God of War 4: Making Linear Storytelling Cool Again


It was once necessary for a video game to be linear to be successful. However, as computing power has grown, so has the ability to create open world games with attractive graphics, leading to the likes of Skyrim making $1.3bn  according to industry sales figure. God of War 4, released in late April, has turned this supposition on its head, crushing sales figures and showing that there is still a market for linear single-player titles; despite an open-ish world, the plot and mission progression is definitely by-the-hand.

Most of the world’s most popular games - League of Legends, Fortnite and PUBG, to name a few - are open-ended, without a defined storyline. Mobile gaming is on a rise, too, snapping up 2.8bn sales last year according to Statista. Despite all of that, God of War 4 is beating up the competition to top UK and Japanese charts. What’s the attraction? And how do other games get in on the action?

God of War’s powerful storytelling

The few weeks that have passed since God of War was released has opened up the market and reduced prices, allowing recommended retailer Gocdkeys to offer the cheapest PS4 base game on the market.  As a result, more reviewers are getting in on the action and a common theme has been cited - storytelling. Video games are often cited as escapism, and the grander the story, the grander that feeling. God of War is a long-running franchise, with the first GoW earning plaudits for its epic but uniquely creative Grecian backstory.

A cogent story is one of the areas where an open world falls down. The genre is littered with examples of where gameplay and features have taken over and disrupt the balance of the product as a whole. Fallout is a series that exemplifies this; New Vegas was roundly praised, according to review aggregator Metacritic, as it dropped you into a specific role as ‘The Courier’. The next in the series, Fallout 4, instead faced criticism for its story, according to the likes of Kotaku, with too much focus placed on the sandbox world. There is a balance to be made between customization and story progression, something with God of War 4 has been adjudged to have got just right, echoing the progress made in years past by titles such as Knights of the Old Republic.

Too much to choose from

The above is not to say that God of War 4 is an in-a-line, side-scroller-gone-3D hack and slash title. Quite apart from it, there are multitudinous side quests and distractions in GoW4. The difference here comes in balance. Games that offer a full sandbox experience, like No Man’s Sky or Uncharted, risk the game becoming defined by that and the full experience not being enjoyed. By offering something different from the main quest, it keeps the game fresh; and helps to strengthen your character for encounters ahead. The focus is always brought back to the main storyline and the development of your character, to improve and augment the sense of immersion and escapism.

Does it have longevity?

Many games released today have a strong open world aspect. It’s telling, however, that the ones that are done really well have a distinct linear storytelling arc. Grand Theft Auto V, one of the top five best selling games of all time according to Forbes, has lots to go and see and do, but culminates in ultimately the same point. Total sandbox games like Minecraft are an exception to the rule, but they don’t have any story - at all - and a few key achievements map their progression.

God of War 4 is revitalizing the linear storytelling genre, and especially where roleplay games are concerned. Merging together storytelling with a carefully curated, not over-the-top open-world policy is the key. With other games taking the hint and producing lovingly created games, we might see the open-world market tipped on its head.

More on Geekweek


Sign in to comment with your TypePad, Twitter, Facebook, Google, Yahoo or OpenID.