The Greek gods were not good people. They were often violent, deeply vengeful and just generally unpleasant. The God of War franchise takes this element and brings it to the forefront, taking the darkest elements of Greek mythology and mixing it with original ideas. God of War told the story of Kratos, a Spartan warrior. When Kratos was about to lose his life to a barbarian warlord, he offered his soul to the God of War, Ares, in exchange for power. Ares accepted, and Kratos became his avatar on Earth, slaughtering all in his path … until Ares had Kratos unknowingly kill his own wife and child. Unsurprisingly, Kratos was unhappy about this, and when the other gods offered him a chance at revenge, he eagerly took it. After questing through Hades and back, Kratos fought Ares and killed him. His revenge complete and his guilt remaining, Kratos attempted to commit suicide … and was instead taken up to Olympus to replace Ares as the God of War.
Naturally, Kratos isn’t the kind of person to use power wisely. Almost as soon as he becomes God of War, he begins to abuse his power, using it to allow his former homeland of Sparta to run wild over all of Greece. The other gods are rather displeased with Kratos’ behavior, but, being Kratos, he simply ignores them. When he assaults the city of Rhodes, the gods see it as their chance to get rid of him once and for all. After tricking him into releasing his godly power, Zeus himself slays Kratos and all of the Spartans in the city. Kratos isn’t one to take his own death lying down, and with the aid of Gaia, the last remaining Titan, claws his way out of Hades and sets out on a quest of find the Sisters of Fate, the only people with the power to allow him to alter his fate — something no god or mortal has ever done before. Along the way, he’ll have to travel to Hades and back and battle his way through every mythological beast from the Cyclops to Cerberus.
Despite the myriad of Greek mythology that can be found in God of War II, it certainly isn’t a game for those who have a dedicated knowledge of that mythos. Kratos takes on Theseus, legendary hero of countless stories, and sticks his head into a doorway and repeatedly slams the door in his face in a shower of gore; watching this was so completely strange and over the top that it was difficult to take seriously. This kind of gore fills the entire game, as those who are returning from the original should be well aware. Dismemberment and disembowelment are common, and spouts of blood are perhaps the most common sight. The Brutal Kills that Kratos can perform to finish off an enemy are often disgusting, and even regular combat descends into epic amounts of brutality. This is not a game for the faint of heart or for those looking for a heroic figure. Kratos isn’t a sympathetic character; he’s a brutal heartless murderer, and he’s only gotten worse since God of War.
For the most part, not much of the gameplay has changed since the original God of War, and anyone who’s played the original should have no problem jumping right into God of War II’s combat. This is a mixed blessing; while it’s easy to pick up and play, it also means those who played God of War are going to see a lot that is almost too familiar. Kratos moves and attacks identically to the last game, and the only real difference in combat comes when you find some of the new items and abilities. The items themselves feel like “upgraded” (or in some cases, downgraded) versions of the abilities found in the previous God of War.
Since Kratos no longer has the favor of the gods, he instead gains his powers from the various Titans of Greek mythology. Zeus’ Thunderbolt is replaced with a magical bow with some slightly different moves. The Rage skill has undergone a dramatic change. In the original God of War, Rage of the Gods was an upgrade to Kratos’ blade that filled up in a sort of “Limit Break” fashion, and it could be unleashed for invincibility and upgraded damage. In God of War II, Rage of the Titans is more like the Devil Trigger ability found in Devil May Cry; it grants Kratos new and more powerful attacks for a brief period of time, and it can be toggled on and off at will.
As with the combat, enemies in God of War II are going to feel distressingly familiar to those who played the first game. There are quite a few new enemies, but a lot of the foes you encounter, especially in the first half of the game, are taken straight from God of War, from the character design and attacks to the Brutal Kill moves. This wouldn’t be so terrible, but it sometimes makes the game feel more like a rehash than a sequel.
God of War II really shows improvement over the original game in its boss design. God of War’s opening level was spectacular, intense and exciting. Trapped on a boat in the middle of the ocean, you battled a massive Hydra through the entire stage, culminating with a dramatic boss fight at the end. Unfortunately, God of War went downhill from there, with only two more boss fights in the entire game, and nothing that quite captured the excitement and danger of the Hydra. In a way, God of War II opens up in a very similar matter. Kratos must work his way across the besieged city of Rhodes while battling the Colossus of Rhodes, animated by the gods who wish to eliminate the God of War. Naturally, it ends with Kratos actually breaking his way into the Colossus and smashing it apart from the inside. In its own way, it is perhaps more dramatic than the Hydra fight, but unlike God of War, it isn’t the only boss you’ll face for a majority of the game.
In fact, God of War II features a substantial increase in boss fights over its predecessor. The catch is that, unlike God of War, not all of these fights are against giant monsters. They range from the aforementioned Colossus to legendary heroes like Theseus. Each fight is fairly different, and while they don’t all feel as dramatic and exciting as the first, they are a very welcome change from the endless streams of weaker foes. I would say that the bosses in GoW2 seem even easier than their counterparts in GoW, and a skilled player should be able to smash through them with a minimal amount of damage. It’s a minor complaint, especially since the fights themselves are surprisingly fun, but those who complained about God of War’s ease will not find much of a difference here.
One of the more interesting new segments takes place when Kratos gets access to the Pegasus, a horse with flaming wings. He uses it to travel from location to location, as the gods send their servants after him in order to halt his progress. Combat on the Pegasus is basically a form of rail shooter; Kratos can ram his enemies with his Pegasus, slaughter them up close with his arm blades, or shoot them from a distance with his bow. As in regular combat, when an enemy reaches low health, Kratos can leap off the Pegasus to deliver a coup de grace in a brutal and incredibly gory fashion. These segments are surprisingly fun, but the controls feel a bit unpolished, and some elements, particularly the bow, are more difficult to use than I’d like. The extra weapons and gameplay segments provide a very welcome change from the on-ground combat.
God of War was one of the best-looking titles on the PlayStation 2, and it should come as no shock that God of War II is just as good. The character models are smooth and well done, although there is a still a noticeable amount of reused models from the first God of War. The level design, however, is fantastic. Be it the besieged city of Rhodes with the giant Colossus raging in the background of every area, or the gigantic Horses of Fate that are part of the myriad of guardians of the Sisters of Fate, each area is memorable and stylish. It’s amazing to see what the PlayStation 2 can pull off sometimes, and God of War II really manages to make the aging system shine.
Especially noticeable is the heavy lack of loading times; you should encounter little to no loading at all, which is a rather impressive feat. One element that makes an unwelcome return from God of War is the fixed camera. For the most part, this camera works quite well, but there are a few occasions when it was just a bit wonky. Thankfully, God of War II also severely cut down on the amount of insta-kill jumping puzzles (although they still exist!), so this problem doesn’t reach the same level of frustration as Hades did in the first game.
While God of War II’s audio aspect doesn’t quite match up to its visual prowess, it’s still fairly impressive. The dramatic music fits basically every scene, and the actual sound effects are disturbingly well done. The sound as Kratos rips the arm off an enemy and beats him to death with it is creepy (to put it lightly!). Most of the voice-acting is excellent, although a few characters sound a bit stilted. Kratos in particular is rather mixed, as he seems unable to express any emotion other than anger … but to be fair, that is perfectly in character for him.
It’s God of War II. If you’re even reading this review, you’ve probably made up your mind to buy the game, and nothing short of a disaster could change this. Luckily for all of the fans of the first title, God of War II is a worthy sequel. It adheres very strongly to the concept of, “If it isn’t broken, don’t fix it,” perhaps to the point of excess. It is a well-designed game, with terrific level design and a smooth, excellent combat system, but it also doesn’t particularly bring anything dramatically different to the field. This isn’t a bad thing at all, but returning players will surely feel a serious case of déjà vu on Kratos’ latest adventure. However, that’s the worst one can say about this latest outing, and anyone who enjoyed the brutal action in the original God of War will be pleasantly surprised by God of War II.