Title: God of War | Developer: Santa Monica Studio | Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment | Initial Release: 20th Apr 2018
With a new Norse-inspired setting being as fascinating as it was inevitable, what with the demise of the entire Greek pantheon, 2018's God of War brought a much needed refresh to the series and is perhaps the best game yet to bear the name. More than a simple change of scenery, this new mythology comes with a significant shift in tone as part of creative director, Cory Barlog's re-imagining of the franchise. Now more mature in its character development and story telling, the game also brings lofty technical and artistic aspirations, as evident with the impressive single shot presentation and outstanding character model detail. Little surprise then that the adventures of Kratos and newly introduced son, Atreus, have become extremely popular with virtual photographers and it is now shocking to think that the game originally launched without a photo mode. Much more than an afterthought though, Santa Monica Studio wanted the photo mode to allow players to get up-close and personal with the character and environmental artwork of the game and the feature was added in a free update, almost 3 weeks after launch, on 9th May. Did they deliver a photo mode imbued with the power of the Gods? Read on to find out.
a photo mode imbued with the power of the Gods?
Key Photo Mode Features:
Strong use of realistic camera settings
Depth of field (DoF) control with character focus lock
Colour filters and creative borders
Character facial expressions
Controls & Implementation:
Convenient access makes a huge difference to the user experience of any photo mode and God of War does include a direct shortcut to its camera features, although not all of you may have noticed. Assigned to the left half of the DualShock 4's touch pad, the shortcut is disabled by default and must be activated in the main settings, presumably to simplify other uses of the touch pad to access the map and inventory menu. This only needs to be done once though and the choice of shortcut button is a good one that is easily reached with the left thumb. Of course, that does mean releasing the LS, so you may occasionally find it preferable to use the menu access when trying to include character walking motion in your captures. The photo mode itself is well engineered with most of the tools that people have come to expect and should be especially appealing to experienced photographers thanks to very pleasing use of real world camera settings and some truly outstanding opportunities to use them.
what may seem like a missed opportunity in one regard, actually plays to different strengths
If there is one criticism to be made, and I'm afraid there is, it is in the camera bounding sphere. While not at all unusual to see a restriction on camera range, developers understandably don't always want players venturing "behind the curtain" while in photo mode, God of War limits the otherwise free camera movement to just 3.5 - 3.7 m around Kratos. At perhaps only 70% of the limit found in Horizon Zero Dawn, and way less than many other titles, it's hard not to feel that Santa Monica Studio have been a little over-cautious here and the restrictive range can leave action frustratingly out of reach even when you are well within the confines of the rendered area. Those hoping to pull the camera back for wide cinematic shots of Kratos & Atreus' journey together, or anyone seeking to replicate the epic grandeur that the series was previously know for, may well be disappointed.
This is perhaps a little harsh though and the truth is that what may seem like a missed opportunity in one regard, actually plays to different strengths and echoes the game itself by shifting attention to a more up-close presentation. Santa Monica Studio wanted players to get intimate with their art and that is exactly what you should do.
Camera control is well handled with horizontal truck and dolly movement on the LS and vertical craning performed via the L2 & R2 triggers. Each of these move relative to camera rotation and with precision thanks to the analog input so there should be no trouble framing shots as desired. RS provides pan & tilt while camera roll is performed using a slider on the UI menu. Each rotational axis has unlimited 360° movement around the camera's centre so that it can be aimed in any direction but strangely, when rotating through 90° for full resolution portrait shots, the pan axis is flipped with the camera but the tilt is not. Consequently, both actions then result in the same movement so you'll need to adjust camera tilt before rolling into portrait orientation.
A clear and mostly unobtrusive UI provides camera and creative options across 5 distinct tabs and can be instantly dismissed by pressing X. The camera itself can be moved at any time but the UI must be visible to alter other settings, no deal breaker but it is always useful to have an unobstructed view when comparing colour filters for example. L1 & R1 switch between tabs and the D-pad allows incremental adjustments of each setting, all of which can be reset on a per-tab basis by pressing Δ. Camera position is similarly returned to default using the ☐ button and each reset action, as well as exiting the photo mode, requires confirmation to ensure that there is no accidental loss of shot composition.
experience with real camera lenses is directly translatable into the God of War photo mode
With options including focal length, focus distance, aperture size, exposure, film grain and vignette, the available camera settings suggest an intention to enable the photographer and reflect the clear attention to detail that permeates every aspect of this game. For example, focal length of the simulated lens can be varied from 15.0 - 120.0 mm and is paired with a FoV measurement, in degrees, with near exact replication of the angle of view offered by real world lenses of the same lengths on a 35 mm film / sensor. This means that experience with real camera lenses is directly translatable into the God of War photo mode and the resulting photographs are all the more authentic. As these two settings are inextricably linked, adjusting either one will automatically shift the other in the opposite direction and there is perhaps no real need for the photo mode to include both metrics but it does allow users to work with the unit that they are most comfortable with. Some photographers will enjoy selecting a particular length of lens to suit a given task, 50 mm for portrait work perhaps, while others may prefer the more direct measure of the observable angle. Either way, the options offer a broad range of adjustment and are equally suited to photographing the game's largest of beasts or smallest of details.
larger apertures do a great job of isolating a subject from the surroundings
Aperture size is similarly well represented with f-numbers ranging from f/1.4 - f/32, all of which can be used with any focal length. The larger apertures (smaller f/number) do a great job of isolating a subject from the surroundings by defocusing objects both in front of and beyond the plane of focus with an authentic shallow DoF effect, be aware though, that those larger than f/4 also cause a false darkening on the left part of the image that you may need to work around. Given that the amount of light passing through the aperture and lens shutter speed are not simulated, smaller apertures (larger f/number) can be used to keep a whole scene in focus by using a broad DoF without the penalty of low exposure or blur. This DoF control is complimented by manual focus which can be precisely set at any distance from 0.21 m to 100.0 m or attached to a character in the scene so that the chosen individual is kept in focus as you reposition the camera. Note though, that the minimum focus distance actually depends on selected focal length, shifting from 0.21 m at 15 mm to 1.50 m at 120 mm.
Film grain, the default setting of which is adjustable in the main game setting, can be applied or removed at any time to realistic effect, adding authentic granularity to low light shots, while vignette is available with both intensity (opacity) and falloff variables which cover realistic lens characteristics and a more stylised look. Exposure compensation though, doesn't quite match the high standard set by the other lens options and the 21-point scale is surprisingly limited, struggling to cope with particularly dark areas of the game. If planning a shot in a poorly lit environment, it may be worth boosting the game's overall brightness setting (and contrast if using HDR) which have a greater influence and remain separate to the photo mode exposure.
Moving on to the more creative effects, a selection of border options include 21:9 "film gate", 4:3 and 1:1 crops for cinematic and photographic presentations as well as several Norse-themed decorative surrounds. A standard God of War logo can be overlaid on these in any one of 6 positions and 12 colour filters with variable intensity can be used to add an interesting range of styles to the shot from simple black & white to the more distinct Kratos and Atreus filters.
Finally, we come to what may perhaps be the most novel feature of this photo mode, facial expressions. It's fair to say that this is not the only game to offer this sort of option but in God of War it does allow something truly unique, making Kratos smile! The vengeful Ghost of Sparta is not normally known for his amiable nature but the selection of 16 expressions, available for both he and Atreus, remind us that games are meant to be fun and can lend a certain candid behind the scenes feeling to photographing the pair. There is even a guilty pleasure in knowingly having Kratos make a bad impression of Popeye with his back to the camera, nobody will ever see it but you know it's there.
The vengeful Ghost of Sparta is not normally known for his amiable nature
Whether this photo mode should be considered innovative or not really doesn't matter. In much the same way that a quality camera needs to be reliable and accurate rather than flamboyant, God of War's camera tools are clearly aimed at enabling the photographer to engage with the subject matter and it is here, through spectacular art, that the game provides everything that is needed.
From the central area of Midgard to each of the realms made available through the story so far, the environmental art is varied and endlessly beautiful. With the freedom to choose your own path, a first for the series, it is a joy to simply jump in a boat or visit the realm travel room and head off to one stunning location after another. The real achievement in world building is not just in making something pretty though, but also in making it believable, even when based on myth and fantasy. God of War does this with a plethora of details from the way every tree leans yearnfully towards the light of Alfheim to the unassuming and easily missed detritus that occupies the disused corners of every space. Even while somewhere totally unbelievable, there is a feeling that this place could exist and, combined with the authentic camera functions, the photo opportunities are as real as they come.
the character design is a marvel and constantly invites you to take a closer look
Of course, this level of artistic detail is everywhere and perhaps most evident in the near peerless character models. Kratos returns with an older and more weathered appearance, his past life having clearly taken its toll, while Atreus bears the scars of growing up in a world as tough as it is beautiful and this standard is upheld across all of the game's inhabitants. From the excellent supporting cast to the wealth of mythical beasts, the character design is a marvel and constantly invites you to take a closer look. The same goes for the weapons, the Blades of Chaos look better than ever and Kratos' new weapon of choice, the fantastically intricate Leviathan Axe, is as pleasing to photograph as it is to wield.
There are few better examples of how a photo mode can add a completely different level of engagement with the artistic craftsmanship of a game. Whether it be staggering landscapes, cinematic action shots, close-up portraits or abstract details, there is almost no end to the possibilities and the chance to stop and take in every aspect is as rewarding for the virtual photographer as it must be for the artists at Santa Monica, knowing that their efforts are being appreciated.
God of War is undoubtedly one of the greatest technical and artistic showpieces of this generation and in a game that is quite deliberately grounded and built carefully from the smallest detail, there is a photo mode ideally suited to take advantage. The well engineered tools are more functional than they are imaginative but this lets the real attraction shine through. With the amount of effort put into the game by the developers, you cannot fail to find something worth shooting and the devil, or in this case the God, really is in the details.
Photo Mode Access: Left half of touch pad (activated in settings)
Camera Movement: Free (with bounding sphere)
Field of View: 17 - 100° (± 1°)
Focal Length: 15.0 - 120.0 mm (± 1 mm)
Camera Roll: -180 to 180° (± 1°)
Depth of Field: Off / Custom / Character lock
Focus Distance: 0.21 - 100.0 (± 0.01)
F-Stop: f/1.4 - f/32
Film Grain: 0.0 - 10.0 (± 0.1)
Exposure: -10 to 10 (± 1)
Filter: None + 12 presets
Filter Intensity: 0.0 - 10.0 (± 0.5)
Vignette: On / Off
Vignette Intensity: 0.0 - 10.0 (± 0.5)
Vignette Falloff: 0.0 - 10.0 (± 0.5)
Border: None + 10 presets (incl. 21:9, 4:3 & 1:1)
Logo: None + 6 positions
Kratos: Show / Hide
Atreus: Show / Hide
Other Characters: Show / Hide
Kratos Face: Default + 16 presets
Atreus Face: Default + 16 presets
Hide UI: Yes
(via in-game settings)
Disable HUD: Always on, always off, dynamic
HDR: On / Off, Brightness, Contrast
Favour Resolution / Favour Performance (PS4 Pro)