How God Of War 2018 Became The New Blueprint For Prestige Gaming

God of War is celebrating its five-year anniversary today, April 20, 2023. Below, we take a look at how the relatively recent release has had echoes of influence across the AAA development landscape.

As a highly successful reboot of a legendary (though dated) trilogy, God of War 2018 garnered not only ecstatic reviews from critics, but also 23 million in sales by the end of 2022. However, while many great games come and go, this one achieved something that few others do–it’s become a major blueprint that AAA developers look to follow in their own projects.

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God of War 2018’s influence is most evident in a number of elements that have become staples of the contemporary single-player AAA landscape, such as colored loot systems in action games, Souls-inspired combat, an extravagant presentation, and map design that bridges the gap between linear and open-world. Some noted developers have called out the game as a major milestone that they hope to reach, including Final Fantasy XVI director Hiroshi Takai. In a recent interview Takai even said that God of War is the game that XVI most resembles in terms of quest design, which surely will surprise some fans.

God of War 2018’s presentation is arguably its most striking aspect. Santa Monica Studios’ decision to trade the fixed camera angles of the previous trilogy for the “one take” over-the-shoulder view of the reboot is well-known as a masterstroke, but the strength of its visuals go beyond that. From its cutscenes to its combat, God of War has an intimacy and immediacy that many games simply don’t have. It utilizes carefully crafted camera movement and sweeping shots to keep the player’s attention from its very opening.

This contrast is especially apparent in its more dialogue-heavy scenes–conversations that would be framed in static shots in other games feature camera glides and blocking/business techniques that make it feel like a scripted performance. Though other AAA games use the language of cinema to masterful effect, especially The Last Of Us games, God of War took a number of risks in its presentation and visual design that paid off massively. We’ve seen a number of games use close camera angles and more overtly cinematic techniques in the intervening years, particularly the Resident Evil games. While God of War didn’t invent them outright, it certainly helped these techniques gain traction.

God of War 2018 saw the series transition from Devil May Cry-style spectacle combat to slower, more impactful axe strokes. No one would accuse GOW of being an overt Souls-like, but the deliberate pace of combat would seem to point to From Software for inspiration. The over-the-shoulder camera seems to hug Kratos’s hip, an unusual arrangement for action games that gives the player a closer view of every stab and slash. There’s a gritty, up-close-and-personal character to its combat that’s reminiscent of first-person shooters like the grimy Kane & Lynch: Dog Days, and that’s a big part of what makes its battles so successful. The sheer quality of the game’s visuals really give its combat more heft and vigor than its competition, even when you’re fighting the same palette-swapped troll for the fifth time.

In the years since God of War released, we’ve seen more indie and AAA games adopt pseudo-Souls combat to varying effect, especially Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order. It’s unlikely this slower approach will fully replace the Arkham-influenced dance-combat that has served as the house style for AAA video games for a decade now–as seen in Assassin’s Creed, The Witcher 3, and many others–but I think it’s fair to say that the newer ones in this mold have taken cues from this trend in the action genre, such as Ghost of Tsushima and Wo Long.

Color-coded loot and RPG equipment mechanics are another aspect of God of War 2018 that has become more popular in AAA gaming since its release. In this case, I think it’s fair to say that God of War was following a trend that already existed in the wider world of games, since the era of loot boxes branded the familiar shades of rarity into our heads. That said, the fact that this pure action title would add RPG elements to its formula was an important indicator for the industry at large, and reiterates just how important loot is to the single-player gaming formula of the 2020s. The huge success of games with loot elements continues to feed into this trend, and God of War is a major part of that.

On the surface, God of War 2018’s map design does not appear to be anything new or novel. After a linear first few hours, it leads you into a hub-and-spoke design sown with side quests, hidden chests, and other optional content. However, in an era dominated by open-world games, this “open but not open-world” approach was indeed a breath of fresh air for those who were tired of chasing icons around huge empty maps. Every part of God of War’s mid-sized map felt designed and lived-in–you actually feel like there’s a reason to look for everything in the game, even if it is just another of Odin’s ravens.

There’s room for both massive sandboxes and more linear adventures to coexist in today’s gaming environment. For a time, however, there was a feeling in the industry that every game had to offer a massive world and hundreds of hours of content in order to appeal to the everyday gamer. Whether you want to call it a “3D Metroidvania,” a hub structure, or a semi-open world, God of War 2018 showed big-budget developers that you can embrace a happy medium between a corridor crawl like the Uncharted games and the massive world of an Elden Ring. We’ve seen that influence trickle down in other AAA games, and it will no doubt continue for years to come.

As a whole, it would be unfair to call God of War 2018 a truly revolutionary game. Like many great big-budget games, it takes elements from a wide variety of successful titles and merges them into an impressive package that almost anyone can enjoy. However, it took a number of key risks that ended up paying off quite well, and many of the game’s other aspects were so well-honed that they’ve become exemplars to the industry at large. Like The Last Of Us and The Witcher 3 before it, God Of War 2018 has become your favorite AAA game developer’s favorite AAA game, and you don’t have to look far to see the impact of that influence.

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