Kratos has changed, and with him, God of War. This is the first game in the saga created from scratch for PlayStation 4, and it comes five years after God of War: Ascension. Behind it there's a seven-game legacy (two on PS2, two on PSP, two on PS3, and one on mobile) that has always followed the same formula - Greek mythology, fixed camera angles, and fast-paced combat based on combos. A huge saga, full of epic moments, some gratuitous sex, and lots of violence, all in a man's - a god's - story of revenge against his counterparts on Olympus.
This new God of War marks a drastic separation from this legacy at all levels, but the protagonist remains. You will once again play as Kratos, son of Zeus and previous God of War, but now in the realm of Midgard. The action takes place many years after the tragic events of God of War III, and in that time Kratos has built a new family for himself. The game starts shortly after the death of Kratos' new wife, which leaves him solely responsible for his son Atreus. Father and son embark on a journey to fulfill her last wish, to spread her ashes atop the highest mountain, and this forms the main premise of the game. It's not a story of revenge, and it's not a story about saving the world. It is instead a very intimate and personal journey for both of them.
During this long and arduous journey, you will meet other characters, rediscover a little of Kratos's past, and above all develop the father-son relationship between Kratos and Atreus. That is the main focus of this story. It's the adventure of a father and a son who, over long hours of play, discover themselves in surprising ways. It's not as emotional or profound as something like The Last of Us, but it's compelling and a journey worth following.
Kratos is no longer the furious god of the third game, who was completely blinded by rage and without care for human life. In part, Kratos seemed almost a villain in God of War III, but in this new game he is calmer and more thoughtful. Don't expect a 180 change though, he continues to be extremely unfriendly, rude, and aggressive, and whenever he helps someone, it's either for his own convenience or by accident. Atreus balances that attitude. He is younger, more enthusiastic about the adventure, and about meeting other people. Almost naive, he also wishes to be helpful without actually considering what's in it for him. It's a mixture that works quite well throughout the narrative.
So what about the gods? The new God of War is based on Norse mythology, featuring Thor, Odin, Loki, Freya, and Baldur, among many others. Will you be seeing any gods during the game? Yes, but you must consider this a new beginning. Don't expect to go barging into Asgard to beat the crap out of all the Norse gods. In addition, there are many other elements of Norse mythology present in the game. The Bifrost, Valkyries, Elves, World Serpent, and of course, the Draugr - viking zombies, basically - are all here. There are many references, plenty of surprises, and lots of content waiting for you.
You'll be visiting several locations throughout the adventure, but God of War is not an open world game. It's a linear adventure, even if it's one without loading screens. The story path is always fairly straightforward, but the game is packed with hidden areas and secrets, including dozens of collectibles, features, chests, and various types of challenges to overcome, like the game's most difficult battles. On top of that there are also puzzles, traps, treasure maps, and secondary missions (here referred to as 'favours'), plus secret mini-dungeons. God of War is a massive game, probably longer than the original trilogy combined, although the world itself is fairly linear. The only area that is open is a huge lake which you can explore by boat, and it allows access to small islands, shipwrecks, ruined cities, and a few temples.
God of War also includes some elements in the Metroidvania vain, in the sense that it involves backtracking. As you unlock new skills and abilities, you'll be able to gain access to areas or objects that you have not been able to reach before. Eventually, you can also access an instant travel system, although it's not fully available until much later in the game.
This new chapter on the PS4 marks a change in narrative style, game structure, theme, and above all gameplay. If the previous games were frantic and combo-based, the new God of War is much more personal, slow, and tactical. Instead of a camera with fixed angles, there's a new controllable camera positioned near the shoulder of Kratos, and instead of the versatile blades of previous games, you'll be carrying a powerful axe. This axe, Leviathan, is magical and imbued with the power of ice. Kratos can also summon it from anywhere, at any time, by pressing triangle, which means you can hurl it an enemy and quickly call it back, making for both a short and long-range weapon.