Over the next few days, we will reveal what we believe are the 10 best games of 2018, organized by release date. Then on December 19, we will reveal which of the nominees gets to take home the coveted title of GameSpot’s Game of the Year. So be sure to come back then for the big announcement, and in the meantime, follow along with all of our other end-of-the-year coverage collected in our Best of 2018 hub.

The new God of War from Santa Monica Studio is a masterful reinvention of a now-classic PlayStation series and, primarily, its lead character. Kratos went from being a killing machine driven solely by rage in previous games, to, well, a killing machine driven by paternal instinct and a promise made to his deceased wife. But even without being compared to his former self, Kratos’ newfound sensitivity and self-awareness are as effective as they are because of how well the character and his journey are executed in general. For fans, it’s great to witness the character’s pivot from yesteryear’s action darling to today’s loving father figure in disguise, but Kratos and the game he leads are simply excellent on their own terms.

Many of the new systems, narrative beats, and surprises at hand feed off of the partnership between the mighty Kratos and his scrappy son, Atreus. The boy’s bow and arrow play an important role in combat, because without his chain whips in hand, Kratos is left to engage enemies up close with his Leviathan Axe, or rely on his throwing skills to strike enemies from a distance. The latter may require a bit more work on your part, but there’s also nothing else in games quite like Kratos calling the axe back to his hand, a la Thor, culminating in an abrupt and meaty thwack upon arrival. Thanks to well-thought-out controls, managing both Kratos’ brute force and Atreus’ elementally charged bow and arrow shots is far easier than you might imagine despite also adding new layers of strategy to combat.

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Kratos and Atreus have to cover a lot of ground on foot in God of War. Where most games fail to treat moment-to-moment travel as anything other than an afterthought, God of War injects would-be downtime with a bit of wisdom and education from Mimir, the sage-like disembodied head attached to Kratos’ waist who not-so humbly refers to himself as the smartest man alive. By his own account, he knows every corner of the world, every point in history worth remembering, and every language spoken. Tall claims, but given how he consistently offers up new bits of backstory and esoteric knowledge as you truck from point A to point B, it settles in that he might be right. More than a font of knowledge, he’s also voiced remarkably well by Alastair Duncan, better known for his work as Celebrimbor in Middle-Earth: Shadow of War and Shadow of Mordor.

These three characters form a trio that makes your adventure more than just a series of battles. Though Mimir’s personality hardly deviates beyond that of an entertaining fanny pack (which, don’t get us wrong, we love), Kratos and Atreus undergo massive changes. For Atreus, the loss of his mother and the gruff attitude of his father set him up to follow in Kratos’ footsteps, which as we know from previous games could ultimately lead to unexpected and negative results. Kratos, on the other hand, must simultaneously control his own urges while trying to counteract his son’s budding aggression. The result is some powerful moments between a father and son who couldn’t seem more different at first, but at heart are practically one in the same despite being at different stages in their lives.

Regardless of what we all expected from Sony’s muscle-bound badass, God of War is simply a great video game driven by a bold directorial vision and top-tier execution from a team that clearly knows how to knock it out of the park.

God of War’s strong lead characters and their many brushes with death are held aloft by a world jam packed with beauty and detail. Wild, connected environments flow into one another with nary an awkward transition to be found. Through the use of a dimension hopping portal, you can also transport Kratos and son to haunting and dangerous locations that pack some of the game’s biggest challenges. And the most impressive achievement therein is the game’s single-shot, uncut nature. You may enter tiny waiting-room realms to travel between dimensions, but your view is never once interrupted by camera cuts or loading screens. This isn’t a small game, and this feat is all the more impressive when God of War’s world fully comes into view.

Again, it’s tough not to wrap all the things that make God of War great around the idea that it’s a shockingly good revival. It certainly is that, and Santa Monica Studio deserves credit for proving that God of War can be so much more than a spectacular action game. But regardless of what we all expected from Sony’s muscle-bound badass, God of War is simply a great video game driven by a bold directorial vision and top-tier execution from a team that clearly knows how to knock it out of the park.

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