God of War’s combat is isn’t as frenetic as previous entries in the series — it’s more tactical and careful. Kratos’ axe has limited reach, so you’re just generally closer to the various baddies you’re murdering. Even if you’re new to the series, this guide will help.
First, let’s talk about the basics of combat in God of War. And then we’ll talk a little about four broad categories of tactics and approaches to combat that will help you murder your way through these new, Viking-themed enemies.
It’s not that Kratos is weak in God of War, but you’ll also never call him overpowered (even as you progress through the game). Combat is challenging from the start and stays (relatively) evenly matched to your abilities and gear as you progress. There’ll still be some enemies you can mow down with a couple of well-placed chops, but even those low-level enemies can drain your health quickly if you’re not careful.
That means that you’ve got to approach combat carefully and use everything at your disposal. Kratos has a few tools to choose from during combat: his axe, his shield and his fists. We’re not going to focus much on using your axe like an axe here — it works like you’d expect until you get into specific skills that you unlock later in the game. Instead, let’s focus on the more unexpected aspects of combat.
A quick note: we’re not going to include Atreus here — his most useful abilities aren’t available until you progress a little way through both his skill tree and the main storyline.
Parry and dodge
The enemies you’ll face in God of War are relentless. That means that Kratos will rarely be completely in charge of a fight. Between multiple enemies and (relatively) slow attacks, Kratos will have to defend himself quite often.
The basic defense is simply holding your shield up with L1. It’ll block a lot of damage, but it’s directional (it doesn’t protect you from the back) and it opens you up to block-breaking attacks that can stun you. It’s often better to focus on using Kratos’ two other defensive options: parrying and dodging.
Parrying, just like every other game, entails raising your shield just before you get hit. There’s (sometimes) even a helpful, color coded on-screen prompt that makes the timing easier — when it’s yellow, you can parry, but when it’s red, your enemy is going to break your defense and damage you.
Parrying does two really useful things. First, it staggers your enemy. This gives you some breathing room to maneuver and fight back. Second, and arguably more importantly, it knocks back nearby enemies, too — not just the one who attacked.
Dodging is simple enough to understand — you sidestep, jump or roll out of the way of an oncoming attack. But even though it’s simple, it’s still incredibly useful. Not only does it get you out of the way, it grants you a few frames of invulnerability — and that alone will get you out of a lot of trouble.
Not every enemy marches right up into axe-swinging range. For others, you just don’t want to be close. (And sometimes there are things to destroy that are out of reach). That’s when it’s time for ranged attacks.
The biggest thing to remember here is that ranged attacks deal about the same amount of damage as close-range melee attacks. That makes throwing your axe from a distance just as viable an approach as melee attacks.
God of War has a headshot (or, more generically, a weak point) mechanic when you throw your axe. You can see this on screen by the color of the aiming reticule — when it’s a pink, open diamond, you’ll just hit and deal damage normally. When it’s a red, closed diamond, it’s a headshot.
You can knock some enemies down if you throw your axe at their feet. This not only gives you a break, but also opens them up for a jumping or charged attack. (Even if you miss on your initial throw, the axe can trip enemies as it returns to your hand.)
Some areas will have environmental hazards that you can use to your advantage. Watch for exploding pots you can hit with your axe (from a distance, preferably) that might take out multiple enemies at once.
The final useful trick Kratos has doesn’t involve a weapon. Kratos’ fists are nearly as devastating as his axe. More importantly, though, they drive up an enemies’ stun gauge faster than weapon damage does. The stun gauge fills as an enemy takes bludgeoning-type damage — say, from a (demi-)god’s fists (or, later, from Atreus’ arrows). When that meter fills, a prompt appears over their head that lets you deal a huge amount of damage when you press R3. This is usually enough to kill most low-level enemies, but even for higher-level enemies, it’ll obliterate a huge chunk of their health. Kratos is also invulnerable during the brutality animation.