It’s all Greek to Me - What Has Sony Done to the God of War Series?
Post by Steve Farrelly @ 03:25pm 01/08/16 | Comments
We take a look at Santa Monica Studios' new beginning for God of War and ask why Kratos needed to leave his world, for another...
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I wanted this to be a preview of sorts, but I’m too angry to really follow through with the original plan. Instead, I’m going to throw myself into the Sony fanboy line of fire once again, and vent about the new God of War.
Why is a Greek god now a Norse god? Let’s think about this for a minute. There have been three (main) God of War games (seven overall though), and in all of them the spine of the experience has been about the Greek gods and Kratos’ war against them. He’s a Spartan. Written brilliantly into established Greek mythology. It didn’t need to change, and there’s still so much of that lore that could be explored and expanded upon, if Kratos really needed a new game. But no, now he’s the father of a heavily American-voiced Scandinavian boy, living in Norway and teaching him how to hunt.
Let’s get a few things out of the way first. Naturally, Kratos is awesome and the God of War series is, and has been, fantastic. Creating a game about Norse gods in as violent a fashion as the God of War series is also a very cool idea, but marrying the two really doesn’t make sense. It’s been suggested that because multiple belief systems coexisted in history (and to this day), that it’s largely plausible that Kratos could have left the Greek isles at the close of God of War III and found his way to Norway where Norse gods walked the Earth, in much the same way they did in the traditional God of War series. But I don’t buy it. It’d be like setting Nathan Drake’s next adventure in space, because now he’s an astronaut, or something.
What presents itself here is a game that was potentially being pitched out as a new IP where Kratos was brought on board to make it marketable. At least that’s what I’m seeing. Of course I could be wrong and Kratos and the God of War namesake have always been at the heart of this new concept, but either way the very nature of Kratos being able to look Thor in the eye isn’t an easily digestible spin. This is based purely on the back of how established his previous game-world is, and how deeply the studio explored the narrative tilt of creating their own god for Greek mythology, and for him to get in there and fuck everyone’s shit up.
Now you could argue that’s what they’re doing here, but by ignoring what they did so well in the first place, and replicating it in new and unique ways is a misstep in my opinion. Throughout any of the previous games, no gods from outside of Greek mythology have been seen. Moreover, God of War wasn’t always about gods and Titans, it was also about the human stories that helped flesh out the Greek mythology the studio so perfectly co-opted; it was about the monsters and magic that all coalesce to build out one of the most imaginative mythologies in human history. Santa Monica Studios has been so deep in this stuff, it makes sense they’d want to shed that golden fleece and work on something new, but by bringing Kratos across, they’ve hamstrung themselves from a narrative perspective, and have missed the opportunity to create another new and equally compelling character.
It’s not just in the character and setting, either. That this ‘God of War’ is more of a gameplay departure from the rest of the series also helps feed the unnatural fit here. Sure, games need to evolve, but if you’ve had a specific formula work for you for seven-odd games, switching it up can become a foreign affair. It’s not even the original voice-actor playing Kratos either, so in reality there’s already enough evidence to suggest Kratos should have been retired at the destruction of Olympus. Or, that his story should have continued in Greece and that any new game set around Norse mythology -- which is an equally awesome belief system, mind -- should have started with an entirely original, new character to take Santa Monica Studios’ new gameplay and narrative ideas forward.
Moreover, disparate design can be seen throughout here. Adopting new pseudo RPG progression by way of things like the “Knowledge Gained” system is fine, but it hardly feels fitting for a character like Kratos. And while the new third-person over-the-shoulder camera system brings us closer to the action, it breaks the familiar God of War gameplay we’ve mastered over the years. Obviously there is nothing wrong with changing the way a game, or series plays -- you don’t want a franchise to go stagnant, but the point I’m making here is a lot of this feels like it was being designed with another character in mind. Though it could just be my own sour grapes, which I’m willing to admit I have.
For full transparency, I will play the shit out of this game. But I don’t have to like that it’s a differently-voiced Kratos trouncing around in not Greece with a son. After all, vengeance was the central theme of the previous games driven around the idea that Kratos was tricked by Ares to kill his own family. The concept that he would now be calm and cool enough to just go to the north and find a new love and family, and religion, doesn’t sit well. And the final events of God of War III left plenty for the team to explore in Kratos’ original world. Redemption is a great idea given his rage, and the theme in this ‘new beginning’ of sorts, being his commandment of that rage, is also fitting for the series, but the new setting is both alien and unnatural in the grand scheme of our Spartan demigod.
I’ll likely be proven wrong, and lynched by those fan-peeps I mentioned at the start, but for mine, Kratos is a true son of Greece and taking on an entirely new (old) mythology doesn’t need a fish out-of-water story, nor a character who doesn’t fit said mythology to work. I would have just as easily fallen in love with a fictional Norse god, created in the same vein as Kratos, for this new adventure. Carrying him over, at this point, just feels like the safer, less creative option.