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God of War - Kratos touches a wall of light SIE Santa Monica Studio/Sony Interactive Entertainment via Polygon

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God of War guide: tips to know before you play

God of War is a fantastic game — that’s better with a few tips

God of War is one of the year’s best games, but similarly to last year’s The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, it can be surprisingly opaque. Having completed the main story and much of the postgame adventure, I wish I’d known the answers to a number of questions before I started: What skills are worth upgrading early on? Should you spend hacksilver on buying new armor or upgrading old armor? What’s the difference between the horizontal and vertical axe throws?

So I’ve compiled some beginner’s advice, answering those questions and many more. I haven’t included story spoilers in this guide, but I do go into some detail about how weapons, gear, upgrades, combat and exploration work. If you want to experience God of War as if it were untouched snow atop a Scandinavian mountain, you might prefer returning to this guide a few hours into the game, as you find yourself stuck or confused.

To further simplify things, I’ll present my advice in the order I suspect you’ll need it. This isn’t the sort of guide you need to read from beginning to end. Skip around. Use what works for you!


Explore

Take your time

God of War makes the most of even the least consequential locations. A wandering side mission will still give you story beats and character moments, or just fill in backstory. A tiny island will feature branching paths to puzzles and pseudo-boss fights. Dead ends almost always have something to offer — even if it’s just hacksilver and a neat view.

That said, God of War is a huge game. It can be tempting to rush through the experience. Just remember: The story will be waiting for you. Enjoy the moment.

Look for Odin’s ravens

I’ll be honest: I haven’t found every raven. I don’t know what happens when you smash them all. But looking for Odin’s ravens isn’t just about gathering collectibles. It’s a good way to see the entirety of the game’s world. Hunting for these hidden creatures as you make your way from one point to the next will help you see the sights and get your bearings.

Plus, all collectibles earn incremental XP, then a bonus once you a complete a set.

Listen

I mentioned this in the God of War review, but I strongly encourage you to allow characters to finish their stories at shops or in Kratos’ canoe. You essentially skip these stories when you walk away from them, which is a shame, because these off-the-cuff moments have some of the game’s best dialogue and provide a lot of backstory and context for its antagonists and settings.

God of War - Kratos comes across a mysterious mirrored doorway SIE Santa Monica Studio/Sony Interactive Entertainment via Polygon

Don’t mistake late-game treasure for puzzles

You’ll see tons of pathways, locked boxes and tombs covered by mysterious bramble. You’ll come across glowing green gizmos and majestic mirrored doors. They aren’t puzzles; you’ll gain ways to open them much later. If you don’t know an obvious method for entering an area, then it’s not meant to be entered just yet.

Odin’s chambers

If you find your way into one of Odin’s chambers early in the game, progress down the elevator and through the hall until you find a special gateway. (You’ll know it when you see it.) You’ll be grateful when it’s time to deal with postgame fights.

Some fights are optional

Realm tears and let’s just call them REDACTED MINIBOSSES are optional and very difficult. Don’t beat your head against something you’ll never win. As with the locked treasures, you will have plenty opportunities to return to these exercises, to pick fights when you’re better equipped.


God of War - Kratos punching an enemy SIE Santa Monica Studio/Sony Interactive Entertainment via Polygon

Combat

Embrace the pace

Yes, combat is different in this God of War game. No, that’s not a bad thing. At first, fights will feel slow. Embrace the speed, because things get much faster as the game progresses. Use the early hours of the adventure to experiment with moves, mixing up melee and axe attacks, seeing which methods get the best results on which enemies.

Use the environment as a weapon

When you enter a room, consider how its layout will give you an advantage. Knocking enemies into walls increases their stun meter, making them vulnerable to Kratos’ finishing moves. Often you’ll see giant pots hanging from the ceilings — you can drop them onto enemies’ heads by tossing your axe at the pulley holding them aloft. In later stages, you’ll find red explosive pots tucked into rock formations. Don’t rush to use the explosives on fodder enemies — they’ll be a greater help on the second or third round of foes that tend to fill each room, and which are usually tougher or faster than the initial baddies.

Knock enemies off ledges for easy kills

I want to hammer this one home: Cliff edges are lifesavers. Kratos and Atreus can’t fall off ledges, but enemies can — even those that fly. Knocking or throwing enemies off ledges is the fastest way to kill bad guys with large health bars. It’s also good to stand by edges. Sometimes enemies climb up cliffsides, but often the cliffs protect you from an enemy sneaking up behind you.

Don’t worry about loot drops. Rewards (like health boosts) will appear near you, even if you toss a zombie into a thousand-foot chasm.

God of War - Kratos faces a band of human enemies SIE Santa Monica Studio/Sony Interactive Entertainment via Polygon

Change up your special runic attacks

You can equip a light and a heavy runic attack at any time. I find it helpful to think about the purpose of the individual runic attacks, rather than which slot they fill. Some runic attacks focus on stun, while others deal lots of damage. Some cover a large space, while others are narrow and targeted.

Find what works for you and your situation. Maybe you want two stun-heavy runic attacks, keeping enemies off balance. Or maybe, when facing a big enemy, you switch the runic attacks to focused, damage-dealing options. It’s easy to get comfortable with your runics; resist that temptation. Experiment!

Learn to parry and dodge

God of War is Dark Souls Lite. You don’t have to master the parry and dodges to survive early in the game, but it will certainly make things more enjoyable later. Be patient and allow enemies to attack you, rather than instigating every fight. Parrying attacks, in particular, will allow you to deal lots of damage to disoriented enemies.

Don’t forget your arrows

Atreus has unlimited arrows — they just take a moment to regenerate. So don’t be stingy. When facing a lot of enemies, use arrows to take down weaker creatures. Arrows are especially useful for interrupting enemies as they prepare to unleash a heavy attack.

You don’t need to hold the left trigger and aim each arrow. Atreus will fire at the creature in the general direction Kratos is facing. Even if you’re distracted while pummeling enemies, make sure to spam the arrow button (square). Firing blindly is better than not firing at all.

God of War - Kratos prepares to throw his axe SIE Santa Monica Studio/Sony Interactive Entertainment via Polygon

Learn the differences between axe throws

There are two ways to throw Kratos’ axe. The vertical throw (R2) sticks into enemies, and can freeze them in place. The horizontal throw (R1) bounces off enemies and into the air. With certain skills unlocked, it will briefly spark. If you recall the axe at this exact moment, you have the opportunity to earn a buff, like greater strength or runic damage.

For solving environmental puzzles with the axe, I found that the horizontal throw went further on a more direct path.

Find the slow-time amulet(s)

We’ll have the specifics for this in another article soon, but seek out the amulets on the shores of the elf kingdom. One special amulet, rewarded for completing an environmental puzzle, grants the player the ability to briefly slow down time after performing a last-second dodge. It’s one of the most powerful items you’ll find in the entire adventure, particularly when fully upgraded.

You can find another amulet that slows time by performing a side quest for the merchants later in the game, but for the beginner, this one will do just fine.


God of War - discovering a piece of armor
Discovering a piece of armor in God of War.
SIE Santa Monica Studio/Sony Interactive Entertainment via Polygon

Upgrades

Don’t buy tons of armor and gear early on

Only buy gear and armor early in the game if you’re planning to rush to the credits. If you take time exploring, beating powerful enemies and solving puzzles, you’ll find tons of specialized armor and gear.

Save your hacksilver and materials for upgrading the stuff you find. Axe upgrades are gated by the story. Bow upgrades are expensive, but worth the cost. The merchant menu will show you the benefits of a pending upgrade.

Sell early armor, but consider keeping late-game armor if you’re the sort of person who wants to change entire sets of gear to suit different battles. Very high-quality armor comes at you fast in the final push of the game, so don’t get too attached to any one piece.

There are exceptions to these rules, but they come late in your adventure. For now, don’t stress.

Don’t mistake enchanted armor for superior armor

When you see new armor, it may appear weaker than the armor you’ve equipped, because your old armor is upgraded and stacked with enchantments. It’s better to assess new armor by its level (the large number by its name) and how many enchantment slots it offers.

For example, your fully upgraded chest armor may be slightly more powerful than a new piece of armor that has a higher level, but has not been upgraded and has no enchantments yet. However, the new armor has a higher ceiling after upgrades and enhancements. One good way to compare armor is to remove all enchantments from your equipped gear before visiting the store.

The enchantment menu in God of War shows special stat increases for Kratos
The armor menu in God of War shows special stat increases for Kratos.
SIE Santa Monica Studio/Sony Interactive Entertainment via Polygon

Reassess your enchantments after you’ve entered a new area

Many enchantments have unique effects beyond upgrading your stats. You’ll want to adjust your enchantments accordingly.

For example, in the elven kingdom, you’ll want enchantments that specialize in attacks on Dark Elves. In an area dense with flying enemies or Ancients, you’ll want enchantments that make axe throws deal more damage. In theory, you could be changing enchantments from fight to fight. But who wants to be stuck in menus?

Instead, simply remember to swap enchantments once you’ve been in a new zone for a few minutes. You’ll quickly learn what sort of battles you’ll be facing for the next couple of hours, allowing you to choose the most advantageous enchantments for the situation.

Stressed about where to spend XP? Focus on arrow skills

If you struggle to get the hang of combat, don’t rush to unlock even more combat skills. Really learn the controls, then gradually introduce new moves into your repertoire. That said, there’s no need to let XP accumulate. One good option on how to spend it: Upgrade Atreus’ arrow skills as soon as they become available.

Having the most powerful arrow skills will only help to ease combat challenges. Midtier arrow skills begin to chain damage to enemies adjacent to the arrow’s target.

Remember: XP is also used to upgrade runic skills

You can upgrade both light and heavy runic attacks using XP. Some runic upgrades cost more than others, so be sure to check the cost before you commit. I recommend skills over runic attacks early in the game, but if you build your character around runic stats, you will naturally want to have fully upgraded runic attacks equipped.

Ignore skill “bonuses”

This transitions into more advanced tips, so we’ll wrap things up here: You’ll notice bonuses on certain skills that unlock when you reach a certain level of strength, vitality or runic. Ignore them for, basically, the entire campaign. It’s unlikely you’ll hit these thresholds in the adventure unless you carefully roll your character to favor one stat above all else. The bonuses will be important in the postgame, long after you’ve unlocked every skill.