The new game God of War does something that I thought was impossible: it made me worry about Kratos.
During the original trilogy of God of War and a multitude of spin-offs, the main character of the series was little more than a caricature. He was furious incarnate. There was a story that related his violent adventures throughout Greek mythology, of course, a search for revenge, of course, but I can not say that I remember much of that. Every beat felt the same: the gods had done something to annoy Kratos, and he set out to kill them. Rinse and repeat, then rinse again in large amounts of blood.
As such, I approached the new game – a smooth restart that changes the series to Norse mythology – with more than a little fear. This new story has a calmer and friendlier Kratos. Live a simple life in the forest, where you look for food and look for provisions. He has a son. He is a person. Someone with real thoughts and feelings. The game is considered as a kind of redemption story for the burly Spartan warrior: after a life of death and rage, here he is trying to make the world, at least in some way, a better place. But after a decade of seeing Kratos as little more than a cloud of spinning knives, he was not convinced that this approach could work. With a count of corpses that is impossible to calculate, does Kratos even deserve redemption?
Surprisingly, his latest adventure is a pretty solid case that he does.
God of War opens with a somber note that sets the tone for the game. Kratos and his son, Atreus, are outside in the forest, cutting a tree to be used on a funeral pyre for his wife and dead mother. The search that is fundamental to the game continues: his last request was for his ashes to spread out on the highest peak of all the kingdoms. And so the two left to climb the highest mountain and fulfill their last wish. Naturally, they are trapped in something much bigger: Kratos seems unable to stay away from the gods, regardless of the area in which he finds himself, but whatever happens, and the problem arises, the two remain firm in their determination to carry the ashes to their final resting place.
The relationship between Kratos and Atreus is the crux of the game. It is not just a part of the story, it is interwoven in virtually every aspect of God of War . The two are almost never separated. There is even a button on the Dual Shock controller dedicated specifically to Atreus. You can hit him to make him shoot arrows in battle or to translate runes into an ancient statue. The two complement each other. While Kratos can often work his way through brute force toward a solution, working his way through obstacles with his new magic ax, Atreus is smarter and more agile. Solving riddles, of which there is much in God of War often depends on exploiting both abilities.
The couple also grows together. Initially, Kratos does not seem to be that far removed from the one-dimensional warrior of previous games. He is short tempered and struggles to stay calm. When your son loses a shot while hunting a deer, you can see the impatience accumulated in Kratos. He seems ready to attack at any given moment, and speaks mainly in cold trivialities. After the deer incident, he tells Atreus "Do not regret it". Be better. "Later, when his son was worried about the idea of taking someone's life, Kratos says" close your heart. "He is not exactly warm and tender, but you can see warmth inside him, even if it's mild, there are times when Kratos starts comforting his son just to get away at the last second, he's trying, he just has no idea what he's doing.
But that changes as the story progresses, and the change feels natural and real, there are genuinely warm and moving moments when Kratos cares about Atreus, or tries to impart some kind of wisdom, in his quest to make sure that Atreus becomes a better person than him. "Be better" it becomes "you still have a lot to learn" and, finally, Kratos says things that could almost count as compliments .. There's even – and this can shake God of War veterans – real moments of humor. and The dark and cold exterior of Kratos is a great poster for some of the most charming characters.
One of the most remarkable aspects of the game is how this story and the relationship between father and son are so closely intertwined. with the gameplay Everything seems to be there for a reason. As Atreus gains confidence and continues to learn by observing his father, he naturally becomes more skilled in the battle. The child talks a lot, not only gives historical details about the mystical world around you, but also gives clues about what you should do next. Meanwhile, you can easily find your next target thanks to a magical compass that a witch gave you, and Kratos' ax and gear improve throughout the game thanks to a pair of struggling blacksmith brothers, who continually try one. the craftsmanship of each one. With the exception of some video game tropes such as explosive barrels and enemies with bright weak spots, virtually every part of the experience feels directly connected to the narrative and the characters.
Meanwhile, the game feels much more robust and varied than in the past. The old games of God of War fit directly into the hack-and-slash genre. The central action consisted in dividing huge swathes of enemies and accumulating massive combos, with occasional riddles and fights between bosses to mix things up. These elements still exist in the new game, but with a much better balance. You probably spend as much time hacking bad guys as you do solving surprisingly complex and clever puzzles, using magic and observation to awaken old machines. The combat, meanwhile, feels more intense, thanks to a more cinematic camera that stays close to the action, and flexible controls according to an appropriate action game.
And although the game does not develop in an open world in any way, it is still quite large and offers opportunities for exploration, whether it's searching for hidden treasures or doing side quests. There are moments of calm and tranquility, where you can immerse yourself in the world or listen to Kratos tell a story of past adventures. The new God of War offers the satisfying kinetic combat and absurd sense of the enemy scale that made the series so beloved, but merges it into a much more complete game.
With all these changes, it almost makes you wonder why this game is God of War . Kratos is almost unrecognizable, with a real personality and an impressively bushy beard, and has been transported to a new world, one that is much more vibrant and alive than it seems. But even here the game feels particularly well thought out. I do not want to spoil anything, the revelations are some of the best parts of the game, but the connections between the new God of War and its predecessors are as necessary as they are genuine. This had to be a game God of War ; without Kratos, it simply would not be the same. And fans of lifelong series should not worry about losing their characteristic rage: open treasure chests by hitting them directly.
God of War is the kind of exuberant and expensive experience for a player that has become increasingly rare in a world in which online titles and with a large number of services have come to dominate the very successful games. He feels singular in his purpose, and he takes it out magnificently. There are some insignificant details: the intensive use of the magical MacGuffins' narrative, an unnecessarily complex loot system, and an excessive dependence on particularly horrifying murders, but they do not contribute much to detracting from the overall experience. By themselves, the various elements that make up God of War do not sound particularly unique or interesting. But it's the way they work together, how the story informs the action and vice versa, which makes it memorable. God of War takes a one-dimensional series and turns it into something with depth and emotion.
This is not the Kratos you remember, and that's what makes it work so well.
God of War will arrive on PlayStation 4 on April 20.