In 2005, God of War on the PS2 was a big deal. People hadn’t really seen anything like it in that mass market, AAA game space. Sure, nerds like me would hold up signs with “Devil May Cry” and “Onimusha” written on them and yell into an uncaring abyss, but there’s no denying how God of War changed the rules.
But as fun as God of War could be, with its puzzle-solving, hack and slashing, and over the top violence, the series never really progressed beyond “angry man yells at cloud.” Kratos just wasn’t an interesting character, and no matter how much Sony tried to push him outside of his own series, it was hard to get people to care. Eventually the whole formula grew stale as gaming grew around the series, and after an underwhelming release or two the series went dormant for a fresh take. As someone who kept up with most of the series and suddenly lost interest, my biggest question is: can the new God of War make Kratos interesting?
Through the first three God of War games, the story is pretty much the same. Kratos is mad at some Greek god or another, and he tears his way through several other mythological creatures or figures on his way to get revenge. He achieves this by pushing and pulling lots of human-sized statues around and yelling. He has the tragic backstory thing down, in so far as just like many other action heroes his whole family is dead, and that’s how we’re supposed to feel bad for him or relate to him while he tears minotaurs in half. But the real problem with Kratos is he never grows.
Sure, he gets more powerful as the series goes on. The power creep in God of War is as wild as you’d expect a story about a man rebelling against the gods to go. But Kratos, the man, never goes anywhere meaningful. When the story is over, when the gods are all defeated and Kratos confronts Athena, he stabs himself in a final act of defiance. It closes the loop of vengeance but ultimately teases there is more to come, but there’s no sense of Kratos evolving as a person. He wins, he’s done, and then he’s done. Or is he?
While the new game is almost presenting itself as a reboot, and will be able to serve as one, it’s truly a sequel. We see the big ol’ scar on Kratos’ torso, and we see his old age. This dude has been through some stuff and while suddenly we’re looking at Norse imagery, there’s no doubt something in the story to explain that. More importantly, Kratos is now a father figure.
The crux of all the marketing has been Kratos taking care of and sort of mentoring a young boy. It’s not a unique device, in fact much of recent AAA games history has been about father-like relationships. It’s in, as video game demographics have shifted to 18-30 over the years. So Kratos has an anchor now, something to bounce off of that he isn’t screaming at and murdering.
So really, it all rests on the shoulder of this small, terrified child trying so hard to use his bow like a swiss army knife of Monster Hunter traps. This child is a vessel for grounded, human storytelling in God of War, or at least an attempt at it. But this game is still tied to the old games, ostensibly directly. The team behind this game has taken on a gargantuan task, but seems to be doing so head-on, with reckless abandon. This is going to be a huge game, in all senses of the word. I find myself not thinking about this game unless I have to, but when I do see footage, I can’t help but feel intrigued. I just hope things work out in Kratos’ favor, as he’s in dire need of more.