The new-and-improved God of War makes significant changes to the combat of the long-running franchise. Trading protagonist Kratos’ Blades of Chaos for the Leviathan Axe, the game takes God of War’s fighting to a more close-range, intimate, and tactical place. A tighter camera at Kratos’ back means visibility is limited, and tougher enemies have to be outsmarted instead of overpowered in many cases.
There’s a lot to learn in the new God of War if you want to be a great warrior, from creating combos to picking the right armor and working together with Kratos’ son, Atreus. Here’s everything (and we do mean everything) you need to know to fight hard and well in the latest God of War.
Light and heavy attacks
Your bread-and-butter attacks in God of War are basic swipes and chops with the Leviathan Axe when you hit either R1 or R2. The R1 attack is quick, light, and good for stringing together combos. R2 fires off a slower, heavier attack, which will often knock enemies helplessly into the air, where you can wail on them even further or finish them off. You can also throw your ax by holding L2 to aim and pushing either R1 for a fast one-handed throw or R2 for a slower (chargeable) two-handed throw. Tossing the ax at enemies can stun them or freeze them, so it’s a handy move to have in your repertoire. You can recall it to Kratos’ hand at any time by pressing the triangle, and it’ll damage any enemies it hits on the return trip, too.
When the ax is either put away or you’ve thrown it, you can punch enemies with your bare hands. The same rules apply: R1 for light, fast punches, and R2 for a slower kick move that sends guys flying. Fighting with the ax is good for straight-up damage-dealing, but bare-handed brawling will more quickly increase an enemy’s “Stun” meter, which fills up as you pummel them with quick attacks. If you stun an enemy, you can hit R3 to perform a powerful execution move on them, often killing them outright. You can also use R3 to “lock on” to a single enemy to keep them on your screen, and switch your lock between enemies with the right analog stick.
Perhaps the single biggest change in God of War? Sometimes, you have to play defense.
You have two ways of dealing with those attacks: Dodging and blocking. Kratos can dodge sideways with a tap of the X button, which is usually effective for getting out of the way of any kind of attack if you time it correctly. He can also deploy a shield with L1, which blocks most incoming attacks.
Enemies facing you will telegraph their moves in a couple of ways. The warning you’ll get for most weaker attacks comes in the enemy’s animation — they’ll raise their arm to swing a sword, or rush at you. Stronger attacks you can block will be indicated with a yellow ring around the enemy; if you hit L1 just as the attack strikes you, you’ll parry it, sending the enemy reeling and giving you a chance for a quick counterattack. If you just block a yellow attack, though, Kratos will be staggered and you’ll be open to attack. Finally, some strong attacks from enemies are signaled with a red ring around your enemy, indicating that you can’t block them. The only way out of those is to dodge them. Those attacks are usually heavy and slow, giving you plenty of time to dodge them, and an opening to strike after you’ve gotten out of the way.
Kratos has some situational awareness, even though it’s tough to see enemies behind you due to God of War‘s closer camera angle. Arrows pointing offscreen signal threats coming your way. A white arrow indicates an enemy behind you; red means an enemy is about to melee attack you from the direction the arrow is pointing; and a purple arrow means an enemy is shooting something at you, like a fireball.
Runic attacks give a burst of power
As you explore the Nine Realms, you’ll come across runes you can plug into the Leviathan Axe that give you special, powerful moves. There are a ton of these to find, and they come in two varieties: light and heavy. To execute them, hold L1 to pull your shield, then press R1 for your light runic attack or R2 for your heavy runic attack. These attacks generally are enough to knock enemies out of their own attacks, and you won’t get interrupted if you’re hit while doing them. Each one can be upgraded over time by spending experience points you earn from killing enemies to make them more effective, but they also carry cool-down timers, so it’s best to save your runic attacks for big moments when they’re sure to be highly effective. Some Talismans, a type of armor, can also impart a special move, usually some kind of healing or support skill. If you have a talisman move, you can activate it by holding L1 and pressing Circle. Atreus eventually gets his own runic attacks as well, called Runic Summons. Hold the square to activate those.
Runic attacks can add many different types of attacks to your repertoire. Some will give you a big area-of-effect attack to damage multiple enemies in an area; others use an ax throw to hit several baddies at once. Still others shoot frost energy in a line along the ground, for instance. It’s a good idea to mix and match your runic attacks so they’re good in a variety of situations. For instance, you might want a heavy runic attack that does area damage, so you can hit lots of enemies at once, and a light runic attack that’s good at long range, so you can hit one enemy really hard from a safe distance. Finding combinations that work for your play style is key, and you’ll want to work your runic attacks into your combos for maximum effectiveness.
Spartan Rage, for massive damage
Kratos might be trying to drop his “Ghost of Sparta” persona, but he still has some cool abilities from his time as the God of War. As you fight enemies, you’ll fill an orange “Rage Meter” at the bottom of the screen. When it’s full, hit R3 and L3 together to activate Spartan Rage, which basically lets you Hulk out on enemies until the meter is empty. When Spartan Rage is active, you go into a bare-fisted smash session that lets you deal massive damage by pummeling guys with fast, light punches or smashing the ground with a heavy attack that affects an area.
Spartan Rage can give you a brief edge in hard battles, especially if use it at the right time. It won’t make you invincible, but it does let you hit hard enough that most enemies will be staggered by your attacks and they won’t be able to hit back. Spartan Rage is also a good panic button if you’re almost out of health, as your health regenerates as you put the hurt on your opponents. It won’t fill your health bar, but it’s often enough to bring Kratos back from the brink of death when you might be about to lose a fight.
Don’t be afraid to use it. Your Rage Meter doesn’t charge so quickly that you can use it in every fight, but you’ll fill it often enough that you should not hesitate to use it when you see an opportunity to finish a fight, or prevent things from getting out of hand.
Don’t forget Atreus
The last element of combat you have from the start is Atreus. Your son carries a bow that lets him do some useful things. First, you can make Atreus shoot at any enemy you’re looking at or aiming at with the square button. The principle use for Atreus’ bow is to distract or interrupt enemies as they’re about to hit you. Many of your opponents’ big, unblockable attacks can be interrupted with an arrow to the face.
You can also use Atreus to add to your combos or augment your fighting ability. Knock an enemy up into the air, and a quick arrow will help keep them there, allowing both of you to hit them at the same time. Later in the game, Atreus will start grabbing enemies while you beat on them to temporarily open up their guard, and knocking them down to open up some breathing room for you.
Finally, Atreus is especially useful for distracting enemies you’re not ready to fight. When you’re not having him help you add arrows to combos, you want to use Atreus to shoot the enemy you’re not ready to go after yet. Arrows can cause enemies to go after Atreus instead of you, which is really useful against huge bosses or in crowds. Just be careful that enemies don’t grab Atreus, because you’ll need to save him if that happens. In all cases, you want to be thinking about how Atreus can add to your fighting ability. Don’t forget to use him, because he’s often essential for staying alive in a tough fight.
Putting it all together
Though at first glance, it might seem like the old style of God of War combat, where players string together long combos to wreck enemies, has been left behind, that’s actually not the case. The new God of War puts you in tighter, more duel-like scenarios with enemies, but you’ll still have tons of bad guys to smash with super-powerful strings of attacks. The difference is: Now you have to read the field so you can create your own combos on the fly.
Combos are still the essential, basic way of thinking about God of War combat. As the game goes on, you’ll get more and more moves and a few new weapons to add to your repertoire, expanding the ways that you can link attacks together in combat to be effective. You’ll want to experiment constantly to find moves that link fluidly so that you can pummel enemies into submission, and manage bad guys so they don’t surround you. Mashing one attack button isn’t going to get you far in God of War.
Advanced techniques and strategy
All about crowd control
Wailing on enemies with effective combos is all well and good, but most of the fights you’ll find yourself facing in God of War will pit you against multiple opponents. While you might be tempted to isolate and focus on taking down one enemy, controlling the group and keeping them from surrounding you should be your first priority.
Look for opportunities to distract enemies you’re not ready to fight, so you can deal with the ones in front of you. You can do that by knocking guys down by throwing the axe at them, blasting them with runic attacks, or using your bare-handed heavy attack to push enemies back and give yourself more space. A heavy throw with the axe can also pin enemies to walls or freeze them so you don’t have to deal with them for a few seconds. Atreus will help as well — when you’re not controlling him, he’ll shoot at any enemies you’re not actively dealing with in an attempt to keep them from bothering you. You can also point his arrows directly at the enemies you want to stall.
Avoiding getting surrounded is key to victory in God of War. It’s less about overwhelming force and more about maintaining control. That way, you’ll never start a fight you don’t think you can handle.
Don’t overuse the ax throw
It’s tempting to go wild chucking the Leviathan Axe at enemies, especially because it’s so damn cool. You can overdo it though: Hitting triangle to call back the ax can be useful for hitting distant enemies both coming and going, but it also leaves you vulnerable. You want to throw the ax when it’ll do the most damage, not when you’ll immediately be wishing you had it back. The second or so it takes the ax to return is enough to leave you open for damage.
Focus on throwing the ax for a clear purpose. Taking out ranged enemies throwing fireballs at you is a major one, but you can also use the ax in key tactical ways. Hitting an enemy in the head will usually stun it briefly, and with bosses like trolls, you can actually interrupt big attacks before you have to try to dodge them. Similarly, a light throw to the legs will knock a lot of enemies down, briefly taking them out of the battle. With a heavy throw, you can often freeze one enemy solid, allowing you to break off and fight others without having to worry about the first one. The point is, the ax is usually more useful in your hand than it is on the ground, so when you do throw it, make sure the attack is highly useful, and try to work it into a combo to keep your fighting fluid.
Although the leveling system in God of War is a bit opaque at first, you don’t want to ignore the armor side of things when thinking about how you fight. Each piece of armor you find affects Kratos’ stats, and each of his stats change how effective you are in battle. The same is true of “Enchantments,” which are items you can attach to your armor for more stat boosts. For instance, armor and enchantments that enhance your Strength stat are good if you’re a straight-up fighter who likes to wail on guys. Items with high Runic stats, on the other hand, are good if you’re the kind of person who wants to use lots of runic attacks in high-pressure situations. If that’s the case, you’ll also want items that increase Kratos’ Cool-down stat, which makes all your attacks recharge more quickly. The Defense stat decreases how much damage you take when hit, so you want it as high as you can get it. the Vitality stat increases Kratos’ health, but also decreases how badly you’re staggered when hit, which makes it a good investment for fighters who like to parry a lot (and might miss sometimes).
Enchantments and armor also sometimes come with “perks,” which are passive abilities that activate under certain circumstances. A perk might cause you to get health when you parry an attack, or increase your defense when you take big hit. Perks aren’t a sure thing, though — they only have a chance of being triggered based on how good the item is. Increasing your Luck stat can drive up how often perks are activated. Perks can make a big difference in a battle, so you’ll want to pick your enchantments and armor based on what kind of fighter you are. You can do the same thing with Atreus’ armor as the game progresses, choosing what kind of fighter he’ll be and how he can best augment your style. Pay attention to how you like to fight, and equip items accordingly — it’ll help make you significantly tougher and more effective to have the right stat boosts and perks in a difficult battle.
The most important aspect of your armor, however, is the overall armor level (the big number in the diamond at the top of your Armor menu). God of War employs a Destiny style “gear level” system that rates and balances your abilities versus those of your enemies. Each piece of armor and enchantment has an armor level, and you receive an overall level based on your aggregate gear rating. You can easily tell if there’s a difference between you and your opponent by looking at their health bar, which features their level and is color-coded to tell you who has an advantage. Enemies with a yellow health bar are your equals, orange enemies have one level on you, red have two, and purple enemies have three. (Pro tip: If you see a purple health bar, just walk the other way). While optimizing your specs for your play-style is important, building your armor level is the single best thing you can do to make the game easier. Always upgrade your gear and purchase new armor when you can, even if you need to put resources into it to make it more powerful.
Go on an XP spending spree
You’ll earn a ton of experience points fighting in God of War, which is good, because there are lots of things to spend them on. You can unlock skills and moves for Kratos in close-range and long-range ax fighting, bare-handed fighting; and Spartan Rage, plus more moves for Atreus. You can also spend your XP on upgrading your Runic attacks. Sometimes it can feel a bit overwhelming as you try to decide where to spend your experience, but don’t worry — there’s always much, much more coming.
In fact, it’s a good idea to spend your XP as fast as you can, whenever you can. Start by buying all of the basic moves for Kratos and Atreus. Don’t worry about being too discerning, because you’ll own them all before too long. The trick is to pay attention to what you’re purchasing, and consciously work your new moves into your fighting style. You’ll add abilities like doing leaping attacks after sprinting or hitting multiple enemies with an ax throw, and there really are so many moves that it can be easy to forget about them. Regardless, spend your XP liberally. God of War is a long game and you’ll fight plenty of bad guys to keep the experience flowing.
One of the cooler sets of moves you can unlock as you spend experience points allows Kratos to switch stances, opening up a new set of moves as he fights. Once you unlock the ability in the Skills menu, the trick to switching stances is to briefly pause while fighting. Kratos will change how he’s standing with the ax (or shield, depending on which set of stances you’re using), and that’s your cue to start fighting again. The ax stance moves tend to throw the blade like a boomerang for lots of damage, while the bare-handed stance moves are good for hitting lots of enemies at once and pushing them back.
As soon as you can get the stance-switch upgrades, you should. These allow you to add a lot more moves to your strings of attacks and they’re pretty easy to execute. Most of God of War‘s combat is about using the right tool at the right moment, and these add a lot more to your enemy-thrashing toolkit.
Heal on the go
Kratos has no real means of restoring health in battle on his own. There are some perks and talismans that can give you health in a pinch, and you can get some back by deploying Spartan Rage, but generally, avoiding damage is your biggest focus in a fight. If you’re desperate for healing, there’s only one real way: Looking for green healing stones on the ground. Enemies often drop these when they die, and you can snag them to refresh your health by pressing Circle.
In a fight situation when you’re desperate for health, focus on killing weaker enemies to see if they’ll drop health. If they don’t, you can usually find health stones in arenas by smashing objects along the edges. It’s tough to divert your attention, but you’ll often find yourself hunting health stones at key moments, so keep your eyes open for things you can break in battle. As the game progresses, you can also purchase Resurrection Stones, which will give you a second chance in battle. It’s always a good idea to have one with you, especially if you’re exploring optional areas and missions that are full of tough enemies.
The environment is your friend
A lot of battles will take place in de facto arenas with lots of stuff around that you might be able to use — and you shouldn’t be shy about taking advantage. Explosive red bottles will, unsurprisingly, explode when you hit them and set enemies on fire. Later in the game, Atreus can shoot red and blue crystals to create explosions and blind enemies, respectively. Even when there aren’t obviously useful things around, the environment is still your friend. Kick enemies off cliffs or into spikes to kill or injure them, and use your ax to pin enemies against walls for more damage and to take them out of fights. You don’t just have to hammer the ax buttons to victory, in other words — God of War has a ton of room for tactical thinking in fights, so use everything around you.
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