There’s a new God of War game out, and as you may have heard, it owns. It’s also a pretty involved game with lots of stats, upgrades, and optional stuff that’s easy to miss. I’m here to help.
I spent around 60 hours on my first playthrough of God of War, which included the story missions as well as pretty much all of the optional sidequests. As much as I loved the game, there were definitely some things that it didn’t explain very well, and that I wished I’d known from the start.
If you’d rather watch tips instead of reading them, our own Tim Rogers made this highly entertaining and informative video that summarizes many of the tips you’ll find below.
For all you readers out there who are still with me, here are some spoiler-free tips for you as you get started. I’ve broken them into a few categories:
- General Tips & Settings
- Upgrades, Gear and Skills
- Exploration and Puzzles
Let’s do it.
God of War (2018) is a sort of tonal and mechanical reboot for the series, with Kratos fleeing his past and winding up in the northern lands of Norse legend. It’s not an actual reboot, however. It’s a direct storyline sequel to God of War III. The story, which is told with more subtlety than you might expect, is a lot richer if you know who Kratos is and what he’s been up to.
The shortest version is this: he was a mighty Spartan warrior who was tricked by Ares into killing his family, then rose up with Zeus’ help to kill Ares and become the new Greek god of war. Kratos then killed or caused the deaths of basically the entire Greek pantheon including Zeus, who was revealed in God of War II to be his father. The most recent game in the series’ chronology, God of War III, ended with Kratos escaping for parts unknown.
That’s what you really need to know, but if you want more, go watch a recap video like this excellent one IGN did last week.
If you’re playing God of War on a PS4 Pro, you’ll see two display options in the “Video” part of the Settings menu. You can favor a higher resolution at a locked 30 FPS, or raise the framerate. This is in part a matter of personal preference and what looks better on your television, but my recommendation is to go with performance, which unlocks the framerate and makes the game much smoother. The framerate mostly sits somewhere that feels like the mid-40s to me, but occasionally will go higher. It’s a much better experience.
The game’s second-lowest difficulty is called “Give me a balanced experience,” and I’d recommend it for most players. This game is tough, especially at first, when you don’t have access to a bunch of gear and other items that make things easier. You might feel like you need to dial down the difficulty, but stick it out through the first few hours and soon you’ll be able to start doing sidequests to raise Kratos’ stats. As I played and leveled up, I found that the back half of the story had gotten too easy, so I bumped the difficulty up to “Give me a Challenge” for some of the final chapters.
That said, a lot of the toughest optional/endgame stuff is plenty difficult on balanced difficulty, so I’ve mostly stuck there. Also, note that the hardest difficulty, “Give me God of War,” is fine if that’s your thing, but it’s absolutely brutal, and unlike with the other three difficulties, you can’t change it without starting a new game. If you’re hardcore enough to want that from the get-go, you do you.
There are enough unusual names and complicated religious hierarchies in God of War that it’s a good idea to turn on subtitles, at least at first. It’s unfortunate that the in-game text is so tiny, since it can be hard to read the subtitles, but at least that means they won’t be too distracting during emotional moments.
God of War gives you a few different options for the in-game interface. You can turn off enemy health bars and proximity notifications if you want, and you can also turn on or off the compass that can help navigate toward your next destination. I actually didn’t mind the compass all that much or find it very distracting, but the best option, at least at first, is probably to leave everything else on and set the compass to “Touch” so that it only appears when you lightly tap the PS4 touchpad.
God of War defaults to Dark Souls-style controls, with light attack on R1 and heavy attack on R2. I actually played the game with a custom controller that let me remap my light attack to an underbutton, so that was my preference. My colleague Chris Kohler says he preferred classic controls, which put light and heavy attack on the face buttons like in old God of War games. Your own preference may vary, but at least give the two main control setups a shot.
Early on in the game, you’ll see some magically-locked doors that you can’t open. Later on, you will of course find the method of opening them. It’s done via a mini-game that, while conceptually cool, gets really annoying around the second time you have to do it. There’s an option to switch this from “precision” to “single button press” in the menu, removing the minigame. My recommendation is to leave it alone, try it once, then decide.
Once you’ve made it out of the first act, you’ll begin to accumulate sidequests called “Favors” that are marked with blue icons on the map. It’s tempting to blow past those and focus on the story, but I recommend taking the time to do them. In particular, do the ones given to you by the blacksmiths, as well as the ones given to you by other characters you meet along the way. There are a few other favors related to more endgame-ish side stuff that you can more safely save for once you’ve finished the story, but I recommend doing those “core” Favors in between story missions.
Your mileage may vary on this, but I’ve found almost all of God of War’s technically optional challenges to be well done, interesting, and fun. There’s very little filler, aside from one optional area that eventually starts to feel like a grind. But even then, the combat in this game is so unpredictable and rewarding that I didn’t mind. Once you’ve finished all the main stuff, take the time to go back and complete all the optional challenges. They’re worth your time.
Pretty early in the game you’ll be able to start buying better armor and accessories from the blacksmith, but as long as you’re taking your time, exploring, and opening every chest you find, you don’t really need to worry about it. You’ll find plenty of armor out in the world, usually in the glowing “legendary” chests. Eventually you’ll have enough money and store options that it’ll be worth buying something directly, but not for the first few hours.
Your Leviathan Axe is another story. Kratos will occasionally get a unique item from a story mission that lets you upgrade it in the shop. Do so as soon as possible. Each upgrade tier won’t just make the axe do more damage, it’ll unlock a new tier of skills for you to buy with XP. (If you accidentally miss the item, or any other story-crucial items, it’ll be in the Lost Items section of the shop.)
When you have armor you’re no longer using, feel free to sell it to the blacksmith. You can buy back anything you sell, and if you play normally you’ll wind up with top-level endgame stuff in due course.
It’s easy to play several hours of God of War without even going into the menus. Don’t do that! As soon as you can, go over to the “Skills” tab and familiarize yourself with it. There’s a skill tree for the axe, one for unarmed combat, and one for Atreus’s bow. Start upgrading your axe skills as soon as you can—most of the early add-ons are basic moves that you’ll want to start learning asap. (More on combos and moves in a bit.) More to the point, you’ll spend most of the game drowning in XP and will only very infrequently feel like you have to limit what you upgrade.
I’m keeping these tips spoiler-free, so here’s the vague version: There are a few times when you’ll need an item from the blacksmith in order to proceed. In one of the optional areas, there’s a key that the blacksmith can craft that opens a room that serves as a hub for that area’s sidequests. It’s super easy to miss that you’re supposed to buy it under the “enchantments” tab of the store, and I actually played in this area for several hours without realizing what I was supposed to be doing.
Furthermore, there are a couple of crucial upgrade materials you can earn at the end of the game that you have to obtain as “resources” from the blacksmith. I didn’t know about those either and spent ages hunting around for materials I could’ve bought at any time. Hopefully those two vague tips are still clear enough that you’ll know what I’m talking about when you get to them.
God of War channels Metroid by showing you areas gated by mysterious barriers that you can’t seem to open. Don’t worry, that’s just the game indicating to you that you don’t yet have the item that’ll make it possible for you to proceed. Make a mental note (or a physical one!) when you see some blue vines, or a weird mirror door, or whatever. You’ll want to come back at some point.
In general, Atreus will keep you pointed in the right direction if you want to follow the story. If you’re in a room and not sure where to go next, look around and find if he’s standing somewhere or looking at something. Conversely, when he says “maybe we should explore,” he’s hinting that now would be a good time to do some sidequests.
Related to that, if Atreus is telling you to go right at a fork, go left first. God of War has tons of hidden chests and optional little side-puzzles stowed away for you just off the main path, so get in the habit of fully exploring every area before you move forward, particularly in the first few hours of the game.
Every time you find new lore or face a new enemy, Atreus will update the game’s codex with new information. I didn’t really browse the codex on its own until I had finished the game, but I wish I’d gone through it earlier. The whole thing is written by Atreus, and it provides sketches of enemies as well as his entertaining commentary on what’s going on, who’s who, and what he makes of everything. (It’s too bad, then, that the game’s miniature text size can make this a chore depending on your TV setup.)
There are a ton of environmental puzzles in God of War, and most of them require noticing and charting out a bunch of objects in the environment. My best, broadest tip for these sorts of things is to look up. A lot of times, the solution will be suspended above you.
Early in the game you’ll find your first Nornir Chest, also known as rune chests. It’s a locked chest with three symbols on the front. The game gave me a terrible tutorial prompt that simply read “solve the runes to open the chest.” I had no idea what that meant and left, only to realize later that I should’ve been solving and opening every chest I found. In the case of that first chest, it only meant that I should find three barely-hidden glowing runes in the immediate vicinity of the chest and “solve” them in the only way Kratos knows how to solve something: By throwing his axe at it.
As the game progresses, there are a variety of solutions to Nornir Chests, some of which are bizarre and clever, most of which are more straightforward. The important thing is that if you can get to where you’re standing in front of a Nornir chest, you can always solve it without leaving the immediate vicinity. Nornir Chests contain upgrade materials that expand your health and rage pool, so you should definitely do every single one you find. They’re also a lot of fun to solve.
You’ll find the first of these very early on, when Kratos and Atreus get into a boat for the first time. They’re large glowing dew drops hanging out over the water, and you can usually spot them from a distance. Each one gives you a small but permanent upgrade to a single stat. Take the time to skirt the edges of the map in your boat and do as much dew as you can.
Odin has a bunch of green, spectral ravens flying around Midgard, and if you can hit them with your axe, you’ll get a little burst of XP. Keep an eye out for green birds, but also keep your ears open, because they make a distinctive sound.
As you paddle around you’ll also see a lot of barrels floating out in the water. Since this is a video game, your instinct may be to crash into them. Or, your instinct may be to avoid anything that looks like it might damage your boat. The first instinct is correct: plow into them and you’ll earn a bit of money.
This is a little thing that I didn’t totally understand at first. Sometimes you’ll see what looks like a big, pulsing heath pickup. You could stomp it to get a ton of health, but you can also wait until it turns red and stomp it to fill up your rage. That’s not true of every pickup, but if you see a pickup that seems to glow and then change color, that’s what’s going on.
You’ll know what I mean.
Kratos’s shield is pretty damn powerful, though it’s easy to forget to use it in the early goings. He can block most attacks while taking zero damage. Yellow attacks will stagger him, so you’ll need to either roll out of the way or time your block to parry the attack. Red attacks are unblockable, so you’ll have to dodge those. But when you’re taking on a tough enemy, it’s not a bad idea to keep your shield up.
Parrying is like pro-mode blocking. If you can get Kratos to throw up his shield just before an enemy hits you, you’ll parry them, provided it isn’t an unblockable red attack. Parrying is super helpful for managing mobs, since it slows down the pace of incoming attacks and gives you a long window to land a counterattack. Practice parrying early, because it becomes more and more important on tougher enemies later in the game.
Kratos starts out with a pretty basic move-set, but by the end of the game you’ll have a remarkably deep set of combos, runic attacks, and other moves at your disposal. Take the time to read through your skill tree at the start. Later on, once you’ve bought all your upgrades, read through everything again. If you’re like me, you’ll find a lot of moves you’d forgotten about and hadn’t been doing.
The first boss in the game is probably going to be a sticking point for some people. Kratos doesn’t yet have his rage, runic attacks, or a lot of the other tricks that will soon be at his disposal, and the boss can shred your health with a couple hits, particularly on Challenge difficulty. So, keep your distance. Use Atreus to distract the boss whenever possible, but really, just keep your distance and throw your axe at its head a whole bunch of times. It may not feel particularly lordly, but it’ll get you through the fight alive.
Some of Kratos’s coolest moves are at the end of the skill tree and involve stance shifts. If you pause after an attack, Kratos will do a sort of flex, which is your cue to do a chain of new, alternate attacks. (Tim Rogers and I have come up with the term “Flex Hole” for this pause-spot, since Kratos usually flexes during the pause.) Practice these moves in particular, because they’re super cool and can be really useful in certain circumstances.
This is almost certainly the thing most people will take the longest to adjust to. Kratos’s son Atreus fights alongside him. You can mostly just let him do his thing if you want, but the combat system is designed around him, so you should use him whenever you can. His arrows start out as little more than a distraction that can cause enemies to ignore Kratos or break them out of a move they’re doing, which can be a help. They get stronger as you leveled up his abilities. And they refill automatically, so there’s no reason to not just blast out arrows at all times during combat. It can’t hurt!
Kratos can learn special runic moves that are quite powerful and have relatively short cooldown times, so don’t be shy about using them during battle. Similarly, Atreus will later gain the ability to perform summons in combat, calling in spectral flocks of birds, stampedes of boars, that kind of thing. I basically never used his summons until I really started hitting some tough fights in endgame, and I wish I’d been using them more before. In particular, if you get one that involves a squirrel, use it right away.
Along with runics and summons, Kratos’s talisman is another easy-to-forget item that can be extremely useful in combat. Eventually, your talismans will give you some pretty wild abilities, but ones with active abilities are worthless if you don’t activate them in battle.
If you run into some tough enemies while out exploring, remember that you can always run away and come back. Sometimes their health will regenerate, but other times it won’t. For that reason, it’s a good idea to leave unused health packs laying around the level so you can quickly recover some health before jumping back in the fray.
The Leviathan Axe can freeze most lightweight enemies in place, which can be useful if you want to better control the battlefield. Freeze one enemy, then take on another with your fists without having to worry about the first guy. Speaking of which…
Kratos is super, super strong, and his fists are made out of like, God Material. It may feel like you should be using the Axe, since axes are generally held to be more deadly than fists, but in truth, you can mess stuff up without ever taking Kratos’s axe off his shoulder. Practice unarmed combos and combine unarmed attacks with Atreus’s arrows to really max out enemy stun meters quickly, leaving them vulnerable to a QTE smashing.
God of War has an action RPG leveling system, which means that you can sometimes be hopelessly out-leveled by an enemy. Green health bars mean an enemy is at your level or lower, yellow and orange means they’re slightly above you, and purple means they’re way above you. If you’re level 3 and go up against a level 7 foe, they’ll have a purple health bar and will generally kill you with a single hit. You can beat a purple, if you’re quick on your feet and patient. And actually, that can be pretty fun and give you a good reward besides. So you might want to try to take them on. But in general, if you’re seeing purple health bars and dying a lot don’t feel ashamed about doing something else and coming back later.
As time passes, your rage will build. That rage can be useful, but it’s no good if you just let it sit there, unused and festering. Unleash your rage at regular intervals, being sure to direct it at your most annoying or dangerous adversaries. Remember, you never really run out of rage. Even if you think you’ve used it all up, it’ll only be a matter of time before it’s back. Harness it as often as possible.
Rage lets you do a bunch of super-aggressive punches, which build up an enemy’s stun meter. When you max out the stun meter on some tougher enemies like Wolvers and Revenants, clicking the stick doesn’t kill them instantly. Instead, Kratos is locked in a grappling sequence where you get in a bunch of free hits. If you enter one of those sequences while enraged, your rage meter will stop running out, and in fact, each hit you land will increase the amount of rage you have. If you’re going up against a few of those types of enemies, it can work well to trigger your rage, stun enemies super fast (with Atreus’ help), then replenish a bunch of rage in the grapple sequence before popping back out to do some more punching.
Unlike in the real world, Kratos’ rage has an on-off switch. If you use up half of your rage on the last enemy, just click the sticks again and Kratos will shut off his rage. Doing so will cost you a chunk of your remaining rage, but that’s better than just running it all out with no enemies around.
Those are my tips for God of War, based on about 60 hours of playing. I hope they’re helpful, and as always, if you have any tips of your own, I hope you’ll share them below.