I’ve recently had the pleasure of playing through the God of War games for the first time. There’s a lengthier blog post rattling around in my brain about these games that I may get around to writing one of these days, but at the moment I’m playing through God of War II. I have just picked up the Spear of Destiny, which prompted me to say:
“What the fuck?”
For those of you unfamiliar with the games, God of War is set in a version of Ancient Greece where all the myths were real.
The Spear of Destiny, on the other hand, is the spear used by the Roman centurion Longinus to pierce the side of Jesus Christ as he hung in crucifixion.
I can accept that depiction of the Spear of Destiny as a purple, double-blade monstrosity with a telescoping shaft — I mean, the blood of Christ has been reputed to do all kinds of things. But what I can’t understand is how or why the Spear would have been transported back in time several centuries or millennia and ended up in Ancient Greece.
It would be one thing if this appeared to be some kind of deliberate choice on the part of the game designers, but that doesn’t appear to be the case: Everything else in the game is drawn directly from Greek mythology. As far as I can tell, they just didn’t know what the Spear of Destiny was.
(Pursuing this topic in Google, I discover that there have been some discussions suggesting that the end of the God of War trilogy will reach a conclusion as the Greek myths come to an end and the story of Christ begins. But even if that turns out to be true, the Spear of Destiny still doesn’t exist until after the death of Christ. So it still doesn’t make any sense.)
PROBLEMS WITH GOD OF WAR II
This is actually just the most glaring example of my problem with God of War II: While it’s visually more impressive than the original God of War, the game just isn’t as good. There are two reasons for this:
First, the game is simply not as polished. The game-controlled camera angles are frequently awkward. The pacing is more disjointed. The cut-scenes are cruder. The gameplay is less fluid and more dependent upon arbitrary QTEs. The plot is less focused. The list goes on. None of these are horrible problems, but they are generally take the edge off the game.
Second, the underlying mythology of the game is not as well-executed. One of the things that made God of War particularly entertaining was that it truly felt like an “untold Greek myth”. It very cleverly incorporated very specific things from Greek mythology; expanded that mythology in a lot of creative ways; and then wove a completely original story of epic scope. Combined with addictively compelling gameplay, the result is easily one of the best video games I’ve ever played.
But in God of War II this starts to fall apart quite a bit. Instead of a careful and clever use of the Greek myths, you instead get the feeling that they just grabbed the closest copy of Edith Hamilton and picked pages at random whenever they needed to fill another 5 minutes of gameplay. The result is a kind of schizophrenic, dissociated grab bag.
The main plot of the game revolves around Kratos trying to reach the Three Sisters of Fate so that he can re-weave the threads of his fate. This is fairly clever. The problem is that everyone and everything from Greek mythology is apparently on the same quest… at the very same time.
For example, a youthful Perseus shows up. He’s seeking the Three Sisters so that he can save his love from the fires of Hades. This makes no sense: Andromeda survived the Perseus myths, fathered his children, and died of old age before being placed in the sky as a constellation by Athena. I can only assume that they were thinking of Orpheus.
A little while later an old, deranged man wearing wings shows up. He intends to fly to the island of the Three Sisters. And I’m immediately thinking, “Hey, that’s kinda cool. Daedalus, driven mad by the death of his son, is trying to rewrite history in order to save him. Clever.”
Only it’s not clever, because the guy self-identifies as Icarus after a couple of minutes. Since Icarus died as a young and foolish man (and that’s the entire point of his story), this makes no sense. It makes even less sense when you discover that the wings are literally growing out of his back.
And even if these individual uses of particular characters were not so jarringly wrong in so many ways, the collective effect of having the All-Star lineup of Greek mythology all showing up in the same place at the same time doesn’t work. Where God of War takes a few elements and uses them consistently in building a unique narrative, God of War II just takes a bunch of famous names and hopes for the best.
With all that being said, God of War II is still a great game. And there are many ways in which it marginally improves on the original.
But, ultimately, God of War is the better game.