Have you ever purchased something but never got around to actually doing anything with it right away? Gamers tend to have that problem, especially when it comes to things like Steam sales. Sometimes I’ll buy a game because I have every intention of playing it, only to have it sit and collect dust for months, or even years.
Such is the case with 2018’s God of War from Santa Monica Studio. I don’t remember the exact circumstances surrounding me buying a copy, but I do remember not touching it in earnest up until very recently. Actually, I think the way things went was that Jennifer saw a video about the game and asked why we haven’t bought it. No… wait… This just in: Jennifer has told me that I actually was the one who bought the game for myself, played the introduction up to the point where Kratos goes into his house with Boy, I mean Atreus, and she just took the game from me.
Given my track record with remembering things, I’m inclined to believe her version. Then over the course of about a year, I would intermittently whine about not knowing what to play, with Jennifer reminding me over and over that I needed to play God of War because it’s so good, and I repeatedly procrastinated booting it up.
Yes, this post is about a game that I bought and barely played before setting it down for over a year.
I Didn’t Get Far At First
I still don’t really know what it was that took me so long to get around to playing God of War, but I’m glad I finally decided to bite the bullet. No need to get into the minutiae of the game’s setting or story, as it basically takes place in a fictional version of our world where mythology is actually real, and the main character is taking his son to spread the ashes of his late wife at the peak of the tallest mountain in all the realms. What I found most interesting about all of this is that the story is so clear cut. The objective at the beginning is the same at the end; it’s about the journey and the growth of the characters as they fulfill the wishes of Laufey, Kratos’ wife and Atreus’ mother.
Oh! And the lore… Oh my the lore. If you’ve read literally anything else that I write about (assuming that your previous readings weren’t my more popular pieces: One about computers and another about a specific line of Xbox 360s. I cannot express how irritating it is that so much traffic comes from those posts alone), you’ll remember that I’m obsessed with lore in videogames. Cases in point, Horizon: Zero Dawn and Control. I’m getting off track, but the setting of 2018’s God of War capitalizes on the complex and dense mythology from ancient Greece and the Vikings, though thankfully Santa Monica Studio didn’t go ham with cashing in on all the big names of Norse mythology right away, instead focusing on a small number of gods who play a relatively small role in the story.
Perhaps what I found most refreshing is that this new approach with the franchise avoids the concept of Kratos exacting revenge for the infractions of deities against him, and instead takes the player on a journey where the antagonists are just obstacles on the path towards Kratos’ wife’s final resting place. Kratos isn’t seeking out Odin, Thor, or some other major Norse character to get back at them for some injustice; he just wants to complete a task and keep his son safe.
Speaking of Kratos’ son, Atreus is an interesting little upstart himself.
Ugh. I can’t talk about what I loved about God of War without discussing some major plot points, so if you haven’t played the game yet and don’t want anything spoiled, you should probably stop here or just skip this next section.
Have all the folks that don’t want any spoilers left? Okay. I can continue.
It’s not exactly novel as a concept, but Atreus doesn’t know Kratos’ history or stature as a god, nor does he know anything about his past either. Atreus doesn’t even know the origin of his own name, which comes from the name of a man that Kratos fought alongside as a Spartan. Atreus was a man that Kratos greatly respected, and who always brought joy to him. Atreus’ lack of knowledge about his own father serves a major point of contention between the pair, and their journey is rife with conflict between the two. Atreus is just a boy after all, and Kratos is doing everything he can, in the only way he can, to protect his own son and prepare him for a life that’s bound to be difficult.
This more difficult life immediately begins once Kratos starts preparing for Laufey’s funeral, because she deliberately chose to have Kratos disable a protective enchantment she had placed over their home and the surrounding area, without telling him that this is what he’d actually be doing. Jennifer and I agreed that her motivation to do this was to prevent Kratos from living with Atreus as hermits for the rest of their lives, which would eventually result in forcing Kratos to not only divulge his own past to Atreus, but also put Atreus on a path that would shed light on his own ancestry.
Since I’m spoiling things, I’ll just go ahead and say it.
I love that Atreus’ story is he’s actually Loki from Norse lore, and how Odin sending Baldur to look for someone had nothing to do with Kratos or Atreus, but Laufey instead. This all comes from Laufey secretly being a giant from Jötunheim (I specifically copy and pasted the umlaut. Look at how cultured I am!), which made her a major target for Odin and his kin, as anyone who’s seen the Thor movies will understand.
Speaking of the Thor movies, what’s even more refreshing is that the Norse gods (much like the Greek gods), are not heroes in the God of War franchise. They’re a bunch of narcissistic psychopaths who treat humans, as well as anyone who isn’t them, as insects. Odin is a faceless tool that you never see during the course of the game, and Thor is just a name that gets thrown around. One of the major characters you meet, The World Serpent, outright loathes Thor to the point that it actually eats the statue of him in the Lake of Nine out of spite, which believe it or not is actually a plot point. Baldur’s fleeting appearances in the game serve as the pinnacle of set-piece fights in the entire game, despite him not even being the focal point of the story. Freya, the biggest name in the game who plays a direct role, is an unwilling pacifist who ends up becoming an enemy of the protagonists of the story because they end up killing her son Baldur.
All of this Norse mythology is basically inconsequential to the nature of the storyline. The same plot points could’ve happened in any other setting, but the way that Santa Monica Studio used it was perfect in my opinion, and the disruption of the mythology by Kratos merely being present means that they can go pretty much any way they want to go with it.
Interestingly, the entire plot of God of War was predicted by the giants, and laid bare on a series of murals in Jötunheim, and it’s implied that Laufey knew exactly how everything would play out. That makes sense too, considering that she asked Kratos to use the trees she marked as fuel to cremate her, which forced Kratos and Atreus to begin their journey to spread her ashes long before Kratos felt comfortable doing so. After all, since Atreus’ “sickness” is a result of his mental conflict with his true identity as a god, I think Kratos felt it necessary to ease Atreus into learning about his true nature.
However, given Kratos’ history, I don’t see when he would’ve ever felt it was the right time to tell Atreus the truth, let alone bring him along on the journey to put Laufey to rest. Baldur’s arrival at their home was necessary to push them out from their comfort zone. As someone who just became a father a little over a year ago, this all hits some very different notes with me now compared to when I first watched Jennifer play the first few hours of the game. That’s a whole topic itself though, but I won’t be delving into that right now.
My newfound love for God of War is a result of the developer finding a way to make Kratos into a character that isn’t womanizing monster anymore. I’m not sure that Jennifer would care for old-school Kratos much either for that matter. I’m sure there are God of War purists out there who aren’t happy with how serious the series has gotten with the last game, but I love how it’s become far more than just a mechanics-driven slaughterfest with gratitous fanservice sprinkled in.
Despite my love however, what took some getting used to was just how daunting the experience is at first, with the traditional RPG elements added to the newest entry. I won’t lie and say that I wasn’t initially overwhelmed by the sheer volume of character information that’s thrown at you, between the gear, stats, and abilities you have to make sense of in so little time. All of this time and mental investment in making sense of the character improvement mechanics is extremely necessary if you want to do anything other than just complete the main story, as I quickly discovered when stupidly investigating a Realm Tear at level one. A saving grace is that you can quite easily complete the game without putting too much thought into the various skill trees or gear, but if you’re planning on doing any side quests, I would definitely recommend taking the time to familiarize yourself with everything.
One other gripe of mine is that there are some places off the beaten path where you can be trapped and forced to reload a previous save, like when I ended up in an area where a dragon resides and was stuck fighting enemies several levels above me. You see, when you’re in combat, your level of interaction with the environment consists entirely of fighting enemies, and in this area, the only way out involved climbing. This is something you can’t do when you’re in combat, and each time I respawned from my inevitable death, I was met with another wave of enemies that would promptly wipe the floor with me. All in all, it was a minor annoyance, but it was a sour note that stuck with me.
All-in-all, God of War is an amazing game, even after all this time. It’s fricken beautiful, well-written, fun to play, and despite the stint when Atreus becomes an insufferable little asshole, the characters are great. The development of Kratos and Atreus’ relationship over the course of the story is extremely satisfying, due in large part to Kratos eventually warming up to Atreus. God, that sounds so bleak when you think about it, since Atreus is his son… He shouldn’t need to warm up to his son, but I think that comes from his desire to protect Atreus. This development is believable at least, and Atreus has his own personal growth as well (most notably when he snaps out of that aforementioned insufferable asshole phase).
God of War is the best game I meant to play in 2018, but took forever to get around to. Hell, it’s the best game I’ve played within the last year, and that’s saying something. I just got around to playing Control after all, and I loved that one too. It quite coincidentally also came out in 2018… That was a good year apparently. What was I doing in 2018?
What were you doing in 2018? Did you play God of War then? Were you like me and doing other things?