God of War PC Tech Review – Nordic many big improvements

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As much as it may irk some die-hard PlayStation gamers, I’m excited about Sony’s new approach to bringing its first-party titles to PC. Yes, these games come years after their relevance, at a time when they’ve most likely already exhausted their potential sales on PlayStation hardware.

But it’s an obviously sound business tactic, and aside from that, it’s good for video game fans around the world. So here we are, with another PlayStation exclusive making its way to PC. After Horizon Zero Dawn and Days Gone, Sony felt it was time to pursue them God of War‘s 2018 kind-of-reboot kind-of-not.

I’m a huge fan of God of War in general and the new iteration in particular. I’ve played it extensively on PS4, but like most exclusives, I’ve always wondered how much better it could be on PC. Almost four years later, my wish finally came true.

The PC version of God of War, out this Friday 14th January on Steam and EGS, is a simple port that offers a slightly refined experience but isn’t dramatically different from the PS4.

For starters, it’s in much better technical shape at launch than Horizon Zero Dawn and roughly on par with Days Gone. We’ve had access to the God of War code since late December, so I’ve had to spend time poking around and poking through the different pieces to see what we can do. The build is incredibly stable and offers a largely constant framerate. To keep that performance on target, God of War on PC ships with DLSS, AMD’s FSR, and its own internal upscaler. But even when running natively, it’s easy to get frame rates well in excess of consoles when maxed out.

This is great news for those looking to go beyond 60fps as the game can go as high as 120fps. However, I wasn’t able to get it running consistently at that framerate with an i7 9700K and an RTX 3080 Ti at 4K. Typically, it would hover between 70 and 80 fps across the board. Some quiet areas can put you in the 90’s, but that’s rare. Turning on Nvidia’s RTX card-exclusive DLSS setting – which comes with four quality settings – provides the edge needed to push the framerate closer to those targets. DLSS manages to boost frame rates by rendering the game at a lower native resolution before using AI tools to upscale it – and at best it’s often virtually indistinguishable from the native resolution.

God of War actually displays the render resolution of whatever DLSS quality setting you choose, which is rare but welcome nonetheless. The best performing setting for me was DLSS’s Ultra Performance, which renders the game at 720p. It looks noticeably blurry compared to native 4K, but it got me the closest I could get to the 120fps goal. While I’ve seen the framerate counter hit 120 fps here and there, it’s mostly been between 90 and 110 fps.

However, for some reason I couldn’t find a way to run the game in exclusive full screen mode. You have the choice of windows or borderless. That’s annoying, but far from a huge issue in this case, especially since God of War isn’t exactly a power-hungry game that suffers from not running in exclusive fullscreen, although I wonder if fullscreen would be what it needs to bring it closer to 120fps.

The port offers a decent range of graphical options, some of which allow you to push beyond what’s possible on PS4. The two most dramatic changes are ambient occlusion and screen space reflections. Compared to the PS4 original, the reflections are sharper, especially in rooms with marble floors and various reflective sources – like the Empire Travel Room. The update to the ambient occlusion is even more visible as many of the areas you visit let in some light through ceiling vents and cracks in the wall.

However, none of these upgrades are dramatic enough to really matter. Reflections, for example, omit Kratos and much of the screen, although they’ve been improved. They show an admittedly less blurred reflection of light and color, but no characters, weapons, or other objects in the scene. It’s a little disappointing, but predictable given the hardware the original game was made for.

Although the image is sharper overall, I was still able to spot some of the same issues I encountered on console. There’s no dedicated AA solution, so the aliasing is pretty much where it was on PS4, even at native resolution. I would be interested to know if certain community created tools can successfully inject AA as the Nvidia control panel solution in my time was inconsistent with that.

Unfortunately, one particular option I was hoping could be tweaked in the PC version isn’t, and that’s FOV. The third-person camera in God of War is one of the tightest I’ve seen in a game. Sony Santa Monica knew this, as evidenced by the UI indicators that warn you of off-screen attacks, which flash up in virtually every fight with more than two enemies, not to mention the constant shouts from Mimir and Atreus.

I always felt it was an inelegant, albeit functional, solution. Unfortunately, this problem persists in the PC version. The camera is as close to Kratos’ back as it is on consoles, but now that I’m playing on PC it’s more annoying for a few reasons, not the least of which is that the higher resolution effects make those displays harder to see.

Once again, however, I’m not entirely surprised to see this omission. Unlocking the FOV years after the development team changed would require significant work to readjust asset streaming, animations and much more. not entirely realistic to expect in a port arriving so late after release.

The hope is that SSM took that into account with Ragnarok, but given the studio’s association with the intimate no-cut camera idea, I have my doubts. This was obviously the most frustrating aspect of my time with the PC version of God of War. Despite the overall cleaner graphics, sharper rendering, and significantly higher frame rates, you still have to contend with the incredibly tight FOV.

Another problem from the original returns on PC too, and it’s the most surprising. Stuttering when loading into new areas or going outside was somewhat common on PS4, but they were usually cleverly hidden with cutscenes.

Since the PC port is installed on a 3rd generation NVMe SSD, the game hardly takes advantage of this speed. These elevator rides and realm travel stages are about as long as they are on PS4, with the added issue of noticeable stuttering when loading the new area behind the closed door.

You can also clearly tell when it’s happening as it’s pretty obvious. The vast majority of these occur in non-combat areas and last about a second – but they are noticeable. Some of the most garish can come in combat if you’re unlucky enough to fight enemies in an area with two different stages. Loading in and out of the game is faster, but that’s about it.

The rest of the presentation of God of War on PC is pretty straightforward. You can enable HDR after it has been enabled for your monitor in Windows. It offers the same level of customization here as on PS4, with separate settings for luminance and paper white.

Unfortunately, while you can remap keyboard and mouse controls, you can’t do the same for controllers – another bizarre omission. In fact, the game hides the keybind customization menu as soon as it detects a controller. I didn’t find this to be a huge problem as the same options are returning from PS4, allowing you to switch dodges from A to B and bringing back the classic X/Y attack buttons instead of Souls-style bumpers/triggers.

I imagine this is a much bigger issue for gamers who need access options for specific controllers, and I honestly don’t understand why the feature can be offered for keyboards but not for controllers.

God of War’s PC port is good enough to warrant a second playthrough, especially if you’ve only played with it on PS4. It’s an even better opportunity for those who missed out to experience a great action game with a compelling, exciting narrative, without having to fight the port to make it run decently.

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