This article originally appeared in GamesMaster magazine.
It was initially believed that the latest God of War would depict its infamously bad-ass Grecian protagonist, Kratos, as someone who has grown more in touch with his 'human' side. Frankly, it's hard to imagine the stabby Spartan cuddling up with a flowery Cath Kidston duvet with tub of Neapolitan.
"We're not having Kratos hug and blow kisses and make rainbows for everybody" says Todd Papy, game director and long-serving member of the God of War team (he joined the Santa Monica back in 2003).
Sure enough, within minutes of starting our playthrough we've ripped the heads off several Satyrs, opened up the brain case of an Elephantaur and chopped the legs off a larger Minotaur before stamping his head into a fine red madras texture. So no frolicking kittens, then.
But - outside of the typically bloodthirsty combat - Kratos has toned things down a notch, especially when innocent civilians are involved.
"We're trying to make sure that any progression you have to do to any civilians, it's not an automatic kill," says Papy.
"We're not putting players in that situation where they feel like they have to do something like that."
A prime example crops up during our single-player demo. We've just landed on a decrepit pier on the island of Delos, a rocky outcropping filled with gorgeously realised, massive, crumbling effigies, covered in vines and moss. The textures are so vivid that you can almost taste the tang of brine. As we battle our way through waves of snorting, scrambling Satyrs, a cluster of civilian slaves breaks away and begins running towards us.
Kratos shouts a warning and pushes one of them out of the way of an oncoming spear. It's a small moment, but a poignant one. After all, as Papy muses, "in the past Kratos would have used him as a human shield, and just held him there."
Get him to the Greek
The combat has seen a few minor touch-ups. While slicing through waves of beasts feels familiar, the L1 button is now used to pull off brutal finishers, which frees up the Circle button for the new, more regularly used, sub-weapon moves. These range from a stun moves to attacks with extra weapons that can be picked up mid-flow, in a manner akin to Prince of Persia: Warrior Within.
Meanwhile, the rage system has been totally rebuilt. Rather than gradually fill over the course of many battles, now a smaller gauge in the bottom right hand corner of the screen will rapidly top up during each battle and deplete almost immediately after the action ends.
While before you would on occasion release the nuclear force of Kratos's full rage-filled powers, now you're urged to activate it on a regular basis. You'll even have the option of either enforcing your base combos with extra meaty thwacks or unleashing a nuke-like, screen-emptying explosion, splintering your foes like crockery at a Greek wedding.
The third major change to the combat is the tether system. Tap the R1 button and Kratos will lob a chain blade towards an enemy and grab hold of them. From here you can bring them in close for a brutal kill, use them as a bespoke wrecking ball or simply hold them in your grasp while using your free chain blade to wreak more havoc.
There's a playful chaos to combat, which has always been one of God of War's stronger suits. It's a button masher but, should you feel inclined, there's an intricacy and depth that can get overlooked. This depth is much easier to appreciate once you take your skills from single-player into the gladiatorial arenas of multiplayer.