Intended as a soft reboot to the popular series, God of War will once again star Kratos as the main protagonist. His son will also play a large part in the game, accompanying our bearded hero as you hunt monsters throughout a range of varied environments. The game has ditched its focus on Greek mythology, now turning its eye to the weird and wonderful world of Norse Mythology.
While we haven't seen much from God of War since E3 2016, we recently learned that shooting for the game has wrapped up, according to game director Cory Balrog.
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Well, Santa Monica has taken a brave step, essentially stripping back everything that God of War has become – a series of giant, jaw-dropping set-piece battles rendered in gorgeous detail – to offer up a slower, more considered narrative. And early signs indicate that it could be all the better for it.
Listening to game director Cory Barlog talk through an extended version of the E3 demo in a behind-closed-doors presentation, it’s clear that the changes aren’t a result of half-hearted decision-making; the entire game was overhauled.
“This is kind of a re-imagining of God of War, this idea of taking all the pieces that make up the game, pulling them apart and putting them on the floor and really evaluating everything.”
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This new path for God of War is set in Norse mythology, but it was very close to being set in an entirely different universe altogether, according to Barlog.
“Every mythology was on the table. Very quickly as we started to discuss ideas and hone in on the central theme; two mythologies became the leading contenders.”
Alongside Norse, Egyptian mythology was a frontrunner. According to Barlog, at least half of the team of 12 supported it and put forward superb reasons for going down that road. “For me, as I looked at both of those, Egyptian mythology was about the Pharaohs as representatives, as embodiments of the gods on earth, and is far more about civilisation and is less bearing. At this time, we really wanted to focus on Kratos and his son,” Barlog adds.
As the demo boots up, the first big change that you’ll have noticed from the trailer is Kratos himself, who’s much older and more rugged, sporting a beard – something that’s become as fashionable in games as it has among hipster white “dudes”. But Balrog confirms this is a continuation of the God of War narrative, with the Greek mythology seen as “chapter one”, and while this isn’t strictly God of War 4, Kratos still has “a long way to go”.
Surprisingly, he also has a son, with the relationship between the two forming the crux of the narrative. Watching Kratos be as harsh and ruthless in fatherhood as he was in life is tough to swallow. Seeing him refer to this sweet child as nothing but “boy” reminds you of this merciless killer’s past.
We follow the two on a hunt, another opportunity for Kratos to teach his son how to live in this harsh world full of countless creatures ready to pounce and kill at any moment. Once control is in the hands of the player, another notable change is the camera.
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The God of War series has always used a fixed camera position to bring greater scope to the gorgeous set-pieces, but doing so increased the draw distance and dragged the player away from the action and, more importantly, Kratos. To tell a more connected story, Barlog notes this had to change.
“There was a huge discussion about the inclusion of the player-controlled camera during the early phases of this project. The cinematic camera was a big part of God of War.” The decision to change wasn’t taken lightly: “We want to tell Kratos’ personal story, we want to dig in deeper into Kratos as a character; if Kratos is a tiny character on-screen, we’re not experiencing things from his perspective,” says Barlog.
Naturally, the new camera led to other changes as well, most notably how Kratos moves through the environment. In the behind-closed-doors demo, we’re given a snippet of some of the branching paths Kratos can take in the forest, which include routes to secrets and collectibles.
Barlog and his team also highlight things that occur in the environment, which could easily go unnoticed – such as birds fleeing from an area you’re about to explore, warning the player of a disturbance, which we later discover to be the giant troll.
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Getting the opportunity to explore more of this demo allowed me to see just how stunningly detailed it is, but Barlog was asked and confirmed this is running on a PS4, not the much-rumoured PS4 Neo. To achieve visuals such as this is quite an achievement, and makes the mind boggle about what could be achieved on the more powerful machine – but the Santa Monica director wouldn’t go into details on that.
Watching the interactions between Kratos and his son presents an incredibly interesting dynamic. Some may prefer to see the god-killer ripping the bottom jaws off every enemy he comes across, but seeing this paternal side adds a new dimension to a character I’ve grown up with – and makes him interesting once again.
He continues to be angry, of course, demanding his son be better rather than sorry when letting a deer escape the hunt, and even having a new “God Rage” ability that boosts all his attributes to take on enemies.
The relationship between father and child in a harsh and unforgiving world feels as if it’s taken straight from The Last of Us, but with Kratos we have a character who has already undergone a tremendous journey that we’ve witnessed.
Barlog remarks that this is where the similarities between the two end, with the kid a controllable character in God of War, able to perform contextual actions at the push of a button following an order from Kratos, firing weapons at targets during combat. He’ll also help to solve puzzles, too.
We then see Kratos in battle for the first time, against a group of lava-blooded woodland beasts. It’s here we see his new weapon: an ice-imbued axe. In the demo, there appears to be a notable pause between each of Kratos’ strikes, giving battles a slower pace and less of a button-mashing feel. Kratos can also throw his axe and pin enemies against walls, recalling the axe to his palm at will.
There was a distinctly Thor-like feel to the way Kratos wielded the axe, leading me to dream wildly about the potential for a Kratos vs Thor, hammer vs axe set-piece that I just know Santa Monica could realise better than my own imagination ever could.
We get a brief glimpse of some of the set-pieces God of War will bring on PS4 with Kratos’ encounter against the troll on the ice-covered lake, but Cory Barlog tells us this isn’t even a boss fight in the main game.
Some may wish to simply see more of the same God of War, but with pretty PS4 graphics, but I for one am delighted with the new direction the series is taking. To still get all the same incredible set-pieces anchored by a decent narrative and a better connection to Kratos can only be a good thing.
Santa Monica always delivers some of the generation’s best-looking games, and looks set to continue to do so, with even the brief glimpse we saw at E3 blowing everything that’s come before out of the water.
As long as the “boy” doesn’t prove a hindrance to gameplay, I’m all in for Dad of War.