The best thing about the new God of War is its change in direction. The designers behind the previously combo-based action brawler opted for a more open-world design. Given that, maybe it’s time for Kratos to learn a few general concepts from adventure games to help him in his new undertaking.
The PlayStation 4 reimagining of the series looks wonderful, even for players who don’t hold the rest of the series in particularly fond regard. Seeing Kratos, the franchise’s long-standing protagonist, roaming around a wider environment with a shoulder-cam third-person camera, a seemingly Tomb Raider-styled approach to design, and a character-driven narrative gave the impression that the developers at Sony Santa Monica want to bring Kratos into the real world by presenting a game with a shot at actual stakes and, dare it be suggested, some personality.
That doesn’t mean God of War shouldn’t do as its progenitors did by borrowing some ideas from other games to improve on its own design. Here are a few suggestions.
Kratos has always been a man of brawn over brains, but considering his new role as a father and teacher to his son, it’s not out of the question that God of Wars revamped design might allow him some slower moments of pacing that would allow the game’s exploratory elements to breathe. Rather than going the Batman or Ubisoft direction by finding things in the environment using some kind of “vision” UI, the game could take a page from Rockstar’s LA Noire or even Uncharted 4 to give players clues in the game world.
Also, it’s just a nice environmental touch to be able to pick something up and examine it – particularly if you have to flip it over or, say, brush it off to uncover a secret. Developers are always contending with the illusion of depth or freedom in design, and this is the kind of thing that makes a fictional world feel more like a real place.
So-called “Metroidvania” exploration (stemming from the games Metroid and Castlevania, obviously) hasn’t been in vogue for big budget games in some time, largely having been usurped by open-world maps, which are often gated through RPG-style progression. But there’s something to be said for coming across a wide chasm or a thick barrier early on in your explorations, only to be stopped in your tracks until you’ve found whatever item or equipment you need to explore.
This type of mechanic is what separates the action and adventure genres. Rather than just leveling up all of your abilities over time through a menu, organically discovering items, and subsequently returning to investigate previously inaccessible places feels much more satisfying; you’re engaging with a place rather than a system. From the notifications that popped up during God of War’s demo, the game will likely go the route of skill trees, but if Batman: Arkham Asylum (and more recently, 2013’s Tomb Raider) could incorporate some “Metroidvania” into Bats’ and Lara’s equipment, maybe Kratos can follow suit.
Co-op Puzzle Solving
While knowing what God of War is, it would be silly, if not completely unrealistic, to think that Kratos might ever solve puzzles. At the same time, director Cory Barlog said one of the key design components for the former Ghost of Sparta is his relationship with his son, who will aid the player throughout their quest.
Given that, it’s possible puzzle-solving of some kind isn’t out of the question. It would be nice to make it more than just simultaneous switch-standing and the like, maybe trading up for environmental puzzles with Kratos guiding his son through traps that Kratos is too big to fit through and the like. The expectation wouldn’t be for something as complex as Portal, but at least some scenarios that are more thoughtful, interesting, and fitting for the world than just flipping switches.
Criminally underused in Uncharted 4, the dialogue trees added a little more characterization to moments of down time. Since narrative is a much larger and more important aspect in God of War, something similar would be a cool way to get to know Kratos and his son better.
Impacting the narrative to get, say, a different ending need not necessarily be the point here; including conversational gameplay where the player chooses how to react could serve character development better if they only affected the conversation, or perhaps how Kratos’ son behaves toward him. It would be an excellent and easy way to add to the depth of the story.
More and more, new games, particularly with open-world style settings or photo modes, have the option to turn off any individual aspect of the on-screen UI. While not a traditional feature per se, its much easier, not to mention more enjoyable, when developers give players the option to excise the litany of notifications, waypoints, objective markers and other elements and just exist in a space. It’s not a hard thing to include. Let’s hope Sony Santa Monica is listening.