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God of War: Origins Collection

God of War

God of War: Origins Collection tells a pair of unique, interesting stories. One follows the over-the-top, frequently brutal and brooding exploits of the iconic warrior Kratos. The other, perhaps more compelling narrative, recounts the challenge of squeezing everyone’s favorite Spartan onto the PlayStation Portable. Collecting Ready At Dawn Studio’s first and second forays into ancient Greek mythology; Origins Collection is a fascinating example of the studio’s growth, charting the developer’s understanding of the hardware and Kratos himself.

Created as a prequel to the original, God of War, Chains of Olympus was a revolution on the PSP. Known for their unparalleled scale, polish and impeccable controls, Chains of Olympus managed to live up to every lofty expectation associated with the signature franchise; somehow, everything was crammed onto the PSP: the huge bosses, the brutal QTEs, the sexy mini games, it was all there. The one thing it failed to do was exceed those expectations.

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Three and a half years later and played on a console, Chains of Olympus feels exceptionally quaint. Like every God of War title, this particular entry begins with a requisite spectacle battle. Standing in for the Hydra, or the Colossus, is the Basilisk, a hideous, lizard-like beast under the command of the Persian armies. As the introductory level unfolds, Kratos proceeds to do battle with the creature. Appearing and reappearing, the Basilisk is always in mind, if not in immediate sight. Whilst the game of cat and mouse is satisfactory, there is a prevalent feeling that you’ve done this all before – and at that time it was a whole lot prettier.

Even with the new texture work and higher resolution in place, Chains of Olympus looks rough – it is after all a PSP game running on your television; models and textures look crisp, but there is little to hide the overall lack of detail in most of the geometry. Graphics aside, it still feels like a God of War title, but Ready At Dawn’s freshman Spartan effort never seems to step outside of Santa Monica Studio’s shadow – the God of War originators.

That is, until Ghost of Sparta.

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Despite sporting some impressive scale for the PSP, Chains of Olympus was still a small game; Ghost of Sparta wisely sidesteps this issue. Outside of its requisite early spectacle battle, Ready At Dawn’s sophomore entry illustrates a mastery of the God of War formula, rather than a fine approximation.

First and foremost, Ghost of Sparta tells a more introspective, personal story, one that is infinitely more believable than that of its predecessor. Where Chains of Olympus truly stumbles, is in its request for empathy towards Kratos, by asking us to believe he still has values that many of us will struggle to digest. In Ghost of Sparta, Kratos searches for a long lost brother, a brother that was taken from him at a young age. It isn’t a stretch to understand the Spartan’s guilt and his lust for revenge.

Though each story has their own strengths and weaknesses, they are punctuated by Ready At Dawn’s clever use of QTEs and pacing. Emotional moments – for a God of War game – are given a more substantial weight, as players are forced to manually carry out Kratos’ wishes, no matter how unpopular they may be.

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What ultimately elevates Ghost of Sparta beyond Chains of Olympus’ humble beginnings – other than its vastly improved graphics – is its willingness to tinker with Kratos’ DNA. As a portable title, Ghost of Sparta can never do what a console title could and it shouldn’t be expected to. What Ready At Dawn has done is identify the weaknesses of the hardware and found a way to make them its strengths – and in many cases, improve on the God of War template.

Since the PSP can’t handle as many characters on-screen at once, most fights are smaller than those of Kratos’ original console outings. But, by having fewer enemies each fight becomes more intimate, allowing parries to be used more effectively and providing more opportunities to experiment in combat. Larger combos are viable thanks to less enemies to manage and the new magic has a more natural implementation into juggles and other attack strings.

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Second and most notably, puzzles in Ghost of Sparta are almost non-existent, and the experience is far better because of it. Rather than continue to drop Kratos into one inane temple after another, each needing a beam of light reflected in every which way, Ready At Dawn breaks up combat with an added emphasis on platforming and traversal. Though some of the results include a greater emphasis on QTE progression and Lara Croft-esque shimmying, the shift keeps the Spartan moving forward. Thus, the player is no longer subjected to tedious puzzles that serve little purpose other than padding the game’s length.

Admittedly, Ghost of Sparta doesn’t reinvent the wheel; it, like any great sequel, identifies the shortcomings of its forebear and proceeds to iterate upon it. Between these two titles, Ready At Dawn has shown a remarkable desire to press onward, rather than stand pat and deliver something that is merely adequate. Where Chains of Olympus was good, albeit a bit by-the-numbers, Ghost of Sparta stands proudly; the leanest and meanest the series has to offer.

8 out of 10

The author of this fine article

is an Associate Editor at Thunderbolt, having joined in April 2008. Get in touch on Twitter @_seankelley.

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