway through, revealing he was working for this other, less interesting dude, and then less interesting dude gets murked, and then the final fight is with Myra gone insane, and meanwhile, there's the greater-scope villain, the Administrator, who shows up at the beginning, and at the end just to get killed.
And this is the part where I think people will disagree with me the most, but I also think the gameplay of TEW2 is a step back from the first, despite it building on stealth, and the attempts at more open-ended encounter design. A lot of the interesting mechanics from the first are excised altogether, or heavily pared down. Most obvious of which being the removal of matches.
Matches were a huge part of the risk-reward dynamic that made the first game so much fun, and instead, now we have the stomp, which I think is a vastly inferior mechanic. Let me elaborate a bit on what made the match system so interesting: First off, it was a limited resource where you actually had to weigh up whether it was worth using in a given encounter. Second, matches were not just for finishing off fallen enemies, but also for instantly killing attacking enemies very close by. So if you were willing to risk having enemies get close to you, you could use a single match to wipe out several enemies at once with minimal use of ammo. But if you screwed up and mistimed it, you would either waste a match, and/or get hit, possibly (Or definitely, on Akumu) dying.
Stomping, on the other hand, takes none of your resources (Not even something like stamina, which I think would've made some sense), and ONLY works on enemies who have fallen over already. The risk-reward dynamic that came from matches is gone. And sure, I've seen in-universe justifications for this with stuff like "Fire isn't a weakness of Lilly in the same way it is of Ruvik". Even taking this at word, I think that's an extremely strange decision at best considering how much of a role fire plays in this game's storyline, but that's not really my point. The point is that I think the new mechanics are less interesting than the first game's.
In addition, there are WAY less traps than in the first game; As far as I remember, there's only the explosive red barrels/fallen cars, and oil puddles. I get that the traps were frustrating for a lot of people, but again, it's another decision that heavily weakens the risk-reward dynamics from the first game, and really cuts down on the interesting environmental interactions.
And stealth, which while I appreciate being more fleshed out upon, is completely overpowered, especially when you have the upgrades that let you run over to a dude, and instantly kill them from a distances, and the one where you can kill enemies while in cover. Not to mention that enemies give up looking for you pretty quickly. Given my previous two points, you can probably predict what I have to say about that, at this point.
What else? Oh yeah, critical hits and enemy design. Critical hits are no longer insta-kills on headshot, which is already a pretty hefty nerf, but the enemy design makes them even worse, since enemies erratically jitter around in ways that makes it way more difficult to shoot at them with any sort of precision, making critical hits feel pretty much worthless.
I want to emphasize though, I still enjoyed the game. At the end of the day, it's fun to throw a shock bolt into a crowd, and then run up and stomp on everyone's heads. It's fun to sneak up behind enemies, barrel at them full tilt, and then pounce on them with a knife to the neck. It's fun to get up in enemy's faces, and smash their skulls with an axe. I really do appreciate their attempt at more accessible, open-ended gameplay, but it's not the type of fun that really makes me want to revisit the game from the same angle, or in the same way as The Evil Within 1 with what it removes and changes.