The “home depot axe”, Sony Santa Monica nicknamed it during development, and for all the grandness of the title and the arcane butchery it facilitates, the new God of War’s Leviathan Axe can indeed seem rather homely. It’s an enchanted weapon, whirring back to your fist like a well-trained falcon after you hurl it across a clearing, just the thing when you need to shorten a giant or pin a Draugr to a wall. But with its worn leather handle and mottled blade, it also looks like something you might chop up kindling with in a quieter moment, something that might gather dust in a corner between outbreaks of deicide.
The axe says a lot in a little about Sony Santa Monica’s attempt to defuse and humanise its protagonist, a shark-white hulk of scar tissue last seen punching his own father and thereby all of Ancient Greek civilisation to death in the wreckage of Mount Olympus. It’s a tool of destruction, and you will do things with it that are every bit as eye-watering as in the previous games, but unlike the old Blades of Chaos, it doesn’t feel like a means of mass murder. The use of triggers rather than face buttons to perform attacks adds an unfamiliar sluggishness, the sense that each blow is to be a touch more carefully weighed – and of course, there’s the axe’s relatively restricted reach and how this complements the introduction of a figure-hugging, over-the-shoulder camera.
In the third game, you could lacerate everything in a 360 degree arc, the Blades catching grotesquely for a fraction of a second on each individual body. Many video game weapons are as indiscriminate, but God of War is one of the few series that leans into the callousness of this, sometimes tossing civilians in amongst your enemies so that you have no choice but to slaughter them. In this year’s reboot, you are less inclined or suited to “crowd control”, more preoccupied with line of sight, and more vulnerable to strikes from the rear. This plays nicely, if predictably, into the game’s newfound theme of emotional interdependence. Besides occasionally checking his dear old dad’s apocalyptic urges, your son Atreus will shoot at and harass any enemies you can’t see, a conscience who doubles as a source of covering fire.