Lately, Sony has been more and more open to putting games on PC that were previously exclusive to PlayStation, and today’s release of God of War is the most notable so far. One of Sony’s major franchises since the original PS2 game was released in 2005, all subsequent titles (aside from a 2007 spin-off for mobile phones) have been locked to PlayStation hardware. Santa Monica Studio’s 2018 God of War is one of the most acclaimed games on PS4, and now it’s available to a new audience for the first time.
I’ve spent some time with the PC version and found that it’s impressively well adapted to the platform, which isn’t always a given. I spoke with Santa Monica Senior Technical Production Manager Matt DeWald and Lead UX Designer and Accessibility Lead Mila Pavlin to learn more about the process of bringing God of War to the computer
“About two years ago we decided to investigate if it was possible,” says DeWald. “So the idea came up of, Well, let’s think if we could make a PC [port] — we have a custom engine, we haven’t actually released a PC game, we’re going to kick it off and see what issues we’re going to run into and how much work it’s going to actually take.” Santa Monica commissioned Jetpack Interactive, a studio in Vancouver that had already been working on other internal collaborations, to determine the scope of the project, and it was eventually approved.
“They’re built into the kit, so they’re not really a typical port house where we unload something and throw it over the fence,” says DeWald of Jetpack. “They’re working with our code bases, they’re on our team channels and communicating with our team, they’re part of our standups.” Four Jetpack engineers handled the main development of the port, with DeWald serving as producer and other members of Santa Monica such as Pavlin making additional contributions.
“[PC players] I want it to feel like it was built for the PC instead of being a port,” says Pavlin, who worked on the project’s user experience and controls. “So a lot of the work we did early on was hit those milestones in graphics quality, make sure the graphics quality was up to standards and responsive on the PC platform, and then make sure the controls were customizable. and I felt good in the native configuration.”
I can’t talk about how God of War it will run on everyone’s PC, of course, and as a hypothetical DeWald wouldn’t be interested in how it will run on the Steam Deck, but my experience with the game on a five-year-old machine has been positive. There are plenty of graphics options and performance has been more or less in line with what I expected; I average 50 frames per second on a 1440p ultrawide monitor with G-Sync, and that’s using a Skylake Core i5 processor and a GTX 1080 with a mix of settings. Each visual option can be run in “original” mode, which basically gives you PS4-level quality, and you can turn them up or down from there.
While you may not immediately see it as a good fit given its heritage as a console action game, God of War on PC it can be played with mouse and keyboard controls, and the layout is surprisingly well thought out. Actions like aiming and throwing Kratos’ axe, for example, feel more natural if you’re used to playing FPS games with a mouse. Pavlin points out that the commands are not assigned one by one from the controller’s action list; for example, on PS4 you jump with the same context-sensitive button used to interact with the environment, but on PC the jump command is handled separately by the space bar, like most other PC games. There are also options like auto sprint which can be more comfortable for many players. Personally, I’d still lean toward using a controller, but I finished the game on the PS4 so I’m used to it by now. For newcomers who only play on PC, the mouse and keyboard layout is a smart addition.
“I found it very comfortable to use because I’m used to that with my other games – I play a lot of PC games,” says Pavlin. “It feels like a very original and fun way to play. It somehow changes the whole way you approach combat. I found that I could aim very easily using the mouse because the accuracy was so good that I could do things like headshots and make sure I’m, you know, knocking out the dragon’s legs and doing that. precision shots that maybe with a controller you would find a bit more difficult or for which you would have to use an aim assist. So I think there are advantages to it.”
Another great addition to the PC version is support for ultrawide 21:9 monitors (as well as taller 16:10 monitors). This is more interesting for God of War than it might be for other titles due to the game’s signature single shot technique, where the camera essentially never cuts from the beginning to the end of the game. I was wondering if expanding the field of view presented any challenges in terms of revealing things that maybe weren’t meant to be on screen originally.
“[The ultrawide support] it revealed all the little tricks and gimmicks we were using to move people into position or get someone off screen,” says DeWald. “They may not be fully animated. So that was a manual process that required just going through the whole game.” Cutscenes, too, sometimes had to be reframed to better fit the expanded content that the engine is rendering in real time. The results are impressive: I never felt like anything seemed out of place, and Kratos’ AI-controlled son Atreus follows through as convincingly as he did on a 16:9 TV.
Unfortunately, though, you’ll need to run the game at ultrawide resolution if you want a wider field of view, because there’s no conventional FoV slider. DeWald says it introduced bugs that the team didn’t have time to fix, with the game basing some logic on what’s on or off the screen at any given moment.
God of War It wasn’t originally designed as a PC game, and the experience of going back and making it feel native on one platform has prompted Santa Monica Studio to reexamine its workflow. “Moving into the PC space really got us thinking, not just about PC launches, but our entire portfolio,” says Pavlin. “Looking at how we make things more tunable and customizable early on with how we’re building our codebase and assets. Whether we know we’re going to have a wide variety of formats that we’re going to move to or we know we’re going to need control customization, programmers really need to know that early on in a project so they can build the code base of a way to be more flexible.
That will also allow Santa Monica Studio to help make its games more accessible, with Pavlin citing the example of how the way God of War Initially, it was only designed with hard-coded PS4 controls in mind, prompting a lot of work for the team to rethink their inputs on PC. “This is very important not only for PC ports, but also moving forward with accessibility and making sure to support additional control features, controller customization, or keyboard customization. And in future projects, we’ve learned those key lessons here that we can leverage to better design our games to be more flexible in the future, to make it easier for everyone in the future.”
Santa Monica Studio is currently developing God of Warthe sequel, God of War: Ragnarok, which will be released on PS4 and PS5 this year. It’s unknown if it will ever make it to PC, but Pavlin’s comments suggest that God of WarThe PC port of could have a positive impact even on the console versions of ragnarok. For now, it’s simply the best way to play and is well worth checking out whether you’re a new player or an existing player.
God of War is available on Steam and the Epic Games Store today.