God of War II Review
Kratos is back. He's still angry, he's still in desperate need of a tan, and he's still the baddest Spartan that never actually existed in Greek mythology. For fans of the original God of War, this sequel is basically a love letter from Sony; they heard your complaints about the first game loud and clear, and effectively remedied every single one. The result is a game that offers everything you could expect from an action adventure game and more.
God of War II takes place shortly after the events in the original God of War, with Kratos as the new god of war, leading his armies on a destructive rampage so vicious as to anger the king of Olympus himself, the mighty Zeus. Upon being dethroned and cast into Hades, Kratos must embark on an epic journey to find the Sisters of Fate and rewrite history. In the process, Kratos will encounter nefarious puzzles, devious enemies, and nasty boss fights against most of Greek mythology's greatest characters.
Like its predecessor, God of War II emphasizes combat above all else, though this time around the formula has been tweaked and refined, offering more moves, combos, weapons and magic than before. While the original God of War offered only one sub-weapon, the Blade of Artemis, God of War II offers several, such as the Barbarian Hammer, Spear of Destiny, and Blade of Olympus, all of which are fully upgradeable, not just in terms of attack power, but special moves and abilities. The different sub weapons add a great deal of depth and flexibility to the combat, giving you more ways to kill enemies than you know what to do with, be it bashing in skulls with the Barbarian Hammer, planting timed explosives inside enemies with the Spear of Destiny, or just going to work old school with the Athena Blades, the upgraded Blades of Chaos from the original game.
If melee combat isn't your thing, though, don't worry. God of War II has an impressive line up of attack magic to work with. Most of the magic spells from the first game do not make a reappearance here, which seems odd until the story puts their absence in context, if only implicitly. This time around, Kratos has different allies and thus is aided with different magics, which are far more useful and fun to use than the spells from the original game.
The magic and melee attacks aren't just more effective, they're also much more impressive looking in God of War II, just like everything else in the game. It's fairly safe to say that God of War II is the best looking PS2 game ever made, which is, quite frankly, amazing, given that the game uses the same four year old engine as the first God of War. Some of the character models still look goofy, but the major players in the game, as well as the environments, are simply stunning. The levels in the game are massive (far bigger than anything you'd expect on the PS2), filled with spectacular lighting and particle effects, and the animation is flawless. Even simple attack combos have been reanimated to look smoother, faster and more brutal, and Kratos himself moves with a lot more grace and agility. The most impressive aspect of the graphics, however, is the inclusion of light bloom, a handy little graphical effect that allows light sources to bleed out onto surfaces more naturally, resulting in more realistically lit environments.
As impressive as the visuals and combat are, the way they are fused into other aspects of the game is even more incredible. As mentioned earlier, the levels in God of War II are enormous, partly to give the game an epic feel, but more importantly to create more expansive, varied puzzles for players to overcome. Instead of puzzles being confined to just one or two rooms, entire areas in God of War II are often just one big puzzle, resulting in gameplay that feels far more natural and less contrived than your typical adventure game. For instance, instead of getting a weapon or item, using it once, and then never having a use for it again (like so many other adventure games), everything you acquire in God of War II has continuous purpose throughout the game, because the environments themselves are continuous.
Because God of War II constantly requires you to use all your different weapons and magic to progress, it's fortunate that the control scheme and interface have received a significant upgrade from the first game. The basic control scheme remains unchanged for the most part, but the R2 button is no longer the catch-all interaction tool. Now, most interactions with the environment (opening doors, flipping switches) are done by using R1, either exclusively or in tandem with another button. For instance, instead of having to mash the R2 button to open doors, now you simply tap the R1 button to kick it open, or tap R1 and then the Circle button a few times. While it sounds more complicated, it actually works much better, and is far less aggravating.
You also now have the ability to turn your Rage of the Titans meter on and off at will (instead of having to burn it all at once), in addition to special moves that can be accessed only while in Rage mode. This makes it much more valuable than God of War's Rage of the Gods, since you'll feel free to use it in small amounts any time you need just a bit more punch in your attacks. Perhaps the most important improvement to control is the ability to ‘quick scale' up walls and ladders and across ropes. Since so much combat takes place in these situations, this increased flexibility is most welcome, as it completely changes how you can approach a fight. Now, when scaling across a ceiling while trying to fight, you can easily dash around enemies to put yourself in a more advantageous position to dispatch them. Overall, most of the changes are subtle, but they vastly improve the overall experience.The control scheme isn't the only way in which God of War II's gameplay has been improved over the first, however. Even the most diehard Kratos groupie cringes at the thought of the first game's Path of Hades; the popularized phrase "motherf**king columns of motherf**king blades" nicely sums up the first God of War's often dodgy platforming elements. Thankfully, such is not the case in the sequel, with fewer pure platforming sections, all of which are much better designed and far more forgiving. Also, the amazing boss fights the first game sported were too few and too far between for most players, but that's most definitely not the case in God of War II. You'll face off against more mythological monsters and bosses than you even knew existed.
Even better, you can go back and face them again and again with the new progressive play feature, which allows you to keep all the items and weapons you've acquired the first time through and then some. Not only do you get to keep everything you acquired, but you keep the upgrades as well. While having fully maxed out weapons magic spells hours before you ever got them the first time drastically lowers the challenge, it still allows for great replay value as it offers you new ways to approach old situations.
This type of epic, over the top gameplay requires a soundtrack of the same caliber, and in this regard God of War II does not disappoint, featuring the same excellent voice acting and orchestral tracks of the original, only with more variation to the music and a broader cast of excellently fleshed out characters. Everything about the sound feels perfectly in tune with what you're doing at any given moment, so much so that it in itself becomes a natural extension of the gameplay.
Much like the original God of War, the sequel packs plenty of bonus features, except with this installment, so much extra content is offered that it requires a second disc just to hold it all. More than just the traditional ‘making of' features are included, as the bonus disc goes behind the scenes on almost every single aspect of development, with interviews of the designers, voice actors, composers, features on deleted levels, character design and more; you name it, and there's probably a feature discussing it in depth.
Essentially, God of War II takes everything great from the original and amplifies it by a factor of ten, while ditching most of the flaws. As such, God of War II is not only the best action/adventure game ever to grace the Playstation 2, but also one of the most amazing gaming experiences of the entire generation, and one that should not be missed by anyone who can handle the extreme violence and sexual content.
Want more thoughts on this magnificent title? Read our other review here.
3/17/2007 Ryan Hartmann