E3 2016: God of War Wants to Humanize Kratos

As many now know, the upcoming God of War game features a very different Kratos from the one fans are used to. Gone are the Blades of Chaos, over-the-top combo-heavy combat, linear levels, and relative fast pace. Instead, Sony Santa Monica seeks to make a more human, more believable Kratos. As a result, this new God of War tonally and thematically differs from its predecessors, having been designed by asking such questions as, “In what ways do we behave differently in front of our children? And how do we react to seeing ourselves in our children?” In an extended presentation of the new God of War, a few things were made explicitly clear: this is not a reboot, this is the same Kratos as before and he now plays an active role as father figure and teacher.

By essentially deconstructing the God of War IP to its bare bones and reconstructing it into something fresh, many ideas were presented that motivate and drive this new interpretation of the character. For starters, Kratos now uses an axe, which is magical but does not necessarily give him access to the crazy, visceral combos seen before. Instead, the gory nature of the hacking and slashing remains intact but it looks and feels more realistic. To confirm what many have already realized: this is not meant to be God of War in the traditional sense – this is a new game that better fits a separate genre from the original Greek myth-inspired action-platformers. However, it keeps the name of the popular IP because it is still a continuation of the story of Kratos, starting another chapter in his life. In the land of vikings and very alive Norse mythology, Kratos plays the role of a father figure and teacher to a young boy. The kid’s got spunk, but he’s no God Killer. So needless to say, Kratos is constantly faced with suppressing and controlling his infamous rage. But that is the point – Kratos’s rage and power essentially became all there was to his character. Now, the storytellers and designers at Sony Santa Monica want to tell a story of an older Kratos who actually tries overcome his character flaws and grow as a person. In the demo, the primary purpose of Kratos and his ward’s excursion is teach the boy to hunt. But of course, nothing goes smoothly in video games.

God of War Kratos Tried to be a Dad

In fights with mythological monsters like Draugrs and Trolls, Kratos spends much less time spinning and jumping than before, but that does not mean his chained combo attacks are gone. The axe weapon he now favors does have a jumping strike at the end of an attack string which still does send a magical shockwave through the ground. Enemies still telegraph their attacks and need to be worn down by blows between dodges. The difference now is Kratos is far less nimble, and he is not alone. The boy he was with in the demo is supposed to accompany Kratos for nearly the entire game. Outside of casting spells and shooting arrows from the sidelines, the kid’s usefulness remains to be seen. Not much is known about his backstory and relationship to Kratos as of yet, but his mother is currently, jokingly, confirmed as being a Sagittarius. For now, the boy is easily reminiscent of characters like Ellie in The Last of Us. While rolling is still the preferred way to avoiding pain, Kratos’s axe is implemented to have a believable effect on the game world. An interesting example early on is that it can be thrown into an enemy and left there until called back. The button to throw the axe is separate from the one used to recall it, and Kratos instead wails on his targets with his fists until the axe is recalled. To supplement this change in pace and action, there is also a new camera angle. The camera is consistently closed up over Kratos’s shoulder, which is a move meant to make players feel closer to the character in addition to making the more pronounced attack animations and fights easier to get into. Seamless, or nearly-seamless camera work is a presentational objective this time around. No small amount of effort was put into making sure there were as few camera cuts as possible in gameplay and cutscenes, which is a move that serves the very obvious shift towards an even more cinematic presentation. Kratos talks far more often now and displays a remarkably improved amount of patience compared to previous games. In many ways, he seems more like Joel from The Last of Us than the God of War himself.

God of War Troll Encounter

One thing hinted at but not stated outright are the presences of open areas, discoverable locations, “knowledge” which seems to increase in points like EXP indicating that the kid’s learned something new, and upgrades. Instead of having a large arsenal, straight-forward upgrades, and moves accessible via pouring red orbs into a menu, the new God of War will take on a crafting-based upgrade system with upgrade trees, collectible resources, and deeper improvements to weaponry and armor. Kratos and the boy he takes along both have their own separate upgrade trees targeted at their unique armor and equipment. Collecting parts, exploring and finding resources on the ground or chests look to be a mainstay of this new entry.

Whether this new take on the series will alienate franchise fans or bring them back in like never before remains to be seen. Series newcomers may find the new format and concept more appealing in a time where big-budget game stories tend to be more personal than apocalyptic. With all the changes coming with this reboot-styled sequel, the series may risk losing its identity at a conceptual and mechanical level. There is definitely way more to see with the new God of War, and only time will tell if Kratos has turned into a boring adult, or a dad of war.