The creators of God of War discuss the themes that bring the iconic protagonist to life: brutality, fatherhood and redemption.
2018’s “God of War” rebooted the series and marked the beginning of a more serious take on the brutal anti-hero — one that was met with near-universal acclaim for its portrayal of themes of fatherhood and redemption.
“I think a lot of people come in [to the reboot] he felt that Kratos was a pretty indispensable character,” said Matt Sophos, lead narrator of the latest entry in the “God of War Ragnarok” series. “I’m going to the last one and then. [‘Ragnarok’]You know, in most people’s eyes, we’ve hopefully developed that.”
Longtime fans were quick to portray the franchise’s tonal shift as the “taddification” of Kratos; the change corresponded 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 studio doesn’t see it as a transformation of his character. “Ragnarok” producer Cory Barlog and director Eric Williams, two of God of War’s mainstays since day one, said in an interview with The Washington Post that the reboot was less about a new direction and more about Kratos getting closure. Sophos echoed this sentiment, noting that Kratos’ character has always been defined by his relationship with fatherhood.
“It was a bit of a chance for us to explore parts of fatherhood that we haven’t done before because in the last series being a father and a husband led to a path of revenge,” Sophos said.
As shown in a flashback in the original “God of War” movie, the deaths of Kratos’ wife and daughter set the events of the series in motion, the first victims in a series of betrayals that define his character arcs. After rising to the rank of general, Kratos commands an army of soldiers to lay siege to Sparta’s enemies. But when his powers are overwhelmed in battle, Kratos pledges his life to Ares, the god of war, to reverse the tide. Ares forces Kratos to sever his last remaining connection to his humanity, his family, whom Kratos kills in a blind rage while plundering in the name of the god.
When Kratos realizes what he has done, he is overcome with grief. Distraught and vengeful, Kratos serves the other gods of Olympus, who promise him an escape from his torment. But after years of obeying their orders and finally killing Ares himself, he realizes that it was just another trick. The alliances he makes with titans, denizens, and other deities in his quest for revenge end similarly: a trail of destruction and slain enemies that leads Kratos no closer to finding peace.
While he unflinchingly charges forward through it all, Kratos isn’t as detached from the atrocities as he seems in these early games.
“He’s very aware of the fact that 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 defiant after facing betrayal after betrayal while in the service of the gods of his homeland. He reveals the terrible truth about his lineage: 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, hopes begin to develop that he might finally forgive himself, only to watch him die as Zeus mocks him for failing save. anyone who approaches 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 built a family in the land of the Norse gods with his wife, a fellow fighter named Faye, and Atreem. Barlog said that this relationship with Faye (which takes place off-screen) shaped the man players were reintroduced to after the 2018 reboot, as well as his newfound fatherhood:
“Kratos at the end of ‘God of War III’ has fallen into an exceptionally deep well within himself, a well that’s miles and miles and miles and miles and miles deep. And then he spent… just an enormous amount of time alone, falling deeper and deeper and deeper into that well. And Faye was the first to drop the rope down. Together with him, she began the process of climbing out of that well.”
It’s a process that Kratos finds himself on his own again in 2018’s “God of War,” which picks up after Faya’s death, leaving Kratos to deal with single parenthood and the unanswered questions she left behind. While not under the circumstances he would have ever hoped for, it gives Kratos an opportunity to rediscover himself and confront the emotions he ran away from in the previous games.
“We really focused on who he is, not in the grand scheme of mythology and things like that, but who the guy is, who Kratos is and what he’s up to and what he’s afraid of and all those trappings.” Sophos said.
Earlier God of War games offered glimpses of this more complex world going on inside Kratos, Williams said. Especially “God of War: Ghost of Sparta,” which shows a young Kratos as a caring and protective brother to Deimos, even amidst the harshness and cruelty of their Spartan upbringing.
“These 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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All three developers have expressed that after escaping to the land of the Norse gods, Kratos still deeply believes that his horrific past has forever tainted him—like his family’s ashes were cursed to stain his skin—but he doesn’t want to. his son with it too. The 2018 reboot “is really about him learning to be a better person in general,” Sophos said, “and that kind of evolves from him really taking on the mantle of being a real father, rather than someone who’s just providing the necessities for his family.” .”
The stakes are high for “God of War” in 2018. This time she doesn’t run from his grief; To ignore his mistakes would be to risk them reflecting on his son, Barlog said. He kept his own history and Atreus’ demi-divinity a secret from Atreus until Faya’s death. But faced with the fact that Atreus is growing into powers he doesn’t understand, he realizes that he must open up the sordid details of his past. This informs the main conflict at the heart of the reboot.
“It’s that idea of how much of ourselves we show our kids, especially the parts we’re not proud of, especially if those things can somehow help lead them away from the paths you’ve taken,” Sophos said. “But you’re still ashamed of them and don’t want to do it. And that was something that felt so perfect to Kratos as someone who really has a lot of things that he’s not proud of.”
There was a real-world element to this part of Kratos’ development: Barlog, Sophos, and Richard Gilbert, Sophos’ longtime writing partner and narrative designer for the series, all had young sons at the time of the reboot’s development. The parallels in their lived experiences informed how they navigated Kratos’ transition from Greek mythology to Norse mythology, and more importantly, from vengeful soldier to father again.
“I think the biggest thing we did was make Kratos known in a way that he probably wasn’t before,” Sophos said.
As Kratos travels with Atreus to fulfill his wife’s last wish of spreading her ashes atop the highest mountain in the Nine Realms, the two secure something Kratos never had in the previous games: an escort. The father-son duo stumble upon a found family dynamic with dwarf brothers Brock and Sindri and the Norse god of wisdom Mimir, which Kratos initially resists. He distances himself and refuses to refer to them by other than reductive nicknames such as “head” for Mimir (because he is a talking head). Even his own son is a “boy” instead of Atreus. But their camaraderie crumbles at these walls. Since “Ragnarok,” this prickly behavior has toned down a lot—he calls Atreuse, Mimira, and the rest of his crew by their names throughout the game.
“He depends, even if he doesn’t want to, on others,” Barlog said, returning to the well analogy again. “And the others are the muscles, the arms, on that rope that pulls him up… they help pull his human side back out of the well he’s been digging for a long time.
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Part of this development comes from the end of “God of War,” when Kratos and Atreus spread Faye’s ashes and revealed another hidden lineage. Faye was a giant, which makes Atreus half giant and half god. The prophecy reveals that Kratos is not long for this world and that Atreus, known among the giants as Loki, will somehow be involved in his death. Understandably, Atreus has questions about his lineage. Blindsided by the revelation of Fay’s past just like Atreus, Kratos must come to terms with the fact that he has no answers. This is a problem he cannot solve.
“And that’s the hardest thing for parents when you can’t give them.” [your child] what they want,” Williams said.
Plus, he knows he has to quickly prepare Atreus for a world without him, and with that awareness comes vulnerability. Struggling with his shortcomings, he struggles to come to terms with the knowledge that he must now rely on his newfound connections to fill in the gaps in Atreus’ development. That’s especially the case when it comes to channeling his emotions and managing his anger, Sophos said, because historically “when he lets that emotion out, it usually ends up in a bad place.”
The looming specter of his death is at the forefront of Kratos’ mind heading into “Ragnarok.” In order to prepare Atreus to survive in a world without him, he is forced to reckon with the shame he silently carried from Greece so that Atreus understands how to avoid making the same mistakes. Kratos doesn’t want Atreus to be like him; he wants to be better, and that means committing to his own personal growth.
“Kratos is just trying his best to guide him to the path he thinks is the safest, the path where his son will survive, even if he doesn’t,” Sophos said. “Even if you’re not a parent, you can still relate to wanting to be better for someone, you know, wanting to do right by someone and hoping for the best for someone.”