There are many reasons why the new God of War is good: the revamped combat, the closer camera, the astonishing single-shot perspective, or the more mature story all jump to mind. But what escalates God of War is not just nailing the big stuff, but the smaller things, too, like Kratos’s new axe. It might just be my favorite video game weapon in recent memory.
Officially dubbed the Leviathan Axe, the new blade is the signature weapon for Kratos in the 2018 reboot, replacing the fiery Blades of Chaos as his weapon of choice for slicing and dicing through the hordes of enemies that the game will throw at you. As a weapon, the axe is brutal and efficient, and you’re able to upgrade it over the course of the game. But the most important part of the Leviathan Axe is how much fun it is to use.
Part of that is due to the sheer weight each blow of the axe seems to have. Where the whip-like chained blades of previous games were almost lightweight weapons (in part helped by the more arcade-y design), you can almost feel each blow of the Leviathan Axe. Attacks with the axe knock enemies around the screen, or, as with some of the heavier blows, can cleave them clean in two. The sound design and animation go a long way to selling the Leviathan Axe, too, with a weighty thud when it hits and Kratos’ yells of exertion as he heaves the weapon.
But most of the Leviathan Axe’s charm stems from the ability to throw and recall it, just like Thor’s famed hammer. Instead of an automatic process that boomerangs the axe straight back to your hand, players have to recall the axe with a button press. It’s a task that may sound like an onerous and extra part of the process, but it actually opens up more options for gameplay. Kratos isn’t defenseless when he divests himself of the axe — he’s free to continue to go to town on enemies using his shield and fists. This makes the decision to throw the axe less of a choice to lose a powerful weapon and more one that opens up the combat across the entire battlefield.
There are two types of axe throws that Kratos starts out with: a “light” attack that spins the axe sidearm at enemies, where if (correctly thrown) it’ll bounce back into the air for a quick recall to attack again, or a heavier throw that can be charged and will cleave into enemies, freezing them solid. Players get to control exactly where they’re throwing the axe, too — aim right, and you can deal extra damage by sniping weak spots (that’s right: you can hit headshots with the axe), or trip enemies into the air by throwing the axe at their knees (sweep the leg, Kratos!).
And then there’s the actual recall, which sends the axe whipping back into Kratos’ hand with a satisfying, metallic thunk — which will conveniently also damage any enemies it hits on the way back. If you’ve ever watched one of Marvel’s Thor movies, and went “Well, that hammer sure looks fun to use,” you really need to take the Leviathan Axe for a spin.
God of War developer Santa Monica Studio doesn’t cheat too much with the recall, either — throw the axe at a close enemy, and you can have it back in hand almost instantly, ready for another attack. Throw it farther, and it’ll take longer to come back, making who — and where — you fling it at a tactical decision.
All three of these systems — axe melee, ranged axe combat, and Kratos’ good old-fashioned fists — merge together into an almost balletic dance. By the time the game is throwing hordes of enemies at you at once, you’ll be slicing up a foe in front of you, before spinning around to snipe a ranged attacker from across the way, then parrying a blow with some quick punches only to have the Leviathan Axe spin back into your hand for a final coup de grâce.
As you progress through the game, God of War presents you with lots more options for upgrading the axe, with new moves, abilities, and upgrades that expand Kratos’ moveset with the axe. (There are also some more spoiler-y things I’m not going to delve into here.) They’re interesting expansions of what the axe can do, but they all come back to that same combination of ranged and close combat that make it such a thrilling weapon to use.
And a lot of that comes down to the fact that God of War trusts players with the Leviathan Axe, letting them control how to use it, where to aim it, and when to call it back. In theory, you could play the entire time never throwing the axe away in combat, or even sling it back on your shoulder and brawl your way barehanded through the Norse pantheon with Kratos’ pop-up shield instead (which also has its own, separate upgrade tree).
After seven games with the Blades of Chaos (and its subsequent variations), coming up with a compelling successor for Kratos to wield was a titanic task, but the team has more than succeeded with a weapon that’s just plain more fun to use than the chained blades of yore. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m heading to the blacksmith; need to keep this blade pristine for fighting all of those fire zombies.