We sit in on a behind closed doors presentation of Sony Santa Monica’s new God of War.
Kratos is back, friends. It’s been speculated for a while now that Santa Monica Studio were working on a God of War game that was set in norse mythology, and the first announcement during Sony’s press conference finally brought the angry brute back into the eyes of gamers. However, while the previous God of War games brought blood, gore, death, and manly cries of vengeance, the new God of War is looking at a different side of Kratos — one that’s as focused on raising a child — his child — as it is ripping the heads off of his enemies.
The behind closed doors demo I watched of God of War was almost identical to that seen during the Sony press conference, although on a second watch I was able to find more minute intricacies and moments that lend well to the direction Santa Monica are taking the series, with Kratos noticeably different this time around. The contrast between the vengeful Kratos, hell-bent on vengeance and destruction, is substituted for one that’s more calm and passive in the way he perceives his environment. It’s a contrast that, if you’ve played any of the previous games, may seem a little jarring at first, but it’s understandable given the mess Kratos has seen himself fight through throughout his many adventures. As well as this, he’s now nurturing his child into the world, teaching him the ways of a hunter, of a fighter, and, of course, the ways of a survivor.
This connection — almost relatable to Joel and Ellie from The Last of Us in some ways — immediately felt like one that has depth to it. From the moment Kratos steps out of the darkness, throwing his son a bow, you feel the sense of meaning behind this next adventure. He wants to educate his son, teach him how to survive in a land where almost everything is out for blood. Santa Monica have seemingly taken what’s best suited their God of War games — aka the fighting, intense boss fights, and the thirst for obliterating enemies — and have fine tuned them for the modern age. God of War has always been about fighting, endless combos, and the like, but the new God of War, at least for now, looks to do away with that, instead focusing on narrative as much as fighting. It’s refreshing — very refreshing, in fact, and is something I think was required to push Kratos’ adventures in the right direction in the narrative-heavy landscape we currently find ourselves in now.
Of course, this is still a God of War game, and that means fighting is still going to be an important part of proceedings. And, from that angle, Santa Monica have clearly not forgotten their past. As we follow Kratos and his son into the depths of the snow-ridden woods, all in the hunt for a deer, they stumble across beings that immediately turn hostile. The fight is swift, and the action quick, as Kratos takes out his axe, throws it into one of their skulls and beats the living heck out of the other one. A simple showcase of the brutality once seen in previous God of War games remaining an ever-present figure here.
Following that, the pair end up fighting a boss — a troll, to be exact — and this is where Kratos’ instincts really kick in. The visually stunning world is breathtaking during these moments of action, as Kratos throws his axe at the troll repeatedly, while also hitting at his feet in order to move in to damage it enough to allow his son to deal the final blow. After some more damage is dealt, Kratos’ spartan rage is unleashed in a wave of visual and sound bliss, and he takes down the troll, with an arrow in his arm for good measure. The interaction with his son thereafter, telling him he needs “to be better” is a natural, down-to-earth one on one between the two, ultimately creating a deeper sense of togetherness and grounding to the story at play here. It’s a moment where, as I looked on, had me reflect on moments I’d had with my father as I grew up, still learning the world’s harsh intricacies.
This side of Kratos is an interesting one, and as the demo ended I couldn’t help but feel like this God of War will be very different to what we’ve come to expect from the usually very angry god slayer. It’s a refreshing change, more importantly, and I’m excited to see where this leads Kratos and his son. The journey looks to be one that will play very differently to what God of War players may have experienced before, but I don’t think that’s necessarily be a bad thing. I’m happy with a Kratos that feels grounded, and a story between a literal god of war attempting to come to terms with being a father entices me to no end.
God of War currently has no release date as of yet, but will release exclusively on PlayStation 4.