God of War – Book Review

Let me introduce you to 2018’s God of War. It’s been a lifetime since Kratos, once God of War to the people of Ancient Greece, cut a bloody trail through the pantheon of treacherous Gods that he worked for and with.  Now he finds himself in the mythical Nordic land of Midgard, living not as a god, but as a man, granting himself the permission to have a family and live out his days as a husband and a father.

All things are set to turn upside down however, when the death of his wife sees Kratos and his son Atreus hit the road to spread her recently cremated ashes from the highest mountain in the realm. So begins the pair’s journey that will see them cross paths with trolls, ogres, undead and not-quite-dead soldiers, and even a god or two, as they trek across many of the lands written about in Norse mythology, from Midgard to Helheim and back.

Between the monsters in their way, the ghosts from the disgraced god’s past, and being forced to spend time in each other’s company, it’s hard to tell what may eventually be the end of the pair of travellers on their hardest ever expedition.

Whether you’re playing the game, or reading the recently released novelisation of the Playstation 4 exclusive: the story is exactly the same. Which brings me to my question. Who exactly is the novelisation of one of the most visually stunning games ever created for? Having lost close to 70 hours playing the game and a further six with this novelisation, I simply can’t answer that question.

As a book, J.M. Barlog’s adaptation of the Sony title is an average one. His prowess with a word processor and some great source material is not in question. In fact, I would go so far as to say that there are some points where his descriptive writing adds weight to some of the more dramatic scenes.  These moments, such as Kratos’ confessions and Atreus’ discoveries are ones that are unfamiliar to most of the God of War games and as such, players of the games are not accustomed to them; both the scenes and the characters are given much more feeling and depth than we were treated to in the game. That’s not to say they are handled better, but the novel does bring some substance to these already strong scenes.

Environments are beautifully described in luscious detail, and even throw-away conversations are given time and thought. When you’re sat with your feet up in peace and quiet with a book, these are paragraphs and pages I can certainly appreciate. As could anybody reading them. 

But these moments are few and fleeting. These moments, a mere handful of pages, don’t justify the nearly 400 that you have to go through to get to them. Not when there is a far better medium available to those interested in the father and son and their tormented travels. Which brings me back to the question.

Who is this for?

God of War is a gorgeously described novel. Rolling through the lands with Kratos and Atreus as they experience them is wonderful. But there is detail here and moments that can only be appreciated if you have spent time with the game. There are times when a moment of combat is described so well that you could almost have been there, but you’re still lacking in the visceral experience of the combat that was such a vital part not just of this most recent entry, but the entire God of War franchise. 

If you haven’t played this year’s God of War, you simply won’t get the full experience of what you are reading; there’s an assumed knowledge here thats acts as a statuesque gatekeeper to the story you are reading. But if you’ve played and finished the game, there’s not enough that’s new or different here to make it worth picking up.  If this story needed to be put to paper, it would have fared better as a multi-volume graphic novel: something that can visualise the beauty of its source material. Barlog’s time would have been better spent creating a story set before the game – there is a lifetime of tales to tell there. Or possibly one afterwards, adding to the lore and mythology.

But to simply tell the same story again seems… pointless.

God of War is now available from Titan Books.

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