God of War: Resurrection of an IP
Way back in 2005, a PlayStation exclusive hit the shelves, titled God of War. An ultra-violent hack-and-slash affair set against the backdrop of Greek mythology, it was the poster child for all those politicians that claimed that video games made kids violent back in the day.
It didn’t, but whatever — that’s another blog post.
The God of War series (main entries here; the ones with the roman numerals, not the colons) follows the story of Kratos, a former Spartan solider that deposes Ares and becomes the new… (wait for it) God of War. This upheaval results in a battle that sees him slaughtering the entire Grecian pantheon, as well as the Titans, over the course of three games and two console generations.
I don’t think I’m overselling it here when I say this series was uber-violent, unnecessarily sexual, and so over-the-top its equal will probably never be found. All that being said, I played the shit out of those games.
Stylized to the extreme, their hallmark was (and is, but more on that later) a combat system that was as intuitive as it was violent, flawlessly allowing the player to execute moves that would be considered war crimes in the more civilized parts of the world (But who says we’re civilized, right?).
This system was so effective that it spawned an entire sub-genre of knockoffs seeking to emulate it and garner the same kind of acclaim that their patron saint had. Needless to say, nobody did it better than Kratos.
With the main story wrapping with God of War 3 in 2010, the series lay more or less dormant, excluding some smaller-budget titles that never really made the same waves as their larger cousins.
Then, 8 years later, totally out of the blue, Kratos took the stage once again. Sporting an axe and a glorious beard, we find he’s emigrated to Midgard, one of the nine realms of Norse mythology (I’m assuming because there were very few people left to talk to in the Grecian realm). We find an older, more reserved Kratos; one who’s had time to think about his actions and contemplate his history. One who’s settled down and started a family.
At first glance, Sony’s Santa Monica Studios (SMS), appears to have mellowed out just like their protagonist. The game begins with Kratos finding trees that his wife marked just before she died. Trees she wants to have used in her funeral pyre.
With uncharacteristic solemnity, we’re treated to a sequence that borders on touching. Then the limbs start getting hacked off.
Just kidding (kind of). In the opening hours of the game, Kratos cremates the body of his wife, takes his son (Atreus) on a hunting expedition, and teaches him how to use a bow and arrow. Not the start anyone really expected from God of War.
SMS subverted expectations in a big way, gambling that their target audience had grown up, just as they had, and decided to craft a story, instead of just big boss fights.
And you know what? It fucking worked. Whereas with the previous games, you fought just to fight, there are motivations here, complex stories that you can dive into. There are tender moments between a father and his son, terrifying prophecies that may or may not become reality, demons (metaphorical, for once) that Kratos has to fight, and an entire world in which to lose yourself (Mom’s spaghetti).
Of course, the ultra-violence is still there — it wouldn’t be God of War without it. However, instead of just random button-mashing, there was depth to their systems (much like the story), weight behind your strikes, and hefty punishments if you weren’t paying attention.
They didn’t necessarily reinvent the wheel here, but they definitely gave it a sick-ass set of rims.
God of War (2018) was not at all what I expected, and that is very a good thing.
With every step you take in the world, you can feel how much the devs have aged and matured, while still keeping the fiery bravado that brought us Kratos in the first place. Violence (although there is still plenty of that) without purpose wasn’t enough for them anymore. They wanted to tell a story, and I’ll be damned if they didn’t tell it well.