Chances are you or someone you know is playing God of War. Maybe they’ve already journeyed through the realms and back or they could just be starting up the mountain to spread mother’s ashes. Wherever one is in their journey with God of War, there’s one feature that is a sure-fire way to have one of the better immersive experiences a game can currently present. In the past, video games that have boasted about immersion — usually through taking away much of the HUD in game — will come close but it never really gets there (yes, Uncharted). Last year’s Sony exclusives Horizon: Zero Dawn and Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice both achieved this feeling with Aloy’s future tech or the linear progression of Hellblade. Yet, there seems to be some sort of magic over God of War, for all the exploding of items or ripping open of doors, God of War still manages to pull the player in and it’s thanks to a few things.
The biggest part of immersing the player in God of War’s world is immediately taking away the HUD. When setting up for the first playthrough or any new game, putting the HUD to immersive is a sure-fire way to feel entrenched in God of War. It takes away everything of importance that will help Kratos and Atreus along their journey among the Gods and is also a great way to take in the sheer beauty that is God of War. If anything, just take away the HUD for a second to fully appreciate every detail in this game (photo mode incoming).
The main thing removing the HUD ensures is having a play session that is methodically cautious, laying a well thought-out plan before entering any new area. Because enemy health bars are gone, fights become more about finesse than beating the daylight out of anything that crosses Kratos path. Having no HUD will lead to things like entering areas where enemies will stomp all over Kratos due to health bars or power levels being out of sight and mind. It makes for a more interesting play session and means feeling the importance of an area a little more than just looking at a number to say; oh, I shouldn’t go there.
The flip side is that it becomes somewhat of a challenge, especially on a first playthrough, to know where Kratos sits on a scale of power matched with the in-game story. There will be times where it does not feel like Kratos has been making any progress and it’s because there is nothing to compare to but the numbers in the pause menu. They will give a general feeling of where one is at in the game but won’t be much help beyond that. This isn’t a bad thing. It takes some getting used to, especially for those who might love a HUD filling the screen with every bit of information possible, but it will create a challenge that most video games can’t match. God of War is already tough enough with combat, but throwing on the additional layer of key information being taken away truly gets the blood pumping. A sense of exhaustion has washed over me more than a few times after coming out of particularly nasty fights where I could feel myself getting worn down, not knowing when it would end.
To have a game express this energy and emotion that comes from not the narrative beats but putting yourself in the shoes of the character is commendable. If it was reality then enemies wouldn’t have health bars, Kratos wouldn’t have a menu to go into and much more. Anyone who plays video games can tell you that, but it’s about the challenge of changing how we play and seeing how far the medium has come to offer a truly immersive experience.
The other major benefactor — something more games have been doing — is the long continuous drawn-out shot that never ends. The camera starts and doesn’t stop. It tricks the brain into following along in a way that is like walking behind or next to someone; giving that sense that the player is right next to whatever is happening on screen. Go watch the intro to the ship in the first episode of Battlestar Galactica; it’s that same feeling, as a viewer every bit of information is fed without pause which is less disorienting than jumping from shot to shot. The player starts and stops their journey always with Kratos and Atreus, never without them.
Currently I have no idea how far into God of War I am, but enjoying everything it has to offer without any contextual clues has been a treat. Removing the entire HUD from a game is obviously not something for everyone, but if it’s something that’s been churning through the mind, or maybe you just want to up the challenge without changing the difficulty, this is the best way to do it. Have you beaten God of War and looking to take that next step? Don’t change the difficulty; just remove that HUD and see where it takes you. I imagine if you’ve already played through it this might not be as immersive, but hey, new things aren’t always bad.