From The Top - God of War Part 4
In this mini-series, I have been going through my own little labours by playing through the mainline God of War games (with the addition of God of War Ascension) that precede the 2018 soft reboot of the same name. My goal, simply enough, is to figure out who the main character, Kratos, is and how he goes from a man angry enough to squeeze diamonds out of coal with his frown alone to the slightly-less-angry but responsible father figure we see now. If this is your first time joining me on my journey, I recommend starting from the top to get the full experience! But without further ado, let us dive into the final leg of this Sisyphean quest and explore the final title, God of War III.
The game kicks off pretty much where God of War II left off: our livid living legend Kratos is fighting off the forces of Olympus atop the Titaness Gaia, who is, in turn, climbing Mount Olympus in an effort to cast down the current gods and bring about the second age of the Titans. The gods, however, disagree with this plan and join the fray, with Poseidon summoning deadly Hippocampi, Helios burning all in the wake of his chariot, Hades reaping souls, and Hermes being a general pest. The introduction to the game is honestly fantastic, with the constant action and feeling of scale! Teeny-tiny Kratos seems so insignificant next to and around the humongous Titans and Gods. Sure, he is still a force to be reckoned with, but the amount of divine fury being thrown around is such that even he can’t seem to keep up. That is until Poseidon gets within punching distance. In the previous two games, we’ve basically spent the whole experience chasing and trying to defeat a single god or godlike entity, but when Kratos squares off with the kinda Jason Momoa-looking Poseidon, the result is a shockingly violent death… but for the God. Our merciless hero beats the divine out of the oceanic deity, resulting in his foe erupting and the seas to foam and swell in rage! I was not expecting this.
With Poseidon dealt with and the thrill of victory in his veins, Kratos begins making his way up Mount Olympus in order to catch up with the Titans, whom he parted with during the battle. Once he reaches Gaia again, Zeus has finally had enough and starts throwing a veritable storm of thunderbolts at his enemies, striking the Titaness as she climbs! As she tumbles, Kratos too begins to fall, clinging to her with his giant sword. While he demands her help, Gaia lets it be known that he is just a pawn who has done what was needed and is now expendable. With a vengeful roar, our hero falls and is dashed on the rocks below.
Following suit with the other titles, Kratos finds himself in the River Styx, surrounded by the souls of the dead. Being partly divine, our forlorn fighter does not instantly join the deceased in their agony, but they do still drain every last drop of godhood from him, bringing us back to square one yet again. Though our withered warrior makes it out of the Styx, he is both furious and weary, having been betrayed by another seemingly benevolent force. Before he can contemplate his situation, however, the pale shade of none other than Athena appears! The goddess explains that she has found a new level of existence and tells our hero that her father, Zeus, must be put to an end for the good of all Greece, lest it be destroyed in his madness. Giving our confused Spartan a new set of weapons, the Blades of Exile, Athena tells us to seek out the Flames of Olympus and extinguish them. The flames, apparently, grant the gods strength and by removing them, their permanent defeat is possible. With that, Kratos sets off yet again into Hades, his vengeance so close but yet oh so far.
From here, the game proper begins. We make our way through the Underworld, fighting hordes of enemies with our now-patented set of skills and moves. What seems to be a pretty standard start for a God of War game is turned on its head quite quickly, however, when we arrive at the chamber of the judges of the Underworld, there are a couple of things I noticed: first off, there is a small golden statue of a young woman that seemingly speaks to Kratos, pleading for rescue. Our hero, being the bastion of valour that he is, ignores it completely. Second, we find what is called a Hyperion Gate, basically a quick-travel system for the gods. We, being recently ungodified, cannot use them. Finally, we meet another divinity, Hephaestus, who tells us how he came to be here — Zeus had beaten the smith, creator of Pandora’s Box, to an inch of his life as punishment due to said box being used to kill Ares. Hephaestus pleads with Kratos to save his beloved daughter, Pandora, whom Zeus hid away as further punishment, but our empathetic lead turns a deaf ear and leaves to hunt for a way out.
The ever-angry hero enters the House of Hades and, after some mild puzzle work, discovers the preserved body of Persephone encased in a Sleeping-Beauty-esque coffin. Ever the pillar of decency, Kratos uses said coffin as a battering ram to get to the chamber of Hades, wherein the God of the Dead is indeed waiting. Battle ensues, and through strength, guile, and dodge-rolling like a disoriented rabbit, our gallant hero manages to not only defeat Hades but also steal his signature weapons, the Claws of Hades, using them to rob the god’s very soul. After his death, the spirits of the realm turn feral, screaming and flying around aimlessly, but Kratos cares not. He stashes his newly acquired weapon, heads to the nearest Hyperion Gate, and hops on out of the Underworld only to meet the god Helios (you sure about this one, fellas?), only to defeat him and tear off his head to use as a flashlight, plunging the entire world into darkness. I think I need a minute.
What follows is a collection of battles against foes, both mortal and im, Titan and God, with Kratos growing ever angrier each step of the way up the mountain. During his aggressive climb, he faces off against the deceitful Gaia, whom he disarms quite literally, and even meets the mercurial god of tricksters, Hermes. Our hero manages to discover the Flames of Olympus while busy making everyone an involuntary atheist, but he cannot figure out how to extinguish the thing. Surprisingly, the Box of Pandora is held within the flame, confusing the previous war god, but Athena thankfully informs Kratos that the owner of the box, Pandora, is the key to quelling the flames and gaining the power to kill a god yet again. But how to find her? While working on this dastardly distraction, he battles and amputates Hermes, taking his winged sandals — or talaria — and gains the messenger god’s immense speed. While the body of the god dissipates, a cloud of insects is formed and begins to attack any mortal left standing. Eventually, our speedy Spartan runs into none other than Hera, wife of Zeus and queen of heaven. Very much wine drunk and shabby, the god of marriage mocks Kratos for his efforts and stubbornness, sending a mighty champion to end his silly little quest once and for all. Enter Heracles (it’s NOT Hercules, damn you, game). I have a lot to say about this foe and his fight, but I'll save it for another article. Suffice to say, I was not amused. The labouring ex-hero is killed, and Kratos gains a new weapon, the Nemean Cestus.
A few puzzles and battles later, Kratos winds up in the bedroom of the goddess Aphrodite. She tells our hero that Hephaestus, her husband, knows where Pandora is and helpfully opens up a Hyperion gate right to the smith's forge! There are… other things you can do in the bedroom, but I won’t get into that. Upon meeting Kratos again and learning that he aims to find Pandora and quell the Flames of Olympus, Hephaestus offers to create a new weapon if Kratos can find the resources. One trip to the underworld and defeated Chronus later, he returns. Long story short, Hephaestus does provide a new weapon but tries to stop our aggravated anti-hero from using his daughter. Impaling the smith on his anvil and making his way out, Kratos listens to the god of the forge’s dying words. Pandora is in the labyrinth of Daedalus.
Hopping through another Hyperion Gate, our walking armoury continues to and through the gardens of Hera, hot on the literal heels of the goddess. Finding her on the ground, drenched in wine, Kratos prepares to leave in search of Pandora when Hera decides to mock his goal and the girl he’s searching for, causing our reasonable hero to snap her neck, snapping up her chalice for his troubles. As he continues through the maze, all flora around him slowly turn to dust, as the sound of storms and the wailing dead and dying fill the pitch black skies… It’s probably unrelated.
Turns out, the labyrinth is composed of giant cubes, each featuring a different puzzle within. In one of said cubes, Kratos finds the architect himself, Daedalus. It seems Zeus has promised the man the return of his son Icarus when his work is done. Being a man of endless subtlety, our hero informs the crafter that his son is dead, and so is Zeus in a moment. Not listening to the cries of Daedalus, he begins controlling the maze in his quest to find Pandora, killing the architect while he's at it. Kratos finally catches a break, as he finally finds the young Pandora in the labyrinth and sets her free. The duo continue on, working their way to the top of the labyrinth and toward the Fire, with Pandora being more than willing to do her duty. Along the way, Kratos must protect and work with Pandora, trying to talk to her about vengeance and the uselessness of hope. Hmm, our hero escorts a child through danger, protecting and teaching them while also growing as a person in the meanwhile… why does that sound familiar?
Long story short, the Labyrinth is raised to the heavens, and Pandora is brought to the Flames. However, before she can do her thing and quell it, Kratos has a change of heart and asks her to not touch the flame, fearing it will harm her. While they bicker, Zeus arrives on the scene, demanding his son stop this madness. A battle for the ages ensues, with Zeus trying to stop both Pandora and Kratos, and the latter trying to save the former while punching his loving father in his perfect jaw. After an epic battle, Zeus is wounded, and Kratos is hanging onto a falling Pandora, trying to stop her from touching the flames. It looks like Pandora will be saved until Zeus starts mocking our sensible hero, recounting his many failures and how he has let down and been the death of everyone he loves. In a fantastic moment of character writing, our hero is yet again swallowed by his rage, letting Pandora fall in order to attack Zeus. Pandora is embraced by the flame… and disappears along with them. A frightened Zeus flees, leaving our hero to come to terms with his greatest failure. Oh, and the box? It’s empty.
Being overcome with grief and a rage more powerful than anything before, Kratos goes after his father, finding him atop Olympus, where their duel begins. The battle is close, with both sides being exhausted and wounded. Things are complicated with the emergence of Gaia, who swallows up both god and Spartan, only to have them continue the battle within her. The battle is seemingly over as our furious friend stabs both Zeus and the heart of Gaia with the Blade of Olympus. While the Titan is indeed dead, the shade of Zeus remains and is seemingly immune to all Kratos’s attacks! On the verge of death, Kratos hears the voices of Pandora, in addition to his own daughter and wife, all three asking our anguished hero to forgive himself for the things he’s done and to have hope. Bursting with power and brilliant blue flames, the newly engoddened hero forces Zeus’ spirit into his body and killing him permanently. It’s over. Athena manifests in front of our hero, congratulating him on his success and demanding the Blade of Olympus so that she may shepherd the remaining bastions of humanity to a new era. As a final act of brilliance, our beloved Kratos takes the blade, tells Athena he owes her nothing, and plunges it deep into his own chest, releasing the power into the air and giving humanity the power of hope. As he slowly dies, Athena departs, leaving him to die alone, gazing at the chaos and maelstrom he’s caused.
I thoroughly liked GoW III, but it is absolutely bananas. The epic scale and the amount of death and destruction we, the player, cause is honestly a bit disturbing. The combat is also good, improving on a lot of the shortcomings of the series so far. I´ve talked about it in length in previous parts of this journey, so I won't get into too much detail here. The different weapons you gain each feel unique, with their own move sets and “ultimate” attacks. The game even encourages you to switch between weapons on the fly for fluid and fun combat. Each weapon also has an out-of-combat use, with the Nemean Cestus being able to break certain types of crystal and the Nemesis Whip powering electrical devices, for example. I also felt it was much easier to upgrade all of the weapons and skills this time around, allowing me to play around a lot more with the most powerful attacks and combos available. The sub-weapon system used by GoW III is also my favourite: You have a separate bar that using any sub-weapon will diminish, but it recharges by itself relatively fast, allowing me to play around with them as well. The sub-weapons we gain are as follows: the Bow of Apollo, with which you can attack enemies at range and light things on fire; the head of Helios, which stuns enemies and reveals hidden doors, objects, and images; and the boots of Hermes, which allow Kratos to charge enemies and run up walls.
In terms of artefacts, the choices are more hit-and-miss. Returning from earlier games are the Golden Fleece, used for parrying; the Trident of Poseidon, used for breathing underwater; and the Wings of Icarus, used for that extra bit of distance while platforming. New artefacts consist of a crystal used to control the cubes of the Labyrinth and the Stone of Hyperion (lodged in Hera’s cup). The Stone allowed us to “see the true path of the gods”, which basically translated to perception puzzle shenanigans. While the artefacts have always been more puzzle-oriented, I felt that the new items in GoW III were a bit lacklustre and were missing any use outside of puzzles.
Mythological intricacies aside, I liked the depiction of most of the "cast" in the game. The enemies were varied but familiar, and the bosses were memorable if nothing else. I especially liked Hera being portrayed as a suburban housewife, too drunk to care, and Hermes' antics were a joy! The Titans (for what little we saw) were a bit of a letdown, with Gaia and Chronus being the only prevalent ones. The absolute star of the show, however, was Kratos. The guy cannot catch a break, being betrayed, toyed with and mocked at every turn. His absolute fury seems justified, and you can't help but root for him, but then again, with each god he kills, a literal apocalypse draws ever closer, ending up with Greece absolutely annihilated, if not the world. Kratos' fatherly instincts and his attachment to Pandora also seem both real and fake, as it's made obvious he only cares for Pandora as a proxy for his own child. The culmination and most powerful moment that shows this is when he lets his new child die because Daddy Zeus was being mean. You cannot make this up. Seeing the similarities with Pandora versus the boy in the sequel, I wonder if this was the seed that formed into the central narrative to come, though I'm hoping our deadly daddy doesn't forget to hold on in the future!
So, here we are. The gods are dead, Greece is in ruins, and Kratos is dead and free of his earthly woes… or is he? In a brilliantly ambiguous post-credit scene, we see a flash of the mountaintop where our hero lay, a trail of blood leading to the edge, nobody in sight. Having played through the whole series, I think I've seen glimpses of the game to come, though I'm very curious about how Kratos survived, how he wound up in the north, and what it was that cooled his burning rage.
Thank you for joining me in the second to last part of this series! Next time, we will finally see what this whole God of War 2018 is about and see if any of our previous and extensive lore is of use. Keep an eye out for a separate article where I compare the mythos of the series against its ancient origins!