From the Top - God of War Part 2
A new game comes out, it receives phenomenal reviews, and, to top it all off, it's chosen as game of the year! For any self-respecting gamer, these are pretty strong incentives to give the game a go! Two problems, however: firstly, the game is part of a long and venerable series, with titles spanning multiple consoles (even mobile!), and secondly, it's a series you've never been that fond of. This is the dilemma I was faced with when God of War (2018) hit the shelves. In order to experience the game to its fullest, I decided to mimic the legends of old and embark on a quest of my own to play through every God of War game I could get my hands on. Please join me as I dive into the second game in the God of War series, discovering the roots and evolution of our angry gods' bane to the grumpy father we know today! This is the second entry in a series, so if you're just joining us, I recommend checking out From the top: God of War!
When we last left our hero, he had fought and defeated the mighty god of war, Ares. With his defeat, a seat now laid empty on the council of Olympus. A seat Kratos filled, ascending from mortality to the level of the gods themselves. With his vengeance complete, our furious friend set his sights on both protecting his home of Sparta and waging endless war on the Greek world, growing more powerful and fierce by the day. God of War II picks up some time later, with our hero having been the titular god of war for some time, leading his Spartans to numerous victories and laying waste to much of Greece. Kratos' thirst for conquest and battle, while advantageous to his Spartan armies, sours his relationships with the rest of the pantheon as he, to put it bluntly, isn't very nice to the targets of his wars.
On an attack on the city of Rhodes, Athena appears to the young war god, telling him the gods are less than pleased and that she can not protect him for much longer from their displeasure. Kratos, being the bastion of wisdom that he is, tells her he owes her no debt and is his own master, charging toward the city with fires in his eyes and godly power in his veins. Things go awry when a mysterious eagle swoops in, zaps our hero, drains some of his divine strength and transfers it into a giant statue, the Colossus of Rhodes, which immediately starts hunting the weakened war god. While even a weakened Kratos is a force to be reckoned with, the Colossus proves to be more than a match, tanking hits and causing devastation. The stalemate between the combatants comes to a head when the father of the gods, Zeus himself, instructs Kratos to channel his godly powers into a giant blade he throws into the battle, the blade of Olympus. This done, Kratos defeats the Colossus, though it pushes our hero to the limit. Tired but victorious, he meets up with his saviour, only to be stabbed in his stomach with the very blade he imbued. Typical. Zeus tells the dying Kratos this was for the best of Olympus, as the war god had become a threat. As Kratos slips into death, literally falling into the realm of Hades — simply called the underworld here instead of the multitude of names in Greek myth — he vows vengeance on the god.
Falling into the depths of the underworld, powers drained, and body broken, Kratos seems to have given up, only to hear a mysterious voice promising him both power and the vengeance he seeks. The voice turns out to be Mother Earth herself, the Titaness Gaia. Interestingly enough, it is also revealed that Gaia was the narrator of God of War (2005), which shows how far Santa Monica seems to have planned. The Titaness tells Kratos the Titans, like him, have a titanic (heh) bone to pick with the gods. Kratos bands together with the Earth Mother, promising to both free other Titans and regain his lost power. In order to do this, Gaia directs our angry avenger (Kratos in MCU when?) to seek the Moirai, the three ladies of Fate.
So, here we are again. We have a god to kill, a mysterious source of power to find, and a Colosseum's worth of enemies between us and our goal. The basic combat is much the same as it was in the previous game; you fight with a combination of light and heavy attacks, grabs and magic, protecting yourself with well-timed blocks and dodges. So far, so familiar. Like the previous game, Kratos gains secondary weapons during his quest, though, this time, instead of another sword, he gains a giant hammer and a spear, respectively. Both weapons have unique skills and movesets that complement your flashing blades, adding a very welcome bit of variety to combat. The magic Kratos wields is also very similar to the previous God of War, though the god-given powers are now replaced with the gifts of the titans, such as Atlas, Cronus, and Typhon. Though the names of the magical skills are different, some of them feel very similar to what we had before. Where we had the lightning of Poseidon (lightning being the element everyone attributes to Poseidon, yes?), we now gain the power of Cronus. Instead of the ray of Medusa, we gain the head of Euryale. While it's not really an issue that some of the magic is similar, the skills don't seem to always match the being tied to them, which had me scratching my head on more than one occasion. Among Kratos' various weapons and abilities, a few items stand out as interesting new additions, such as the wax wings of Icarus or the golden fleece of argonaut fame.
Without going into detail on how we gain these items (spoilers: it's violently), both items bring a change to how the game plays. The wings of Icarus, as one may guess, give our unamused hero the ability to glide short distances. While the combat applications aren't stunning, the addition to the game's exploratory platforming sections is more than welcome. The fleece, on the other hand, I will praise to the heights of Olympus! With this item, imagined as a bracer and pauldron, Kratos gains the ability to parry. Though it may sound simple, this small action changed the combat from a button-mashing brawl to a more thoughtful and flowing dance, which greatly increased my enjoyment.
Newfound powers and equipment in hand, Kratos journeys out of Hades and toward the Temples of the Fates. Apparently, if he can get his clenching hands on the Weave of Fate, Kratos can go back in time (???) and change the moment of his death, taking his revenge on Zeus while he's at it. On this journey, he runs into various characters of both mythical and mundane origin. Most of these characters, such as the legendary heroes Perseus, Jason, and Theseus, are usually seen once and then dealt with. Usually with some finality. Even the champion of humankind among the Titans, the flame bringer Prometheus, is reduced to a single instance. The only constants in the journey are Gaia, who offers support and advice, and the source of our hero's trials, the Sisters of Fate.
So, what of our lovely hero, Kratos; Does God of War II evolve his character at all, or is our sour slayer still sulking? The answer to this is a resounding "...well?". Kratos is, if it's even possible, more driven and angrier than before, casting every and all consequence of his actions to the winds to reach his goals. He goes as far as threatening the very core of existence, the caretakers of fate, all to take down Zeus and sate his lust for revenge. Sounds pretty much the same as the previous title, right? Well…, though much of the one-dimensional "KRATOS STRONK" personality is present, it seems the game is keen to shine some light onto his' other characteristics. A singular Spartan soldier seems to act as a second in command to Kratos, and their interactions seem somewhat genuine. Additionally, when he accidentally causes the death of an innocent, our pouting protagonist is honestly regretful. It doesn't really make up for all of the murder and destruction he has caused, but it's an interesting peek into the stoic man he would eventually become.
As a final note, before we wrap this up, one interesting tidbit of the God of War lore is revealed during a short cutscene in a humorously nonchalant way. Gaia informs Kratos that the reason Zeus dislikes and fears his power is that Kratos is his son. Sharp readers may remember that father-son conflicts are the basis for many a Greek legend, encompassing both the birth of the Titans and the Olympians, a fact that is clearly not lost to the developer. I'm unsure if it was intentional, but even the way Kratos' demigod status is revealed offhandedly is very reminiscent of old Greek myth, where just about everyone and their horse (not joking) is somehow related to the… let's say promiscuous, Zeus.
Without going into spoilery detail, our hero fails in his quest to achieve his goal, but instead, he manages to rouse the Titans. The game ends on a delicious cliffhanger where we see Kratos riding on the shoulder of the massive Gaia while the Titan climbs up the very mountain of Olympus. Two games, hundreds of enemies, and hours of violence, headaches, and repeated quick-time events later, I can honestly say I've warmed to our furious fiend and his plight. Kratos is an unredeemable villain and absolutely brutal, but there is something to be said about his endless drive to achieve his goals and punish those who have wronged him that kinda has you rooting for him. His personality, however, is still very much that of the child throwing a tantrum. I wonder if we'll see any transformation in the coming games or if Kratos' teeth will be firmly clenched all the way to the end. If nothing else, I can honestly say I enjoyed God of War II and have high hopes for what's next!
I hope you enjoyed this dive into Kratos' second foray. Please join me next time when we, like Kratos, hop backwards in time to before even God of War to experience the black sheep of the bunch, God of War Ascension, from the top!