God of War: Ragnarok. Screenshot: Sony Interactive Entertainment
The God of War games are known for epic combat and blockbuster set pieces, but the newest release in the series showcases innovations in how a video game can tell its story.
Why this is important: Technological approaches can lead to fundamental innovations in storytelling, even in games where players are busy plowing through Norse mythology.
In play: God of War Ragnarok, released last week for PlayStation, depicts the tiredly titled God of War Kratos, his teenage son Atreus, and allies trying to follow Odin’s plans and possibly avert Ragnarok.
- While much of the sequel’s story is offered through a traditional mix of cinematic scenes, quests, and menu text, the developers greatly expanded on the system introduced in the series’ 2018 release, introducing additional conversations between Kratos and Atreus that would be played during the journey sequences.
New game It is programmed to detect a player’s speed and anticipate more potential down moments, often only 20 seconds long, when combat or key plot moments are not expected. Those spots allow any characters to have more chatter.
- “We can pull from this bucket of dialogue that takes less than 20 seconds to sit there,” Ragnarok story director Matt Sophos tells Axios.
- Characters can talk about recent events in the game, reveal more of their past, or even ponder puzzles they’ve encountered.
- All of this chatter is more contained than the distracting lore dump offered when Kratos and Atreus were rowing boats in the last game. The additional dialogue in the sequel further fleshes out the cast and game world, and elaborates on key parts of the main story.
- It is also deployed with greater flexibility. It can play at different times and in completely different places from one player’s game to another. Some of them expire as players go through the game’s 30+ hours of quests, so completists will want to wander a lot to get them all.
What they are saying: “If we know there’s something that someone absolutely wants to hear, we’ll find a way to get it on the critical path,” Sophos tells Axios.
- “But then we flesh out a lot of that through those vehicle stories, road stories, that players may or may not hear. We hope they hear that, just to give them a little more breadth.”
- While the system supports the development team’s overall goal of making the story feel like it’s emerging naturally within the game, Sophos says players don’t need to manually press buttons to always trigger the next moment of character development.
Between the lines: Sophos and many other writing teams working on action-packed games face the main story-telling hurdle that players are often too distracted playing the game to absorb the story and dialogue.
- “We have to work in the space between combat events,” says Sophos.
- His team of half a dozen or so writers worked with the game’s level designers to add non-combat moments—a narrow gap for characters to squeeze through, a wall to climb.
- Contrary to what some players believe, Sophos says, it’s not necessary to squeeze and climb to mask loading times for the next area of the adventure: “A lot of times it’s like, ‘Oh, we just had a bunch. We need space for the fight and for them to think about it.’
one thing Ragnarök players will barely hear, no matter how far they wander, “Son!,” Kratos’ recurring bark at his son, a signature of the endgame.
- He says that only once in the new game, in a dramatic moment, was the best not spoiled. Instead, he usually calls his son by his first name, Atreus.
- “It was a very conscious choice,” says Sophos, adding that Kratos has mostly dropped nicknames for the series’ cast this time in favor of their real names. He calls it “a representation of it being a little more open than the last game”.
Sign up for the Axios gaming newsletter here.