Five Things We Wish We Knew Before Starting God of War

God of War for the PlayStation 4 is nearly upon us. In our very positive review of the game, we said that “Vengeance may not be what Kratos seeks anymore, but that has done little to stop the God of War franchise.” It’s true, God of War is very different from its predecessors, but it’s also very similar. Regardless of what has changed and what’s stayed the same, it’s a huge, rewarding experience. With such a big game to tackle, there’s a lot that we wish we knew before diving headfirst into this Nordic Valhalla of a gameplay experience. So here are five of those things we wish we knew before starting God of War.

You Can’t Do Everything Immediately

A few hours into God of War, you’ll go from a largely linear experience to a much more open one. In this first big open area, you’re free to explore every nook and cranny of optional content that your heart desires or you can just continue on with the story – it’s up to you. Of course, doing the optional content is in your best interest, as most of the game’s runic attacks, armor and other equipment are obtained through side quests and extra-curricular exploration.

If you do decide to put the main story on hold in order to go after all this optional content, however, you can’t do it all at once. You’ll come across devices that mean nothing to you until you unlock new abilities later in the story, and instead of beating your head against the wall trying to figure out how to get to a spot you can plainly see but can’t access, just accept that you can probably get there later. This large area rife with optional content only gets larger and fuller as the game progresses, impressively building upon previous areas, giving Kratos and Atreus more and more space and content to play around with. It’s worth exploring these areas even before they grow larger but do so knowing there will be much more later.

You Don’t Need to Hoard Resources

The crafting systems in God of War are simple but effective and the resources required for upgrading your weapons, armor and other equipment are expertly doled out by the game designers. There may be one specific material you desperately want to come across in order to upgrade your super useful bracers but can’t seem to find it anywhere. You’ll find it when the game wants you to find it, but at that point, use it.

There’s little point in hoarding resources in case you need them for later equipment – once you start finding that much desired material, it will become far more available from that point on, and before you know it you’ll have more of it than you know what to do with. Yes, there are some armor sets that require lots of the same materials to upgrade each piece of equipment, and if you try and upgrade each piece simultaneously, you may end up strapped for that resource. But when it comes to something as ubiquitous as Hacksilver, the game’s general currency, don’t be stingy. If you want that expensive axe pommel, go for it, because you’ll save up enough money for the runic attack you want in no time.

The Fractions on the Skill Tree Don’t Really Matter

The sill trees in God of War, just like its crafting systems, are simple but work well. There are skill trees for the Leviathan axe, barehanded combat, Atreus’s arrows and Kratos’ infamous Spartan Rage. Each skill obtained typically increases your combat options by modifying axe throws, giving more depth and power to certain attack combos, and sometimes they just straight up increase stats. For the Leviathan Axe and Atreus skill trees, you’re limited by the level of their weapons, which can only be upgraded to the next level once specific materials are granted throughout the game. Once you have leveled up their weapons, you’ll be able to access new parts of these skill trees and spend your XP to your heart’s content.

One mildly confusing thing about the skill tree is the way it shows which stats affect which skills. This in and of itself makes sense, as it’s useful to know which abilities will be useful based on if your regular attack or your runic stat is higher. However, the way it phrases this dynamic is bizarre. It will say that ability requires a stat like runic, and then it will show a fraction to its right, with the number on the left in the red out of the maxed-out version of that stat on the right in white. This suggests you don’t have enough runic or defense or what have you in order to buy that skill off the skill tree. Nope! You can grab it if you have the XP, it’s just showing you how strong the attack will be with your current stats, and how likely its additional bonuses are to be activated when the skill is used. No matter how high your stat is, if it’s not maxed out, it will be displayed in red. It’s a weird way to show the system, but fret not – you can go right ahead and buy those skills: they’ll still be plenty useful.

Everything is Worth Experimenting With

With all those skills on the skill tree, there are a lot of options in combat. You can choose to keep your distance in fights and throw the Leviathan Axe like the magical boomerang it is, or you can get up close and personal in hand-to-hand combat and try to max out the enemy stun meters as quickly as possible. However, diverse enemies force you to change up your tactics regularly, and that’s a great thing.

The skills you can unlock give further depth to each combat option, and each time you unlock something, you should really take the time to learn how to use the skills naturally and eventually you’ll use them in the middle of combat without thinking about it. Some skills use combos to activate, but lots just require deliberate actions on the player’s part. Throwing the axe at weak points always does extra damage, but with more unlocked skills it can freeze enemies in spot, give you extra bonuses upon hit and much more. What’s more, the equipment and runes you acquire over the course of the game offer much more than just stat benefits. Many will grant special perks upon running for a few seconds, or if you parry attacks successfully, or can even help restore health with the right actions. Don’t just pick one piece of armor and stick with it because it has good stats – keep experimenting with everything and you’ll have an even better God of War experience.

The Boat Goes Much Faster Than You’d Expect

This one might seem silly, but it couldn’t be truer. There are large bodies of water in the game, and they seem like they’ll take forever to cross, but remember – Kratos is a god. He’d be the star member of the Harvard row team and can make that baby cruise. There is a fast travel system in God of War, but because of the game’s dedication to keeping everything in one continuous cut, you can’t just go from one fast travel point to another and sit down the controller and grab a quick snack. You have to actively walk a bit and get from point A to point B (albeit, much faster than you would if you actually traveled all the way there).

The fast travel system is useful, but not fully accessible until later in the game, and honestly, sometimes it really is just faster to row that boat. Instead of relying on the fast travel system to constantly get where you need to go, go ahead and take the boat – you’d be surprised how quickly you’ll get there. Besides, there are so many hidden collectables and goodies out there, you’re liable to miss a lot if you don’t travel by foot or boat most of the time. Also, you can run into debris in the boat or find spots of sunken treasure a-la The Wind Waker and it can help fill out your coffers.

God of War comes out April 20 exclusively to the PlayStation 4.