... but is still a good game:
The map in GOW is perhaps the worse I've ever experienced in a game. It's less of a map and more of a fleshed out compass. After a while you simply stop bothering with it, opting instead to just meander around hoping you happen upon something interesting. The complex nature of some of the areas clearly made it impossible to represent in a meaningful way but what we're given lacks any detail whatsoever. If you're on a mountain, in a ravine or in a valley, the level of detail is woefully lacking, with no indication at all where potential tracks are. In any other game, when met with the question: which direction should I go, a simple scan of the map gives you a decent idea of which geological contour to investigate. Nearly every time I've turned the game off, it's been because I cannot be bothered to travel in one direction only to find out I'm travelling in the wrong direction minutes later.
Randomly investigating worked OK to begin with because each area was fresh for exploration, but once you've filled the map and the task of hunting down those things you've overlooked rears it's ugly head, it becomes tiresome, a frustration inducing headache. The map isn't good to look at and it isn't informative, unlike Horizon Zero Dawn which did a very good job of showing the lay of the land.
Now onto my biggest problem with the game, the narrative beats, they're inconsistencies and tone. I'll use one examples to show what I mean but this is only one of dozens and dozens of silly inconsistencies:
The game begins with Atreus and Kratos gathering wood for Feye's pyre. The tone is sombre, the pacing slow and fitting. We're in that mindset as the player because that's the way the gameplay is set up. Kratos being Kratos insists the boy shows him how well he can hunt. This is fitting for Kratos. ... so far so good. I'll forgive the searching for collectables at this point, even though it does clash a little here. We're playing the tutorial area and they have to teach us the rules of engagement, both with combat and exploration. It's fine. It's a game. TLOU didn't do this but it hasn't got as many rules so I'm not going to compare here.
Many little jarring narrative moments later, we find ourselves faced with a troll, our first major enemy. During this hunting trip to demonstrate Atreus's hunting prowess in the name of his still burning mother, he utters the line 'Are we going to fight that thing?', a line straight out of a Saturday cartoon, delivered somewhat flippantly, it's only merit to serve the expectations of the player and not continue the 'hunting for mother' narrative of the characters. He simply would not have said anything if this was Neil Druckmann, instead we'd have seen the fearfulness on his face and in his demeanour. THIS would have served the player as well as the narrative beat much better than the dumb line 'Are we going to fight that thing?' Put yourself in his place and ask yourself, would I have said something like that? If you think that's asking too much of a game, remember, you ARE putting yourself in that place ... it's an interactive medium.
Now starts the train-wreck that made me shudder in expectation of what to expect throughout the whole experience. PAUSE! Just to remind us we're in a game, they decide at this moment to show a splash-screen on how to control Atreus, something that could have been done slightly earlier. It's telling us: remember, we're in a game and here's what you have to do in this game. Atreus has just killed his first hunt. Kratos has just pulled back from acknowledging it and showing Fatherly love. That's where the narrative beat starts and should lead us into, through and out of what follows but we've already had that beat destroyed with a silly line and a splash-screen.
Now we're in a battle with our first big enemy, struggling to come to grips with what strategy to use, our mind and reactions completely absorbed with the task at hand, Atreus reduced to square, square, square. Atreus gets on with the job, his move set limited at the moment and only engaging with arrow shots from somewhere in our peripheral vision. He's of no real consequence, just a desperate stab at a button in the hope he can help whittle down the troll's health bar. We hear Atreus occasionally utter his 'firing his bow' word (which I can't recall right now), which is expressed with the same matter-of-factness he expressed the line 'Are we going to fight that thing?'.
We finally defeat the troll! Job done! We've defeated our first major enemy. We're excited, perhaps even smiling. Suddenly from out of no where, Atreus runs into the scene and starts cutting at the trolls hide: 'Take that, take that. ... You're nothing to me.' I burst out laughing at that moment. It comes from no where and isn't connected at all with what is likely for most to be at least a ten minute battle. It was as if they just decided to say something about Atreus regardless of context or what lead into it. They wanted drama, so that's what they added, or at least tried to. Yes, we get it, Kratos doesn't think Atreus is ready. There are far better ways of showing this (not telling this) that could have been dovetailed into the many moments leading up to that fight, but no, they opt for the Saturday cartoon variety of writing.
The scene should have gone something like this: Atreus is knelt beside the dead body of the stag. Kratos puts his hand out to show compassion but instead reaches for the knife, his nature. The troll appears from nowhere and grabs the stag. Atreus, who is upset at his first kill instinctively stabs at the beast (fear and grief are a legitimate motivation here), getting swiped backwards onto the battlefields. Kratos kicks at the trolls head and joins his son in battle. Here we get 'contextual' gameplay dialogue with the son, shouting out for help, asking for advice. His voice should be fearful, the delivery broken, frenetic. Kratos would order him to fight from a distance(which also fits into the gameplay because his move set is limited). The new gameplay lines for Atreus and Kratos telling him to fight from a distance puts Atreus back in the picture and reminds us this isn't just a fight, it's a continuation of a narrative.
Now, when the battle ends and Atreus runs in to hack at the troll, it's ALL contextualised. There is no need for silly lines. We know he's distraught because his mother just died, his father is showing no fatherly love and he's just killed his first creature and feels sorry for it, which is more than enough to send him over the edge. When Kratos says: 'You are not ready', we've taken the cue from 'action' and 'inference'. We've been treated intelligently as a player and not patronised.
A special shout out to Atreus who just killed his first human, is bumped up to throw down a chain, walks like an old man with his shoulders hunched slightly (he's sad you know) and needs urging on THREE frigin' times with a press of the square.
Neil, show them how it's done.
The PS5 Exists.