The original God of War was a stunning achievement- it had a compelling tale of vengeance, redemption, and deceit, great graphics, a fantastic soundtrack, and fluid, visceral combat. Many, including myself, wondered how Sony Santa Monica could top themselves with God of War II. They have.
Many reviews for God of War II have been quick to write the game off as being of minimal improvement to a proven formula, but these reviews are wrong. God of War II introduces a number of refinements and additions that together make the entire experience that much better.
The story starts off with Kratos' aggression finally catching up to him. The gods didn't hold up their end of the bargain from the first game, so Kratos channels his fury by having Sparta conquer city after city. Zeus decides the time is nigh for some divine intervention, so he strips Kratos of his powers, kills him, and destroys Sparta. Kratos is saved and must find the Sisters of Fate to set things right. Overall, the story is bigger, badder, and better than before, but unfortunately, Kratos lacks the introspection of the first game.
The game's presentation is unparalleled. The graphics are amazing and have improved over the first game, making everything clearer and more detailed. The art direction and environments are gorgeous, the voice acting is brilliant (save for Michael Clarke Duncan's performance as Atlas), and the soundtrack is as good or better than the first game's, and makes you feel the drama and tension during combat. Fans of the game should do as I have done and purchase the soundtrack; it's more than worth the $10. Not only that, but the game comes with a second disc chock full of bonus content, including a lengthy making of video and plenty of featurettes about the game's art style and design, lost levels, characters, etc. to extend the experience far beyond the story mode.
A lot of little fixes to the combat and mechanics make the whole game feel tighter and more refined: You can finally move while performing magic, there are many more bosses this time out, and certainly more weapons to slice and dice your foes with. These are the obvious things that the typical GoWII review covers. But what they fail to mention is that Kratos now runs faster, can jump up ladders and across ropes for better navigation, and can move across and slide down walls well enough to challenge Spiderman. The combat is smoother and more fluid as many moves have been replaced or tweaked, and improved button layout helps a lot during adventure portions.
But the "obvious" changes are wonderful, too. Kratos has two high-flying air-combat sections on Pegasus that just as fun, visceral, and smooth as ground combat, so it would've been nice to see a little more of it. There are now grappling points for Kratos to use that really add a lot, particularly the grappling "climax" of the game in a portion called "Crossing the Lowlands" that you have to play to believe. Kratos can slow time to a crawl in certain areas as well, adding depth to the puzzles and a twist on the combat. The pacing of the game is worlds better the original game; it's fast enough to where you have enough time in an area to love it, then move to the next before you start hating it, something the recently released Super Paper Mario could've learned from. There's practically a boss fight per hour in this game, and all of them were great, from the free-fall with Icarus to the mind blowing 2D silhouette fight with (I won't spoil it).
However, I would've liked to see a little more depth to the combat to make use of the secondary weapons, because just like the first game, you'll just stick with your Blades and rightly so. The new weapons are cool, but the developers should've made certain weapons, like the Barbarian's Hammer, more effective against certain types of enemies, so rather than using the Blades on a hulking minotaur, you have to smash his head in with the powerful Hammer.
There's no reason you shouldn't buy this game. Don't have a PS2? Buy one. Don't have the $50? Get a job, hippie. Aren't old enough to buy it? Grow up.