They say imitation is the highest form of flattery and if that proves to be true, then the developers over at Naughty Dog studios must have been tickled pink during Sony’s E3 2016 Press Conference. Games have always had stories attached to them, however, many of these stories were flawed and their characters bland and monotonous as it used to be that story and characters didn’t matter all in games. All that mattered to the industry at the time was how the game played, but after the monstrous success of The Last of Us, the game has steadily began to change as it has undoubtedly affected the way stories are told through games and the course of the entire industry as a whole.
During the Sony Press Conference, a live orchestra played as they scored each and every game reveal the first of which being God of War. The first thought that must have crossed most, if not every, gamer’s mind is how close to the Naughty Dog formula this game plays. You have the same over-the-shoulder camera view, the same run/jog animation, both Joel and Drake share the open-world characteristics and similar combat tendencies of past Naughty Dog games most notably, The Last of Us. This is not a bad thing; if anything these similarities and comparisons are newsworthy themselves. Why, you may ask? How could something, as minute as this be worth writing an entire article about? Well fear not, dear reader, for I will explain.
Usually, gamers and the community as a whole would lash out at a game and its studio for borrowing or drawing inspiration from another successful developer (not to say God of Wars developer is not successful, because clearly they are), but in the case of God of War, this is a time to rejoice. Naughty Dog and their way to crafting quality games and stories have saved the God of War franchise from sinking into obscurity. God of War: Ascension was an unholy mess both story wise and gameplay, and if you noticed, the latest version of God of War plays out much different than previous entries to the series. Instead of being a straight-up, fast-paced, beat’em-up combat game, similar to franchises like Devil May Cry and Bayonetta, God of War takes a more tamer approach than it normally has before.
During the reveal, viewers are treated to a combat walkthrough where Kratos and his new son take on a Nordic-like troll and during this encounter, Kratos is still as brutal and furious than ever, except the pace is a lot slower and seems more precise and level-headed. Compared to God of War I-III where Kratos is clearly fighting with pure blind rage, we now see him approaching encounters more aware that he no longer dives in blade’s blazing but instead settles for a safer tactic. We see Kratos do what we have never seen him do before, which is attacks when there’s an opening and hang back and defend when there isn’t one. This could not only be a new approach to an old combat-mechanic but also act as a character device.
During the gameplay walkthrough we see a much different Kratos than we are used to. His rage and uncontrollable anger is still there, but now he seems to be keeping it in check. After his son haphazardly fires a bow off at a deer, Kratos goes off at him only to catch himself mid outburst and quickly simmering back down. We see this once again after he is struck by an arrow by his son during the giant encounter where instead of flying off the handle and going off on a rage fueled tangent, he simply holds his hand up and calmly mutters, “your deer is getting away.” This is either because we are seeing an aged Kratos (much like an aged Nathan Drake) who has many years of emotional baggage and mileage under his belt or because he is trying (for once in his life) to become a better person than he once was, searching for some form of redemption. Whatever the case, the new take on the combat-system adds an entirely new layer to Kratos character and story as a whole.
Also during the walkthrough, almost every move Kratos makes conveys to the audience that something has changed between God of War III’s end and the new game’s beginning. I’ve heard some people in the community call this game a reboot or a re-imagining of the character, but with the horned troll making a reference to Valhalla, there’s no doubt that this is indeed a continuation to the series. Naughty Dog’s success in storytelling and creating well-rounded and relatable characters has affected the way the industry approaches video game characters and stories, with creators and developers delving deeper into the emotional journey of their characters. Kratos used to be an extremely unlikable character who at times seemed one-dimensional, but now with all the changes to the character and approach to the story, it’s well worth revisiting God of War and its world. I don’t think anyone in the audience or watching at home last night was ready for the emotionally-driven journey we all experience through the live demo we all witnessed.