God of War’s new world is proving to be every bit as exciting to explore as I had hoped. The care, thought, and passion put into crafting an amazing player experience is reflected in my voyage to Veithurgard, a relatively small area that can be reached early in the game. So, let me be your tour guide through this region. I promise to avoid spoilers, so that you can enjoy the journey without fear.
The boat travel mechanics are delightfully well-designed. The player need only push on the left joystick for Kratos to urge the craft forward, left, and right at a pace roughly analogous to running on land. Often in games, manual traveling is a monotonous chore, steering a boat is only so dynamic, but Atreus upholds the narrative focus with innocent small talk and endearing requests for dear old Dad to tell a story. Kratos’ rendition of the “Tortoise and the Hare” is not to be missed.
The entrance to Veithurgard lies behind a massive pair of intricately carved stone gates, which are opened by a nearby puzzle. While God of War is not an open world game, preferring the term wide-linear, there is a notable emphasis on exploration as you travel the Norse realms. In the case of Veithurgard, Kratos not only finds a way to open the doors but is also given a strong emotional hook – with some material incentives – to further pursue the land beyond. The tempting invitation to investigate an entirely optional path is the sort of touch that elevates and differentiates the reimagined God of War from the earlier series’ restrictive linear progression. Heaping more fuel on the exploration fire, every land has its own unique collectable item set, which sells for a generous price.
Beyond the open doors unfolds a beautiful landscape dominated by a massive central mountain. God of War has in no way lost its sense of scale as the sheer scope of your surroundings dwarfs the two lone travelers. Craggy cliffs topped with green fields sail by as you make your way along the watery passage. Soon, Kratos beaches himself on shore and is greeted by a useful NPC and an informative lore marker. It is here we begin to learn that all might not be well in the land of Veithurgard.
Further down the path, I am flanked by twin monumental soldiers reminiscent of The Lord of the Rings’ Argonath. The developers have borrowed from a rich fantasy tradition in creating Veithurgard, and it won’t be the last time that something seems strikingly familiar. Atreus points out a possible landing place, which I might have missed, since I was taking in the scenery. He only does this once, by the way. Even if I had sailed past, he doesn’t nag or pester me about where to go. The developers have taken very deliberate steps to make Atreus helpful but not annoying. While AI companions are often the bane of the player’s existence, Kratos’ son only improves my experience by pointing out useful features (it’s like the development team is in the room to give you hints). He also doesn’t seem to be able to get in your way. Atreus runs along behind you unseen, and I have never once encountered a situation where he hindered or halted my progress. I developed enough of a bond with Atreus that I maxed out his skill tree and spent my hard-earned hacksilver on the best child-tailored armor and bow upgrades.
The shore is ringing with the “it’s quiet, too quiet” feel. A few small enemies dot the landscape, but it just seems too easy. There is evidence that an advanced civilization once thrived here. A great pier juts out into the water, sagging roofs of once large structures stare down forlornly. All enhancing the uneasy feeling. Rounding the bend, you abruptly discover an enemy for which you will not be ready. Dark Souls was obviously a touchstone here as Kratos weaves and ducks to avoid this foe rather than taking him on with reckless abandon. I thought I might be reading too much into the connection, until I found my way into a small cave housing a chest. I approached, eager to unveil its contents, only to be attacked by a hidden opponent as I began to lift the lid. I half expected the screen to read “you died”.
My dismay at having forgotten some hard-learned Dark Souls lessons gave way to an appreciation of the homage and reflection on how well the world is supplied with resources, collectibles, and equipment. Traveling back to the entrance, I realized that I completely missed a side objective across from the pier, and I also managed to walk right by a loot-filled sarcophagus. Uncovering everything requires a sharp eye. Don’t forget to look up! The replay value on this game is high, and I’ll probably still be finding things many playthroughs from now. Each segment of Veithurgard has a clever system built in to connect old areas with new to prevent backtracking fatigue. Very similar in feeling to Skyrim’s method of getting the player out of a dungeon without having to backpedal or the well-known Dark Souls shortcuts. These simple considerations really pay off and keep the player immersed in the world. I’ll leave you to enjoy what happens on the rest of the path into Veithurgard on your own, but be ready for some twists, some turns, and some intense action.