From the Top — God of War
Don't you just hate it when a new series you've never played gets a new release, and apparently, it's the best game ever to exist? I sure did when God of War (2018), the soft reboot/continuation of the venerable God of War series, appeared on the shelves in 2018.
While I had nothing against the original series, the gore, violence and general anti-hero vibe the main character gave off made me decide against picking it up. As the years went by, a second God of War was released, then a third, a few PSP titles, HD remasters, and even mobile games, of all things! The final knockout punch to my dwindling resolve against playing the silly things was the massive praise the 2018 title gained, going so far as to win Game of the Year, sealing the game as a must-play… or at least a must-see. This put me at a bit of an impasse since I really wanted to try out the newest release (I'm five years late, I know), but I wanted to have the necessary context to understand what was new and what referred to our angry main characters' previous escapades.
As the tale of Kratos is Greek in origin, I decided I'd embark on a little quest of my own and play through all the games I could before diving headfirst into the frost and frustrations of our beloved bellower. Please accompany me as I experience the original God of War trilogy (+ Ascension) and see how Kratos and his adventures have evolved with the wisdom of time and the advance of technology!
God of War (2005) starts off, funnily enough, with an end. The first we see of the mighty Kratos is him throwing himself off of a cliff to end "the madness", which does not bode well. This is, naturally, a narrative device to get us wondering what this madness is and how it drove the personification of vengeance to this action. The game proper begins on the Aegean Sea, where our hero Kratos and crew are being attacked by hordes of undead soldiers and a Kraken, of all things! From there, our hero goes on to fight bigger, stronger, and more numerous enemies at the behest of his current benefactor, Athena.
Kratos, it seems, is a Spartan general who worked for the god of war, Ares, fighting battles, raiding and pillaging according to the god's whims, and acting as his sworn champion. The relationship between god and mortal quickly sours, however, when Kratos attacks a temple in a herculean rage wherein he slaughters any and all hiding within, including his own wife and daughter. After realising what he has done, Kratos breaks down and blames Ares for this betrayal, breaking his vow to serve the god. As anyone familiar with Greek myth may know, killing one's family and breaking a vow are not done lightly under the eyes of Olympus, and Kratos is promptly cursed with horrible nightmares. In addition, and pretty horribly, Kratos' skin is also infused with the white ash of his family's remains, turning him into the ghostly pale man we know.
Like Heracles and many a hero before him, Kratos decides working for the gods is the way to go to cleanse his soul and rid him of both the encroaching madness and the continuous nightmares. Apparently, as we join his quest, he is given his "final task", which, coincidentally, is killing his former master Ares, who has attacked Athens in a fit of jealous rage. From here, our adventure begins!
So, that's the story so far. Kratos is mad, Ares is ahead, and our goal is to ensure the two meet up. Honestly, the plot is not really prominent in the game, which I noticed quite quickly. You get a cutscene, Kratos shouts at something (no subtitles!) and there's your lot. From there, it's one epic battle to the next, interrupted by the odd puzzle and/or climbing section. The game itself uses the now iconic fighting system where you combine light and heavy attacks with well-timed dodges, blocks, and throws to eliminate your enemies. The combat is very fast-paced and hectic, with multiple enemies with varying skills keeping you on your toes and valuing quick reactions and an aggressive playstyle. In addition to your base weapon — two swords bound to our hero by chains called the Blades of Chaos — you are granted four magic AoE attacks based on the gods and an alternative weapon in the form of a heavy blade. All of these can be upgraded with the use of red orbs, which slain enemies drop and some chests contain; easy enough. Finally, Kratos gains the “rage of the gods", which is a temporary super buff that increases both your damage and attack speed but also has its own moveset!
Now, while I wasn't expecting anything grand and deep, the lack of plot is a bit jarring. I can understand that this was the first game of the series, and it’s quite old at this point, but I pretty much knew everything the game had to tell me by passively listening to people speak about him. Again, not a bad thing per se, but noteworthy nonetheless. So, we know where we are, when we are, and why we’re even bothering, but what do we know about our leading cast?
The main cast of God of War is not a large one. In addition to our seething Spartan, the game features seven of the twelve main Olympians (though, not all gods are seen or heard): Aphrodite, Ares, Artemis, Athena, Hades, Poseidon, and the all-father Zeus. Of the gods, Ares and Athena are the most prominent. Ares, naturally, acts as the antagonist, often looming in the distance. Athena, on the other hand, often materialises into statues or animals to direct our hero in the right direction and acts as our seemingly only ally. In addition to the gods, there are a few recurring characters, though it should be said that God of War is mainly a solo venture. Throughout the story, Kratos meets and speaks with an oracle of Athena on a few occasions that gives off “love-interest” vibes and we meet an interesting grave digger on occasion that seems to know more than they let on. To be honest, the characters were not that memorable or interesting, in my opinion, but I’m not sure if they were meant to be.
It was interesting seeing what the original incarnation of Kratos was like. Compared to the seemingly serious, cold, and sullen one we see in the remake, here he seems very… young? He is loud, passionate, and arrogant. I do not recall a single cutscene where he was not either screaming in fury or clenching his jaw hard enough to make diamonds. Kratos reacts to both surprising news and new enemies with the same snarl and “ME AM STRONGEST” mindset, usually defaulting to either hitting things or attempting to hit things. While I was a bit put off by this in the beginning, after being stuck with it for the 10 odd hours, it eventually grew on me; by the end, I found Kratos’ tantrums hilarious. You have to give it to the guy; no matter how many times he’s betrayed, beaten, maimed, or tricked, he keeps on going and thinking the previous defeat was definitely the last! By the end of the game, Kratos wasn't really that different from the beginning: he was still angry, still haunted, and still looking for something to hit. I’d dare say he was just angrier, if nothing else.
With the defeat of the final boss, our first foray into Kratos’ journey comes to an end. I went into the original hacky-slashy journey expecting to dislike both it and the characters, but to my honest surprise, I ended up enjoying it. It has NOT aged well in any sense of the word, but the combat is active and the story is fun. I'm excited to see how our main man evolves in the games to come and how they differ in both mechanics, style, and tone. Thank you for joining me on this first step, and I hope to see you again when we take God of War II from the top.