The PlayStation 2’s swan song also happens to be one of the most lovingly crafted action-adventure titles ever made.
The original God of War was one of those groundbreaking games you simply couldn’t afford to miss. The action-adventure title had incredibly fun combat, compelling puzzle-solving, gripping exploration, great pace and on top of that, it was striking from a technically standpoint. Fortunately, not only is God of War II a worthy successor, but also manages to succeed its predecessor in every way.
Those who played God of War probably remember that Kratos made a pact with god of war Ares. As a consequence, the leader of the Spartan army became invincible which allowed him to defeat everyone who stood in his path. But in exchange for receiving ultimate power, Kratos had to sacrifice everything he loved and it was only a matter of time before he started being haunted by the nightmares of his past. In the end, his thirst for revenge took the Spartan captain on a quest to annihilate anybody who opposed him.
The sequel starts with a scene showing Kratos as he leads his army towards Greece, an action that unleashes the anger of the Greek gods. But just before the Spartan can destroy the capital, an eagle drains all of his godly powers and transforms Kratos into a mere mortal. The eagle is Zeus, king of the Olympian gods and God of War II’s main antagonist. As a consequence of the god’s actions, Kratos must seek the Sisters of Fate to change his destiny and defeat Zeus once and for all.
As you may have guessed from this description, the game makes reference to countless elements from Greek mythology, so players who are interested in this sort of stories will find God of War II highly appealing. The subject matter is as brutal as ever, so if you feel sick just by reading descriptions about maiming, decapitating, piercing or stabbing mythological creatures, you should definitely not invest in this game.
Combat is as thrilling and exhilarating as it ever has been, but thankfully, some refreshing additions have made its way into this sequel. The fluidity of the controls is remarkable, but the over-the-top action is now much more epic. The introductory scene in which you fight the Colossus of Rhodes, for instance, is a clear attempt to improve upon the battle against the Hydras in the first God of War. Interestingly, not only have the developers succeeded at that, but they have also managed to introduce one gargantuan boss fight right after the other, complemented with puzzle solving and battles against regular enemies in the middle. In other words, God of War II is fantastically paced.
There are a couple of reasons why the combat has improved considerably in comparison to its predecessor. The impressive QTE sequences and scripted scenes the series is famous for have been impeccably translated here, but they have been tweaked to provide a little more variety. Furthermore, using the various relics is a blast. These include objects such as the Amulet of the Fates that may be used to slow down time and solve puzzles or the Icarus Wings which allow you to glide in the air and reach areas that were previously inaccessible.
Puzzle-solving isn’t as frustrating as it used to be in the previous God of War. One of the main reasons for this is the fantastic use of camera, which can always be relied upon to give you the best look of the action. In addition, the arsenal includes two new weapons: the Barbarian Hammer and the Spear of Destiny. There is also a slew of magical spells at your disposal, but the main problem with them is that the game doesn’t necessarily push the player to constantly use them, with the exception of some very specific sections.
There are also sequences in which Kratos rides a Pegasus and these are a hoot. Basically, these involve riding the mythical beast to go from point A to point B, but while you do that, you are required to defeat flying foes. As enemies attack you, you jump to the back of chimeras, slash their wings in the most gruesome ways possible, jump back to Pegasus, shoot fireballs at incoming foes and so on. Although this definitely makes sense in context, the Pegasus sequences must have been extremely hard to develop since they are essentially a completely different game. Thankfully, they have been masterfully designed and impeccably executed. It’s worth noting that since these sequences are so scarce seldom do they stagnate.
Level design, on the other hand, is exquisite. The painstaking attention to detail is staggering and the architecture in general is impressive. Everything in God of War II is cohesively put together: the enemies, puzzles, boss fights and mini-games blend in skillfully. It also helps that there are barely any interruptions disrupting the pace, so the absence of significant loading times is more than welcome.
The only criticism is that the game ends in an abrupt and unsatisfying cliffhanger. It’s a shame to be so invested in such an absorbing tale just to reach an inconclusive ending that leaves you wanting for more. Although this is a pity, the North American version of God of War II features extra content that is included in a bonus DVD. The second disc features a wide variety of interviews, a making-of documentary and some clips that offer great insight on what it actually means to be part of such an ambitious project.
In conclusion, God of War II is a colossal adventure that takes every single element from its predecessor and improves upon it. The surprisingly well executed controls, sharp visual design, engrossing combat, expertly designed levels, mesmerizing soundtrack and gripping exploration make God of War II an experience that shouldn’t be missed. If the developers’ idea was to make a bigger and better God of War game, they have definitely succeeded in that endeavor.