God of War II (PS2) Review

The Short


Pros

– Improves on the original God of War formula in nearly every way

– Better combos, more enemies, and tons of bosses

– Easily the best looking game on the PS2 with some incredible texture and scale work

– Lengthy quest with a host of replay options

– A whole second disc of extras

– Setpieces are even more incredible and jaw-dropping than the first game

– An excellent Swan Song for the system

Cons

– Story and character are considerably worse than they were in the first game

– While everything is marginally improved, there are no new tricks in the combat

– Extra weapons are extra useless

– Magic is also pretty much recycled exactly from the first game

– Very dependent on its quick-time events to finish bosses, stages, and to get through the most awesome setpieces

– Still is over the top with it’s gore, violence, and nudity

That’s using your head.

The Long

God of War was a game that sort of came out of nowhere and blew people away. Little did the creators know, but their game was going to spawn a whole slew of similar games over the next few years. I like to think God of War and Resident Evil 4 played the two biggest roles in shaping this generation of games (that and Call of Duty 4): one introduced quick time events and the linear (but accessible) action game, the other popularized third person shooting (and CoD the military shooter).

Be that as it may, before the imitators came swarming in on the next-gen systems, we got God of War II on the PS2. Essentially the final real game on the system (though sports and music games would continue to persist for a while after), God of War II had a lot to live up to. Considering how incredible and mind blowing the first game had been, does its sequel stack up?

In most ways yes, In some others, not so.

That’s using your…arms…

Kratos is angry. After being made the titular God of War at the end of the first game, everybody in Olympus is quickly realizing he was a much bigger jerk than Ares ever was. Athena tries to warn him that if he keeps acting like a spoiled jerk eventually the gods will retaliate, but he ignores them and continues. Of course, they act, and Zeus kills Kratos and absorbs his god-powers, sending him to the underworld (again). About to die, Gaia, the titan of the earth, reveals herself to be the narrator from the first game and asks Kratos for help to overthrow the gods. Reviving him, he runs off to the Island of Fate to talk to the Sisters of Fate to change his fate (I’m seriously getting some “Island of Time” vibes from Prince of Persia: Warrior Within here). He changes his fate, rallies the titans, and the game leaves off on an horrid cliffhanger.

Without going into too much detail (though I am considering doing a video series on this at some point), God of War II was what ruined Kratos’ character. In the original God of War he was three dimensional. He had flaws. He made mistakes that he regret. He once had people he cared about who were taken from him unfairly by the gods. His brutality was horrific but it also made sense, the stage set for his bloodlust and greed (should he continue to do it) to be his undoing. Greek tragedy, as it were.

In this game, however, the Kratos they so carefully developed in the first game has been removed for a bloodthirsty maniac. He doesn’t garner any sort of sympathy from the player in any respect, acting at first like a spoiled child and then like a deranged psychopath. While you could argue that these games are just power fantasies and not meant to have any depth, I would argue that the first game presented this series as something different (as did the PSP sequels, but more on that later). Regardless, the story to God of War II is weak, full of plot holes, and despite it’s epicness in scale falls completely apart if you take a closer look.

Orlando Bloom, eat your heart out.

Luckily, despite its rather massive failings in the story department, God of War II exceeds expectations when it comes to gameplay and visual spectacle. In nearly every regard aside from story, God of War II is a perfect sequel. It’s bigger, badder, and more badass. And interwoven amongst this fantastic gameplay is an adventure set to a scale previously unheard of. It’s really something to behold.

You’ll be traversing the cave of titans, falling off the very earth itself to converse with Atlas, summoning and riding a phoenix, and battling bosses hundreds of times your size. The first scene of the game is you fighting the Colossus of Rhodes. Yeah, the huge statue, while you are a tiny little guy. That’s the tutorial level. God of War II holds back no punches when it comes to presenting itself as the most over-the-top, epic adventure to date.

Walk it off, Kratos.

Gameplay is almost identical to the original God of War. All the same combos are there (with a few minor exceptions), though they still dont’ know what to do with the L1+Square button combo (something not fixed until God of War III), so if you played the first game you’ll be able to jump right in. The changes they did make were all for the better, editing reaction times and basically smoothing the combo system out to resemble a flowing stream. As always, you can always block or roll out of any combo at any time (with a few exceptions being obviously telegraphed as you do them so you’ll learn), meaning your skill is based heavily on your reaction times. There’s also still a hefty helping of quick time events to pull of to murder monsters, though the best of these give you multiple button choices for how you want to brutally off the baddies.

The only real complaint is that it’s a bit too samey. The magic spells are almost cookie-cutter identical from the first game. Zeus’ lightning is replaced with a bow, Poseidon’s lightning with lightning balls, and even another medusa is decapitated and its head used to stone enemies. The only real new addition is the variety of subweapons (a hammer and a spear) that replace your chain-blades should you so desire. These weapons are neat in theory and do have a lot of combos, but none are as well refined as your blades, so you’ll never, ever use them.

Some like it hot.

It’s hard to describe, but this game just feels good to play. The original God of War already did this exceptionally well, but God of War II’s refinements make this one of the smoothest action games I’ve ever played. It isn’t complex by any means, and if anything the game’s pretty easy (even on the harder difficulties), but the effects are just flashy enough, the moves just quick enough, and everything flows together so flawlessly it’s a difficult game to put down. Again, hard to describe without playing it, but God of War II‘s combat is immensely response and, thus, satisfying.

This is placed in setpieces that dazzle and amaze. Enemies are just as huge as they were in the first game, only there’s more of them now. You’ll be ripping the heads off cerberuses, slicing the limbs off undead, ripping out cyclops eyeballs, and more. There’s loads more bosses, too. While there were only really two to speak of in the first game, in God of War II you can’t cross the street without some figure from Greek mythology showing up and wanting you dead. The game is perfectly paced because of this, with the platforming almost completely gone (thank goodness), the puzzles more streamlined, leaving just tons of enemies to kill and bosses to fight. And, again, since it’s set against some amazing locations, you’ll always want to see what’s around the next corner and what upgrade you can get next from your red XP orbs.

That minotaur is…well, he’s dead.

Perhaps the only real flaw with the awesome action sequences (which include some fun chain-swinging that puts Castlevania to shame) is the fact that most are very dependent on the quick-time events. Though I will admit the God of War series does them right: they always seem to pop up at the right time and give just the right window to get them off. That being said, they are a bit frequent. Almost every boss requires you to punch in some buttons for an over-the-top execution, and while many of the bosses are a blast with multiple stages, the whole “look to see if it’s a circle or a square” bit gets old.

But still, I can’t praise the action in God of War II enough. If you can look past the fact that Kratos is the biggest, most immature jerk in the history of the world, there’s plenty of brutal fun to be had here over the lengthy adventure. Plus, when you beat it you can go back and continue with your buffed-up Kratos, which is always a plus. A New Game Plus if you know what I’m sayin!

I’ll take that.

God of War II is a graphical marvel. It’s hard to believe that the PS2 is considered the weakest system in terms of graphical prowess from it’s generation; this is easily one of the best looking SD games I’ve ever played. Textures are gorgeous, with effects just exploding off the screen. Everything from dust poofs to rain falling to fire all looks downright incredible. You can’t spot the polygons in Kratos’ arms anymore; in fact you can hardly spot the polygons in anything. And I don’t want to know what wizardry they used to make these absolutely massive setpieces with fantastic art design and detail; it’s unbelievable. If you have a PS2 with component out cables, this game looks on par with games from the following gen, no joke.

Sound and music are also outstanding, with the voice work being excellent around the board (despite the lines they have to say being pretty bad). Music continues the epic tradition from the first game, with the themes being memorable and the instruments swelling at just the right times. It’s a feast int he presentation department, we’ll just leave it at that.

It always goes bad if you aren’t Kratos.

God of War II is a weird game for me. Part of me loves it for it’s fantastic action, incredible locations, gorgeous graphics and killer music. It also has perfect pacing, tons of secrets, and a whole bonus disc of interviews, design documents, and more. But the other half of me (maybe the writer side) is a bit…distressed. God of War was a self-contained story, and a pretty good one at that. Expanding on that was going to take a great deal of care and thought, none of which went into this game. Kratos as a character is still somewhat sympathetic in this game, but it was stretching it pretty thin. As such it made it hard for me to justify his brutality, as he was becoming less of a three-dimensional character and more of a generic awful person. I couldn’t relate with him, at all, and it made it hard to enjoy the game.

Still, despite the squandered potential, God of War II is still absolutely worth playing for the action alone. It doesn’t tie itself in well with its story at all, but the refined action (probably the best in the series save Ghost of Sparta) means you should still absolutely give it a shot.

For all it’s flaws, you can’t fault the game for doing well in so many areas. Four out of five stars. 

Yo, Atlas. What’s up. Besides the earth, I mean.

Author: Nathan Major

Spirit Shark: Hammerhead. Retro game collector, true ginger, and SNES fanatic. Goal in life is to become Karnov from the NES game Karnov.

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