Divinity and Design, Comparing Santa Monica's God of War to Its Ancient Inspiration - The Monstrous and the Missing
Welcome back to the final part of this series, wherein I compare the design choices Santa Monica made in the God of War franchise to the ancient Greek myths they are based on. In the previous parts, I have discussed the Olympians, their predecessors, and their progeny. This time, however, we will be looking at the monstrous creatures and bellowing beasts of myth, along with some of the missed opportunities not implemented.
To begin with, let's look at the beasties! Though I could complain about the many, many enemies fought in the series, as they ignore the source material almost completely, I do understand the need for standard enemies in games, so it’s fine. I will, however, point out a few special cases I either really liked or simply could not understand!
To start things off, a positive. In God of War: Ascension, we spend a lot of time in the prison of the Furies as we piece together past events. The prison itself, while impressive in its own right, is actually built on and around the Hekatonkheires, the first beings hunted by the vengeful sisters! The Hekatonkheires themselves were many-faced, armed, eyed, and well, everythinged creatures born of Uranus and Gaia. Uranus, disliking their whole many-limbed look, decided to do what any sensible father would do and pushed the newborns deep into the earth, their earth-mother’s womb. Yikes.
Exploring a city built onto a creature so big and vast is a cool concept and one I personally enjoyed, even if it deviates from the original myth where the Hekatonkheires were banished to Tartarus. They did pop out every now and again to aid one god or another, but in general, they did little in myth, so having them have a prominent role, if only as a structure, is an interesting approach.
In addition to the Furies, another famous group of sisters is the Fates (or Moirai). These three sisters are responsible for the Thread of Fate, weaving, measuring, and finally cutting the strands of life for all things, be they god, mortal, or in-between. In the original Greek, these three sisters take the form of young-ish women and are not considered evil or malicious as such. They mostly do their duty as the keepers of fate, excluding a few whoopsies here or there. However, in the God of War mythos, things are somewhat different. Each of the sisters has a rather monstrous appearance, with the youngest, Clotho, looking like something from a H.P. Lovecraft novel. These beings are neither neutral nor passive, as they actively toy with the lives of mortals and take pride in their work to the point of arrogance. Ironically enough, their goading and continuous taunting are big motivators for the anger management issue that is Kratos, bringing about their inevitable downfall.
The Gorgons are an interesting one. We all know the tale of Medusa, the snake-haired serpentine woman who could turn anyone she looked at to stone, but did you know the actual Gorgons may not have been similar in appearance? While the serpentine body is a common feature, the original Gorgons of myth had boar tusks, wings, bronze claws, and not a snakey hair to be found. Medusa was not originally a Gorgon, you see, as Athena changed her into one due to one of Poseidon's amorous escapades, keeping her beautiful face as it was but replacing her hair with snakes. Because that's what gods do, I guess? Anyway, it’s a shame the Gorgon enemies rely so heavily on this common design instead of embracing the “actual” history! In my humble opinion, a snake demon with tusks and wings would be a more credible threat than buxom snakes.
Finally, let’s discuss the oddity that is Cerberus. Being one of the most well-known monsters of Greek myth, the three-headed hound of hell is an icon of the Underworld and its sullen lord. Or at least it should be. In the God of War series, for whatever reason, it is Ares who is paired with the guardian of Hades, featuring prominently in the War God’s armour. This decision is honestly baffling, as the connection between Cerberus and Hades is so prominent and, I’d like to think, common knowledge. In addition to the weird pairing, I feel the poor puppy is not given the respect they deserve; unlike the other children of Typhon and Echidna, such as the Hydra, poor Cerberus is relegated to the role of normal enemy, possibly recurring boss if they’re lucky. This is patently unfair, as the fluffer is indeed a powerful and dangerous beast worthy of a serious encounter, not to mention not being numerous and ineffectual. Shame on you, Santa Monica, shame! If you are having a hard time agreeing with me, I will remind you that Cerberus pups are a common enemy in the franchise.
In this final chapter of my ranting and raving, we will look to the gods and mortals completely forgotten or replaced in the Santa Monica mythos. In a game spanning the “greatest hits” of ancient Greece, it is weird to know these opportunities were missed.
Of the Olympic gods, most are present in some fashion, but there are two that are not seen or mentioned at all to my knowledge: Hestia and Dionysos. Hestia is understandable, as the goddess of the hearth can be a bit difficult to fit into your murdery action game. Even more so, as Hestia actually conceded her spot in the “12 gods of Olympus” to the next god on our list. In short, forgoing Hestia is understandable, but not using the ever-revelling party god Dionysos, god of wine, theatre, and insanity, is a strange choice indeed! I can imagine multiple uses for the god, from recurring aid or menace for Kratos to a side character to showcase the ever-growing madness of the gods. Just imagine challenging him to a drink-off! Sadly, it is not to be, and we are poorer for it.
Another case of odd godly decisions is the use of the twin gods Artemis and Apollo. Artemis, the goddess of the chaste and the chase, is even heard and seen (though only as a ghostly face) in the original God of War. She even gives you her blade to wield but is absent henceforth from both the game and the lore. It’s a shame, as seeing her interact with Kratos could have been interesting, as our surly Spartan uses quite a few ranged weapons the goddess of the Hunt could appreciate. On the other hand, with the series’ reputation, it may be a good thing the two never meet, as Artemis’ chastity may have been at risk.
Out of all the gods, the absence of Apollo is simply something I cannot understand. There is a gigantic statue of the guy we fight our way through! God of prophecy, the lyre, and the sun, having Apollo around to point Kratos in the right direction or having his gift of prophecy slowly become corrupt could have added a bit of weight to the narrative. Additionally, we could have had a rhythm-based mini-game facing the god in a rock-off extravaganza! But, alas, for whatever reason, the Golden God was completely replaced with the likes of Helios, of whom I have raved enough.
On the mortal side of things, there are a few iconic Greek heroes I was very surprised we never actually met on our epic journey. From the punchable face of Bellerophon to the solemn tale of Orpheus, there are many wells that Santa Monica left untapped.
Let’s start off with a slightly more obscure one, Bellerophon. A demigod son of Poseidon, this hero was known for both taming and riding the winged horse, Pegasus — technically his half-brother. A brave and good soul, Bellerophon did much to help his fellow man, slaying the Chimera, among other deeds. As the Pegasus itself is in the game, I wonder why the “owner” is not. This is doubly odd, as the tale of this hero comes to a tragic end when he tries to fly up to the gods on Olympus to take his “rightful place”, only to be struck down by an angry Zeus. Sound familiar?
Another odd exclusion is that of the famed musician Orpheus, who stars in one of the sadder tales of Greek Myth. This golden-tongued singer and player of the lyre may not seem like a good match to the burly and violent Kratos, but consider how the bard has not only gone to Hades’ domain but also left it alive! All to retrieve the shade of his beloved wife. I think there was potential there to compare the bard and the barbarian in their quests and possibly explore their motivations and methods, if not round out Kratos’ character a bit like they tried to do in Ascension. That or have a maddened Orpheus assault the deadly demigod on his multiple trips to and from the realm.
On the topic of fighting, Achilles is another hero I was shocked does not appear! Being touted as one of the most deadly warriors of Greek history, in addition to being nigh invulnerable, makes this dashing spearman prime boss fight material in my eyes. Just imagine fighting Achilles in a fast-paced duel where you need to manoeuvre the battle to gain the advantage and strike his vulnerable heels! Another connecting point between the leader of the Myrmidons and our sour Spartan is their shared hatred of the gods and their “meddling”.