Kratos tentatively reaches a hand out to his boy, Atreus. Unsure, he falters, his hand hovering just above the scared child. I can see in his eyes that Kratos wants to make the final push, wants to comfort his son, but he can’t. He pulls his hand back and stands up, ready to continue their journey.
Kratos isn’t used to fatherhood. He left that life behind long ago when Ares tricked him into slaughtering his wife and daughter. He literally still bears the scars that event left on him, his skin stained with their blood and ashes. Changing is hard, and even though Kratos is trying, change often comes slowly.
Kratos’ hesitance in God of War mirrors my own feelings of unease regarding the new gameplay direction Santa Monica Studios took when ushering in this new era for the Spartan warrior. The game opens with Kratos felling a tree with an axe, a weapon deeply at odds with the blades of chaos I’ve come to know and love over my four journeys with the demigod.
It feels strange in Kratos’ hands – slow and heavy, unlike the fast and pirouetting chained blades that he used to dance around Gods and Titans alike. He’s always been handy with anything, even his bare hands, but to be stripped of his iconic blades feels wrong. Unlearning the familiar spin attack and slash, slash, slam combo was hard, as my muscle memory of the older games still persists after all these years.
Also gone is the fixed camera of Kratos’ younger days. Now, the camera is free to move, its gaze an unrelenting continuous shot that follows him and Atreus from start to finish – a technological and artistic marvel brilliantly realised by Santa Monica Studios. Kratos’ age is showing. He can no longer dash out of the way as I flick the Right Stick, as that just moves the camera laboriously around him now. Instead, more effort is needed for movement – I need to consider his position relative to enemies more conscientiously to properly stagger and finish them off.
Kratos is an old man in unfamiliar territory. Gone is the world he remembers – he has destroyed it. He needs Atreus to read for him and explain the history of Midgard. He doesn’t care for the lore or politics of this new realm and his refusal to learn exposes an uncomfortable vulnerability in him. He used to be able to fend for himself, but he depends on Atreus to help him navigate just as much as the boy relies on his father’s strength. In an effort to merge strength and knowledge, I read through the new perk trees that determine the pair’s abilities and carefully consider what pieces of armour to outfit the Spartan with so that I don’t get left behind also.
As I play through the game and come to grips with its new systems, I can see Kratos slowly opening up to Atreus and learning how to be a father again as I learn how to make him the deadly warrior I once used to kill Zeus. For a long time fan of the series such as myself, there’s a beautiful harmony of gameplay and narrative on display in God of War. Kratos is relearning how to be a father, and I’m relearning how to be Kratos – we’re both going on a journey, and that makes the game a much richer experience.
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