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.