Can Kratos be Redeemed?

The God of War series is one of PlayStation’s most successful franchises. With its excellent combat and epic boss fights, God of War and God of War II are PS2 classics, while God of War III is one of the greatest games to have been released on PS3. After the Hamlet-esque ending of God of War III, I wasn’t sure where the series could go from there. When the follow-up, God of War: Ascension, was announced, I had mixed feelings. Kratos had pretty much killed every creature and deity mentioned in Greek mythology. My hopes were raised when I discovered the game was a prequel. The tag line read, “Before he was a god, he was human.” I was hoping the game would add some humanity to Kratos, who had become a snarling rage-filled caricature by the end of the third game. The game’s beautiful live action trailer only raised my expectations.

Alas, God of War:Ascension was a total let down. Kratos begins the game angry, continues the game angry, and ends the game…still angry. There’s no character arc, growth, or development of any kind. Kratos remains a rage-filled monster. In fact, you could easily make the argument that Kratos is the real villain. Watch him mercilessly pulverize Poseidon for daring to defend Mt. Olympus.

From a gameplay standpoint, it just felt like a retread of past material. The combat was functional, but hardly innovative. The boss fights were full of spectacle and giant beasts, but no where near the scale and fun of the first few games. The game felt like a step backward for Santa Monica Studios.

There will be a God of War IV for the PS4.  The release date has not been announced, but the sequel has been announced.  Below are three likely options for where the series is headed and how to return the series to its proper form.

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1. Abandon Kratos and Greek Mythology (least likely)

This option has little chance, but is still a possibility. God of War III ended with Kratos committing suicide, though a post credits scene hints at him still being alive. Since these games have exhausted nearly all of Greek mythology, the series has a clean slate to start with. There are many other cultural mythologies that are just as compelling as Greek mythology, such as Ancient Egypt, Ancient Rome, and Norse mythology. The next game could have all new characters, an all new setting, and feature new gods and creatures from a different mythology.

For instance, it would be simple to drop God of War into Norse mythology. The game would be about a haunted warrior, let’s say a Viking, who is on a quest to destroy a god, let’s say Thor. He would be assisted by another god, probably Loki or Freja, and have to find a mystical item to make him strong enough to challenge Thor. The game would be set somewhere in Scandinavia, which is a coldly beautiful place. Snow covered summits, icy lakes and rivers, caves, and stony castles would be fantastic backdrops. You would keep the flowing combat the same, except it’d be axes instead of blades.

Even though this is probably the simplest option, because you could basically retread the first game’s plot, it’s also the least likely. Kratos is simply too popular and well-known. Replacing him would be similar to replacing Master Chief. There’d be too much of an outcry from the fan base.

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2. Be A True Prequel (somewhat likely)

The primary reason I was excited for Ascension was because I thought Kratos might finally become an interesting character. All the God of War games have depicted him as an incredibly violent warrior with no attributes besides rage. He shouts every line like he’s auditioning for the movie 300. He murders friend and foe alike with impunity. Based on the live action trailer, I thought we would finally get a glimpse of Kratos before he was a rampaging warrior.

Alas not. The game continued to use the tragedy of his family’s death as a mere plot device to spur him toward more murder sprees. The problem is I have no real connection to Kratos and his loss. We never meet his wife and child. They appear briefly in the original game, but only to nag Kratos about choosing to fight rather than stay home. Other than that, they are only referenced aloud by Kratos or another character to remind the player why Kratos is still upset.

The series would benefit from a legitimate prequel. Set the new game years before his forced servitude to Ares and the tragedy of his family’s death. Show him and his family having loving interactions. Make his family real tangible characters so that the player feels the same rage as Kratos. It would be easy to develop Kratos as a character and give him a solid arc. The game could show him as a loving father and husband who slowly became corrupted by his bloodlust and passion for war. His relationship with his family would slowly begin to fracture as his prominence and fame in battle grows. And at the end, when they are taken from him, he realizes too late what he has lost. Thus, his rage is not really against Ares or the other gods of Olympus, but at himself and his failure as both a husband and a father. It’d be parallel to The Punisher’s revelation that he is not punishing enemies but really himself.

You could do all this without losing the fantastic gameplay. Instead of fighting mythological creatures, you could be fighting various hordes of enemy soldiers. You could spice this up by having him fight armies of different cultures. Not only fighting fellow Greeks, but also Persians from the East or African warriors. You can still have epic boss battles with humanoid enemies. The boss battle against the Barbarian King in God of War II is memorable and a lot of fun. The boss battle against Hercules in God of War III is incredibly satisfying.

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3.Kratos Leaves Greek Mythology (most likely)

It’s well known that the original writers of God of War wanted an alternate story for God of War III. God of War director, David Jaffe, had a very interesting idea . He mentions wanting to have Kratos slay Zeus immediately in the beginning of the game. Then he would be transported to the Norse mythos and fight the Norse gods. Kratos would then evolve into Death. He would end all other mythologies thus beckoning Christianity as the new world religion. This fits the mural of the three magi found in the Temple of the Fates in God of War II. 

In a similar manner, the new game could transport Kratos to a different place or era in history. His larger destiny could be revealed as the harbinger of destruction for all the old religions. Each subsequent game could show Kratos destroying a different ancient mythology. Kratos would be no longer a man or god, but an agent of history and fate. A man destined to bring about great change in history.

This option seems to be the most likely because it manages to be both familiar and new. The game would keep the popular Kratos, but also be new and innovative because it would have completely new enemies and setting. It would be the opposite of Halo 4, which promised a new trilogy, but really gave us the same Covenant enemies with slightly better graphics.

The true prequel is the most intriguing choice. It’d be incredibly fascinating to learn more about the fractured psyche of Kratos. Characters from Greek mythology, such as Agamemnon and Diomedes in Homer’s The Iliad, suffered extreme psychological duress because of what they endured. Agamemnon was forever scarred by the murder of his own daughter Iphigenia and Diomedes by the horrors of war forced upon him by the goddess Athena. These characters are fascinating, not only for their extraordinary feats, but because of their tortured psychological states. They suffered realistic breakdowns to the horrors they caused or witnessed. Kratos would become a much more interesting and relatable character if he went through something similar.

These are my suggestions for the next God of War game. Hopefully the game is a step in the right direction for this amazing franchise. Comment below if you have any other ideas, hopes, or suggestions for the next sequel.

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