Is God of War the best-looking game of all time?
God of War looks stunning. With the help of some of the most advanced graphics tech in the industry you can see the wear and tear of countless years of battle written across Kratos’ aging body like never before, and there’s no doubt that the same tech and attention to detail we see on Kratos’ character model is worked into almost every battle, every enemy, and every jaw dropping scene in the game.
But is God of War the best-looking game of all time? We’ve had a lot of impressively rendered games on the PS4 recently, from Horizon: Zero Dawn to Uncharted 4, there’s no doubt that the PS4 Pro can churn out some stunning visuals. So how does God of War compare to these titles, and how does that same graphical fidelity stack up against its brothers on the PC which has long been lauded as the place to be for gaming graphics across the board?
What it means to be beautiful
Of course, before we can even dive into God of War, we need to talk about what it means for a game to be beautiful. The term “beauty is in the eye of the beholder” is a key concept here, because obviously a game that looks amazing to one person could look like absolute garbage to another.
Not to bring the battle royale world into the wrong conversation here, but Fortnite and Player Unknown’s Battlegrounds are two key games in the gaming community that are currently split partially based off this concept. Fortnite has a greater focus on animated graphics, what many would consider “cartoony” or unrealistic art style that is undoubtedly intentional and that helps it appeal to a more family friendly audience and that allows it to reach an extremely broad audience across the PC and console world. Meanwhile, PUBG is undeniably trying to represent a more photorealistic modern military world, which involves a lot of rendered grass and foliage, and weapons and armor that attempt to look as close to the real thing as possible while still delivering consistent performance.
Neither of these games market themselves off their high-end graphics performance, but if you take a peek at any debate surrounding which game is “better” you’ll see more than a few people critiquing how they just don’t like the way one game or the other looks. The same could be said if you were comparing Overwatch to Counter Strike: Global Offensive, or Crysis to Borderlands. The point is that art-style matters, but that different art styles appeal to different audiences.
So, we have no doubt that God of War won’t look better to some people than Horizon: Zero Dawn, or Destiny 2, or any number of other titles that focus on offering a different aesthetic. That said, we can acknowledge when a game goes above and beyond the art style and creates a living, breathing world that can engage the player unlike anything we’ve seen before. God of War has a specific focus on delivering a photorealistic fantasy epic with an intense level of detail that extends from its character models to its environments to the massive creatures that God of War has made its trademark.
The question we’re examining here today is whether graphically God of War went the extra mile compared to every other game in the history of the genre to create something unique. We think it has, but we’ll ultimately leave it up to you to decide.
Horizon: Zero Dawn
The first game we’re going to look at is Horizon: Zero Dawn for the obvious similarities it has with God of War. It’s another PS4 exclusive that supported many of the same PS4 Pro features that we see in God of War like checkerboarded 4K rendering, detailed environments, and massive enemies that crash through environmental objects like they aren’t even there. Both games look excellent in 4K and maintain a consistent level of performance when all hell is breaking loose, so this is easily the splitting hairs choice of the day.
Both characters are beautifully rendered at 4K and their armor and gear have a similar level of detail, which including special attention to the physics of the clothing. In God of War you can clearly see the way Kratos’ armor flexes and moves differently than the cloth as his belt or his veiny somewhat aging flesh. This holds true with many of the character models in Horizon, where different armor often contains different bits of interchanging cloth, metal, and buckskin to create the illusion that the character is wearing more than pixels painted on a character model. Zooming in close to Aloy’s face also reveals just how detailed her skin appears. Like Kratos’ worn, bearded features, you can see a surprisingly number of freckles, pores, and light blemishes on Aloy’s skin that somewhat defies belief.
Similarly lighting in both games is undeniably dynamic, cutting through scenes and adapting shadows and sunbeams as sources of light interact with the player. God of War does appear to have a slight leg up in the department because of its use of bounce-pass and physics-based lighting, which in God of War allows different objects emitting light to affect their surroundings based on the materials they’re composed of. The result is a lighting system that looks highly dynamic and atmospheric in a way that fits God of War’s aesthetic perfectly.
This lighting is what really makes God of War feel unique and just a few hairs more dynamic and alive that Horizon. Both games are gorgeous, but God of War’s world feels graphically more alive in a way that Horizon manages through other gameplay design techniques that have less to do with graphics and more to do with the environmental ecosystem.
Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End
Our next game is Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End which is another PS4 exclusive from this generation that’s been commended for its graphics. Unfortunately, although Uncharted 4 looks great it’s a bit difficult to compare it directly to God of War because it feels like it’s rocking a dramatically different art style and aesthetic. Textures, foliage, and character models look great, but they feel like they blur the line just slightly between the sharp photorealism we see in God of War in favor of a softer geometric style.
That doesn’t mean that God of War hands down beats Uncharted 4 but it does make it difficult to compare and the visual superiority here will come down to personal taste and whether you consider the linear action and smaller scale events in Uncharted 4 preferable to the massive battles against creatures straight out of fantasy we see in God of War.
As far as technical nitpicking goes God of War does appear to step ahead. To maintain consistent FPS in Uncharted 4 Naughty Dog never actually pushed their game up to the 4K checkerboard mark that’s become the standard for PS4 Pro titles trying to work their way up to the lauded native 4K benchmark. Uncharted 4 runs at 1440p, which is still a huge step up from 1080p but the difference in texture quality is undoubtedly there even if you might not notice it without comparing the two side by side.
Final Fantasy XV Windows Edition
For Final Fantasy XV we’re making the jump to the PC, the windows edition of Noctis’ bro-trip features a quality port to PC which allows players with the proper hardware to really push the limits of gaming graphics. It might be a little unfair to compare a console title to a game on the PC, but we’re trying to determine if God of War is the best-looking game of all time not just the best-looking game on console.
As a result, the first thing we need to talk about is the difference in resolution and framerate. I personally think that hitting the 60FPS benchmark is incredibly important for visual quality because it improves the sense of a responsive, realized world that moves smoothly even when the action kicks up. Of course, the 60FPS mark, especially at 4K is pretty much off the table for even the PS4 Pro, which is a tick against it in my book. The stable 30FPS at 4K that God of War manages to pull off is impressive, and there’s an argument to be made about the cinematic quality of God of War’s combat and cutscenes, but we’re talking about a game here, not a trip to the cinema, and a consistent higher FPS in my eyes would greatly improve the visual experience.
That said, you need a beastly PC if you want to run Final Fantasy XV at ultra-settings at native 4K 60FPS, but you can do it and maintain a relatively stable FPS with dips below 60 that are much less noticeable than the slight dips you might see on God of War that create a serious stutter mid-combat.
God of War also makes use of the notorious checkerboard rendering technology we see on almost every PS4 Pro title running at 4K, as a result God of War doesn’t run at native 4K like Final Fantasy XV does on the PC. This difference isn’t noticeable for the most part, but native 4K textures are always going to have a leg up on the sheer crispness of an image compared to something rendered using checkerboard tech.
Additionally, the big difference between the console version of Final Fantasy XV and the Windows Edition comes from the way it handles LOD rendering. Most games render a simplified version of grass, clouds, and various other highly demanding details only when they’re close to the player, but FFXV on the PC gives you the option to greatly increase the rich foliage density and then greatly increase the distance that that grass is rendered at great distances. The result is a world that looked breathtaking at every turn on the consoles, but that looks even more detailed and immersive on the PC.
Of course, the biggest issue with comparing these two games is that although both have an element of fantasy to their graphical soup, they’re quite different in their art style and aesthetic. While FFXV on the PC focuses on a lot of clean lines, smooth textures, and flat open spaces, while God of War seems to realize the limits of their graphical hardware and optimizes for nitty gritty details that bring the player close to the action in detail rich environments. When the game opens up in larger spaces where you might be able to notice differences in LOD the game is careful to direct your attention and craft the space so that you’re unlikely to notice any loss in object density.
But even with the increased texture quality, 60FPS, Native 4K resolution, and ridiculously long render distance God of War still manages to look more pleasing on average than FFXV on the PC. In this case FFXV’s quality is subverted by its more minimalistic style. God of War just has so much more detail in almost every scene, environment and combat sequence than FFXV that it really doesn’t matter if the quality of grass and stone textures are above what we see in God of War. Even lighting and shadows just have more to play with and therefore much more eye candy in God of War compared to FFXV.
The Witcher 3
There’s almost no better game on the market to compare God of War to than The Witcher 3 in 4K at 60FPS on ultra settings. The Witcher 3 has been the gold standard for PC graphics since it launched in 2015, and although it occasionally shows its age in the odd animation or environment where the lighting and shadow tech don’t look quite as dynamic by comparison to God of War, it’s managed to scale incredibly well with the leaps and bounds of PC hardware in the last few years.
This one is tough, because looking at footage of the two side by side it’s incredibly difficult not to find both games comparably gorgeous. That said, the aforementioned limitations of the graphics technology at the time do declare God of War the winner. Especially when watching cutscenes or walking through a densely populated city it’s evident that although The Witcher 3 can run at a native 4K 60FPS that overall the visual detail we have in God of War far outpaces what the Witcher 3 can do with the proper hardware behind it.
It’s a difficult decision for me personally, because The Witcher 3 is still one of my favorite games of all time and comparing 4K footage of certain dynamic scenes still takes my breath away, but God of War still manages to look better in the day-to-day gameplay. The character models just have more detail, the environments look more atmospheric and realistic, and the animations from the greasiest troll to the angriest frost spirit are smooth as butter.
Additionally, the physics both gameplay wise and graphically give the game a flair that unfortunately The Witcher 3 just doesn’t have. The way Kratos’ armor and clothing flexes and drapes as he moves and the way the environment and enemies shatter and explode when smashed or hit are just a step above what CD Projekt Red could do back in 2015. I’m sure The Witcher 4 (let’s pray) or Cyberpunk 2077 will put God of War to shame, but right now, these features make God of War look better, stronger, and faster than God of War has ever looked before.
Is it the Best-Looking Game Ever?
Right now, God of War is king of the mountain.
There’s just a ridiculous level of detail in God of War that makes it look stunning and that sets it a cut above the rest of the games on the market. There are undoubtedly flaws that we would love to see ironed out, native 4K would be the icing on the cake, and if the game could break the 60FPS barrier it would be even better, but we all know that isn’t going to happen on the PS4 Pro. So we’ll just have to wait for a remaster on the mythical PS5 or for Sony to prove miracles are real and send God of War kicking and screaming over to a proper PC port.
Of course, that doesn’t stop God of War from looking absolutely fantastic on the current generation of hardware it was build for. The lighting, the photorealistic fantasy art style, the physics-based textures, and gameplay elements that are screenshot candy at every turn make God of War a joy to look at. It’s a good time to be a gamer, because with graphics moving in this direction the future is looking bright, gorgeous, and as craggy as Kratos’ veiny, sculpted arms.