My first play through (Hard difficulty) took me about 15 hours. I jumped right back in for New Game+ (also on Hard) and it took me 8 hours. I think I now have a good feel for the game, but although I've beaten every GoW release (often multiple times), the combat in this one was the toughest for me to get the hang of.
I actually like that a lot of the old tactics don't work. It forced me to learn it as a whole new game, unlike most of the others which just built off the existing combat engine. Some aspects have been simplified (the basic combos are shared by all four weapons), but the special weapon moves, the addition of the three special items, temporary weapons laying around, the new mechanics of Rage and the use of magic still allowed for a ton of battle variety and tactics.
The biggest improvement with the combat engine IMHO is the enemy A.I.. You ca'nt do crowd control with AoE spamming moves as easily as you could in the previous games. You have to understand the recovery of your attacks because if you are stuck too long, the monsters wake up much earlier than before and hit you. They even do a better job at dodging your attack combos when they sense a momentary pause for a slower move, and block more frequently. I loved this because it kept me on my toes to try things out (though some old tactics still worked on certain creatures).
The difficulty in some of the stages on Hard mode really forced me to man up. I spent over two hours total on Trial of Archimedes alone (pre-patch). I couldn't fake my way through it like I did some of the earlier fights. That was where I finally nailed down how best to use certain attacks, the best way to use Rage, and it got me to master defensive techniques like parrying. Stuff like that fight really made me love the game more, though in my replay I was able to pass it on my first try so maybe it wasn't really all that tough, but it just seems that way until you really (really) understand the fighting play mechanics unique to this sequel.
Besides the main combat engine, it was interesting to see the changes in the QTE mechanics. The most fun with it is when you grab a large creature as the camera zooms in to your multiple stabs to it while you dodge its desperate final attacks. Some of the other stuff was iffy at times, but nothing too offensive.
The creature variety and impressive design are highlights. Santa Monica Studios knows how to design monsters, and this is one of their best collections in a game, particularly the "mid" bosses. I really enjoyed those battles. The big monster fights were on par with those from the rest of the series, and like always, the epic presentation skills the developer shows in this series helped make this an awesome experience.
Overall, the visuals are top notch, certainly some of the best stuff seen on the system. The lighting in particular stood out, and though the texture work in some areas were low budget, overall the game looks very good.
The puzzles were pretty interesting, and while the time mechanic is a bit clumsy, again I like it that they tried to do something different from the games in the past. Two of the puzzles really had me stuck for awhile, but none of them are particularly unfair in retrospect.
I was most disappointed in the game's frame rate, which is playable but not as smooth as I prefer in my action titles. It is mainly an issue when the camera zooms back, so the most of the game it is "solid". Speaking of the camera, they really need to do away with the forced pixel fighting stages next game. I don't like when the action is so far away that you can't see anything but little blips moving about. Thankfully it is only a problem in a scene or two, but it bugged me all the same.
I had quite a few glitches and game freezes in my first play through (pre patch) and almost none in my second play through (post patch). I know they are working hard on other fixes, but I have to say that this game isn't as polished as its predecessors. The sound is real low all game, and the music is not booming with epicness most times, unlike what we normal hear in the series.
Overall, I give the single player campaign an 8.5. I had a TON of fun playing it, and unlike GoW3 I replayed it right away. I'll give it a break for a few months before I go for Titan mode, and perhaps I'll finally replay GoW3 before then.
Edited by joeblow - 3/28/13 at 10:29am