Debuting back in 2005, the God of War games have been some of the biggest gaming successes of the 21st Century. Delivering large-scale balanced action and compelling stories, the games have become a flagship franchise for the PlayStation brand and since its announcement back at E3 is 2016, the latest installment has enjoyed much positive buzz. Of course these games aren’t perfect, with lead character Kratos’s one-note personality often meeting criticism, but it looks as though that is going to change.
Speaking to GameSpot recently, creative director for the new God of War, Cory Barlog, discusses the failure of the titles to create a layered human character with whom the audience can empathize and how the new game will attempt to give the character more emotional depth. Barlog believes that one way to help do this was to relocate the character to the realm of the Norse mythology and find some of the humanity that had been lost under the violence and gore of the Greek storyline.
“I didn’t really want to go and reboot to Greek mythology, I wanted to explore something else. I think giving him a new setting, a fresh start was important. Changing Kratos, or at least exposing a new side to him, making him more dimensional, kind of the archaeological uncovering of his humanity, to discover there is a human buried way deep inside, a human that was beat down…”
When looking at the series, moving away from Greek Mythology to find Kratos’s humanity does make sense. Most will recall that the series began with a more emotional and human Kratos attempting suicide, unable to deal with the loss of his family. Unfortunately as the series progressed and the scope of the games stories widened, Kratos’s humanity got left behind and the character became little more than a perpetually angry killing machine, with any other attempts to fix this aspect of the character ultimately falling flat. “There where a lot of balls I dropped,” Barlog discussed regarding Kratos’s humanity. “I tried maybe to go a little bit wider, I really wanted to have Kratos’s impact be felt all around throughout world”
Of course, a change in location isn’t enough to change Kratos and expose other sides of him. Barlog and the team at Santa Monica Studios believe that the key to this development lies with Atreus, his son introduced in the new title. As is shown in the video, Kratos must soften if he wishes to be a good father to his son and keep him from going down the same path as him. This use of the a child to expose previously unseen facets of a father figures’ personality are similar to the relationship between Joel and Ellie in The Last of Us. Both Joel and Kratos are hardened men, tormented by past trauma and only through the mentoring and love for a child, or surrogate child do more dimensions begin to emerge.
Barlog describes a moment seen in the E3 demo where the pair are seen hunting. Atreus makes a mistake and in the middle of yelling at his son, Kratos takes control of his anger to finish his thought calmly, but still with a bite. Barlog called this the “Aha writing moment” saying, “He isn’t going to know how to emote or be vulnerable or relate to his son so he isn’t going to say a lot” and that “There is some of the most human moments when Kratos is somewhat quiet.”
On many levels, Atreus’s relationship with his Father goes even further than that, forcing Kratos to display humility and a willingness to learn and change. On a base level Kratos is a man in a new world, with customs and traditions unknown to him and he must at times listen to his son, as this is the only world Atreus has ever known and he knows it well. Of course this can be seen as a parallel for both characters’ relationship with humanity. Atreus is unaware of his father’s lineage and has grown up human, lived as a human, so it is through him that Kratos will learn how to be human again.
“He is this way to get Kratos to open up a little bit more but also he has as much to teach as Kratos does, in some ways more. He’s seeing the world as a human, he doesn’t understand gods, he understands what its like to be a human, its how he was raised and he’s able to help Kratos see that and pull a little of that out of him. So this little kid is teaching his demi-god dad what it means to be a human, while his dad is trying to teach him how not to make the mistakes that he made.”
With the game less than a month away fans won’t have to wait very long to see if Barlog and his team are successful in rehabilitating Kratos humanity. Still this level of thought and care being put into the development of the characters is a good sign for the series and its future, which looks to already be mapped out. All we really know for sure is that this entry in the franchise is shaping up to be an experience not to be missed.
God of War is set to release on April 20, 2018 for PlayStation 4.