God Of War
All right, Mr Odin, I’m ready for my closeup
God Of War has changed. Kratos has grown a beard, and sprung a child; he has travelled, soul searching, and ended up in Scandinavia at a time when, awkwardly for a man who just wants to be left alone, the Norse pantheon of gods looks down from on high. Yet it’s the new perspective that represents the most transformative change. Previously positioned high above the action to accommodate Kratos’ swirling combo strings tearing into enemies, the camera now sits tightly over the god-killer’s shoulder.
While born in part from Sony Santa Monica’s desire to make this a more personal, reflective tale than games past, it’s also a decision taken from a gameplay perspective, recognising that after over a decade’s worth of games cut from such similar cloth, Kratos needed to change – and a bit of on-trend facial fuzz wasn’t quite going to cut the mustard. “We needed to shake things up,” creative director Cory Barlog tells us, recalling the early days of pre-production when a dozen Santa Monica staff – many of whom, like Barlog, were veterans of the first
God Of War – began kicking around ideas. “Of the 12 of us, six liked the cinematic cameras, and six thought we should change them. I knew I wanted a very personal story for Kratos: I wanted to go deeper into what makes Kratos tick. And to do that, I felt we had to be up close – as close as we possibly could be.”
Inevitably, given the divide in opinion, this took a while. Barlog would be shown a build, say the camera needed to be closer, then return a few days later to find it was still too far out. “Finally I annoyed Jason McDonnell, the lead combat designer, enough that he used some colourful language to tell me to go away,” Barlog laughs. “He said, ‘Don’t come by my desk for two days.’ I expected to go back and have him show me this really wide shot and say it was the best we could do. He’d gone even closer than I wanted it.”
It was worth the effort, since it fixes this series’ longest-standing mechanical problem. For all the guts and the gore, God Of War’s combat has lacked weight, Kratos’ twirling chains passing uninterrupted through enemies, viewed from 100 feet in the sky. Things would bleed and fall apart, but you never really felt like you were the one that made it happen. From this closer perspective, you can see, almost feel every blow connect. Still, there’s a reason most games in this genre are viewed from a more distant angle. Crowd control, from this close in, is sure to be an issue. The ice axe Kratos uses in our demo can be swung as a melee weapon, or flung and recalled at any time, even if you used it to pin an enemy to a wall in the intro and are fighting the final boss. The game’s other weapons will need to meet similar needs if this risky endeavour is to prove a success.
Yet perhaps the biggest risk is Kratos’ son. While an ideal vehicle for a more personal story, it risks diluting that which defines God Of War: fans, after all, like Kratos because he rips the heads off gods, not for the stern ticking-off he gives his offspring for scaring off a stag during a hunt. Barlog recently had his first child. Does he worry he might be putting too much of himself into the new Kratos – a Kratos players don’t necessarily want? “Our lives shape everything we do,” he says. “Whether you create fantasy or science fiction, if it comes from no place of truth, it’s empty. The audience may not be asking for Kratos to have a kid; I don’t think the audience asked for Kratos to begin with. They don’t know what they want until they see it. I personally don’t think creative people can over-project. It’s not possible.” Here’s hoping Barlog Jr never messes up on a hunting trip.
“I wanted to go deeper into what makes Kratos tick. To do that, we had to be up close”