God of War’s world serpent looks ugly and dangerous, but is actually a nice lady. She shoots from the water into the sky, shows her massive, extremely detailed and designed body. She has thick nostrils, scaly skin, a beard and jagged teeth – the ones who typically snack surfers as part of shark ivories. Yes, in this quality, she could also appear in a Hollywood blockbuster. And how does Kratos react? Sure, the old, always bad-tempered man immediately pulls his axe and thinks about how to fillet the snake in the most effective way. But wait a second, bald-headed half-god. “She wants to help us,” his son Atreus whispers…
And we wonder: was all the slaughter and the slit divinity just a terrible misunderstanding because Kratos doesn’t speak these gods’ dialects? Sony Santa Monica uses this language barrier between the Greek and the creatures of Nordic mythology as an interesting story vehicle. For reasons unknown, only his son speaks their dialect, and only he can communicate with them. Perhaps this is one of the reasons why Kratos goes with him on this journey, given that he isn’t necessarily the happiest daddy on earth. “You do not like me because you think I’m weak. Because I am not like you,” says Atreus in a sad voice. And Kratos only answers: “You do not know the whole truth boy…”
It’s time for Kratos to leave his chaos blades behind.
“For Kratos, the blades are not just a weapon, they represent a very gloomy part of his life. They remind him of the mistakes he made, how he was tricked and exploited,”
says Creative Director Cory Barlog at the official God of War panel at the venerable Coliseum in Los Angeles. “It is only when he leaves those blades behind him that he can conclude emotionally with his story.” That creates an entirely different feeling: God of War: Ascension was very much designed to keep enemies at a distance using the chains of the blade. The new God of War for PS4 and PS4 Pro is now more intimate: you have to get closer to the enemy, look him in the eye, go into a direct duel man versus man. But of course, there is always the choice to fight from a distance – Kratos can throw his magical axe like a boomerang, and the weapon always comes back to him. A trick he has learned from Marvel’s Thor. It’s not like the entire God of War formula has completely changed, but there is way more freedom to it than before. God of War was always a fairly linear affair; nowadays we can attack from the back, use different strategies, go for the kill not just in one way but multiple. But what we really like as well is that the challenge level scales with this more openness in the level design. Of course, there is still the usual roadkill kind of guys that are easy to kill. There are also knights with thick plated armor that is very tough to penetrate and requires a different skill set than what we are used to in the series. He is quite small, human sized we’d say. You also encounter bigger guys like a gorilla with sharp spines on his back that uses an entire burning tree as a weapon. As a consequence, Kratos rips out his eyes – well, you got a warning shot buddy.
Why the new God of War is actually inspired by Iron Man
It is fascinating how games are always the children of the personal history of their creators. Cory Barlog has decisively influenced Kratos in the last decade, he was responsible for him since God of War 2. And very much like Neil Druckmann changed large parts of the script for The Last of Us when he became a daddy, it was Cory’s son that inspired him for one of the most vital story elements of the game.
“My wife is Swedish, my Swedish sucks and it’s always kind of hard to talk to her parents. So my son plays the translator and is always like, “Dad, why are you not smart enough to learn Swedish? Yeah, he is right, but you know – we’ve decided to make this a component of God of War now and that’s a cool thing. We believe Atreus’ mother is from the north, that’s why he can communicate with the local gods while Kratos can’t. It also changes the narrative, because Kratos is the definition of a lone wolf. He really doesn’t like to talk” is how Cory frames it. But because now there is a son he is slowly getting used to saying entire sentences because Atreus has a lot of questions. You would too when your dad slays gods as a hobby.”
“I love Iron Man 1,” says Cory. “Because it introduces this billionaire playboy, but also explains its motivation, and how he changes more by an unfortunate coincidence. I mean he hasn’t planned to build a suit or be a super hero. It just happened because there were enough reasons to fill these shoes. And to be a bit less of an asshole.” That’s why in the new God of War we’re finally going to meet his wife, a mixture of Xena and Wonder Woman – a half-god doesn’t make babies with a random girl. She is the one who urges him to take his father’s role seriously. Of course, the little one asks many questions about the history of his famous father, so Kratos can explain his point of view.
Santa Monica isn’t yet ready to share the whole structure of their story, but “Kratos is fleeing from his past, which threatens to catch up with him and is looking for a second chance,” says Cory. Nordic mythology plays an important role with its nine worlds. Thor’s Hammer appeared in the demo, but not in the Marvel format. We also meet his creator – a dwarf named Sindri who, with some luck, forges a legendary new weapon for Kratos. But there is not just this story level, but for the first time a multi-dimensional family affair: the evolution of the stranger Atreus to the beloved son, which is not just a rowing sidekick. We can actively help him become a better warrior and involve him in combos. At the push of a button, we switch to him at a moment’s notice: We can climb heads, use them as jumping points and either slit throats or use the bodies of hairy ice-skates, graves, and mythical creatures on two legs and deer antlers on the head (we are getting some The Witcher 3 vibes here) to repel ourselves and fire our bow out of the air. Yes, Kratos likes that. We’ll bet money on a later one-liner like “They grow up so fast.”