Sony couldn’t have found a better way to kick off its E3 press conference than with the return of Kratos. For several years now, the team at Santa Monica Studios has been working to reimagine God of War for PlayStation 4 and last night we caught our very first glimpse of what this meant. In short, it looks absolutely incredibly, standing shoulder to shoulder with Uncharted 4, Horizon, and a growing stable of visually astounding games exclusive to the platform.
Beneath that veil lies a game remarkably different from its predecessors. Up until now, God of War has built itself on combo-busting brawls and boss fights on a titanic scale. From what we’ve seen of the sequel, however, it’s far more measured in its approach and, dare we say, a bit toned down.
Somehow, after the constant death and betrayal of the Greek pantheon, Kratos finds himself in a completely new paradigm. We’re not given any indication as to how many years have gone by or where this sequel actually takes place, though his surroundings echo the frozen reaches of the viking realm. Having felled every deity he ever crossed paths with, Kratos had seemingly destroyed the world around him. Perhaps this is Kratos hundreds of years later, with the world renewed and teeming with life once more?
Either way, the new God of War looks to take a similarly drastic change in direction with its characters and story-telling. At the very beginning of the stage demo we’re introduced to Kratos’s son, the two of them trekking through the snow-covered forests.
Whether by design or an unfinished script, interactions between the two seem awkward and stiff. It’s strangely redolent of relationship between Joel and Ellie in The Last of Us, yet there’s a key difference. Kratos still carries the burden of godhood, not to mention the deaths of his wife and daughter among the thousands he’s slain. Since birth, he’s been forged into nothing more than a weapon, a vessel of the Gods he used to serve. Even now, amidst biting winds and snow-covered mountains, there’s a burning rage he fights to suppress.
As Sony Santa Monica’s Cory Barlog explains, this inner struggle is key to the unfolding narrative. In the demo we see Kratos attempt to diffuse his anger on several occasions, something God of War fans simply aren’t used to. Looking back at previous games, almost every line of dialogue is yelled, barked, or somehow drenched in fury, but here he desperately tries to reign himself in, so he can tutor his son in the art of hunting.
In a way, this carries through into gameplay. Although not indicative of the full game, the demo shows Kratos going head-to-head against one or two opponents at a time, and the over the shoulder third person view accentuates the shift away from massive battles of earlier instalments. Additionally, he comes with a magical axe in hand, in lieu of blades on chains to swing around him in a whrilwind of death. His penchant for over-the-top violence has also been dialled down. Instead of tearing limbs and spraying viscera, kills are carried out in a very matter-of-fact way with nothing too excessive or gory.
Despite enjoying a welcome return to the PlayStation family, God of War is shrouded by an air of unfamiliarity. Seeing Kratos in such a different light is a little disjointed, though not enough to dispel my overall excitement for the sequel.