God of War III – Primary Mechanics Analysis

December 5th, 2010

I made it a goal of mine to complete God of War III before I left for China some 8 months ago. I beat the game in time and have since left my stack of notes untouched. Finally, after dwelling on the game for so long I’ve gone back to my notes and now have something substantial to post, 5 articles in fact. I’ll be starting with the primary mechanics, please enjoy.

Renovating Redux

In my review of God of War II I made a point to criticise the weak changes and additions to the combat system which failed to make the sequel any more engaging than chewing through God of War for a second, consecutive time.

“For continuing players this amounts to a heap redux which God of War II’s largely peripheral additions to the combat system fail to quell. (Newer players will similarly find the combat stretches beyond its means, but perhaps not as immediately as returning players). A smattering of aggressive new moves mapped to the L1 button when used in conjunction with the face buttons, a spiffied up Rage of the Titans (rage mode) and some new spells do fend off the familiar, but fail to sustain player interest through what is a significantly extended play experience.”

Combat is the God of War franchise’s core component. It is, ultimately, the crux that the rest of the game leans  upon. So if the combat cannot pull its weight then the game as a whole is weakened on a fundamental level.

In God of War, the excellent “game feel” of Kratos’ brutal ballet, a solid degree of interplay and enemy types which brought the depth of the mechanics to the player’s attention are some of the highlights. For me personally, I made it all the way through God of War completely satisfied that I’d gotten everything out of the combat by the endgame.

In God of War II, the “game feel” is still great, but is arguably weakened as it no longer retains that “new combat system” feel. With little added interplay (back-and-forth depth) squeezed into the mechanics and rehashed enemies, God of War II is effectively the original game with some minor, non-impactful changes. (A lowdown on the differences can be found here). Furthermore since God of War II is a longer game than its predecessor, I personally found the combat more trying the more I played.

With these points in mind, it is imperative that God of War III rejigg the combat system. Fortunately it does so, let’s start with the analysis off with the primary mechanics. A follow-up article will cover the secondary and peripheral mechanics along with all round tweaks.

Starting Base

The core ability set from God of War II carries over to the 3rd instalment. (That is, everything from God of War plus the L1 power attacks and bow). Exceptions include the Barbarian Hammer and the Spear of Destiny. Peripheral and secondary elements like Poseidon’s Trident (breathing underwater endlessly), the Golden Fleece (re-diverting attacks), and Icarus Wings (floating fall) all return. The core mechanics are quickly taught by an on-screen display of button combinations and their respective attack names while Kratos is on Gaia’s back in the initial opening. Later the peripheral elements are taught once they become relevant, which just so happens to be in the preceding chapter when Kratos returns to the underworld.

New Core Mechanics

The Battering Ram (and the pile-on)

The battering ram mechanic is a follow-through mechanic to grab. Once Kratos grabs a smaller enemy, aside from pummelling them some more, tearing them apart or throwing them at other enemies (inclusions from the very first game), Kratos can also use the enemy as a shield and rush forward into other enemies. If Kratos dashes towards a solid surface, he will bash the enemy’s skull into that surface. The video below is a good display of the mechanic:

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As you can see, the battering ram is a great mechanic for crowd control because:

The mechanic is limited by a short timer and the accessibility of a peon to grab.

Now that 50 (peon) enemies can be rendered on-screen at the one time, there are more peon characters to overwhelm Kratos in the one instance, but equally more fodder to use a battering ram. God of War III facilitates both sides of this added dimension to the peon enemies with mechanics that remain in check with Kratos’ aggressive demeanour. The battering ram is an aid to Kratos, and at the same time, if caught off guard, the peons can climb on top of him. A QTE trigger is displayed if the pile overwhelms Kratos and when activated, Kratos shakes the peons off him with devastating force. With either outcome, Kratos ends up playing his role as a no-frills bad ass and gameplay is deepened.

The battering ram and the pile on QTE are good mechanical responses to the gameplay opportunities opened up by new hardware. The swarms, which are quite frequent, succeed in making Kratos appear powerful (by giving the player more advantageous tools), while adding some depth and dynamics between the minor and major enemies (battering ram can be used against the larger enemies, battering ram can be used to avoid larger enemies, enemies have drawback to battering ram and the shake-off QTE). Design and technology work harmoniously here.

The swarms of enemies may encourage the player to use the battering ram move, but even in less populated areas the move is effective at cutting the spatial distance between enemies and pushing the pace forward. Overall, these two mechanics are great additions.

Grapple Ram

There seems to be no proper name for this mechanic, so I shall call it the Grapple Ram. With this mechanic Kratos uses his blades to latch on to an enemy and launch himself at them. If Kratos latches on from a distance he’ll quickly pull himself towards the enemy. If Kratos latches on up close the enemy will be drawn back from the force.

The grapple ram clears any minor dead space when Kratos is out the fray by literally pulling him back into it. This mechanic can therefore make the combat much more immediate.

Flying enemies (in combat) offer great interplay as they can be used to draw Kratos into the air which transforms the play state from a ground into an aerial one. After the grapple ram animation is over, Kratos can launch into an aerial attack, fall back to the ground or use the grapple ram on another enemy to repeat the cycle or move back to the ground. Flying enemies also act as an eject seat for Kratos to break out of a heavy fray.

Because of the enemy drawback frames from the ram (and the closer proximity that it brings the player to the enemy), the grapple ram opens up ideal pockets of time for the player to then lead into a stronger combo of charged attacks. The animations work so that the player can be part of the way through a charged attack by the time most enemies return to their neutral state. Again, these new mechanics fall in line with the game’s ethos of unrestrained power, giving the player more advantage over their foes.

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Strangely, the Claws of Hades (weapon) don’t draw Kratos and the enemy together but send off a sort of projectile attack, which is subversive as it makes the mechanic seem unstable as its not universally implemented into all weapons. Video of this mechanic being used to exploit a high combo count can be found above.

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The grapple ram can also be used to ride birds outside of combat, helping Kratos reach higher platforms that are further away. Right at the start of the video is a great example. The extension of the mechanic outside of combat is well implemented addition. One of the only changes to the platforming portion of the game.

Just like the battering ram, the grapple ram is a cool new mechanic.

New Arrangement of Weapons

The two new mechanics are all well and good (and by themselves a far greater improvement than the combination of piddly additions in God of War II), however it’s the pre-existing combat system that matters most. The foundation combat mechanics changed nought form GoW to GoW II and pretty the same pretty much holds true of GoW III—bar the above—but this time it’s a little different.

Rather than completely revise the combat system or add more nuance to what was already available, God of War III internalises the concept of additional weapons first introduced in God of War II, giving them much greater priority. That is, instead of fundamentally improving the Blades of Chaos/Athena/Exile (the core combat system), new weapons are introduced which are given equal weighting against the blades.

While God of War II did introduce alternative weapons (the Barbarian Hammer and the Spear of Destiny) the weapons could only be cycled through by pressing R2. Having to cycle through weapons one-by-one was a real inconvenience and went a long way to marginalise the use of these weapons. Furthermore, there were few, if any, enemies or out-of-combat doflickies which required the player to utilise these new weapons, and the blades just felt better and were more familiar anyways.

In God of War III, the weapons are now assigned to the d-pad allowing players to switch to the weapon they want without sifting through other weapons first. This configuration edit makes it easy to switch weapons on the fly in a changing battle. The new weapons are further tightly integrated by pressing L1 + X to cycle weapons mid-combo. Pressing L1 + X will attack with the next weapon in the chain, so combos can be maintained even when cycling one-by-one. Supposedly, this second way of cycling was added so that the player wouldn’t have to take their finger off the control stick, leaving themselves vulnerable, when changing weapons. As a side effect, it also makes for some more interesting combo animations and effects.

In God of War II, spells were assigned to the d-pad, but the system has been streamlined now so that each weapon has its own fixed spell. So, in God of War III, to switch weapons is to switch spells.

While the new weapons are woven more tightly into the fabric of the combat mechanics and share a stature equal to the mighty Blades of Exile, is there really any point is using them beside the slight animation differences and changes in game feel? God of War II ultimately failed to give the player a reason to use the Barbarian Hammer and the Spear of Destiny, despite their awesomeness as individual weapons. As for God of War III, well, here’s an overview of each weapon and its properties; I’ll let you judge for yourself.

(Don’t forget that each weapon is modelled after the Chains of Exile. So the same buttons do the same thing for each move just with different animations).

Blades of Athena/Exile

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Claws of Hades

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Nemean Cestus

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Nemesis Whip

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The Claws of Hades and Nemesis Whip are variations of the Chains of Exile with near identical attack animations and no real exclusive mechanics or properties. The Nemean Cestus, on the other hand, can only damage onyx (useful in and out of combat) and has relatively unique battle animations. The Nemean Cestus and Nemesis Whip do have functionality beyond combat, but the interactions are one dimensional “go here and use the weapon” affairs. Overall, the distinguishing factors between the weapons are largely superficial.

Suggestions for Repair

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What God of War III needs, ironically, is a weapon like the Barbarian Hammer. As you can see by the gameplay video above, the hammer trades Kratos’ vulnerability (the shielding of the blades) for strength, creating much more concrete strengths and weaknesses. Now if the hammer’s mechanics were fully fleshed out (adding a charged move to heighten the trade-off, extending functionality to puzzles and allowing players to destroy weaker parts of the terrain and décor for environmental effects), then it’d make a worthwhile alternative to the blades.

Conclusion (New Arrangement of Weapons)

To conclude this vital point, God of War III rearranges the weapon structure to make it easier for players to make use of the new weapons. However, the 2 of the 3 new weapons are minor variations of the default Blades of Exile and the unique aspects of the 3rd (Nemean Cestus) aren’t all that much to boast about either. Even though its much easier to access these new weapons in God of War III, there’s not a great deal of reason for doing so and as such the restructuring falls far short of its potential.