The newest God of War is out on PS4 and in it is a new take on the iconic character, Kratos. Previous God of War games featured an extremely angry protagonist, screaming and whipping his blades about, seeking vengeance on those who he perceived have wronged him and sometimes even people who hadn’t. He went around tearing his foes limb from limb throughout his journeys, not worrying about any possible repercussions of his actions, because if any came, he would handle it or die trying. This new God of War has changed that. Kratos now has a son and he’s fallen back from his old ways. With such a drastic change, I began to wonder why it feels so right. How did David Jaffe and his team achieve in bringing us an older, less aggressive Kratos and how does the game justify this change of heart? Let’s talk about it.
Aging your protagonist is a necessary part of character development. There’s a reason why coming-of-age and growing old types of stories are so common in media, people enjoy seeing characters they love grow, evolve, and adapt over time, so as not to stagnate their growth as a character. You can see great examples of the “growing old” character arcs in movies like 2017’s Logan, featuring fan-favorite character Wolverine coming to terms with his age and taking care of a young mutant, who’s very much like him. You can even see it in music. Take for example J. Cole’s album 4 Your Eyez Only, which is about a man in the streets meeting a woman and having a daughter, then wanting to turn his life around. Compare an early track in the album ‘Immortal’, where Cole raps, “My one wish in this bitch make it quick if the Lord take me, I know nobody meant to live forever anyway,” to the titular ‘4 Your Eyez Only’, where he somberly says, “My worst fear is that one day that you come home from school and see your father’s face while hearing ’bout tragedy on the news.”
Kratos was notoriously a pretty awful person. His reign of vengeance started off when he was tricked into killing his own family while trying to kill other people’s’ families. With his entire arc basically being a straight line of progression, staying in the same state of rage throughout the series, he quickly became very one-dimensional with his personality being expressed mainly through hyper-violence and sex with piles of women. With the series spanning 13 games and 13 years, progress had to be made in terms of character arcs and motivations.
In the new God of War, we see a much more somber and remorseful Kratos that seems like he’s had a lot of time to reflect on his actions. The way this is expressed is written so beautiful and bittersweet. You can feel how much older and wiser Kratos has become from how he tries to keep his past from his son and how he handles confrontations now. For the first time, we see someone coming to Kratos’s own home to challenge him and Kratos being very reluctant to fight him. No one would dare do this back when he was ripping heads off freely.
Similarly to Logan and 4 Your Eyez Only, Kratos’s growth is in part due to having to take care of a child and not wanting that child to repeat the bad decisions he’s made. As the game progresses, you can see Atreus losing control of his rage and Kratos trying to keep him from doing so, because he knows what could happen if he does. This is an amazing way to humanize Kratos as a character like he hasn’t been before. Give him something to care about other than himself.
One of my favorite things about video games is how well a game can tell a story through gameplay. Even the gameplay of God of War show Kratos’s age while evolving it and keeping it fun. The camera has gone from a fixed angle to an over-the-shoulder, more personal camera angle. When you first start the game, you’ll notice how much slower it feels compared to the previous games. The game starts you off with an axe and few, but very challenging enemies, making you have to fight more deliberately and strategically than when you could just whip your blades around killing everything in sight. Kratos could take down gods in the previous games, but what would be the filler enemies in the original series can now take down Kratos in just a few hits. The difficulty, while giving players a great challenge, does help to enforce how old and untrained Kratos has gotten.
The perfect way to age a video game character, mature his motivations and use the gameplay to illustrate his growth.
With the original series being one of the best power fantasies in gaming, it’s amazing how well it’s been transformed into a grounded story. God of War is a landmark for the series and it’ll definitely be making it onto a lot of game of the year lists this year. If you have a PS4, it’s a definite must-buy, especially for how well the story’s done this time around.