Before Sony’s E3 press conference kicked off, the audience at the Shrine Auditorium (myself included), wasn’t sure of what to expect. While we knew games like Horizon: Zero Dawn and The Last Guardian would probably show up in some capacity, the rest of the show was a mystery. So you can imagine our surprise when a live orchestra began to play a mysterious tune, accompanied by a choir, to announce and reveal the first look at God of War. While the game wasn’t necessarily a surprise as far as the setting goes; concept art leaked back in April; the footage (which you can check out above) shown off during the conference raised a couple of important questions. Is this a reboot? Is his name still Kratos? Will we get to play as his son, and how will that work? Luckily, the behind-closed-doors presentation we attended with creative director Cory Barlog gave us some of the answers we were looking for.
Kratos is back.
Don’t let the beard, or lack of a number in the title fool you, God of War is not a reboot of Kratos’ origin story. Rather, it’s a continuation of the series, featuring a much older Kratos in a new setting, and reimagined gameplay. As Barlog explained in a detailed post on the PlayStation Blog, the goal with the game wasn’t to start over, but to “give players a fresh perspective and a new tactile experience while delving deeper into the emotional journey of Kratos to explore the compelling drama that unfolds when an immortal demigod makes a decision to change.”
For those who aren’t familiar with the series, Kratos’ previous adventures involved a cycle of familial distrust, and violence. One of the main criticisms a lot of people had of him was that he constantly made bad decisions and let his anger get the best of him. Fast-forward to the new game and he’s living in the land of the Vikings with his son. One of the main focuses of the new game will be to “give the audience and Kratos a second chance” in this new chapter in his life, essentially allowing him to “break the cycle of violence, distrust and deception that his family, the Greek pantheon, perpetuated for so long” in the process.
A Father/Son Adventure
Speaking of Kratos’ son, his appearance in the trailer was one of the biggest surprises of the presentation. He was the first character that appeared on screen, which was curious because at first glance, a lot of people actually thought the footage being shown off was for Horizon: Zero Dawn (because of his hair and clothing). It wasn’t until his father showed up that we knew what was going on.
While we don’t know his fate (or name), we do know that the boy will play an important part in the story, not only by affecting Kratos’ behavior, but by enhancing the gameplay–which we’ll get to in a minute. That means (unless a plot point separates them) they’ll be together for most of the game. As we already saw in the demo, Kratos is trying to restrain his rage because his child is present. According to Barlog, Kratos will need to “figure out how to put the monster back in the box” and learn how to “control when he does and does not let that monster out,” because behind his grimace, “Kratos believes that being a god is a disease, and that rage is a side effect of that disease, and he’s terrified that he’s passed it on to his son.”
Having a companion by his side goes hand-in-hand with the new focus on a narrative-driven gaming experience. In the few minutes we saw of the duo’s interactions, we already got a good feel for their relationship. To put it simply, their bond is strained, but has potential to grow.
Norse gods watch out: Kratos is coming for you.
An important feature of his son is that he is able to read and understand Runes (the ancient Viking language) while Kratos can’t. As you can imagine, that knowledge will come in handy in the new Scandinavian setting. It also adds yet another layer to the fiery protagonist; feeling alienated in a foreign land steeped in Norse Mythology will be another hurdle he’ll have to overcome. As Barlog previously mentioned, some of the inspiration for the story came from having a son himself.
During our chat, he mentioned facing a similar language barrier in his own life, with his wife and child knowing and speaking a language he isn’t as familiar with. In Kratos’ case, sharing information will be a reciprocal experience with his son. So, while the son shares his knowledge of Runes, Kratos will teach him about hunting, fighting and more.
Aside from the obvious scenery change, the benefit of the new setting will be seeing Kratos navigate the unknown with the aid of his son. It’s also a great opportunity to introduce Norse mythology in a way that makes sense. Kratos actually traveled to the land, which was already in existence while he was busy kicking butt and taking names. Now he’s ready to take the new world on and learn more about the mythos.
A new way to play
Another notable change is the shift to a third-person perspective. Putting the camera behind Kratos, and allowing players to look around using the right stick opens up a world of possibility in terms of cinematic shots, and a more intimate story. Also, because the world is much larger, the ability to better digest your surroundings encourages the player to take alternate paths and explore the rich landscape, which is teeming with creatures that have their own language (they aren’t just random grunts).
Another important thing Barlog made clear was that this isn’t an open-world game. He likened it to the way that the Tomb Raider reboot was laid out, but on a much larger scale. From our understanding, what that means is there will still be a linear narrative, but that there will be open, explorable areas scattered throughout. You’ll be able to gain knowledge from your encounters, and upgrade your characters with items you collect.
As far as combat goes, we got a sneak peek at Kratos’ axe, which is imbued with magic that allows you to recall the weapon (think Thor) whenever he wants. To empower the player to approach combat the way they want, melee and recalling the weapon (which can stick to every surface in the game) are mapped to different buttons. Want to throw the axe at one enemy, and beat up on another before it returns? Now you can. Also, as a side note: there will no longer be combo counters.
Kratos won’t be the only one getting some shots in. As demonstrated by the demo, you’ll be able to also control his son–but it isn’t what you think. As far as we know, there won’t be sections where you’re running around as the boy. Rather, he acts as an aide of sorts during the adventure.
If you aim at another enemy during combat and mash a button, the son will shoot an arrow at the target. The feature takes full advantage of the player’s ability to moving the camera. Like Kratos, you’ll be able to upgrade the kid. This mechanic also extends to cinematic moments, and puzzle-solving.
We’re particularly interested to see how the boy will complement and change both the style of gameplay and narrative experience. Barlog pointed out that the goal is to make it so that he’s a character that you don’t have to babysit. He’s coming along for the ride–and so are we because all of this sounds awesome.
What did you guys think of the announcement? Are you excited about Norse Mythology? Let us know in the comments below, join the conversation on Facebook, or start one with me on Twitter: @Samantha_Sofka.
Images: Sony Santa Monica/PlayStation