I do not have a copy of the new God of War yet, but I’m already playing it in my head. You may be doing that, too.
I think, from time to time, about an idea that Sims lead creator Will Wright shared during a talk I attended in 2010. He described a person visiting a gaming shop, holding a copy of a new game in their hands.
“They are already playing this low-res version in their imagination of what the game is going to be like,” he said.
If they buy the game they will soon be playing a higher-resolution version on their computer or TV. If it’s better than they expected, great. If it’s worse, he explained, that’s bad. Sometimes, of course, it’s just different.
I thought of this idea a few weeks ago when I went to a Manhattan hotel suite for a game demo of the upcoming God of War. I watched a colleague, Tim Rogers, play it while I chatted with Cory Barlog, the creative director of the second God of War back on the PS2 and now on this new one.
What I saw on the TV looked very different from the God of War games I’ve played before, and I’ve played all of them. The camera was lower, more traditionally positioned for a third-person game. The action seemed more driven by quiet narrative moments between Kratos and his son Atreus, who accompanies his dad throughout the game for story and gameplay purposes.
There was still some bloody, violent action, but everything felt more mature, more subdued, more like the great PlayStation game The Last of Us. The combo meter was gone. The game seemed less bloodthirsty.
Tim was very impressed with this new God of War, as was I, but it was obvious that the game might land differently or at least make a very different first impression. As we wound our meeting down, I asked Barlog if he had any other thoughts to share for Kotaku readers. He said this:
I know there are a lot of people who are out there saying, ‘It’s totally different. They’re changing a lot of things. Hashtag Not My God Of War. Hashtag Cancel My Pre-Order. But I think a lot of people have to play it.
We’ve been very restrictive of the information and what we’re showing visually, and part of that is my paranoia. I want people to experience this game as a whole. Everybody who made this game – or a good portion of this team – has been a part of God of War from the very beginning. Nothing has changed cynically or under pressure or just willy-nilly. All of us put a lot of heart and soul into this game, and the DNA of what this franchise is still pumps through the blood of this game.
Barlog sounded proud of his game but wasn’t hiding his awareness that the game has hit some pre-launch backlash. Of course, I thought, people have been playing this new God of War in their minds already. That Will Wright low-res version just doesn’t feel like the God of War they – we – know.
For some that’s worrisome. For others that may be the best thing to happen to the franchise.
I don’t think you can avoid playing a game in advance in your mind. You can certainly remind yourself that change can be good, though change can also sometimes suck. I find myself struggling with expectations for lots of series I play lately.
I had trouble getting into The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild last year because it wasn’t unfolding like the dungeon-heavy, developer-guided Zeldas I’ve loved for decades. I’m 90 hours into enjoying Assassin’s Creed Origins now, but from the moment I tried it at an E3 meeting months before launch all the way until I was some 10 or 20 hours in, I found myself struggling to appreciate what was there without simultaneously lamenting what was turning out to only be in the Assassin’s Creed Origins in my mind – the one I’d started playing the moment I knew the game was set in Egypt.
I’ll probably play the real, new God of War soon enough. Maybe I’ll like it, maybe I won’t. But even as I do that, I’m sure I’ll also be deep into this mental game of Red Dead Redemption 2 I’ve been playing. That one’s been going on for a long time, and it’s impossibly good.