I Hate God Of War's Trolls

God of War is an interesting, complicated game that's drawn a lot of attention over the past couple weeks. I didn't enjoy it as much as some did, and that's all because of one thing: those damned trolls.

Kratos tells it like it is.Image: Jose Daniel Cabrera Peña

The first time we see a troll in God of War, it's the payoff to an emotional scene where the pantheon-killing Kratos teaches his young son Atreus how to kill an animal. It's basic storytelling stuff in the first 15 minutes of the game, laying the groundwork for how Atreus might emotionally deal with murder and the troll appears as a way of escalating Kratos's teachable moment about killing.

Just as the deer is slain, the troll grabs the corpse, and Kratos shows his kid what it's really like to fight and kill.

The ole first troll.

This initial fight with a troll is exciting if only because it finally opens up what God of War's fights are about. Now that Atreus has slain that deer, he's a part of Kratos's combat abilities, and you can have him shoot the troll at the same time as Kratos is wailing on it with an axe. As for the combat design, the troll has a nice set of attacks that are varied and telegraphed appropriately.

You know when he's going in for a smash with that obelisk he's holding or when he's going to charge you. It's a clean and simple fight that is very appropriate for the opening of the game.

The problem is that they keep happening. Over the course of God of War I fought these trolls so many times that I genuinely became angry about it, and it makes me enjoy the game far less than other critics seem to be.

I am not adverse to reusing enemies. In fact, when it's done well, it can really flesh out narrative and mechanical elements of a game. Fighting the Taurus Demon early in Dark Souls is a fraught and difficult experience for first-time players, and the most reliable way of defeating is literally leaping off a tower to stab it. Then, later in the game, half a dozen Taurus Demons can be found standing around in the Demon Ruins.

The reuse of enemies in this example is about context. These creatures are singular and dangerous in the world above, and down here they are common. Therefore, down here is full of singular and dangerous creatures. This reuse of enemies works.

God of War's reuse of trolls is nothing like what Dark Souls does. Instead, the trolls are used as miniboss filler that feel more like speed bumps to prevent you from barrelling through areas too quickly than they do actual enemies with meaning in the world. They are fundamentally pockets of time, factoring more into my playthrough as things I had to hack on than things I had to skilfully manoeuvre around or think about too hard.

And that's a real bummer, because the moment-to-moment combat in mixed groups is infinitely more interesting than the inevitable one-on-one troll fight where additional enemies spawn in every now and again.

Late in the game, the trolls get the classic video game alterations. They get palette swapped into new colours, some sweet particle effects come into play, and they start being themed around fire and ice. Short of a couple new attacks, though, these fights are exactly the same.

The rhythms are the same, the back and forth of attacking and defence is the same, and it all feels like a slog. Eventually the game pulls the real whammy and makes you fight an ice troll and a fire troll at the same time, plumbing the depths of figuring out things for the player to do.

The true head-shaker comes somewhere around the midpoint of the game. Kratos is forced to travel into the snowy wastes of Helheim to fetch the heart of the Bridge Keeper. It's some real fantasy-arse stuff, right out of mythology, and this perilous journey is given extra narrative weight due to the fact that Kratos has to wield the Blades of Chaos, his iconic chain-bound swords from the previous God of War games.

This entire section of the game is hammering on the player from all sides: Kratos has had to confront his past, he's travelling into the underworld, and it's a place where few ever return. This Bridge Keeper has to be completely badass, the kind of big boss that these games are known for. Is it going to be some kind of living bridge creature with a giant maw ready to chomp?

This isn't the Bridge Keeper. It's just a troll. But there's not a big difference.Image: Sony

It's a troll. It's a troll with new attacks and some phases, but it's still built off of the same basic pattern that you experience two dozen other times in the game. For me, there is no joy in fighting these trolls.

I don't find the new twists on the same old creatures to be compelling. Instead, I feel like they are just yet more samey enemies that I have to slowly slog through in my journey toward things that are new, compelling, and original.

And, look, I'm not knocking the practice of reusing these creatures. Game development is hard, it takes a long time, and this kind of escalating use of the same enemy to new ends is a tried and true method of resource efficiency and genuinely good game design.

These trolls, in many games, would work. Yet here, in this game, they consistently make me want to put the controller down and never pick it up again.


Comments

    Man, I really wanted to like this game but there's just so many issues with it. Your point about the trolls feeling like speed bumps for me extends throughout the entire game. Everything is a goddamn speed bump. Enemies have too much health and appear at random times with little to no narrative significance, often disrupting what was a nice moment I could have been admiring the scenery or completing a chest puzzle.

    It just wore me down, along with other small issues that compounded. The thing that stopped me playing though was the hackneyed RPG elements. That completely killed the game for me.

      If the enemies have too much health play on normal or easy where they take between 1 and 5 hits... What are you talking about?

    All the trolls have the same pattern? I'm not sure if I am playing the same game. Seems like someone can't handle the trolls.

      Don't they? I've beaten all ten, and generally it's been the same three moves swinging their pillar (one of which is only in the second half of their health), plus 1-2 ranged attacks (not including the elemental variants). Their only real complication is how hard they hit - their movesets are heavily telegraphed, and really easy to learn, and the lack of variety means you only really need to learn one move (if any) with each troll. By the 4th or so, they were pretty routine to fight; the double-troll fight could have been interesting if they had bumped up their individual elemental resistances, but (at least on normal difficulty) I didn't even bother swapping weapons.

        I guess that might have got to do with the difficulty. I played the game on Give me a Challenge mode and those elemental attacks are deadly. I'm not fed up with killing troll. I'm fed up with getting 1/2 hit smashed death by a troll.

        You need to disrupt the troll by hitting throwing axe to his hand, interrupt his shouting face with axe on his face and then proceed to smash him. The favourite troll is the bridge keeper in helheim. Best troll.

        With easy/normal, literally every single enemy you can win with just using barefist. Hardly anything is a challenge.

          Best troll is indeed Helheim troll - the way he teleports behind you with each swing makes him the fight a lot of fun (tho I'm not a fan of the forced add-waves).

          Interesting. I still found a few challenges on Normal (realm tears I was extremely under-levelled for, and the Valkyries in Muspelheim and the last one; that last one took me three hours, but that was mostly because I was relying on arrows to stun - didn't know the axe does more stun damage - and failed to see the pattern in her forward charges). But nothing in the central campaign posed much of a hinderance.

          I saw no attraction to the higher difficulties - getting 1-2 shot before you have a chance to learn movesets, and taking ages to kill basic enemies... just sounds frustrating imo. I found normal to be a good balance, accounting for the optional stuff, but to each their own.

            Yeah It was nice and fun with challenging until Muspelheim and Niflheim. I dropped the difficulty to go for platinum for that 2.

            Doing the valkyrie on challenging is pretty fun. It forces you to skill up and actually exploit the weakness to win.

    Can see where you're coming from but...
    Picking out one aspect of an acclaimed game and saying it makes you want to put down the controller and not pick it up again smacks of throwing your toys out of the pram. It's a child-like response, not an adult one, let alone a critical one. Sure, trolls are an enemy they may overuse but trolls don't exist in isolation in this world and they are different casts. In general, the enemy variety and attack patterns are well varied in GoW. The criticism you make here I could level at the Black Knights in Dark Souls to some extent (they're often used as gatekeepers and their attacks are not varied). But seemingly 'lore' forgives all in Dark Souls.

    Well same can be said for the soul rock enemies? They only come in different elemental varieties and they have even less difference in moveset then the trolls. Sure they arent the most exciting when you have fought them a few times but pretty nitpicky.

    The trolls might not change too much but Kratos does. The final troll with his far bigger health bar was far easier to take down than that first troll.

    Also, how good are Atreus's little journal entries about the trolls you kill? Most of it is from stories his mother told him but then there are some that he trash-talks for not being important enough to have a story about them.

    Huh? Makes absolutely no sense? God of war is such a great masterpiece. Ive never felt this repetitiveness in the fighting of trolls. I feel this article is such a waste of time....

      Article? You mean personal blog post.

    Kinda a similar problem I had with breath of the wild, with thee not being enough enemy variation across the realm.

    "The problem is that they keep happening. Over the course of God of War I fought these trolls so many times that I genuinely became angry about it, and it makes me enjoy the game far less than other critics seem to be."

    There's about 15 Trolls total in the whole game; and about 40% of them are optional. This article is whinging for the sake of whinging

    I can understand the reasoning but the only time it was really noticeable to me was the Bridge Keeper. I thought I'd be fighting the crazy bird thing in the background.
    Loved the journals and stories regarding the trolls though

    Nah, I get it. Although not on the level of completely giving up on the game I do agree that trolls have indeed been overused in this game. Considering how many monsters we were confronted with in the first 3 main games, coming up against the same enemies time and again—most with the same finishing animation—throughout the game just becomes tiresome and disappointing. Trolls, Reventants, Ancients, and Nightmares.
    Is it that the lore does not have many evil/demonic creatures or simply that they needed more time to work on adding others? I don't know, but it's definitely noticeable.

    It's by no means a dealbreaker, but I wouldn't exactly say enemy variety is one of the game's strength.

    So far I have met 4 trolls. First 2 were a bit of a struggle in that I died once. Since then though as soon as I see the troll, I rage, then r3 cuz he is stunned, then light runic, heavy runic. Stunned again..r3 fr the kill. Maybe i am too op or need to notch up the difficulty a little. I see no sense in that thoigh since its GOD of war and not pathetic dying human of war.

    Having played the rest of the GoW series this one feels odd out and not because of the Norse setting but because the others give a much better cutscene/story that give context to the whole game.
    While I love the Norse theme and only just escaped Helheim the second time, I have been left with questions from the beginning of why Kratos is here and how did he get here, which wouldve been answered in previous games.
    This feels like a standalone game from the originals in the sense of bosses and story deliverance. It is disappointing as it is what I enjoyed about them but I dont enjoy it for what it is.

    I get the feeling one of these trolls I'm fighting isn't going to die from me...

    He's going to die from old age by the time I get around to beating him.

    [email protected]#(*$#$ difficulty level.

    Yes, I refuse to play on easy or normal :P

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