After slicing a rampaging Minotaur repeatedly with your trusty Blades of Exile, you finally knock the exhausted beast down, leaving it dazed and disoriented from your virtuosic display of hatred-fueled combat. As the Minotaur writhes on the ground, badly wounded but still not ready to succumb to death's waiting embrace, you sprint over and take hold of its piercing horns. With muscle-tearing effort, you grapple with the monster, twisting its neck as it desperately tries to break free of your hold. A horrific snap echoes across the room: You have won the fight. His limp body falls pitifully to the ground, forgotten as you run off to your next conquest. God of War III relishes death like few other games, glorifying the downfall of mythical beasts, rock-solid Titans, and not-quite-immortal gods in grotesque and satisfying fashion. The visceral combat and overwhelming sense of scale that have become the hallmarks of this brutal franchise have been pushed further than ever before in God of War III, creating an experience so focused and explosively fun that it's hard to put down, and even harder to forget.
Kratos has serious daddy issues. After being momentarily killed by his father, Zeus, at the beginning of God of War II, Kratos has spent every waking hour trying to return the favor. His quest for vengeance is unwavering. The majority of the cutscenes are centered on angry exchanges between Kratos and someone who dares oppose him, and end with an irreversible resolution. The motivation that pushes Kratos forward is easy to understand, but the repetition of his uncanny fury dulls the impact after a while. It's hard to relate to his actions after he gruesomely disposes of yet another mythical opponent with the same wicked scowl plastered on his face. For much of the game, the story hits just this one note. But things open up late in the quest, giving the game the heart it so desperately needs. When Kratos reveals a side beyond violent retribution, it makes his character more empathetic and gives the story much more weight. Freed from its overreliance on cold-blooded vengeance, Kratos' story becomes powerful and moving in unexpected ways, peaking in a thrilling conclusion that successfully touches on many different emotions and provides closure for this epic tale.
God of War III begins immediately after the events that conclude its predecessor. Kratos stands on the shoulder of Gaia, urging her and her fellow Titans to climb Mount Olympus and strike down the gods once and for all. This incredible scene follows the trend set by the previous games in the series, kicking off your journey with a jaw-dropping experience that will immediately suck you into this epic adventure. The defining characteristic of your plight as you climb this sacred mountain is a breathtaking sense of scale. The Titans you are traveling with are gigantic. Kratos is but a mere speck on their colossal bodies, and the camera zooms and pans so you can fully appreciate the size disparity of these reluctant allies. The ground you run across is part of a living creature, flexing and swaying as you dispatch the enemies who dare stand in your way. The game seamlessly shifts from a bird's-eye view of this epic climb to an extreme close-up of Kratos in combat, and it's simply stunning that there are no dropped frames or other graphical oddities to lessen this effect. The feeling that you're riding a towering giant is conveyed brilliantly, and the game only gets better from there.
The culmination of this fantastic sequence is one of the most violent deaths ever seen in the series. Kratos is no stranger to blood, but the stunning visuals in God of War III make his penchant for beheadings and disembowelments so much more gruesome. By initiating a quick-time event on a wounded foe, you can rip out the entrails of a centaur, de-wing a harpy, and tear the eyeball from a Cyclops, complete with optic-nerve snapping. Some of these death animations have been recycled from previous games in the series, but seeing them re-created here in meticulous detail will elicit equal doses of nausea and sadistic joy. The only downside to these horrific death sequences is that there is only one way to mutilate each type of enemy, even though you have four weapons in your arsenal. So while it is amazing to slit a gorgon's neck the first time, it loses its impact after a dozen or so identical viewings. Even with the repetition, the brutality of combat is one of the most satisfying aspects of God of War III.
Of course, you can't finish your enemies off in style until you whittle down their health first. The combat in God of War III hasn't changed significantly from its predecessors, but new moves and a few control tweaks make it even more fun to slice up your enemies. It's no longer a problem when cowardly adversaries keep their distance from Kratos' whirring blades. The bow you acquire early on isn't tied to your magic meter anymore, making it a handy option when a lumbering Cyclops is using his deadly reach to his advantage. If you charge your shot first, you ignite the arrow, and keeping a few enemies alight while you whale away on closer foes is a sadistic distraction during large-scale battles. You can also latch on to enemies and propel yourself toward them with a shoulder charge, and this painful technique is instrumental in stringing together long combos. Planting yourself in the middle of a swarming mass of undead may seem like a bad idea, but you can just grab on to any grunt and carry him around the battlefield like a battering ram, smashing into other enemies until his mushy body loses its usefulness.
The most noticeable improvement to the combat is that your secondary weapons are now viable alternatives to the Blades of Exile. You unlock four unique tools of death by the end of the game, and though their basic move sets don't differ significantly, they feel so distinct that it's a blast to use them all. You can now switch between every weapon at the touch of a button, and it's incredibly satisfying to swap out your long-reaching Blades of Exile for bludgeoning cestuses and pound your enemies into a bloody pulp. The pain your enemies are feeling is communicated beautifully. Every hit you dole out feels as though an angry man-god is behind the action, and the bone-cracking impact makes it a joy just to hack and slash your way around the arena with malicious intent. Defense is also more fun this time around because countering not only provides a devastating retaliatory blow, but is far more consistent as well. The timing needed to deflect an attack is more forgiving now, so luring your enemies into attempting the first swing and then slamming them back in the face is always fun. Ultraprecise controls provide the perfect backbone for your actions. Whether you're peppering a harpy with arrows, deftly rolling away from a fire-breathing Cerberus, or countering a sword strike from an undead skeleton, every one of your actions is responsive and entertaining.
The combat comes to a head in a series of intense boss battles. Neither gods nor Titans are safe from Kratos' wrath, and plunging your sword into divine flesh is a savage delight. Every boss you encounter requires a different tactic, forcing you to learn their patterns on the fly to strike them down before they get the better of you. The more craven of your colossal foes will call forth additional support to help even the odds a bit, but others are content to fight you one-on-one, and these prove to be the most difficult duels. Matching blows with a Greek god is no easy task, and your life will likely be stripped away once or twice before you figure out how to take them down. During turning points in battle, a quick-time prompt will command you to attack your oversized foe in a dazzling way, breaking up the battle with some well-earned brutality. These interludes do a great job of keeping fights diverse and interesting, urging you forward to see what heinous crime you'll commit next. At the conclusion of each of these battles, you are given a chance to finish your foes off in style, and these bloody moments are incredibly rewarding.
God of War III isn't just about meting out barbaric vengeance, though. There are clever puzzles sprinkled among the dramatic battles for supremacy, and they do a good job of forcing your brain to shift thought patterns. Although you have to partake in a few requisite box-pushing puzzles, the majority thankfully do not rely on this tired game mechanic. One of the more interesting puzzles takes place in Hera's maze garden. Reaching the next section by normal means is impossible, but by using a magic stone, your perspective is skewed, causing pathways that were previously unconnected to momentarily attach. Wrapping your brain around how to create paths from this warped perspective takes a fair bit of thought, and finally making your way through this area is as satisfying as crushing the life from a siren. Puzzles in God of War III are neither as prevalent nor as difficult as those found in its predecessor. Because of this, the experience is much more streamlined now, placing the focus squarely on the explosive combat. The result is a slightly more predictable adventure, but the fights are full of enough raucous moments to almost make up for the lack of diversity.
God of War III embraces violence like few other games, but the brutal combat never feels overwhelming. There is a delicate balance between the grotesque combat and the more cerebral, slower-paced sections. This restraint adds a lot to the experience, making the brutality more affecting and the quiet stretches a welcome respite from the bloodshed. The ease with which the game shifts between these moods is impressive, seamlessly flowing from deicide to puzzle solving to peaceful exploration without stumbling. The epic scale is also used sparingly, but to great effect. You always have a sense that you are part of something larger even when the environment doesn't necessarily reveal the majesty all around you. Kratos finds himself in tight, cramped corridors, using every trick in his combat arsenal to survive. And when you finally break free from your confined state into the open air and see miles of freedom beyond you, and a towering Titan leering down from thousands of feet above you, the overwhelming scale carries more weight.
Whether you're in a cramped cave or riding on the back of a furious Titan, the visuals in God of War III are stunning. The ease with which the camera zooms in and out during epic battles is jaw dropping, but it's the attention to detail that puts this game over the top. Kratos is animated with such painstaking care that it is striking at times. While riding atop a lassoed Cerberus, you can see Kratos' legs and arms flex with each step as he desperately tries to corral the wild beast, hanging on for dear life. The same care is given when you're swimming underwater, taking flight with Icarus wings, or ascending a flight of stairs, and it's a marvel to see how lifelike Kratos' movements are. This care is transferred to the creatures and gods you fight as well, making the battles feel more personal and the impact more painful. The lighting effects are equally stunning. Torches flicker realistically on surfaces and characters, creating an eerie effect. And these technical wonders are further enhanced by an artistic touch that gives every section of this game a unique look that is a joy to stare at. God of War III is simply gorgeous.
God of War III sticks to the strengths already established by its predecessors, but what it lacks in innovation it more than makes up for in execution. The combat is simple to pick up, but the added moves and weapons give it more depth than before, and the spectacular visuals make fights even more brutal. But God of War III is so much more than its satisfying combat. The imaginative visual design and moody classical score balance your quest for vengeance with artistic pleasures, and the well-crafted puzzles further tap into your cerebral vein. God of War III is a brilliantly paced, meticulously detailed adventure that thrills and satisfies until the very end.