A deeper look into God of War Challenge Running with Zimnas

In this interview we’ll be sitting down with a rising star within the Challenge Run community of God of War. Being a series with incredibly hard user-created challenges, the title has what users have referred to as “bonus credit” upon completing certain challenges. Most of the hardcore veterans have zero of these credits, myself among them. A scarce few have one. Legends have two.

Meet Zimnas, who has them all, and had to have new ones invented just for him.

Stinger: Coming into challenge running, I have to start with the obvious question: why God of War?

Zimnas: Starting real strong there. The first reason would have to be the setting. Being Greek myself, I was always drawn to our mythology since I was a little boy. Second would be the smooth, fast, skill-based and efficiency-based gameplay. Third would be the masterful soundtrack of the series as a whole (excluding the trash that came out in 2018). Hell, I still listen to songs from the first game when pumping that iron.

Stinger: Your playstyle seems very focused. How do you go about doing challenges? Do you plan out a run beforehand, doing research, gathering notes and the like? Or do you simply start a run blind? What’s your process? 

Zimnas: My play style is quite the focused one, yes. I prefer to get the most out of every opportunity, hence, I’m not too much about messing around. I’m not as serious on vanilla runs without restrictions, however. In general I do a couple of unrestricted runs before hopping on the challenge run train. This was the case for every God of War game.

Stinger: God of War has a deep history of challenge running, with some runs being over 15 years old at this point. With your oldest video being only 11 months ago, how was it to start? 

Zimnas: My younger self was into a certain online game that got unbearably boring after three years. The games around that time were not appealing to me in any way, so by a twist of fate I ended up buying the remaster of God of War III. Having already played it and some of the Vita games casually beforehand, I quickly started doing challenge runs. 

I began with doing some No Upgrade Runs with a focus on ‘No Damage‘, usually paired with ‘No Magic‘ not long after. After I was getting really comfortable playing under said conditions, I seeked greater challenges in pursuit of mastery. This led me to PAIN/PAIN+ runs. 

Editors Note: For the layman, PAIN generally entails beating the game without upgrading Kratos and playing as he starts the game, often also disallowing magic or healing from chests for an added challenge.

But why after 15 years? Good question (with a very simple answer). I’m not as old as you might think. I’m only 17. Had to take it slow, learn the ropes, get every single advanced technique down and only then did I consider uploading, which I didn’t do until about two years later. Perfectionism is to blame.

Stinger: Was it easy to find all the information on existing runs and strats? 

Zimnas: You need to know where to look. For example GodModeGod is a veteran with a lot of notes on the games, as seen here. It takes a lot of time and effort to learn, but that’s anywhere you want to specialise in. 

As advice to players that want to get started on Challenge Running themselves I can give these two tips: 

  1. Don’t listen to nobody-nothings, just listen to the vets. I’m only this strict because most of the God of War community consists of idiots who barely have surface-level knowledge of the games. 
  2. Don’t blindly follow any run you might be watching. Your best choices are either me or Taz. There’s also Shinobier, but his strategies tend to be terrible, only saved by his high personal skill.

Stinger: With such an established gaming series and community, did you find you could add things of your own? Or were you mostly building on strategies of existing players?

Zimnas: I’ve added a lot of things to the table. A few examples would be the perfect set-up for every Minotaur spawn on Theseus, a new safe spot at the Challenge of Poseidon and, without a doubt my proudest discovery yet, abusing the AI break of the Blade of Artemis to easily deal with the 11 Hades Satyrs while barely ever setting foot on the arena.

Most strategies I saw were painfully outdated, so there was a lot of refinement to be done, along with more new things to add. For example: High Priests of the Fates in God of War II. The usual thing to do is just grab them to death. However, I feel that should only be done on the most restrictive runs. Here’s what I like to do in runs that allow more options for example: 

Where runs are concerned, I’m the first to ever upload a PAIN+ run of Trial of Archimedes from God of War: Ascension (which offers a Bonus Credit, owned to absurd difficulty) and one of the few people to ever beat the Clones from the first game in a No Damage PAIN run multiple times. I’m pretty sure there wasn’t a God of War II No Damage PAIN+ run before I uploaded mine. Closest thing to it was a deleted No Damage PAIN run (by someone whose name I cannot readily recall), but PAIN+ is much stricter with the additional limitations. 

Stinger: What do you feel you can add to the table, aside from time and execution, on a game that’s been around this long with such a dedicated niche community? Do you feel there was enough place to explore new tactics despite the 20~years of tactics lying around?

Zimnas: There was an astounding amount of room to explore. You’d be surprised by what you can do with a little experimentation. I’m still working on new discoveries.

Stinger: To any aspiring challenge runners of God of War, or simply those who want to pick up the games, what would your advice be?

Zimnas: Don’t communicate with ‘combo mad‘ players, reach out to veteran players. I must stress that God of War is an efficiency-based title. Don’t waste your time trying to sandbag enemies. GodModeGod is on many forums and he also has a Youtube Channel. SBK91 is on Gamefaqs. I’m only on Stinger and Youtube. You can advise my runs for the most optimised strats. Get out of your comfort zone. Embrace the challenge, and achieve greatness! 

Break free of the chains that bind you, get out of your comfort zone and achieve greatness.

Stinger: Lots of times people will see a video and are under the impression it’s the first attempt and that something like this comes naturally to you. To break this illusion, you did GoW PAIN+ Clones with no damage. How many attempts do you think this took?

Zimnas: It took around 30-35 attempts. Not too bad.

Stinger: Fights like the Clones and Trial of Archimedes are notoriously difficult, same with something like the Translator fight. At what part do you feel challenges go beyond simple knowledge and practice into the realm of ‘a chimpanzee writing Shakespeare’ IE it just takes grinding attempts until you strike gold? Does this appeal to you?

Zimnas: The only such case is the Translator sequence in GoWII (under PAIN/PAIN+). This is due to the off-screen summoning of infinite enemies and your only true means of damage affecting the translator you need to protect. Such things do not appeal to me, but I can tolerate it (just for this sequence since you can use an artificial checkpoint to make things less tedious).

Stinger: Do you practice on a schedule when going for these really tough runs, or do you just play when you feel like it? How do you keep up your motivation? 

Zimnas: I record whenever possible. I never schedule such things. In terms of motivation, nothing too special. I just enjoy the challenges I do. There’s always a sense of progression as I continue to hone my skills.

Stinger: Speaking of knowledge, you seem to bounce between the mainline entries pretty frequently, how do you feel this affects your performance?

Zimnas: Not really, no. Just that I might get a little bored if running the same game for the 4th time or so. A two-day break is usually all it takes for me to recharge.

Stinger: Do you keep notes on specific enemies, rooms, fights, scenarios for future reference?

Zimnas: I keep them in mind for future runs. I don’t necessarily write them down. 

Stinger: One criticism often levelled at the series by casual observers is its lack of any sort of scoring or ranking system. Do you feel this absence of any sort of gameplay-direction adds to the experience, or how would you have seen it done?

Zimnas: I believe it doesn’t need an encounter ranking system, much less a ‘chapter’ ranking. However, if I were to implement a system like that, it would follow the logic of something like this: Timer | Damage Taken (No Damage for max reward) | Points (system similar to Bayonetta)

The first two criteria are fairly simple. The point system is the interesting part. Every attack would have a set value for the points and you need to get the multiplier as high as possible. The multiplier is increased significantly by certain actions (scoring a collision, a ring-out, a shatter/ruination, mutilations like with Artemis, shatter/ruination with other magic abilities etc). 

Stinger: In general God of War has a lesser reputation to its action contemporaries IE square-square-triangle (often called the ‘plume’ by fans). How did you think that happened? 

Zimnas: I’ve heard this too many times, especially for the first game. To right the wrongs, spamming ‘plumes’ on the only meaningful difficulty (Very Hard) makes enemy encounters last centuries because of its low damage. It’s a set-up tool for things like a collision with Orion’s Harpoon, air grabs or Petrification. Let’s not talk about anything below Very Hard, as Hard is literally glorified Normal and Normal/Easy are a walk in the park (meant for people to get familiar with controls, layouts etc.). People just love to play on bitch-difficulty settings and mash buttons.

Stinger: In terms of runs, speedrunning seems to have taken off compared to challenge running. What’s your thoughts on speedrunning versus challenge running?

Zimnas: Speedruns are definitely more popular than challenge runs (extremely so). This could very well be owned to the untrained eye being fascinated by flashy glitches while not appreciating the depth of combat on display in challenge runs. I’m obviously not a Speedrun guy. Absolutely despise the speedrunning mentality, too. Competition is an excellent motivator, but sometimes there comes a point where it does more harm than good.

Stinger: So in a sense you think that speedruns of a game are more entertaining to a casual player of said title, while challenge runs are more interesting to watch to its more hardcore fans?

Zimnas: Precisely. God of War speedruns can be somewhat entertaining for a veteran mind you, but challenge runs are definitely more appealing.

Stinger: A lot of runners these days have moved from recorded/edited/voiced videos to streams, what’s your stance on this?

Zimnas: Major red flag where attention whoring is concerned. Especially when the gameplay quality suffers from such decisions. I suppose it could be excused if the gameplay quality remains the same.

Stinger: One thing seen more is the urge to be ‘first’. With streamers getting copies beforehand, it isn’t uncommon to see a fully edited No Upgrade Run uploaded before the game is even out; with terrible strategies on display. What’s your take on this?

Zimnas: ​​The pinnacle of stupidity. Challenge runs are done in pursuit of mastery after getting familiar with how the game functions. What sort of mastery have those people achieved to do a proper run like this? Just playing once? Laughable. They just record themselves struggling and barely making it through. No strategy, no thought, no nothing. Just clout chasing.

Stinger: God of War 2018 was the first entry in the series to launch in that new world of streamers and garnered quite the audience for a while, especially in Level-1 runs. What is your opinion on this entry?

Zimnas: An absolute dumpster fire that shouldn’t exist. Invested one-hundred hours into it, that’s one-hundred hours of my life that I could have used to do anything but play this glorified garbage movie. Combat? Repetition is its second name. If the originals are repetitive square-square-triangle spamming (according to people with room temperature IQ), this is Runic spamfest. No depth, no resource management, HP recovery upon death and quite possibly one of the worst RPG systems in history. Fantastic job Santa Monica. 

Stinger: I was equally critical of the game, both prior and after having done challenge runs at it. I’m curious if you could go a bit more in-depth, what were points that hit a snag to you? 

Zimnas: [At this point Zimnas went off a bender, foaming at the mouth, explaining in excruciating detail why the newer game was so inferior. For your own sanity, we’ve decided to censor this comment]

Fellow challenge-runner SBK gives an insight into modern God of War’s challenge running

Stinger: So I can assume that you won’t be doing a PAIN+ in the modern God of Wars at some point?

Zimnas: I respect myself enough to not touch that game again.

Stinger: Not even for the sense of completion?

Zimnas: No.

Stinger: With Ragnarok being delayed and now also being a Playstation 4 title, what are your personal hopes for the entry?

Zimnas: I hope for nothing. They will keep milking the same things from the previous instalment because it sold well. There will still be no resource management, no rebalancing of the RPG systems or any reason to play well. Maybe they are having fun recolouring the same troll over and over. 

Stinger: Looking at other games, out of your around 300 videos, there is one video on Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance, two videos on Bayonetta and 11 on Bloodborne. What pulled you into those games for your mostly God of War channel?

Zimnas: MGR:R is one of those games I return to every few months. Just decided to upload a fun VR mission for the heck of it. Likewise for Bayo. Bloodborne was the FROM game I found the most interesting due to its transforming weapons, cool armour sets and enemies/bosses, incredible soundtrack and the varied environments. 

Stinger: Eventually your runs on God of War will run dry, what are your plans then? Any ideas on revisiting older runs for a better performance? What about replaying the games with all abilities instead for an optimal run?

Zimnas: Not going to happen anytime soon. I won’t have the time to finish every run. Real life will definitely get in the way.

Stinger: Do you have any ambition to go beyond challenge runs to making guides or doing streams down the run?

Zimnas: Absolutely not. The closest thing I’ll probably make are unlisted commentated demos meant to help certain players. 

Stinger: Now to close it off, which would you say is your favourite GoW game? And what game, barring God of War, would you urge everyone to play at least once?

Zimnas: God of War 1 is by far my favourite. From the combat’s speed to movement tech, tons of fun details, redirection of Orion’s Harpoon, platforming sequences, Artemis tricking and last but not least, the amount of casual tears that the platforming has claimed as its prize.

In terms of games I’d urge others to play, I can’t pick between Metal Gear Rising and the first Bayonetta, so I’m forced to go with both. My reasons? Awesome soundtracks, fluid and satisfying combat with unique mechanics to make them stand out.

Stinger: I can definitely relate to those choices! Zimnas, I’d like to thank you for your time, and hope to see you again soon! To our readers, if you want to see Zimnas’ play in action, please visit his channel here: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCEgYo6xtsyW8o_FD2ivwmPA

Until next time!

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