The God of War series has, until now, stuck very close to the standards set in the original 2005 game. More than a decade (and many games) later, it makes sense that Sony would want to mix things up for the aged hack-and-slash series. Like so many popular franchises that have reinvented themselves in recent years, the new God of War dips into the well of open-world RPG tropes. It also shifts its focus to Norse mythology, casting off the iconic Greek gods and legends that provided the basis for every previous game.
These major shifts don’t signal the end of God of War as we know it, rather they allow the series’ DNA to express itself in new ways. There are many reasons why the structural transformations are a good thing, but it’s what’s become of Kratos, the hulking death machine, that leaves a lasting impression. A furious, bloodthirsty icon has transformed into a sensitive father figure. Part of him retains the old violent tendencies that made him a star long ago. However, with his young son Atreus to protect and guide, we also see Kratos take a deep breath and bury his savage instincts in order to set a positive example.
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Watching Kratos take care in nurturing his child’s sensibilities does feel a bit jarring at the start, but thanks to the natural writing, fitting voice actors, and flawless animation, it’s easy to get sucked into the duo’s journey and buy into their mutual growth.
Though he is a teacher, Kratos carries a mountain of grief and self pity that only the Atreus was raised in isolation from the dangers of the wild world around him, and rightfully fails to grasp his place in it when confronted with the realities of a land protected by and under siege from gods. It’s the death of his mother prior to the start of the game that thrusts Atreus and Kratos outward; her dying wish was to have her ashes spread atop the highest peak in the land. As if wild predators and ghastly fiends weren’t obstacles enough, representatives from the pantheon of Norse mythology arise in an attempt to disrupt their mission, establishing the amplified stakes
Atreus can’t be configured to the same extent that Kratos can, but there are still a lot of ways to tailor his capabilities to your liking. The arrows he fires can be laced with different types of magic, with multiple elemental and functionality upgrades, and he eventually gains the ability to summon spectral animals that can harm and distract enemies, or collect items.
In many ways God of War is what the series has always been. It’s a spectacular action game with epic set pieces, big-budget production values, and hard-hitting combat that grows more feverish and impressive as you progress. What may surprise you is how mature its storytelling has become. Like Kratos, God of War recalls the past while acknowledging the need to improve. Everything new it does is for the better, and everything it holds onto benefits as a result. Kratos is no longer a predictable brute. God of War is no longer an old-fashioned action series. With this reboot, it confidently walks a new path that will hopefully lead to more exciting adventures to come.