Sony was in a strange place when God of War II released 10 years ago today. The highly successful PlayStation 2 continued to have a healthy library of new releases despite the PlayStation 3 being released in late 2006. A hefty price tag and lack of must-have titles early on put Sony behind Microsoft, which was an unfathomable position just a few years prior. To hurt things further, Sony’s biggest release in 2007 was for the PlayStation 2, not their new system they were trying to get off store shelves.
What a release it was, though. The sequel to 2005’s God of War was a huge title, and essentially the swan song to one of the most successful consoles of all time. It was a critical and commercial success, as it ended up pleasing over four million PS2 owners. It was one final bow for Sony’s beloved console, as Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, Halo 3, and Wii Fit obliterated sales records the rest of the year and showed that players had moved onto new systems.
In the 10 years since, the God of War series saw four major releases (two on PSP, and two on PS3). Despite continuing to find success, the series managed to stagnate as the gameplay never really evolved past God of War 2. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, as all four God of War titles were well received, but it did lead to Santa Monica Studio deciding to go in a drastic new direction for its new PlayStation 4 entry.
Does It Hold Up?
As someone who likes to revisit older releases quite often, I was interested in seeing if God of War II was as much fun in 2017 as it was originally in 2007. That led to me replaying the game in the past week, as I dusted off my PlayStation 2, and finally got around to checking out the HD version that Sony put out for PlayStation 3. Much to my surprise, God of War II has aged very well, and is still a blast to play.
There’s many reasons why the game has aged well, but a lot of it comes down to fun gameplay design. God of War was never about technical combat like Devil May Cry, but it was all about snapping the jaws off of enemies. This meant that Sony Santa Monica wasn’t trying to revolutionize gaming (although God of War‘s production values did set a new high), but provide a game that was fun from beginning to end. They succeed in that aspect.
It’s also helped by a very strong opening. One of God of War II‘s finest moments is its tutorial sequence that has the player facing off against a statue come to life called the Colossus of Rhodes. It’s an epic battle as Kratos has to tear down the structure from the inside-out, and it’s one of the best examples of an “abili-tease” in gaming. By the end of the battle, Kratos has lost all of the power that he had worked so hard to gain in God of War, and the player has a million reasons to regain them and battle against the Gods once again.
This strong start is just setting the table for things to come, as God of War II really never lets off the gas pedal. Memorable scenes follow one after another, and it’s really just an enjoyable game to take in. One of the reasons why it was such a great sequel, was that it built upon all of God of War‘s strengths, while also adding some much needed variety.
One of the best examples of this is when Kratos takes flight with Pegasus, and battles enemies in the air. Not only does this scene make for an awesome visual, it breaks up the monotony of grounded combat that takes up the bulk of the game. This is also something that NieR: Automata did so well, as it constantly shifted between genres and it shows just how important variety is to gaming
What really differentiates God of War II from other action games is how much polish that went into the game. Every attack looks brutal, the death animations are just as violent as I had remembered them, and there’s constantly new types of enemies being introduced. By always providing something new, it avoids becoming overly repetitive, and it’s why the highly accessible combat works here yet fails in other games.
One of the reasons why I had doubts about God of War II holding up well, was due to the game (and the series as a whole) relying so much on big moments. After all, when someone thinks about God of War, they think about battling gigantic enemies, and scaling incredible landscapes. Since 10 years had passed, and gaming has taken such huge graphical leaps, I thought this would be the area where the game simply wouldn’t hold up.
I was wrong. The big moments in God of War II are still absolutely thrilling, and more than a few times I found myself just appreciating the game’s visuals. One of the biggest reasons why it’s still so impressive is that it was one of the best looking PlayStation 2 games. The larger than life environments are still awesome depictions of Greek mythology, and some fantastic art direction has helped the game age better than games that went for a realistic look. While the lack of detail is still very noticeable, I couldn’t help but be impressed when I saw Kratos battling a cool looking boss.
Another reason why the game really stood out graphically was due to some fabulous camera work. Moments when the camera would pan out and show just how tiny Kratos was in comparison to the huge areas he was traversing left me impressed, and it’s this cinematic quality that has been a long running staple of the series. It still works very well, and the game wouldn’t be nearly as impressive if the player had full control over the camera.
Verdict: Still Rad
If you’re looking for something nostalgic to play this week, you can’t do much better than God of War II. Even 10 years later, Kratos’ best adventure is still a blast to play, and it’s proof that fun design stands the test of time. There’s no better time to get your revenge on the Gods once again as Sony Santa Moniac Studio works on the fantastic looking PlayStation 4 entry in the series.
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