(Disclaimer: Upon writing I have yet to have fully completed God of War, with that being said this is mostly upon early to mid-game discoveries and impressions. Some slight spoilers may follow ahead)
A few weeks ago, one of Playstation’s GOTY contenders, “God of War”, released to ultimately overwhelming reception backing it as a fresh new return to the series since its predecessor 8 years ago. Upon playing I come to a realization of a few things. As the player starts and even progresses further and further into the game, you come to realize that its setting and main character both do a much better job of immersing the player in Kratos and this new foreign world around him.
For those that are unaware, the previous God of War games in the series primarily focused exclusively on Kratos in his involvement with the settings and deities of greek mythology. There, especially in the previous entry, Kratos goes through amany of different obstacles to exact his revenge on Ares, Zeus and the various gods of Olympus for their abandonment of him. Primarily between the first God of War and its prequel, Ascension, we’ve been shown that Kratos, before the games, he’s served the gods as a Spartan general whose thirst for conquest was almost unquenchable. It wasn’t until Kratos struck a deal with the previous god of war, Ares, that his life begins to take a turn for the worst.
While this and the games that followed presented different highlights and figures of greek mythology, it was primarily kept at arm’s length from the player. Trying to find something for the player to relate to Kratos was nearly impossible because of his backstory being fleshed out as it was mostly his fault for his wrongdoings that led to his current standing. However one of the best things that the newest God of War game gets right, is the better delving into the new setting and using Kratos of the previous games as a stepping stone into a better fleshed out character. About a good 50 percent of the way through the game, we see that Kratos does have some regrets about his past actions, something that he at first doesn’t wish to bring about to his son. But later on he comes to learn that his past shouldn’t be something that defines what he should be shaping his son to be in the future. What helps drive this factor home to him and eventually into raising his son, is in the world itself.
The game now taking place in Midgard, we’re shown that Kratos is ultimately more foreign to this new landscape than we’ve seen in the previous games. Throughout the game, we see that Kratos’s son, Atreus, has been taught by his mother to read Runes and to speak in the Norsian dialect, one that Kratos is rather unfamiliar with. What heightens this sense of unfamiliarity for the player and for Kratos in this world is the absence of translated subtitles amongst Atreus or any of the many beings and bosses you face who speak the native tongue. In previous God of War games, opposed to speaking in Greek languages native to each of the areas, a good amount of the characters and beings primarily spoke English to put you on an equal footing of understanding. From the start of God of War, even when you fight against your first troll, he screams in a Germanic language untranslated from the player. Even Atreus in battle also uses different native words and chants that, even with subtitles on, remain untranslated to keep up the sense of foreignness of this world to Kratos and to the player.
In summary, while gameplay-wise God of War nails it with a satisfying combat system, this game’s true strength lies within its sense of overall place. From the time you begin to progressing further and further into the story and landscape, God of War manages to build its primary character and settings to a nearly fantastic degree.