The god fa­ther

Sony Santa Mon­ica Stu­dio’s cre­ative di­rec­tor Cory Bar­log dis­cusses the chal­lenges, hur­dles, naysay­ers and tri­umphs of his at­tempt to Mod­ernise god of War as we go hands-on with the near-fin­ished ac­tion epic

Games TM - - CONTENTS -

We take an older, wiser, but no less fu­ri­ous Kratos for a spin as di­rec­tor Corey Bal­rog re­veals the chal­lenges he faced in drag­ging the god of war into a new era of gam­ing on PS4

Very few game fran­chises and even fewer he­roes in those se­ries are af­forded the op­por­tu­nity to grow or age. very few game se­ries man­age to span three gen­er­a­tions of con­soles. very few devel­op­ers are given the time and trust needed to pur­sue such evo­lu­tions. But then, very few se­ries are god of war, and very few have a lead as iconic and mag­netic as Kratos.

But times have changed, and the angsty, tor­tured, anti-au­thor­ity an­ti­hero is mov­ing with the times, much as his mak­ers have. “We as devel­op­ers here have grown,” Sony Santa Mon­ica cre­ative di­rec­tor Cory Bar­log tells us. “I per­son­ally feel a lot of par­al­lels in the fact that he left Greece and wan­dered, and I feel like I left Sony and I sort of wan­dered, and dur­ing that time I learned a lot.” Bar­log re­turned to the stu­dio in 2013 af­ter a few years away work­ing with Avalanche and Crys­tal Dynamics, hav­ing started out as an­i­ma­tion di­rec­tor on God Of War, work­ing his way up to writer and game di­rec­tor through to GOWIII be­fore he left in 2010.

“I met a lot of peo­ple and I ex­pe­ri­enced de­vel­op­ment from a lot of dif­fer­ent per­spec­tives. I ex­pe­ri­enced a lot of dif­fer­ent cre­ative voices and un­der­stand­ings,” he con­tin­ues. “Af­ter I fin­ished the Tomb Raider game, I re­alised I wanted to make some­thing that has a bit more dra­matic weight and meat on it. The ear­lier games, they had some dra­matic weight, but I think they were sort of re­flec­tive of that ‘thumb your nose at au­thor­ity’ at­ti­tude of mak­ing an an­ti­hero. There weren’t a lot of an­ti­heroes at the time. It was an in­ter­est­ing thing to tackle, and then af­ter that it was like the sec­ond Prince Of Per­sia was a darker, meaner Prince and ev­ery­one was mak­ing the an­ti­hero. So it be­came the note that ev­ery­one’s hit­ting, and not to say that we weren’t also just hit­ting a sin­gu­lar note. I think that when we started work­ing on this not only did I have in­side me the de­sire to make some­thing that meant a lit­tle bit more to me, I think ev­ery­body I was work­ing with had the ex­act same feel­ing.”

And so Kratos has been wan­der­ing. For how long we’re not sure, and Bar­log isn’t telling. In that time, how­ever, he has left Greece and trav­elled north to a strange and in some ways far more mag­i­cal realm. He at­tempted to iso­late him­self, but some­where along the way he met a woman and they had a son, and now things are a bit more com­plex again. This all feels a lit­tle more se­date and emo­tion­ally con­tained than the Kratos we once knew, but un­der­neath it all the Santa Mon­ica Stu­dio knows that what’s in­side him can­not change. “Dur­ing that time I think there’s a be­lief in his mind that he thinks he’s bet­ter off be­ing away from peo­ple, be­cause clearly when he’s around them he de­stroys en­tire pan­theons,” Bar­log re­flects. “But the re­al­ity is that I think be­ing alone with your demons does noth­ing but feed your demons. It takes him a long time to re­alise, and I think he al­most needs to hit a rock bot­tom for him­self be­fore he un­der­stands.”

We found the term ‘rock bot­tom’ to be an in­ter­est­ing one with its con­nec­tion to ad­dic­tion and re­cov­ery, and mused with Bar­log as to what de­gree he thinks that

Kratos had been hooked on his own anger like a drug.

As it turns out, it may run even deeper, as to the team’s mind all demigods come with a side ef­fect; an un­fore­seen con­se­quence of their mor­tal bod­ies car­ry­ing within them the power of a god. “Kratos’ side ef­fect [to be­ing a demigod] is this un­be­liev­able storm in­side of him,” Bar­log ex­plains. “I think that not only is it kind of this man­i­fes­ta­tion of his own phys­i­cal be­ing; it’s some­thing that he has to just live with his whole life, fig­ur­ing out how to cope and con­trol. It is kind of some­thing that he did be­come, in a way, ad­dicted to. It was the eas­ier route.”

It’s hard to be­lieve that the events of Kratos’ seven pre­vi­ous games could be de­scribed as an easy route, but Bar­log gets into the deeper psy­cho­log­i­cal mean­ing of his ob­ser­va­tion. “It seemed like he took the hard route, but the eas­i­est route is to blame other peo­ple for your prob­lems, and hon­estly that’s all he did. It was the gods, it was Ares, it was Athena, ev­ery­body else was at fault ex­cept him. His way of fix­ing it was to have them re­move the mem­o­ries of the bad things that he had done. You don’t process any­thing and you don’t get through any­thing by for­get­ting some­thing. You fig­ure out how to live with it and not make the same mis­takes to­mor­row.”

In some ways this all goes back to his Spar­tan up­bring­ing and the com­plete lack of em­pa­thy or sel­f­re­flec­tion that it in­stilled in him. “It’s sort of a cy­cle of this guy was trained in one of the most bru­tal and psy­cho­log­i­cally dam­ag­ing mil­i­tary train­ing pro­grams in the his­tory of mankind. The Spar­tans are renowned for be­gin­ning mil­i­tary train­ing at eight years old and 20 years of beat­ing down the hu­man in mak­ing the per­fect soldier,” Bar­log con­tin­ues. “For him, in the Spar­tan code, it was so bru­tal that there wasn’t any­thing about it that was, ‘Good job soldier’. It was more like all you did was find the fault to make that fault go away, and when that fault went away you found an­other fault and you stamped it down un­til that fault went away. There was no ben­e­fit to com­pli­ments, to say that you did good.” Not, we would think, a great mind­set for restart­ing life as a fa­ther, but that’s where we find Kratos as God Of War be­gins.

The re­la­tion­ship be­tween Kratos and Atreus starts out very tensely, the di­a­logue terse and drip­ping with things un­said. Emo­tions re­veal them­selves in the beats be­tween lines. It’s in the things Atreus holds back from say­ing. It’s in the way Kratos reaches out for – but never com­forts – his son. When Kratos tells Atreus curtly, “Do not be sorry. Be bet­ter,” we can’t help but won­der how com­mon that phrase might have been dur­ing mil­i­tary train­ing back in Sparta when Kratos was grow­ing up, just with­out the ‘do not be sorry’ part. It’s not a lack of love hold­ing ei­ther of them back, but per­haps fear; fear on both their parts that show­ing af­fec­tion could be a sign of weak­ness. Whether there’s more to be fear­ful about for Kratos hangs in the air. What con­se­quence could there be for the son of a demigod?

In Bar­log’s mind, the de­vel­op­ing re­la­tion­ship be­tween fa­ther and son is all part of Kratos’ re­demp­tion and re­cov­ery. “The in­ter­est­ing thing for him right now is just mak­ing those small steps, the small ‘one day at a time’ kind of move­ments,” he tells us. “They yield lit­tle vic­to­ries, and those lit­tle vic­to­ries are the things that he is cel­e­brat­ing. The abil­ity to ac­tu­ally re­late to his son and give him a de­cent com­pli­ment, tell him he did some­thing good. Be­cause re­ally, at the end of the day, that’s what Atreus wants. It’s what a lot of chil­dren want. It’s what we all want. We want to be re­spected and ac­knowl­edged and seen by our par­ents.”

Atreus’ de­sire for recog­ni­tion and re­spect from his fa­ther is clear in how he tries to help and in­ter­vene in the ac­tion through the game. As a co-op part­ner Atreus is not im­mune to at­tack and can be picked up and threat­ened, mostly by mid-level en­e­mies from what we’ve seen so far. Thank­fully, a quick punch or tap with the axe will usu­ally free him, but oth­er­wise he is a great as­set in com­bat. For in­stance, one chal­leng­ing ghoul will evade at­tacks from any range, van­ish­ing and reap­pear­ing to throw poi­son at you, but with its at­ten­tion oc­cu­pied by Kratos, Atreus can stun it with an ar­row and open it up to a di­rect as­sault from his fa­ther. In wider brawls Atreus will call out to warn you of in­com­ing at­tacks, giv­ing you a ver­bal alert to sup­ple­ment the vis­ual in­di­ca­tor. And his ar­rows do chip away at health; they’re not just for show.

“The orig­i­nal con­cept was that kind of bal­ance for Kratos, so that Kratos comes in with brute force, ex­pe­ri­ence and strength, a hulk if you will, and I think his son al­ways needed to be that bal­ance,” says Bar­log. “Even at the ear­li­est point when my son started talk­ing and I was re­al­is­ing, ‘Oh my gosh, that is some­thing. This tiny lit­tle kid has more power than I do’. My son is learn­ing Swedish

“There’s some­thing about the fan­tas­tic that I think is kind of hit­ting a dopamine but­ton that you’re go­ing to get tired of”

“Clearly when he’s around peo­ple he de­stroys en­tire pan­theons”

faster than I can learn Swedish, so now he is teach­ing me parts of the lan­guage. That kind of power dy­namic is nec­es­sary. You can’t just say he’s more pow­er­ful than Kratos. It’s more like you’re in a land in which you don’t have the abil­ity to learn the lo­cal lan­guage very eas­ily.”

So as well as as­sist­ing Kratos in com­bat, Atreus is his trans­la­tor in a strange land where he still hasn’t picked up the lan­guage. There’s magic in the runes of north­ern Europe that’s easy to see but dif­fi­cult to un­der­stand. Much of what’s been shown of this realm is cold and un­for­giv­ing; stark frozen lakes, bare trees, bar­ren and aban­doned homes. But as we got to see af­ter a cou­ple of hours of play, some­thing far more colour­ful and mag­i­cal is re­vealed. We won’t get too much into it here, but let us just say that God Of War has lost none of its de­light in the weirder side of myth and leg­end.

And much as this as­pect of the re­la­tion­ship was drawn di­rectly from Bar­log’s own life, so the rest of the stu­dio chipped in with sto­ries to help flesh out the ex­pe­ri­ence. “There are a lot of great, very real mo­ments that came from us just re­ally putting a mir­ror on our­selves and find­ing a mo­ment that doesn’t just feel like we’re just writ­ing this and throw­ing some­thing in. This has a ring of truth.” And as we say, that comes across as much in what isn’t said and in the per­for­mances the team has cap­tured.

But above all else, what was im­por­tant to Sony Santa Mon­ica Stu­dio was that Atreus should never be a bur­den to the player, let alone an an­noy­ance. “Even from the very be­gin­ning – we’re talk­ing four weeks into this when I had first come back and pre­sented a small Pow­erpoint – that was a very big point that I wanted to ham­mer home to ev­ery­body: this is not an es­cort mis­sion,” Bar­log in­sists. “This is not you con­stantly pro­tect­ing this kid; it is more like you need to fig­ure out how to make a con­nec­tion, right? A con­nec­tion that is go­ing to save you. Kratos is the one be­ing saved by his son. In a way, the son is just be­ing guided through this mile­stone in his life.”

But Bar­log ad­mits to us it’s been a hard sell to play­ers at large, and to his own team over time. “We did playtests and peo­ple just hated it, be­cause they came in and they would have that view­point that is like, ‘I just don’t want to do an es­cort mis­sion. I hate kids. I don’t want to carry a kid along with me. It’s dumb. Get rid of the kid. It doesn’t make sense’. Just a lot of doubt. But then once we got all of the me­chan­i­cal back-and-forth be­tween those two, once we got that feel­ing, the core loop of how he would be in­te­grated within your mo­ment to mo­ment com­bat ex­pe­ri­ence, it was ab­so­lutely that kind ex­cla­ma­tion mark over the soldier’s head in Metal Gear Solid [makes alarm sound from the game]. Ev­ery­body just re­alised, ‘Oh man, this is great’.” Which was very much our ex­pe­ri­ence play­ing the game as well.

And so much about the game seems like it has changed, from the set­ting to the tone to the com­bat. It all feels like a dif­fer­ent kind of ex­pe­ri­ence, and yet so much feels the same too. You can still go around smash­ing pots for re­sources, gath­er­ing health and other trin­kets from fallen en­e­mies, and chests are scat­tered around with use­ful items. Larger en­e­mies re­quire a more con­sid­ered ap­proach. Tak­ing on the fire troll, for in­stance, you can in­ter­rupt its fire-throw­ing at­tack by chuck­ing the axe into its arm. And fur­ther com­bos can be un­locked over time, for both range and close com­bat, of­fer­ing plenty of op­por­tu­ni­ties for fights to evolve and change as you progress through the game.

Ev­ery step of the way, it seems Santa Mon­ica Stu­dio has been prob­ing, ques­tion­ing and chal­leng­ing to find the right bal­ance of old and new. “I was talk­ing with some peo­ple on the first month of the project where peo­ple were say­ing, ‘I just don’t un­der­stand how we can take this more fan­tas­tic and mytho­log­i­cal world and make it a bit more per­sonal. Are we go­ing to lose the dan­ger and the spec­ta­cle?’ Bar­log re­veals. “And it was also the time I was push­ing on, ‘Let’s push the cam­era in and not let the ac­tion get very far away. Let’s never make Kratos a lit­tle speck on the screen. Let’s al­ways feel like we’re see­ing ev­ery­thing from his per­spec­tive’. I think through the dis­cus­sions the re­al­i­sa­tion is that most of the great ex­pe­ri­ences are of­ten grounded or weighted in this sort of re­lata­bil­ity. There’s some­thing about the fan­tas­tic that I think is kind of hit­ting a dopamine but­ton that you’re go­ing to get tired of, un­less it means some­thing.”

For all the changes God Of War in­tro­duces, the cam­era is re­ally the one with the most col­lat­eral ef­fects, and it’s at the heart of bring­ing the fan­tas­tic and the per­sonal to­gether. By aban­don­ing the fixed cam­era po­si­tion for an over-the-shoul­der view, we get a closer view of ev­ery­thing Kratos does. We may lose the spec­tac­u­lar shows of live com­bat from the past, but we gain an even more bru­tal and re­ward­ing van­tage point in re­turn. With the cam­era as tight to Kratos as it is, we have never been drawn closer to him than now. His im­pos­ing fig­ure, al­ways clearly mus­cu­lar, now feels al­most mon­strous next to his son. On oc­ca­sion we glimpse him as if from Atreus’ point of view, and he is ter­ri­fy­ing. And this close up we can even see the tex­ture of the ashes

that were grafted to Kratos’ skin so many years ago. The full weight of the Ghost of Sparta’s curse is more ap­par­ent now than ever.

How­ever, with the change of view comes game­play sac­ri­fices to help bridge the gap. “I was talk­ing about the new cam­era, and when we were talk­ing about if we do this new cam­era, I re­alised do­ing a jump is go­ing to be re­ally dif­fi­cult,” says Bar­log. “You can do it, but depth per­cep­tion, the nau­sea in­duc­ing of con­stant dou­ble jump­ing, you’ve got to pull the cam­era fur­ther back, and I wanted the cam­era in as close as pos­si­ble. So the same thing was go­ing through our minds with the blades, be­cause if you just said it’s Kratos with the Blades of Chaos in the Norse world, ev­ery­body is go­ing to fall back on the pat­terns of Square, Square, Tri­an­gle. Even now, we of­fer in the game an abil­ity to remap your con­trols to the clas­sic God Of War con­trols, but we chose the con­trol scheme that we chose be­cause it is, to us and to time­tested playtest­ing, the best lay­out, be­cause you want to be able to have your right thumb on the ana­logue to be able to look around at all times, and if you’re con­stantly tak­ing it off to at­tack it re­ally makes it dif­fi­cult. So I think we re­alised that it’s go­ing to be hard for peo­ple to adopt a new con­trol scheme with the same weapon. They’re not go­ing to be able to parse that. But if you throw a new weapon in with the new cam­era and new lo­ca­tion and new con­trol scheme, it’s a lit­tle bit eas­ier of a pill to swal­low.”

So from one artis­tic and nar­ra­tive de­ci­sion to bring play­ers closer to Kratos than ever, many of the sta­ples of the char­ac­ter needed to be put aside. And while you might think the blades were the hard­est thing to let go of,

Bar­log feels dif­fer­ently. “For me, it was dif­fi­cult, but once ev­ery­thing clicked with the Le­viathan Axe and the abil­ity to throw, re­call, the abil­ity to lit­er­ally throw and freeze an enemy in place, and go about your fight and re­call it later, just to me it was like, ‘Okay, I get it’,” he as­sures us. “The hard­est thing to let go of was the jump in the be­gin­ning, sim­ply be­cause I’m one of those neu­rotic jump-but­ton hit­ters, just run­ning through a game jump­ing, much to the an­noy­ance of most of the com­bat de­sign team, when I was on the ear­lier games. I just adopted a whole new thing to an­noy them, which was throw the axe into ev­ery sur­face in the en­tire game. When we would do group playthroughs where I would have ev­ery­body in the de­sign team and art team in the con­fer­ence room, I would be look­ing up at a rock or a tree limb and throw­ing the axe at it as I’m run­ning through. Peo­ple were like, ‘Stop it!’ There was a rea­son, be­cause I wanted to make sure there was col­li­sion lit­er­ally ev­ery­where, and the ear­lier you start test­ing ev­ery­thing the bet­ter, but let­ting go of the jump for me was like, ‘Am I go­ing to lose that con­stant in­put of the plat­form­ing?’.” From our ex­pe­ri­ence, the ac­tion is dif­fer­ent, but in a pleas­ing way. Com­bat is slower, but as bru­tal as ever. Chain­ing to­gether light and heavy at­tacks gives you the same kind of re­ward­ing jug­gle com­bos, crowd con­trol is as im­por­tant with larger groups, and stun­ning an enemy opens up the op­por­tu­nity for a grue­some killing blow.

The cam­era per­haps doesn’t lux­u­ri­ate in the de­struc­tion to quite the same de­gree as in the past, but that doesn’t make these mo­ments any less wince-in­duc­ing. And while the axe ap­pears for now to be the only melee weapon, you can also fight bare-handed, open­ing an­other branch of com­bos.

There’s also just more agency in the com­bat now than there was be­fore. Ev­ery move feels more de­lib­er­ate, threats come from ev­ery­where and can­not al­ways been seen. And with the cam­era in close, you’re no longer a spec­ta­tor trig­ger­ing in­cred­i­ble moves by a speck on the screen. You’re right in the thick of the ac­tion, aim­ing with L2, throw­ing with R1, dodg­ing, rolling, punch­ing and then re­call­ing with Tri­an­gle, catch­ing Drau­grs as the Le­viathan Axe re­turns to Kratos’ hand.

We only got a brief in­tro­duc­tion to the deep and branch­ing up­grade sys­tem that the game has to of­fer, too. Runes can be added to the axe that give you new spe­cial abil­i­ties, the axe it­self can be up­graded to im­prove dam­age, de­fence and many other el­e­ments by the black­smith Brok. He can also craft you new ar­mour for both Kratos and Atreus, which changes their ap­pear­ance in the game as well as of­fer­ing bet­ter stats, and he can up­grade Atreus’ bow and gen­er­ally buff your items with the re­sources you find on your trav­els. How we’ll come by him deeper into the jour­ney we’re not sure, but per­haps we’ll meet his es­tranged brother Sin­dri, or else he’ll make him­self avail­able by some other means. There’s a full map menu to ex­plore, but what we’ve seen of the early story doesn’t im­ply a lot of back-and-forth will be tak­ing place.

The cen­tral mis­sion for the pair is sim­ple enough, al­though what is driv­ing it re­mains a mys­tery, and the

force chas­ing them malevolent and un­seen. Atreus’ mother seems to have died, and they wish to take her ashes to the top of the nearby moun­tain as per her fi­nal re­quest. Kratos is con­vinced that Atreus is not ready, that he is too up­set and quick to anger (he knows a thing or two about that) to sur­vive the chal­lenges of the jour­ney, but with agents of Odin seem­ingly on their tale and want­ing some­thing from Kratos, they have no choice. Spec­tral birds called Odin’s Ravens can be spot­ted and dis­persed by the axe (one of many col­lectable items in the game), hint­ing at the Norse god’s con­tin­ued – but hands-off – in­ter­est. The lo­cal de­ity is aware of Kratos’ past and pres­ence, and that’s not go­ing to be good news.

An ex­tended fight with an un­named agent of Odin early on gives us a glimpse of the chal­lenge ahead. His speed, agility and power all seem to far out­strip Kratos, and he is ul­ti­mately beaten (per­haps not per­ma­nently) by his hubris, un­der­es­ti­mat­ing the ag­ing demigod’s will to sur­vive. Kratos barely scrapes through the con­fronta­tion, and this was boss one. The chal­lenges ahead for Kratos prom­ise to be tough, and we have to say many of the fights we en­coun­tered took a lot more thought and pa­tience than we first imag­ined.

But the spec­ta­cle of the whole thing re­mains mas­sively im­pres­sive. That the PS4 de­liv­ers good-look­ing games has stopped be­ing note­wor­thy on its own, but how Sony’s devel­op­ers are har­ness­ing that power to bring us new vi­sions con­tin­ues to im­press. For God Of War, the big vis­ual con­cept is a sin­gle-shot style that means there are no cuts from the start to the fin­ish of the game. It’s a stun­ning idea that gives the ad­ven­ture a breath­less qual­ity. “I have been chew­ing on this par­tic­u­lar con­cept for years,” Bar­log re­veals. “Even be­fore I got here I was fas­ci­nated with this idea about hav­ing a sin­gle shot all of the way through the game. We sort of started to do this in God Of War 1 where we went from the menu and went into the cine­matic and then went di­rectly into the game, and I thought that sort of seam­less­ness, the re­ac­tion from peo­ple was so pos­i­tive.”

In just a few min­utes of game­play, per­haps even in­ter­rupted by death screens and hop­ping into menus, the ef­fect may not be all that clear, but the whole re­ally de­liv­ers. “It was def­i­nitely a tough sell in the be­gin­ning, be­cause it’s not an easy task,” Bar­log ad­mits. “Even at the end of this ev­ery­body was look­ing at me say­ing, ‘We’ve put a lot of work into this. We hope it’s worth it’. Then they play the game, be­cause a lot of devel­op­ers are just so heads-down they haven’t been able to play it un­til now, and ev­ery­one comes back and says, ‘It’s un­be­liev­able. I never would have ex­pected it to mat­ter as much as it does, but it re­ally does’. Peo­ple say, ‘I didn’t even think about it, but at the end I re­alised’. It re­ally makes a dif­fer­ence. It makes you feel like you’re never taken out. None of the vo­cab­u­lary of the cam­era is forc­ing you to do some­thing or mak­ing you present or aware of it be­ing an ex­pe­ri­ence be­ing told to you. You feel like you’re Kratos.”

The ef­fect, then, is not dis­sim­i­lar from how a sin­gle shot take in a film will add some un­seen ten­sion to a scene, but get­ting it done in live ac­tion takes in­sane lev­els of plan­ning and chore­og­ra­phy, not to men­tion nail­ing ev­ery line of di­a­logue, so we won­dered what the chal­lenges were for Santa Mon­ica Stu­dio. “I think the chal­lenges are very sim­i­lar to the film en­vi­ron­ment, but our trick is that ev­ery­thing does have to link up and the player is in con­trol of cer­tain things, so we have the vari­abil­ity of these events trig­ger­ing in places that we don’t ex­pect,” con­sid­ers Bar­log. “We have to fig­ure out how to get them from where we didn’t ex­pect to where we are ex­pect­ing.”

And there are all of the cutscenes to con­sider too, the first of which Bar­log re­called for us. “The first time we went on the stage to shoot, we shot a four-minute scene that had two height changes. We had to build a small set that had tons of dif­fer­ent points that we had to touch. The ac­tors had to then pick up ob­jects, go up­stairs, and I think we had five ac­tors and this was the first one we had done. I was to­tally blind­ing my­self say­ing, ‘What­ever man, it’s go­ing to be amaz­ing and we can do this’. I hadn’t re­ally pro­cessed it com­pletely about how dif­fi­cult it was go­ing to be un­til we got onto the set and re­ally did the first take, and I re­alised it’s like a four-and-a-half minute sin­gle take with a nineyear-old ac­tor try­ing to re­mem­ber his lines, and all of the re­ally com­plex block­ing as well as the cam­era guy, Dori Arazi, the cin­e­matog­ra­pher who was run­ning around in be­tween them and try­ing to get dif­fer­ent shots.”

But clearly with time the team has man­aged to bring all of these pieces to­gether. The com­bi­na­tion of the sin­gle-take stream of view­point and the tight cam­era, along with the per­for­mances of Christo­pher Judge as

Kratos and Sunny Suljic as Atreus, is co­a­lesc­ing to give God Of War ex­actly the kind of dra­matic weight, along with its me­chan­i­cal prow­ess that Bar­log had been look­ing for. Strik­ing that bal­ance is ev­ery­thing he wanted to achieve with the game when he re­turned to Sony.

“Ev­ery game that I play, if there’s not a strong ‘why’ driv­ing me through the game, like ‘There’s just great me­chan­ics and it’s re­ally fun and you can do all of these cool things’, that’s great, but af­ter a cou­ple of hours if I don’t have a ‘why’, if I’m not in there for a rea­son, if I’m not be­ing driven by some­thing that I care about then I feel like I just lose in­ter­est,” he tells us. “It may just be me and a small sub­set of peo­ple, but I feel that the games that I’m see­ing be­com­ing pop­u­lar to­day, the ‘why’ is driv­ing a lot of peo­ple and the ‘why’ is hu­man drama. I think that while it’s per­sonal for me, it’s per­sonal in the sense that I’m pulling things from my own life in or­der to make the drama feel more real, but it is far more of a uni­ver­sal hu­man in­ter­ac­tion thing, as op­posed to be­ing placed in any kind of time pe­riod. It’s not like Kratos and Atreus are go­ing to talk about the proper Twit­ter eti­quette or any­thing like that.”

Hav­ing spent some time with the game now, we have felt the ‘why’ emerg­ing from the game and en­joyed the fresh take on the clas­sic God Of War ap­proach to com­bat and ac­tion. Now, all that re­mains is for ev­ery­one else to see that for them­selves when the game launches on 20 April 2018. It may not be the God Of War of old, it may not have the blades and it may not thumb its nose at au­thor­ity like it once did, but this new take on Kratos re­places all of those el­e­ments with some­thing just as com­pelling. As Bar­log con­cludes, “The re­al­ity is peo­ple just need to play it and re­alise that it’s a dif­fer­ent feel, but the DNA of what this fran­chise is is still there.”

“I’m one of those neu­rotic jump but­ton hit­ters, just run­ning through a game jump­ing”

Even in a bat­tle against a troll like this, Atreus can make him­self use­ful. By tap­ping away at him with ar­rows (re­quested with a press of Square) the troll can be dis­tracted long enough for Kratos to swing away at the back of his legs. Much of this...

The weapons and ar­mour of both Kratos and Atreus can be fully up­graded and mod­i­fied, giv­ing them in­creased health or perks in bat­tle. The jour­ney up to the peak of the moun­tain was go­ing to be dan­ger­ous enough, but it ap­pears that the lo­cal gods have...

Kratos has lost some of the flu­id­ity of swing­ing blades around in com­bat, but the Le­viathan Axe is a fan­tas­tic new as­set. Its ver­sa­til­ity as a ranged and close-com­bat weapon al­lows for a more tac­ti­cal style of play.

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