I have to admit something. I’ve never actually played a God of War game. I’ve been at this for decades across multiple platforms, but I’ve somehow avoided picking up one of the most famous franchises in gaming. I’ve always been interested in the setting of the games. Greek mythology has long been something of an interest of mine, so exploring the Greek Pantheon in the context of dismantling it is an appealing prospect.
Prior to E3 2016, if you had told me that a new God of War game would be at the show, I wouldn’t have cared. It was only after seeing the initial presentation for the newest, numberless, soft reboot for God of War that I began to get excited about the franchise. Everything about that gameplay reveal trailer—except Kratos, ironically—screamed: “This is something else.”
It’s about time, frankly. I can’t speak for fans of the games, but this latest entry looks and feels entirely different, while still seemingly maintaining the essence of the series. Kratos is a person now. He appears to have an actual range of emotions beyond his all-consuming rage. He’s even managed to reign in his fury and channel that energy into the raising of his son.
It’s a stark contrast to how I’ve always perceived the Spartan. Part of it might be that Kratos has always seemed like a one-note character to me. He’s angry—all the time. That’s clear. More than that, though, he comes off as a huge asshole. No one around him appears safe from his temper tantrums, either, including any unfortunate acquaintances.
The funny thing is, most of that stuff doesn’t really bother me, so long as the overall narrative is gripping, and the gameplay is fun. The latter is where I hit a sticking point with the franchise; the gameplay. I’m certain that the series’ famed hack and slash mechanics are expertly tuned. The problem for me is that I’ve never enjoyed hack and slash style gameplay to begin with—even from highly regarded titles in the genre.
Take the Devil May Cry games or Bayonetta as examples. Both are beloved franchises which are hailed as some of the best arcade-style hack and slash experiences around. I’ve spent a considerable amount of time trying to get into both of those series, but I could never get past the core mechanics.
Before you jump to any conclusions about me, I’ve never found these types of games to be too hard. I love challenging gameplay, in fact, and I refuse to ever play a game on anything other than the hardest difficulty setting. It’s a holdover from childhood when one game was meant to last me for upwards of six months. In order to squeeze the most out of the experience, I needed to crank up the difficulty to really stretch it out.
So, yeah; that isn’t the issue. It’s actually sort of hard to pin down exactly what it is about hack and slash games that they don’t appeal to me. Certainly, there are other games that I’ve enjoyed which employ mechanics which skirts the edges of the genre. I’m thinking of the Batman: Arkham series as an example.
I don’t think that anyone would claim those games are hack and slash titles. Yet, the combat is sort of arcade-like. The focus is on fast-paced melee combat and chaining combos for damage multipliers to earn bonus XP. Despite those similarities, however, the combat in the Arkham series doesn’t feel like traditional hack and slash style gameplay. At least, not to me; it doesn’t.
The new God of War seems to have addressed those issues. Although, longtime fans probably don’t see them as issues, so these changes might be off-putting to those of you who are. The improvements, if that’s how you view them, extend beyond the combat mechanics too.
For a long time, Kratos has been a stagnant persona. A common complaint about the character is that all he ever does is yell. When speaking with Philip Kollar over at Polygon, the Creative Director for the new God of War, Cory Barlog, explains why he thinks that is.
“That sense that he’s just a ruthless badass, that’s what you find endearing at first,” Barlog says. “But it becomes the thing that turns him into a jerk. He doesn’t go anywhere. He doesn’t grow. He’s still in that rage mode. It’s fascinating, because that character has fallen farther and farther.”
He makes several more interesting points about Kratos in that conversation, so I’d encourage you to go read the article. The gist is that Kratos didn’t have a lot of depth. He wanted revenge, and that was just about all he ever sought out. That was apparent, even never having played the games.
It seems like that’s all about to change in the new God of War. Following the events of the third game, Kratos has moved on to a new land; one under the dominion of the Norse Pantheon. It’s funny; in entertainment, the world as a whole goes through phases. Greek and Roman settings have been played out. For the past few years now, Norse mythology has become the new go to for ancient lore. There’s no denying that the North Germanic and Scandinavian god myths make for some pretty rich source material.
Anyway, Kratos knows, as many do, that he needs to change. I had no idea, but apparently, it’s impossible for Kratos to die. He’s doomed to walk the Earth for eternity. In order to endure his fate, he knows he needs to change. That’s where, to my mind, the most important new aspect of the series comes into effect. Kratos has a son. The boy’s name is Atreus, and he grew up in the region without Kratos being around. Kratos must rely on him as a guide and translator.
Primarily, it’s his relationship with Atreus, and how that affects Kratos’ outlook that has me newly interested in the franchise. Where I once saw a stale, unkillable, badass archetype, I now see a father, passing his knowledge onto his son and, in turn, learning a few lessons of his own. To be fair, he still possesses all of the same traits. He’s still unkillable and he’s still a badass. Only now, he has someone to challenge his ideology.
What’s more, God of War looks to put all of the Spartan’s relationships at the fore. The new focus on the intimate aspects of Kratos’ human side makes him much more relatable and sympathetic to me. Don’t get me wrong; I love for my protagonists to be superhuman killing machines. It’s just that I also like to explore their minds too. That’s why I can’t wait to play God of War. Or, maybe it’s the beard.