God of War: A big spectacle telling a small story

I never really played the original God of War titles. They were just not something that ever caught my attention, they existed in a time where third person action games were abundant, and wearily edgy. So it was nothing but relentlessly positive word of mouth that forced me to pay attention to a series that I’d otherwise completely ignore

Through osmosis, I knew a few things about the series going in. I knew the game was centred around a very angry gentleman having fights of ridiculous scale against gods and mythical beasts of the greek pantheon. I was just expecting more of the same here, but with Thor and pals. Instead, what I ended up getting was a very small, personal story with the giant, God of War wrapping just around it.

I recently finished the new God of War and enjoyed the hell out of it. The thing I would have never expected to be my big take-away from the game though wasn’t the stunning visuals, nor the well realised combat system, not even the cool way the axe flings back to Kratos’s hand. What gripped my attention the most was the developing relationship between Kratos and his son; Atreus.

While the game’s story is about a very literal journey the two of them are on, traveling to spread ashes of Faye at the highest peak in all the realms, Kratos’s second wife and Atreus’s mother. While their travels are filled with huge battles and tails of the norse pantheon, the more interesting journey here the ever changing relationship between the pair.

Atreus rarely leave’s Kratos’s side throughout the game, and based on events in the game, his effectiveness as a partner in combat swings around drastically as the relationship changes. It’s part of the reason it works so well, their story isn’t just told through dialogue, but through the gameplay itself.

In the beginning of the game, Kratos is aggressively dismissive of his son, having little confidence in him and being hypercritical of nearly everything he does. It makes the player character come across as a real asshole. While Atreus makes mistakes, he is ultimately a kid and a good hearted one at that.

As the story progresses, the game peppers little moments between the two as they leave a cave or arrive at a particularly stunning vista. The game is made to look like one single camera shot from beginning to end. It’s because of this up close, intimate camera angle that we catch the small gestures and facial expressions of Kratos.

While he seems cruel and uses harsh words with Atreus in the early parts of the game, these small moments, the little recoiling gestures when the boy’s back is turned. It gives us the impression that Kratos does genuinely care for his son, but has an inability to express it. The moments are few and spaced apart, but they slowly build over time. They humanise Kratos in a way I wasn’t expecting to see at all.

The pair endure a number of hardships throughout their journey. Results of either random chance, or from mistakes that are sometimes the fault of one of the pair, even Kratos at times. It’s these moments in which the two argue and then support one another thats builds their relationship little by little.

Atreus matures and makes more leveled desicisons and choices as the game progresses and Krostis himself opens up. He starts as a closed book, but slowly opens up more and more until he eventually reveals all of the secrets of his part with his son when he realises hiding it from him is ultimately a selfish choice.

As people around Kratos figure out his true nature, they all criticise him for not telling his son. Telling him the longer he holds it off, the more he’ll resent him for it down the line. After one particularly perilous close call between them, Kratos does indeed reveal his nature as a God to his son, and his son’s nature as one too as a result.

The outcome of this revelation is one of the more interesting turns for the character in the game. Surprisingly, Atreus takes the news well. In fact, he seems elated. It seems like a huge weight off Kratos’s shoulders. As the hours pass though, there’s an unforeseen consequence of the revelation. Atreus starts talking about how the two are better because they’re gods.

Fights in which Atreus would usually look for praise from his father, suddenly he’d start trash talking the enemies they’d just defeated. Side characters he’d once been respectful towards, he’d snap at and belittle. He starts to become wildly arrogant and starts attacking enemies and using abilities in combat without the player signalling him to do so.

It’s one more example of how the game wonderfully uses the gameplay to tell the story, showing rather than telling. It’s a great turn of the tables when Atreus becomes cruel and dismissive and Kratos is the sympathetic voice of reason. It’s ultimately just one more bump on their journey, that helps them both grow, in a journey that eventually does end.

I read a lot of complaints about the game’s ending while I was playing this. When I eventually got to the ending itself; I loved it. While the final hours of the game do have a climactic battle, the actual ending is a quiet one. Containing no battles or conflict, it just has Kratos and his son present, their relationship drastically different that it was at the game’s start. They do what they set out to do, saying their final goodbyes to their mutual loved one, then they leave.

God of War is a fantastic game. I haven’t even spoken about the design, the gameplay or the wider cast of characters that all elevate the story being told. But all of those things are just a whole lot of icing to what is a essentially a very simple story being told between two people, and being told very well. I don’t care if the traditionalists didn’t enjoy this game, Santa Monica Studio have reinvented this franchise in fantastic fashion, much like Bethesda did with Doom.

The one downside is that as good as the game is, after the story was over I couldn’t bare to play anymore knowing there wasn’t anymore to see. Aside from that damn Thor tease of course.

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