Dad of War: The Classic Road Trip

While I never heard the classic line, “Are we there yet,” I did hear almost every single other variation of that thought while taking turns playing through the new God of War game with my roommates. My first experience with a road trip reference was when the game had just finished the opening sequence, as Kratos, the player character, and his son, Atreus, set out from their home. After a hunting trip and a brutal fight between Kratos and the game’s main villain, Kratos and Atreus head out to sprinkle Faye’s, Kratos’ wife and Atreus’ mother, ashes on the highest peak in all the realms of Norse mythology. Barely even a minute’s walk from their cabin, Atreus asks how much further it is until they get there. Classic.

Despite the fact that this game is the latest in a sequence of God of War games characterized by brutal, bloody fights that Kratos hacks his way through, this one takes a much more nuanced tone, in both combat and plot. There are still moments where you must brutalize a swarm of enemies before you can move on, but the swarms are smaller and the combat is focused much more on combos, abilities, and defensive style fighting, such as parries and dodges. Kratos is still every bit the badass he was in the other games, but one of the major themes of this game is Kratos attempting to control the rage that once defined him. He no longer uses the Chaos Blades he is known for, instead wielding the Leviathan Ax that previously belonged to his wife. It is clear that, as part of his move from Greece to the undisclosed parts of the Norse realm, he set aside much of his past in order to build a new life. This is a main part of the story, so saying anything further would be a spoiler. Instead, I’m going to end by saying that you really get an in-depth look into the character of Kratos, the god of war who tried to leave his past behind but now must come to terms with it as it begins to impact his present.

Since Kratos’ entire past is kept a secret beyond such details as the fact that he wasn’t born anywhere near where the game takes place, his son has very little idea of who his father is. Early dialogue and cutscenes show that Kratos clearly loves his son, but keeps him at arm’s length and is not terribly supportive or affectionate with Atreus. When Atreus is upset about his mother’s passing, Kratos does little to comfort him. After Atreus kills his first human, Kratos gives him the direct but not terribly helpful advice to “close your heart to it.” Atreus is a young boy and Kratos is entirely unsure of how to interact with him. Given Kratos’ past–the death of his first wife and son is what set him on the path to eventually become the god of war he is today–it makes a certain amount of sense that he would have trouble connecting with Atreus, at least in a way that Atreus desires given that he is not being raised in the Spartan culture that Kratos was. The very first extended gameplay you get beyond a few action cutscenes and walking bits is Kratos taking Atreus on a hunt for the first time. He starts it out by asking if Atreus was taught to hunt, making it clear he hasn’t been very involved in Atreus’ upbringing.

At the same time, it is made very clear that Kratos loves Atreus dearly, even if he has difficulty showing it. He tries to reach out to his son, to comfort him, but hesitates. He hides the scars on his arms from the world by keeping them wrapped in bandages, so it makes sense that he’d be afraid to touch his son for fear of hurting him since that’s all he’s used his hands for since his first family died. The first time he gives into his once-defining rage is when the main villain has gotten Kratos stuck in a crevice and says that he’s going to go check out what Kratos is hiding in his cabin. The villain doesn’t know it, but Atreus is hiding beneath the floorboards of the house and Kratos absolutely loses it when the villain inadvertently threatens his son. You see it again and again, and he even says it as you walk around the world in the later parts of the game. He would do whatever it took to keep Atreus alive. Throughout the game, as they walk around and go on adventures together, it becomes clear just how much Kratos loves his son and, as they start to get to know each other, how close they will become as they learn to understand each other. This was my favorite part of the game, watching a father and son bond as they traveled for a common purpose.

Speaking of their common purpose, the game sets up the classic God of War arc. It does an excellent job of re-framing the Norse mythology is a way that lends itself well toward the “kill all the gods” pattern of the past God of War games. The Norse gods are, for the most part, depicted as unrepentant assholes who keep stepping on the other races as they do whatever pleases them. Some of them are pretty messed up by their upbringing, like the villain, but most of them are simply jerks. While the game is focused around Kratos and Atreus being hunted down by the main villain for reasons that aren’t made clear until the end–and even then it’s all supposition on the part of Kratos and Atreus–the story makes it clear that there is much more to come. There’s even a secret ending that hints at what the sequel will hold. If the sequels are all as good as this one, I eagerly await them.

If you want a good RPG with a lot of fun fights, excellent character development, a fun plot, and a gorgeous world full of a variety of activities, I definitely suggest picking up God of War. The kicker is that the game was only released on the PS4, so you also need access to one of those. I don’t know that the game is worth buying a PS4, but I think it’s a good enough reason to upgrade to a PS4 if you need a new blu-ray or DVD player as well.

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