The creators of God of War address the themes that drive the iconic protagonist: brutality, fatherhood and redemption.
2018’s “God of War” rebooted the series and ushered in a more serious take on the brutal antihero — a near-universal take on the themes of fatherhood and redemption.
“I think a lot of people come in [to the reboot] felt like Kratos was a pretty irredeemable character,” said Matt Sophos, head of narrative for the series’ latest entry, “God of War Ragnarok.” “Going into the last and then [‘Ragnarok’]you know, we’ve evolved, hopefully, in most people’s eyes.
Longtime fans were quick to describe the franchise’s shift in tone as Kratos’ “daddification”; the change matched 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 Studio doesn’t really see it as a transformation of her character. “Ragnarok” producer Cory Barlog and director Eric Williams, two of the leaders behind God of War since day one, said in an interview with The Washington Post that the reboot marked less new direction and more Kratos coming full circle. Sophos echoed that sentiment, noting that Kratos’ character has always been defined by his relationship to fatherhood.
“It was kind of an opportunity for us to really look at aspects of fatherhood that we didn’t have before, because in the last series, him being a father and a husband is what led to a journey revenge,” Sophos said.
As shown in a flashback in the original “God of War”, the death of Kratos’ wife and daughter set in motion the events of the series, the first victims of a series of betrayals that define his character arcs. After rising through the ranks to become a general, Kratos commands an army of soldiers to besiege the enemies of Sparta. But when his forces are overwhelmed in battle, Kratos pledges his life to Ares, the god of war, to turn the tide. Ares tricks Kratos into severing his last link with his humanity, his family, whom Kratos slaughters in blind rage while plundering in the name of the god.
Once he realizes what he has done, Kratos is overcome with grief. Distraught and vengeful, Kratos serves the other gods of Olympus, who promise him escape from his torment. But after years of doing their bidding and eventually slaughtering Ares himself, he realizes it was yet another trick. The alliances he forges with titans, underworlders, and other deities in his quest for revenge all end the same: in a trail of destruction and slain enemies that brings Kratos no closer. to find peace.
While he walks unflinchingly through it all, Kratos isn’t as detached from the atrocities as he appears in those early games.
“He’s very aware that he wasn’t the right guy in his story,” Sophos said.
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At the end of “God of War III”, Kratos is clearly breaking down after facing betrayal after betrayal while serving the gods of his homeland. He discovers the horrible truth of his lineage: This Zeus is his father and the person who ordered his brother, Deimos, to be kidnapped as a child in an attempt to prevent the prophesied fall of Olympus. In his quest to kill Zeus, Kratos bonds with Pandora, who reminds him of his daughter, and through this bond begins to develop hope that he can finally forgive himself, only to watch her die as Zeus laughs at him. for failing to save anyone who comes close to him.
After finally defeating Zeus, Kratos is at his lowest point, Barlog said. The “God of War” reboot takes place an unspecified number of years later, after Kratos has started a family in the land of the Norse gods with his wife, a fellow warrior named Faye, and Atreus. Barlog said this relationship with Faye (which takes place off-screen) shaped the man players were reintroduced to in the 2018 reboot, just as much as his new fatherhood:
“Kratos at the end of ‘God of War III’ fell into an exceptionally deep pit in itself, a pit that is miles and miles and miles and miles and miles deep. And then he passed … just an enormous amount of alone time, sinking deeper and deeper into this pit. And Faye was the first person to throw a rope. She started the process together with him, together, to get out of this pit .
It’s a process Kratos finds himself navigating on his own once again in 2018’s “God of War,” which begins after Faye’s death, leaving Kratos to navigate single parenthood and the unanswered questions it left behind. she. Although not in circumstances he would have ever hoped for, it gives Kratos the opportunity to rediscover himself and confront the emotions he’s run away from in previous games.
“We were really focusing on who he is, not in the grand scheme of mythology and all that kind of stuff, but just who the guy is, who Kratos is and what he’s dealing with and what he fears, and all these trappings,” Sophos said.
Previous God of War games offered insight into this more complex world going on inside Kratos, Williams said. In particular “God of War: Ghost of Sparta”, which shows a young Kratos as a caring and protective brother to Deimos, even amid the harshness and cruelty of their Spartan upbringing.
“Those parts were always in him to do good, to do the right thing, it’s just that people broke him, and when he broke he couldn’t deal with his own guilt” , Williams said.
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The three developers said that Kratos, after fleeing to the land of the Norse gods, still firmly believes his horrific past has tainted him forever – like his family’s ashes were cursed to stain his skin – but he doesn’t want to. not defile his son with it too. The 2018 reboot “is really about teaching him to be a better person in general,” Sophos said, “and that kind of evolution from him really takes over being a real dad rather than someone who just provided the necessities for his family.”
The stakes for 2018’s “God of War” are high. There’s no running away from her grief this time around; ignoring his flaws would mean risking having them reflected in his son, Barlog said. Until Faye’s death, he had kept his own history and the demigoddess of Atreus a secret from Atreus. But faced with the reality of Atreus becoming powers he doesn’t understand, he realizes he needs to open up about the sordid details of his past. This informs the basic conflict at the heart of the reboot.
“It’s this idea of how much of ourselves we show our children, especially the parts that we’re not proud of, especially if those things can somehow help them get away from the paths you’ve taken,” Sophos said. “But you’re still ashamed of them and you don’t want to do it.” And it was something that felt so perfect for Kratos as someone who really has a lot of things he’s not proud of.
A real-world element contributed to this part of Kratos’ development: Barlog, Sophos, and Richard Gilbert, Sophos’s longtime writing partner and series’ narrative designer, all had young sons at the time of the reboot’s development. The parallels in their lived experiences explained how they navigated Kratos’ transition from Greek mythology to Norse mythology and, more importantly, from a vengeful soldier to a father once again.
“I think the biggest thing we did was make Kratos accessible in a way that it probably wasn’t before,” Sophos said.
As Kratos travels with Atreus to fulfill his wife’s dying wish to scatter her ashes atop the highest peak of the Nine Realms, the two secure something Kratos never had in previous games: an entourage. The father-son duo fall into a newfound family dynamic with dwarf brothers Brock and Sindri and Norse god of wisdom Mimir, a development Kratos initially resists. He distances himself, refusing to refer to them by anything other than reductive nicknames like “head” for Mimir (because, well, he’s a talking head). Even his own son is “boy” instead of Atreus. But their camaraderie erodes those walls. By “Ragnarok,” that prickly behavior has mellowed considerably – he calls Atreus, Mimir, and the rest of his crew by their names throughout the game.
“He depends, as much as he doesn’t want to be, on others,” Barlog said, returning to the well analogy. “And those others are the muscle, the hands, on that string that pulls him…they help pull the human side of him out of a pit that he’s been digging for a long time.”
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Some of this development dates back to the end of “God of War” when Kratos and Atreus spread Faye’s ashes and uncovered another hidden bloodline. Faye was a giant, which makes Atreus half-giant and half-god. A prophecy reveals that Kratos is not long for this world and that Atreus, known as Loki among the giants, will somehow be involved in his death. Naturally, Atreus has questions about his lineage. Kratos, blindsided by the revelation of Faye’s past just as much as Atreus, must come to terms with the fact that he has no answers. It’s a problem he can’t solve.
“And that’s the hardest part for a parent when you can’t give them [your child] whatever 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 vulnerability. He grapples with his shortcomings and tries to make peace knowing that he must now rely on his new relationships to fill in the gaps in Atreus’ development. This is especially the case when it comes to channeling emotions and managing anger, Sophos said, because historically “when he lets that emotion out, it usually goes to the wrong place.”
The impending specter of his death is at the forefront of Kratos’ mind heading towards “Ragnarok”. To prepare Atreus to survive in a world without him, he is forced to reckon with the shame he quietly shoulders from Greece so 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 engaging in his own personal growth.
“Kratos is just doing his best to guide him on what he considers to be the safest path, the path to where his son will survive, even if he doesn’t,” Sophos said. “Even if you’re not a parent, you can still identify with wanting to be better for someone, you know, wanting to do someone good and hoping for the best for someone.”