At this point, I’m sure everyone is well aware of the masterpiece that is God of War. From the stellar gameplay to the relationship between Kratos and Atreus. Every ounce of this game has not only exceeded my expectations but set a new bar for what I expect out of video games. This God of War review is going to be slightly different than the reviews I normally do for Mammoth Gamers. I will touch on the story, and gameplay like in many reviews, however, my main focus will be on Kratos and Atreus. How they grow as characters, as a father and son, and as gods. Full spoilers will be discussed in this so please don’t read this until you have completed the game. Without further delay, let’s discuss how a god becomes a man.
God of War has always been a leader in action games, and more specifically Hack’n Slashers. Games like Dante’s Inferno and Devil May Cry owe a lot to the series, however, God of War was never as brutal (gameplay wise) as Devil May Cry. Now God of War has been gone for so long that the genre it reigned supreme in has changed. Dark Souls has killed this Hack and Slasher game type and is now setting the bar for action games. This did not stop God of War and Cory Barlog. Kratos is in a new world, physically and figuratively, and he needed to adapt. And adapt he did. The new God of War uses the new button scheme that Demons Souls and Dark Souls introduced. Parrying and patience are how to defeat enemies, and it makes sense for a more seasoned Kratos. God of War feels right at home in this new genre while also changing it up slightly. There is no starting over when you die, but a checkpoint system. This makes the game a bit more accessible but also matting the brutality. Nothing seems to get between Kratos and his goal, not even a revamped game type.
From the moment I met Kratos back in God of War for PlayStation 2, I knew he was special. Not just from a gameplay perspective, but from a character and story perspective. Most gamers agreed. However, over the course of the next few games, there was one glaring criticism that kept popping up. “Kratos is a one-dimensional character”, “Kratos is nothing more than a rage-filled monster”, are just some of the negative things I’ve heard about The Ghost of Sparta, but I disagreed. A father, a broken man, and a betrayed man is what I saw. A man that has been brought up as a Spartan, where death was the only acceptable failure, and even then was still seen as a failure. A man who has given up happiness for glory and honor, and most importantly, a family. Granted this was a side of Kratos that wasn’t fully explored until the PlayStation Portable game God of War: Chains of Olympus. A good friend of mine would discuss the emotional depth of Kratos and the heartbreaking scene of pushing away your little girl to save her. This was a more in-depth look at the love that Kratos had for his child, and was new to the series. We knew Kratos had a wife and daughter, and that he sold his soul to Ares to live and continue to provide for his family. But seeing him have to give up Calliope to ensure her safety was a sacrifice that just fueled his rage
Regardless if you believe he became Ares servant out of selfishness, or out of love for his family, doesn’t change the fact that everything was ripped from this Spartan. As we see his descent into madness from the horrible truth that he was tricked into killing his own family, we were meant to empathize, but rather, the gaming industry chose to criticize. This wasn’t the fault of the critic or the player though. Kratos was made to be unattractive, unreliable, and full of rage. This is what happens to a person who was tricked into losing everything at their own hand, then plagued to relive that nightmare every time he closes his eyes. It would be enough to break any man, and it broke Kratos.
Kratos has a new start in Midgard, and although it seems like a repetition of his past life, he’s grown. From the opening scene, it feels like Kratos’ luck is the same. He is mourning the loss of another wife, Faye. However, the tone is quite different. While in past God of War games we see Kratos killing his wife Lysandra and daughter Calliope then becoming raged induced to the point of killing the entire Greek pantheon. H Here we see a somber Kratos. Many thought this was a new emotion for the God of War, however, we have seen Kratos feel this multiple times. At the end of God of War, you get thrown into a dreamscape that feels more like a nightmare. Kratos is taken back to the day when he killed his family. In this final battle, you defend a ghostly apparition of your wife and daughter from a monstrous version of yourself. This is when Kratos sees what he has become, and what his family last sight was: a monster in Kratos’ own skin. As the fight continues, you keep hugging your family to keep them safe and give them life from your own health bar. The true message here was lost on most gamers and critics, but it was clear. No matter how much love Kratos gave, it couldn’t undo what he did. This was the first time we see Kratos helpless and it’s because he can’t undo what he did that he cannot save his family. Ironically, he is too weak to save his family. However, the fact that his family dies is what gives him strength throughout the entire series. Ares was trying to make him a great warrior, and he succeeded.
This failure is what also drives Kratos to be a better father to Atreus. The dynamic between Atreus and Kratos is a side of Kratos we have never seen before. Kratos is distant while being close, giving Atreus tough love in order to keep him alive, and their dynamic doesn’t change until Artreus gets to the point of death. Throughout the game, you learn Atreus was born very ill, and it nearly killed him. This is no longer the case, at least until he gets mad. We have seen Kratos mad to the point of ripping whatever was in front of him in half and it seems he passed this on to Atreus. When Atreus gets mad he becomes blind to everything and attacks whatever causes this feeling inside him, even Kratos. This is what triggers his cough and his sickness, and during one encounter it was too much. Kratos takes his dying boy to Freya to be healed. The transition from the rage-filled man I’ve come to know, to the concerned father was something most fans didn’t expect. Again, this was not the first time Kratos showed this side of himself.
There was a mini-series from DC Comics that told the story of Calliope’s birth. Calliope was born with a fatal illness that only ambrosia could cure. Kratos set off to find this plant to save his dying daughter. This was the first time we see Kratos as a worried parent who will stop at nothing to save his child. Kratos finds this herb that no one has ever found before to save his daughter, and in doing so caught the attention of the gods, Ares in particular.
After Kratos takes Atreus to Freya, he is sent on a quest to Helheim, the underworld of Norse myth. Being no stranger to the underworld, Kratos succeeds in his quest and saves his son. This forces Kratos to have to tell Atreus the truth, that he is a god. Atreus reacts like any young boy, asking what powers he has. However, this childlike wonder soon fades as we see Atreus become arrogant and selfish. We haven’t seen such a display in our journey. Atreus puts down characters that he was telling you to help hours before, and he no longer shows compassion for things his mother taught him to respect. We even see Atreus disrespect his mother’s aches and this is finally where we see a side of Kratos that nobody has ever seen; patience. He scolds the boy for his tongue, but then emeritus recoils to tell him why he is wrong. Kratos sees himself in the boy. Pure rage with no remorse for anything and Kratos knows too well where that path leads.
As long as I’ve known Kratos I’ve known him as a father, a husband, and a warrior. When a character is designed to be mostly one-dimensional it’s more often than not because they have discarded emotion in order to enhance the few emotional moments that do arise. We are supposed to feel for Kratos in every entry in the God of War series. The original God of War; for the death of his family. In God of War II, we see his pain and regret at the death of Athena, who seemed to be his only friend. God of War: Chains of Olympus we have to physically push away Calliope and give up on staying with her in the underworld moments after you are finally reunited with her. This is to save her and the rest of the world from Persephone, who granted Kratos’ wish to be with his daughter again, to keep him away from interfering with her plans. In God of War: Ghost of Sparta we learn of Kratos failing to save his brother as boys, losing his mother, and being reunited with his brother as adults only to lose him again. In God of War III, we see Kratos project the love of his daughter on a young girl named Pandora. Kratos felt the need to protect her even though she wasn’t real but the contents of Pandora’s box that took shape. She helps Kratos along his journey and sacrifices herself by merging back with Pandora’s Box to grant Kratos the strength to kill Zeus. In God of War: Ascension we are meant to mourn Kratos’ family and past, but seeing his mistake to accept Ares’ help we became desensitized to this and the game lost meaning. However, this is when I personally came to a realization about the true tragedy of Kratos and why he never found forgiveness.
Zeus feared death more than anything, and he knew only a god could kill him. However, according to prophecy, he was to die at the hand of one of his sons. This is what caused Kratos’ brother to be taken in the first place. After playing the games you find out pretty early on that Kratos is the son of Zeus and this was his curse all along. While playing God of War: Ascension I was hit with a revelation. This means he never needed Ares, that he wouldn’t have died at the hands of the barbarians, and he would have never needed to sell his soul to the Gods. All of this was a ploy by Ares to obtain Kratos as a warrior. This revelation reinforces, while also changing, the last line spoken by Ares in God of War, “I was trying to make you a great warrior” Ares tells Kratos as he delivers the final blow. Ares had this in mind ever since Kratos was a child and tried to save his brother from being taken by the original god of war on the orders of Zeus. However, the truly heartbreaking revelation came to me in God of War for PlayStation 4. As Kratos explains to Atreus that he’s a god, it hit me; Calliope was also a god. If any other warrior came into that church that night, she would have been spared, but it was Kratos. Only another god can kill a god. This is why the gods of Olympus shouldn’t take away his visions. This was the punishment of a god killing one of their own.
This is the beauty of the new God of War. It may be a standalone game but it is also very much tied to the original story. From Kratos explaining his past to Atreus, to re-equipping his chain blades, to something as subtle as his back had the scar from Kratos sacrificed himself at the end of the third game. Nothing is overlooked. Whether you connected to the God of War games or not, there is no denying that Kratos has always had an emotional pull with the audience, even if they never realized it. This is not to take away from God of War on PlayStation 4 but enhance it. To see a character change their personality is jarring since we are conditioned to think people don’t change. This is more or less true, although the reason it works so well with Kratos is that we have seen seeds of these emotions throughout the course of the entire series and it pays off better than I could have ever imagined.
The new God of War is one of the most beautifully crafted stories I’ve ever experienced, from the growth of Kratos as a character to the amount of growing up Atreus does during the duration of the game. Every twist and turn was fun and unexpected. The emotion is as subtle and exuberant as you make it from your connection to the character. Hearing the sadness and loss in Atreus’ voice at the beginning of the game at the death of his mother, to the acceptance and peace he has at the end melts even the strongest hearts. The end isn’t a heavy one but honestly ends on a happy note. This was also an unexpected and welcome change as we are used to sad, angry ends. We feel a sense of peace as Atreus and Kratos spread the ashes of a character we never knew. That in itself is a testament to this game. To be emotionally connected to a character just because the characters you are controlling care about them is something most games can’t achieve. Every ounce of this game will move you if you let it, and I cannot wait to see where the series goes from here. Thank you, Sony Santa Monica and Cory Barlog for this experience. I’m here for the full ride.