In celebration of the new and totally badass looking God of War which releases tomorrow on the PS4, yours truly has taken it upon himself to revisit the previous games in the series that helped define the hack and slash gaming genre that was once so popular back in the days of the PS2. Having just finished replaying the six previous games in the series (I’m not counting the mobile game God of War: Betrayal) back to back as my own way of preparing myself for the new game, the stories and gameplay for all the games are still fresh in my mind, so now it’s time to see how they stack up against each other. Full disclosure, this is my own personal ranking of the God of War games and is not meant to be taken as absolute truth. But I’m betting my ranking of the games will still match those of many other fans of the series. Let’s do this!
6. God of War: Ascension
The most recent game in the series just so happens to also be the weakest, I’d say. Don’t get me wrong, Ascension is not a bad game, not at all. It still has the same brutal combat as the earlier GOW games, and despite being on the PS3, the graphics are certainly near PS4-level quality and could very well be better than those in God of War III. Nevertheless, there are aspects to Ascension that, to me, make the game somewhat less enjoyable than the other ones. For one thing, the story is rather disjointed since it’s told out of order through flashbacks. Furthermore, the story kind of lacked that epic feeling that pretty much all the other games had since its main focus was on Kratos trying to free himself from the torment of the Furies who seek to make him keep his oath to serve Ares. Unlike in the previous PSP title Ghost of Sparta, we don’t find out too much of anything new about Kratos’s past in Ascension, rather we just see that his choice to no longer serve Ares proved to be more challenging to follow through on than initially believed. We also find out that, once upon a time at least, Kratos was not quite the brutally murderous psycho that he was portrayed as in all the other games. But don’t think that means Kratos is shy about tearing his enemies apart into bloody chunks whenever he gets the chance, because he still partakes in plenty of that stuff.
Gameplaywise, Ascension adds in some new abilities, like Kratos using his chained blades to grapple enemies from a distance, as well as the option for Kratos to attack enemies through punches and kicks or by wielding secondary weapons dropped by enemies or found in the environment, such as swords, clubs, javelins, etc. Even with these changes, Kratos spends most of the game feeling rather weak since even his most powerful attacks and abilities (many of which can only be used when his rage meter is full) take some time to kill enemies. This makes some sense through a story perspective since it can be assumed Kratos wasn’t as strong in this game as he was in the other games that take place many years later, but it still affects the combat enough to the point where it feels somewhat inferior and less fun. The fact Kratos uses the Blades of Chaos as his only real weapon throughout the entire game only adds to this feeling of inferiority (yes, the blades can be imbued with different elements to grant them with different combos and magic attacks, but it still mostly feels all the same). Also, I felt there were a few too many dragged out moments where Kratos was just climbing around on walls and such like an ancient Greek version of Nathan Drake, which brought down the game’s pacing. Some minor glitches plague this game as well, namely the audio suddenly cutting out or enemies not spawning when they should. There’s also multiplayer in Ascension, which I admittedly had some fun with, but that stuff always loses its luster after a while, as far as I’m concerned. Again, God of War: Ascension is not a bad game, I just feel it takes a step back compared to the other games in terms of story, pacing, and some of its combat elements.
5. God of War: Chains of Olympus
The first PSP title in the GOW series that was thankfully brought to the PS3 along with Ghost of Sparta in the God of War: Origins Collection (also known as the much less imaginative title of God of War Collection Volume II in the UK), Chains of Olympus was surprisingly good for a game that released on a handheld system. It doesn’t have the same level of impressive graphics as even the earlier games on the PS2, but that’s to be expected, plus the game still looks pretty good, all things considered. Taking place close to ten years after Ascension and some time before the first GOW, Chains of Olympus has Kratos undergoing an adventure where he must free Helios the sun god from an unknown enemy in order to free the world from the dark fog of Morpheus, which has basically put everyone, even the gods of Olympus, into a deep slumber. The story is pretty decent and actually takes a surprisingly personal turn at one point when Kratos finds the soul of his deceased daughter, Calliope, in the Underworld and has to choose between staying with her or saving the world (and ultimately Calliope as well) from utter destruction.
Despite originally being made for the PSP, the fast-paced combat from the earlier console games was translated very well into this game. Kratos is still ripping enemies apart like tissue paper as effectively as he ever had before, and like in all the other games, he gets his hands on different weapons and magic attacks that he can use in conjunction with his Blades of Chaos, including the ability to summon an Efreet that can incinerate surrounding opponents, the Gauntlet of Zeus which lets Kratos pummel enemies into submission and also destroy certain obstacles, the Sun Shield which lets Kratos reflect enemy attacks and projectiles, the ability to fire searing blasts of light with the Light of Dawn, and a mask that shoots blasts of continuously burning green fire known as Charon’s Wrath. Chains of Olympus certainly lives up to the greatness of the series, with my only complaints being that the game is quite short and that sometimes the controls are occasionally unresponsive when you’re performing QTEs. Other than that, this is a great game, though it obviously can’t quite reach the same heights as the next few games on this list.
4. God of War: Ghost of Sparta
I actually struggled with where to place Ghost of Sparta on this list. To be perfectly honest, I would say this game is just about equal to the original God of War, but since I can’t place both games in the same spot on this list, I was forced to give the slight edge to the first God of War, but we’ll get to that game later. Ghost of Sparta basically takes everything from the earlier Chains of Olympus PSP title and improves upon all of that game’s aspects in every conceivable way. The graphics are more detailed, the combat is more fast-paced, the story is better, and even the music is of a better quality. Taking place after the first God of War and before God of War II, Ghost of Sparta follows Kratos as he tries to find out what happened to his long-lost mother and brother, who were thought to have died many years ago. As Kratos journeys to different locations, like the city of Atlantis and even to his home city of Sparta, we end up finding out more about Kratos’s past, namely his childhood, in this game more than in any of the other games. By the end of the game, we also truly understand why it was that Kratos ends up becoming so enraged with the Olympian gods between GOW I and GOW II, granting him some level of justification for the horrible deeds he commits in the other games (to a certain degree).
The combat is just as tight and intense as the main console games. Kratos’s Blades of Athena (or Athena’s Blades) work as well as before, and his spear and shield known as the Arms of Sparta are easily one of the better secondary weapons in the series since they can be used for both melee and long-ranged attacks. The different magic attacks Kratos acquires include the Eye of Atlantis which shoots a blast of chaining electricity, the Scourge of Erinys which throws out portal rifts that damage enemies and refill some of Kratos’s health, and the Horn of Boreas which lets Kratos damage and freeze surrounding enemies with arctic wind. These magic abilities are personally my least favorite in the series, especially the Horn of Boreas which is damn near useless. But then you have the Thera’s Bane ability that runs on its own regenerating meter separate from the magic meter; this ability charges Kratos’s blades with volcanic fire and allows him to deal extra fire damage with his attacks and break through the armor that certain enemies have on them. Furthermore, unlike all the other games in the GOW series, Ghost of Sparta has almost no puzzles to speak of (there are, in fact, a total of two puzzles). I actually don’t see this as a negative since the lack of puzzles kind of makes Ghost of Sparta seem like more of a fast-paced thrill ride compared to the other games (especially Ascension). Very enjoyable game.
3. God of War
Ah, the one that started it all. The original God of War may not be as pretty as the later GOW console games (mostly during the in-game cutscenes), but as far as the gameplay and story go, this game is up there among the best. This being our first introduction to Kratos, I have to admit that I didn’t quite like him that much as a character due to his brutal tendencies, but I also have to admit the guy was one tough SOB. This game also features one of the most impressive locations in the entire GOW series, the Temple of Pandora, which is strapped on the back of the massive titan Cronos. And even though all games in the series feature a large opening boss battle, the Hydra in God of War still goes down as one of the best boss fights in terms of scale and spectacle.
To this day, the gameplay is still top-notch. In fact, I find the original God of War to be the most challenging game in the series overall. Going through the Underworld of Hades towards the end of the game still gets me on edge as I jump from high platform to high platform and navigate Kratos over spinning logs with spikes on them over the bloody River Styx. And then there’s the final battle against Ares, the god of war himself, which is definitely the most challenging boss in the series (the battle was actually a huge pain in the ass for me the first time I played the game). And despite being the first game in the series, God of War has some of the best weapons and abilities compared to many of the other games. Aside from the Blades of Chaos, Kratos uses the larger and heavier Blade of Artemis to cut enemies to pieces, as well as several magic abilities like electrocuting surrounding enemies with Poseidon’s Rage, throwing lightning bolts with Zeus’ Fury, summoning the souls of the dead to attack enemies with Army of Hades, and turning enemies into stone with Medusa’s Gaze (this one is easily my least favorite). Truly a pioneering game in the hack and slash genre, which seriously needs a revival.
2. God of War III
Now we come to God of War III, the last game chronologically in the GOW series before the new upcoming game. Before Ascension came around, God of War III was easily the best looking game in the series. And given that it was the first GOW game released on the PS3, its sense of scale went well beyond that of any of the previous games, even more so than Ascension. That opening battle where the titans and the gods start battling each other atop Mount Olympus was truly a spectacle for the ages. I will say though that the war between the titans and gods that was touted so much in God of War II did kind of disappoint me given how brief it was. All we really see is a few titans getting their asses kicked by the gods, then, as is his way, Kratos falls out of favor with the few allies he has left and ends up basically killing all remaining gods and titans himself. Fortunately, the rest of the game makes up for the shamefully short showdown between the titans and gods, especially the extremely powerful ending.
The gameplay in God of War III is basically the best in the series (about equal to the previous God of War II). Also like in GOW II and the first GOW, enemy variety in this game is great, with Kratos having to battle against multiple enemy types in a number of different encounters. Then there are the boss battles, from the incredibly epic opening battle with Poseidon, the badass encounter with Hades, the series-defining battle with Hercules (easily my favorite boss battle in the entire series), the hugely epic confrontation with Cronos, a battle against a giant scorpion, and the very memorable final battle with Zeus; they’re all fantastic. Finally, Kratos’s collection of different weapons is quite cool. Instead of getting a couple of weapons with separate magic abilities to supplement them, Kratos now gets four different weapons each with their own magic attacks attached to them, and they are the Blades of Exile, Claws of Hades, Nemean Cestus, and Nemesis Whip. These weapons are all pretty damn cool, although I have to say that the Claws of Hades and Nemesis Whip seem slightly superfluous since they function very similarly to the Blades of Exile, with only the Nemean Cestus gauntlets actually feeling quite different from all the others. God of War III is truly a standout game…and those free-falling/flying sections when Kratos goes through these narrow and obstacle-filled tubes with the Icarus Wings still get me on edge.
1. God of War II
Here it is. My personal favorite game in the God of War series. There’s just something about this game that makes it overall more enjoyable and memorable than all the others, even God of War III. And that something is…the pacing. Pretty much all the GOW games have a very similar structure: kill enemies, go to another area, kill more enemies, solve a puzzle, do a little climbing, kill more enemies, move to another area, kill enemies again, solve another puzzle a little later on, etc. But all the previous games kind of stumble a bit at some point with their pacing, with Ascension being at the bottom of the barrel, though even the original God of War and God of War III take a couple of stumbles with their pacing as well. But God of War II…not one stumble. This game’s pacing, as far as I’m concerned, is absolute PERFECTION. The boss battles are great, and there are more of them in this game than in any of the others. From the opening battle with the Colossus of Rhodes (probably the best opening boss, btw) to the epic (and rather difficult) final battle with Zeus, all the boss battles are fun, whether they are against regular-sized enemies or more gigantic foes. There really isn’t a noticeably weak moment in God of War II. There are even a couple of early moments in the game where you ride Pegasus several miles high in the sky and destroy a number of harpies, griffins, etc. which were really fun and broke up the previously mentioned structure of killing enemies, climbing stuff, and solving puzzles. In fact, I could have done with one more of those Pegasus sections.
Kratos’s collection of weapons include his usual Athena’s Blades, as well as the slow but very powerful Barbarian Hammer and the mostly decent Spear of Destiny, then his magic abilities include the Typhon’s Bane bow that shoots blasts of arctic wind, Cronos’ Rage which lets him release lightning orbs, the Head of Euryale which (also) turns enemies into stone, and Atlas Quake which lets Kratos smack the ground beneath him to create deadly mini-earthquakes. And we can’t forget the Golden Fleece which lets Kratos reflect enemy attacks and projectiles and basically becomes an iconic part of his whole ensemble along with his blades, ash-covered skin, and red tattoos. You have plenty of opportunities to use all these weapons and abilities with the many different enemy types thrown at you. I seriously love this game, and the only complaint I can levy against it is that it feels short. The truth is that the game is just about as long as the other main console entries, but given its perfect pacing which makes you want to keep on playing without stopping, that’s probably why the game “feels” shorter than it actually is. God of War II is a truly godly game, and I can’t wait to see if the new God of War on the PS4 will outdo it in the end.