God of War: The developers of the series explain the evolution of Kratos

The creators of God of War discuss the themes that animate the iconic protagonist: brutality, fatherhood and redemption.

(Illustration by Washington Post; Sony Interactive Entertainment)

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This story contains spoilers for the God of War games for the entire series, with the exception of “God of War Ragnarok”

In the pantheon of video game protagonists, Kratos is up there with Mario and the Master Chief. The original “God of War” in 2005 introduced players to the ruthless Spartan warrior shaped by ferocity and haunted by his past. Subsequent titles in the 2000s and early 2010s saw Kratos carve a bloody path through Greek myths. The narrative in these early games often took a back seat to theatrical boss fights and brutal fights. At their best, these games portray a deeply troubled man coming to terms with the monster he has become; at worst, they cement Kratos as a caricature of barbarism.

2018’s “God of War” rebooted the series and marked the beginning of a more serious take on the brutal antihero, which was met with near-universal acclaim for his portrayal of themes of fatherhood and redemption.

“I think a lot of people come in [to the reboot] it seemed that Kratos was a pretty irredeemable character, “said Matt Sophos, narrative director for the latest installment of the series,” God of War Ragnarok. ” [‘Ragnarok’]you know, we have evolved it, hopefully, in the eyes of most people.

Longtime fans were quick to describe the franchise’s tonal shift as Kratos’ “decodification”; the change corresponded to the introduction of his son, Atreus, accompanying 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 for their character. “Ragnarok” producer Cory Barlog e director Eric Williams, two of the protagonists of God of War from day one, he said in an interview with the Washington Post that the reboot has marked less of a new direction and more Kratos returning to square one. Sophos echoed this sentiment, noting that Kratos’ character has always been defined by his relationship with fatherhood.

“This was sort of an opportunity for us to really examine parts of parenthood that we had never seen before because in the latest series, his being a father and husband is what led to a journey of revenge,” said Sophos.

As shown in a flashback in the original “God of War,” the death of Kratos’ wife and daughter set the events of the series in motion, the first victims of a series of betrayals that define his character’s arcs. After rising through the ranks to become a general, Kratos orders an army of soldiers to lay siege to Sparta’s enemies. But when his forces are overwhelmed in battle, Kratos promises his life to Ares, the god of war, to turn the tide. Ares tricks Kratos into breaking his last remaining connection with his humanity, his family, which Kratos slaughters with blind rage as he plunders in the name of the god.

Once he realizes what he has done, Kratos is overcome with pain. Distraught and vengeful, Kratos serves the other Olympians, who promise him an escape from his torment. But after obeying their command for years and finally slaughtering Ares himself, he realizes this was yet another trick. The alliances he makes with titans, denizens of the underworld, and other deities in his quest for revenge all end in the same way: in a trail of destruction and slaughtered enemies that brings Kratos no closer to finding peace.

While unblinkingly advancing through all of this, Kratos is not as aloof from atrocities as he appears in these early games.

“He’s very aware that he wasn’t the good guy in his story,” Sophos said.

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By the end of “God of War III”, Kratos is clearly giving in after facing betrayal after betrayal while serving the gods of his homeland. He discovers the horrible truth of his lineage: That 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 that bond he begins to develop hope that he may finally be able to forgive himself, only to see her die as Zeus teases him for not being managed to save anyone who approaches him.

After finally defeating Zeus, Kratos is at his lowest point, Barlog said. The restart of “God of War” takes place an unspecified number of years later, after Kratos built a family in the land of the Norse gods with his wife, another 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 as much as his newfound paternity:

“Kratos at the end of ‘God of War III’ fell into an exceptionally deep pit within himself, a pit 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 into that pit. And Faye was the first person to throw a rope. She started the process in concert with him, together, to get out of that pit. “

This is a process that 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 between single parenting and the unanswered questions she left to herself. shoulders. While it’s not in circumstances he would ever have hoped for, this gives Kratos the opportunity to rediscover himself and deal with the emotions he ran 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 thing, but just who the guy is, who Kratos is and what he’s been through and what he’s afraid of, and all that trappings, Sophos said.

Early God of War games offered glimpses of this more complex world taking place within Kratos, Williams said. Notably “God of War: Ghost of Sparta”, which shows a young Kratos as a caring and protective brother of Deimos even amidst the harshness and cruelty of their Spartan upbringing.

“Those parts were always inside him to do good, to do the right thing, it’s just that people broke him and when he broke, he couldn’t face his own guilt,” Williams said.

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All three developers have claimed that Kratos, after escaping to the land of the Norse gods, still firmly believes that his horrible past has stained him forever – as his family’s ashes have been cursed to stain his skin – but not. he wants to contaminate his son with that 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 role of a real father rather than someone who just provided the necessary for his family. “

The stakes in 2018’s “God of War” are high. There is no escape from his pain this time; to ignore his failures would be to risk seeing them reflected in his son, Barlog said. Until Faye’s death, he had kept his history and the Atreus demi-deity a secret from Atreus. But faced with the reality of Atreus becoming a power he doesn’t understand, she realizes that he must open up to the sordid details of his past. This informs the main conflict in the middle of the restart.

“It’s the idea of ​​how much of ourselves we show our children, especially the parts we’re not proud of, especially if these things can somehow help them pull them off the paths you’ve taken,” Sophos said. “But you are still ashamed of them and you don’t want to. And it was something that seemed 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’ longtime partner and a narrative designer for the series, all had young children around the time of the reboot development. The parallels in their lived experiences informed how they went through Kratos’ transition from Greek to Norse mythology and, more importantly, from a vengeful soldier to a father once again.

“I think the most important thing we did was to make Kratos recognizable in a way that it probably wasn’t before,” Sophos said.

As Kratos travels with Atreus to fulfill his wife’s last wish to scatter his ashes atop the highest peak of the nine realms, the two secure something Kratos has never had in previous games: an entourage. The father-son duo stumbles upon a family dynamic found with dwarf brothers Brock and Sindri and the Norse god of wisdom Mimir, a development that 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). His son is also a “boy” instead of Atreus. But their camaraderie affects these walls. With “Ragnarok”, that stinging behavior has noticeably softened: he calls Atreus, Mimir, and the rest of his team by their names throughout the game.

“He relies, as much as he doesn’t want to be, on others,” Barlog said, revisiting the well analogy. “And those others are the muscles, the hands, on that rope that’s pulling him out … they’re helping pull the human side of him out of a pit he’s been digging for a long time.”

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Part of this development dates back to the end of “God of War”, when Kratos and Atreus spread Faye’s ashes and discover another hidden lineage. Faye was a giant, which makes Atreus half giant and half god. A prophecy reveals that Kratos is not long in this world and that Atreus, known as Loki among the giants, will somehow be involved in his death. Understandably, Atreus has questions about his lineage. Kratos, taken aback by the revelation of Faye’s past as much as Atreus, must reconcile with the fact that she has no answers. This is a problem he cannot solve.

“And that’s the hardest part for a parent when you can’t give it to them [your child] whatever they want, “Williams said.

Plus, he knows he must quickly prepare Atreus for a world without him, and with that knowledge comes vulnerability. She is grappling with his flaws in him and trying to make peace knowing that now he must rely on his new connections to fill the gaps in Atreus’ development. This is especially true when it comes to channeling his emotions into him and managing anger, Sophos said, since historically “when he lets that emotion out, he usually goes to a bad place.”

The looming specter of his death is in the front of Kratos’ mind heading towards “Ragnarok”. To prepare Atreus to survive in a world without him, he is forced to deal with the shame he has endured quietly since the days of 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 committing himself to his own personal growth.

“Kratos is just doing his best to guide him on what he sees as the safest way, the way his son will survive, even if he won’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 good for someone and hoping for the best for someone.”

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