God of War – the 2018 sequel to PlayStation 4 – has finally received an update for PlayStation 5, and in common with similar updates for Days Gone and Ghost of Tsushima, it opens the door to a classic game that runs flat at 60 frames per second – and in common with the other Sony first-party juggernauts, the effect is truly transformative. It’s almost like the last piece of the puzzle: the original release was hugely impressive with 4K graphics, extreme details, phenomenal lighting and great performance. An almost flawless 60 frames per second is the latest boom for a game that pushed the PS4 and PS4 Pro to the limit.
Before we talk about the raw performance figures, we should actually consider what you can call quality of life improvement. By extracting so much from the latest generation of silicon, Santa Monica Studio inadvertently ran into another problem ̵
And when I got back to God of War, it struck me how risky this title would have been for SIE and Santa Monica Studio. A number of gamblers here pay off spectacularly. A series that began life as a technologically state-of-the-art arcade warrior with set-piece bosses has declined. There’s a real story here and complete characters. By comparison, the older God of War titles feel almost like exaggerated oral legends. Either way, Santa Monica Studio has moved on, the story has moved on and maybe the audience has moved on as well.
The point is that the franchise is revived – not restarted. I say that because everything that made God of War so epic in previous installments is still there in 2018 – the amazing environments, the giant animals, the influential, ultra-violent battles – and of course Santa Monica Studios’ state-of-the-art rendition. But while the studio has clearly moved on, God of War 2018 is a game that respects its technological heritage in getting the most out of the generation of console hardware. The 1.35 update for the game is fascinating – the 4K and 1080p modes of the Pro version (targeting 30 frames per second and 60 frames per second with varying degrees of success) are gone, rightly replaced with 30 frames per second and 60 frames per second second that still uses 2160p grid reproduction. Not surprisingly, 30 fps mode is completely locked from start to finish, clearing up a relatively small decline shown on the PS4 Pro, but the revelation here is how solid the 60 fps experience is.
Let’s put it this way, in the space of an hour and 45 minutes, only 33 images were thrown from a total of over 378,000 – and they were in a non-playable cutscene. I did not notice it to be honest, as the ‘handheld’ camera used by God of War is inherently a bit inconsistent. You can expect the smallest performance to fall elsewhere in the adventure, but nothing you are likely to notice. We often talk about “locked 60 frames per second”, but there are usually exceptions to the rule – God of War is basically flawless and combined with a presentation like this, it is an experience you must not miss.
There is some added spice to the story, in that it has actually been possible to play God of War on the chessboard 4K 60fps since the first day of PlayStation 5’s hardware launch. Shared with a handful of other games – such as The Last Guardian – version 1.0 gold master code basically already runs with an unlocked frame rate. It’s not ideal on either the PS4 or PS4 Pro, as it basically exceeds 30 frames per second anyway, and this style of presentation was patched out on a one of a day zero patches Santa Monica Studio rolled out during the review period. But it still has the gold master disc code, and PlayStation 5 takes advantage of it, effectively delivering the same result you see with the 1.35 update.
Of course, it caused problems: if your storage games came from later code, they would not work. Plus you missed the bug fixes and optimizations that Santa Monica Studio made to the title after launch. Nevertheless, the unlocked frame rate also provides interesting data: we can more accurately compare scalability between 1080p and 4K chessboard on PS4 and Pro systems and how well the developer balanced the performance of both consoles. On the Pro, it’s also possible to compare 1.0 4K unlocked performance with 1.35s 1080p mode, and get an idea of scalability there. I had always assumed that the performance mode could not be locked to 60 frames per second due to CPU limitations on the latest hardware, but the comparison suggests bottlenecks across the board.
But it’s the PlayStation 5 experience that takes center stage here, and to be honest, it’s terrific – and easily accessible as well. If you own a PS5, chances are you own the game by default. God of War joins the correspondingly improved Days Gone in the PlayStation Plus Collection, a series of games that PlayStation 5 owners receive as bonuses if they are registered for Sony’s subscription service. Both games are updated and refreshed with their 60 fps upgrades, and although it’s not part of the same collection, I highly recommend checking out Ghost of Tsushima – it’s terrific. It’s just a shame that The Last Guardian has not yet been patched at 60 frames per second on PS5 – we know it is possible, because the disc code does, and the increase in performance is even deeper, as we have discussed earlier. It would be great to see that this game received a similar update, but realistically we have to accept that it is not always so easy to port older titles to the latest SDK.
And of course there’s the elephant in the room. What’s up with The Last of Us part 2? Why hasn’t the Naughty Dogs email received a similar upgrade at 60 frames per second? What we can say with a degree of certainty is that the other titles are reasonably easy to unlock, to give you the extra frame rate – but it does not assume that it is as easy on other games. Different engines are architectured in different ways. If you look at the efforts that went into getting Death Stranding to run with high frame rates on PC and difficulties that Horizon Zero Dawn did in the same way, it is clear that just removing a hood at 30 frames per second will not guarantee automatically magical results. I wonder if Naughty Dog can go for a full remaster in the same way as Marvel’s Spider-Man: Remastered – but I’m sure everything will be clear in the fullness of time.
Meanwhile, it goes without saying that visiting God of War on PlayStation 5 is an experience to enjoy and sets the stage beautifully for the sequel, apparently set for release later this year. If there is one possible criticism you can have with this update, it is that while it exerts the power of the PlayStation 5, it is still the same game with the same visual features – it is a pure performance boost. Ragnarok will be designed with the hardware in mind – and the views are impressive.