God of War is moving on in a brand new chapter and we can glean a lot from the E3 gameplay trailer. A new over-the-shoulder camera makes the gameplay feel different from the fixed camera angle of its predecessors. Meanwhile, Kratos now wields an axe rather than his traditional blades and, most noticeably, Kratos has a companion in the form of a son who can help out with puzzles and in combat. It’s unclear at this point how different the new God of War will be from the previous God of War games, but the gameplay trailer has already shown a major change in its hero.
Warning: Major spoilers for the entire God of War series follows.
To understand Kratos’ growth, it’s important to understand where he came from. In the first God of War, Kratos was haunted by his past. He had been tricked by the god Ares into killing his own wife and daughter and by doing so had cursed himself with skin colored by their ashes, earning him the title of Ghost of Sparta. After enduring several trials, Kratos, with the help of Athena and the other gods, was prepared to get revenge on Ares.
Kratos was merciless but maintained a certain code. Kratos was at least willing to save women and children if nothing else. In the final battle with Ares, there was even a mechanic where he could give his own health to his wife and child by hugging them as he fought off various clones of himself. Despite his victory, Kratos found there could be no redemption for his actions and threw himself off Mount Olympus. Athena took mercy on Kratos, explaining that though he could never erase his crimes, he could do good as the new god of war.
God of War II picks up a short time later when Zeus and the other gods banish Kratos from his godhood due to his cruel treatment of the other Greek city-states. Kratos goes on a bloody rampage with the help of Gaia and the other titans. His quest seems mostly pure. at least until he kills Perseus and tears off Icarus‘ wings, letting him plummet to his death.
In God of War III, Kratos becomes irredeemable. After driving the titans to invade Mount Olympus, Kratos starts killing anyone he encounters. A slight betrayal by Gaia brings about her untimely demise. Hephaestus tries to stop Kratos from killing his daughter Pandora and also dies for his trouble. In an early portion of the game, a man begs Kratos to free him in return for a weapon, but is rewarded only with death. Similarly, a later section involves a door that won’t stay open unless the player holds a large wheel in place. Kratos finds a woman begging for help, and binds her hands to the wheel to keep the door open. The woman is crushed, and Kratos walks through without remorse.
With every god Kratos kills the world around him grows more desolate and, by game’s end, it is clear that Kratos has nearly destroyed the entire Earth in his petty quest for revenge.
There could have been an interesting story in Kratos’ final turn towards villainy, but God of War III backpedals in the third act, adding a redemption arc to the story. It’s revealed that the gods attacked Kratos because they were driven mad when he opened Pandora’s Box in the first game. His redemption comes too late though, and Kratos’ suicide at the end feels deserved. Kratos’ story was finished and many, present company included, hoped that we were finally done with Kratos in the God of War games.
When news of God of War 4 came there was hope that the new Norse setting would mean a new main character but early concept art showing the Spartan’s familiar mug dashed those hopes.
Which brings us back to the new gameplay trailer. Kratos has undergone a drastic change. First of all, Kratos can speak without shouting. Though he loses his patience with his son on a couple of occasions, he shows a great deal of respect and care for the child. He is cold but compassionate and only resorts to yelling on a couple of occasions. He tries to teach rather than scold and that moment at the end of the trailer where he reaches out to comfort the boy, thinking better of it and reaching to grab his knife out of the deer’s neck instead, speaks volumes about his moral transformation. These moments are small, but they show more depth of character than Kratos has shown in the six previous games. Whether Kratos’ character can be salvaged from God of War III remains to be seen, but this trailer has shown a major step in the right direction. It may actually make sense to keep the old god around, even far from ancient Greece.