The creators of God of War discuss the themes that animate the iconic hero: brutality, fatherhood and redemption.
2018’s “God of War” rebooted the series and introduced a more serious take on the brutal anti-hero — garnering near-universal praise for its depiction of themes of fatherhood and redemption.
“I think a lot of people are moving in [to the reboot] “I thought Kratos was an amazing character,” said Matt Sophos, head of story on the latest entry in the “God of War Ragnarok” series. “Going into the last one then [‘Ragnarok’]You know, we’ve developed it hopefully in the eyes of most people.”
Longtime fans were quick to portray the franchise’s tonal shift as the “dadification” of Kratos; This changes with the introduction of his son, Atreus, who accompanies his father through the realms of Norse mythology.
But the team behind the series at Sony’s Santa Monica studios doesn’t see this as a change for his character. “Ragnarok” creator Corey Barlog and Director Eric Williams has been the two leads behind God of War since day one. An interview with the Washington Post stated that the reboot is less of a new direction and Kratos coming full circle. Sophos echoed this sentiment, noting that Kratos’ character has always been defined by his relationship with his father.
“It was kind of an opportunity for us to examine parts of fatherhood that we haven’t done before because in the last series, being a father and a husband led to a journey of revenge,” Sophos said.
As shown in flashbacks to the original “God of War,” the deaths of Kratos’ wife and daughter set events in motion in the series, the first casualty in a string of betrayals that defined his character arcs. Rising through the ranks to become a general, Kratos commands an army of soldiers to besiege Sparta’s enemies. But when his army is overwhelmed in battle, Kratos pledges his life to Ares, the god of war. Ares tricks Kratos into severing his last remaining connection to his humanity, his family, whom Kratos slaughters in a blind rage as he plunders them in the name of God.
After he realizes what he has done, Kratos is overcome with grief. Distraught and vengeful, Kratos serves the other gods of Olympus, who promise to free him from his torment. But after years of following their orders and eventually slaughtering Ares himself, he realizes that this was just another trick. His alliances with Titans, Underworlders, and other gods in his quest for revenge end just like that: in a trail of destruction and slaughtered enemies that brings Kratos no closer to peace.
While he goes through all of this unscathed, Kratos isn’t as aloof from atrocities as he appears in these early games.
“He realizes he wasn’t the good guy in his story,” Sophos said.
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At the end of “God of War III,” Kratos is clearly reeling from betrayal after betrayal while serving the gods of his homeland. He revealed the terrible truth of his race: Zeus is his father and the man who abducted his brother Deimos as a child and ordered him to save him from the prophesied fall of Olympus. In his quest to kill Zeus, Kratos forms a bond with Pandora, who reminds him of his daughter, and that bond leads to hope that he can finally forgive himself, only to see her die as Zeus mocks him for failing to save her. .
After he finally defeats Zeus, Kratos is at his lowest point, Barlog said. The “God of War” reboot takes place a few years later, after Kratos starts a family in the land of the Norse gods with his wife, a fellow warrior named Faye, and Atreus. Barlog said that this relationship with Faye (who plays him off-screen) shaped the male players as much as his new fatherhood in the 2018 reboot:
“At the end of ‘God of War III’ Kratos fell into himself in an exceptionally deep well, miles and miles and miles and miles and miles deep. And then he … just spent a lot of time alone, falling deeper and deeper into that well. .and Faye was the first to drop the rope.She joined him and began the process of climbing out of that well.
Kratos finds himself navigating alone once again in 2018’s “God of War,” which begins after Faye’s death, leaving Kratos to navigate single parenthood and the unanswered questions she left behind. Although not in the circumstances he would have ever expected, this gives Kratos a chance to rediscover himself and deal with the emotions he ran away from in the previous game.
“We were really focusing on who he is, not in the grand scheme of the mythology and all that kind of stuff, but who the guy is, who Kratos is and what he’s afraid of and what he’s afraid of,” Sophos said.
Previous God of War games have offered glimpses of this more complex world that Kratos lives in, Williams said. Especially “God of War: Ghost of Sparta,” which shows a young Kratos as a caring and protective brother to Deimos, even in the harshness and brutality of their Spartan upbringing.
“That part has always been inside him to do the right thing, to do the right thing, only that people have broken him, and when he’s broken, he can’t deal with his own guilt,” Williams said.
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All three developers expressed that Kratos, after fleeing to the land of the Norse gods, still fully believes that his horrific past has forever scarred him — like the ashes of his family cursed to stain his skin — but he doesn’t want to be stigmatized. His son also with him. 2018 Reboot “He’s really learning to be a better person in general,” Sophos said, “and that kind of evolution takes away from him being a real father rather than just a provider for his family.”
The stakes in 2018’s “God of War” are high. This time there is no escape from his grief; Ignoring his failings risks mirroring them in his child, Barlog said. Until Faye’s death, he kept his history and Atreus’ divinity a secret from Atreus. But faced with the reality that Atreus is growing in powers he doesn’t understand, he realizes he must uncover the strange details of his past. This informs the main conflict at the heart of the reboot.
“It’s the idea of how much we show our kids, especially the parts we’re not proud of, especially if those things can help them in some way to get off the path we’ve taken,” Sophos said. “But you still feel ashamed of them and you don’t want to do it. And it was something that felt so perfect for Kratos, who really has a lot of things that he’s not proud of.”
A real-world element contributed to this part of Kratos’ development: Barlog, Sophos, and Richard Gilbert, Sophos’ longtime writing partner and story designer for the series, all had young sons during the development of the reboot. Parallels between his life experiences told how he navigated Kratos’ transition from Greek to Norse mythology and, most importantly, from avenging soldier to father once again.
“I think the biggest thing we’ve done is make Kratos relevant in a way that maybe he wasn’t before,” Sophos said.
As Kratos travels with Atreus to fulfill his wife’s last wish to spread her ashes atop the highest peak in the Nine Realms, the two secure something Kratos has never had in previous games: an army. A father-son duo stumbles into a family dynamic with dwarf brothers Brock and Sindri and the Norse god of wisdom Mimir, a development Kratos initially resists. He distances himself by refusing to refer to them by anything other than reductive nicknames like “Head” for Mimir (because, well, he’s a talking head). His own son is also “son” instead of Atreus. But the harmony between them ended on these walls. By “Ragnarok,” that prickly demeanor has softened considerably — he calls Atreus, Mimir, and the rest of his crew by their names throughout the game.
“He’s dependent, as much as he doesn’t want to be on others,” Barlog said, also revisiting the analogy. “And it’s the other muscles, the arms, on that rope that’s pulling him out … they’re helping his human side out of the well he’s dug for so long.”
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Part of this development goes back to the end of “God of War” when Kratos and Atreus spread the ashes of the Fae and reveal another hidden race. Fey was a demon, making Atreus half demon and half god. A prophecy reveals that Kratos is not long for this world and that Atreus, known to the demons as Loki, will somehow be involved in his death. Understandably, Atreus has questions about his lineage. Blindsided by the revelation of Faye’s past, just like Atreus, Kratos has to come to terms with the fact that he has zero answers. It’s a problem he can’t solve.
“And that’s the hardest part for parents when you can’t give them [your child] What they want,” Williams said.
On top of that, he knows he must quickly prepare Atreus for a world without him, and with that knowledge comes insecurity. He struggles with his shortcomings and tries to make peace knowing that he will now have to rely on his new connections to fill the gaps in Atreus’ development. Especially when it comes to channeling his emotions and dealing with anger, Sophos said, historically “when he releases those emotions, it usually goes to a bad place.”
The fear of his death is at the forefront of Kratos’ mind in “Ragnarok”. In order to prepare Atreus to survive in a world without him, he is forced to reckon with the shame he has quietly shouldered from Greece so that Atreus can figure out how to avoid making the same mistakes. Kratos doesn’t want Atreus to be like him; He wants him to be better, and that means being committed to his own personal growth.
“Kratos is doing his best to guide him, even if he’s not, on what he sees as the safest path, where his son will survive,” Sophos said. “Even if you’re not a parent, you can want to be good to someone, you know, want to do right by someone and hope for the best for someone.”