Behind Sony’s booth space on the bustling show floor of E3, I had the opportunity to sit in on a God of War preview. The event was being demonstrated by Santa Monica Studio’s creative director Cory Barlog, a man who more recently just became a father. The themes of parenthood seem to run deep in the revitalisation of the long-standing action franchise, and they pull from Barlog’s personal experiences.
An interesting thing to note about the new God of War is that the son that was featured in the gameplay reveal isn’t a minor element – he’ll be a character that is with you from the start of your journey, to the end. While the specifics of what that journey will be weren’t shared with me, you can be sure that Kratos will be interacting with his child every step of the way, both on a narrative level, but a mechanical one too.
Eagle eyed viewers during the event may have noticed that XP points popped up during the demo when pivotal events occurred – like finding deer tracks in the snow adding Survival XP. This value isn’t being attributed to Kratos – he’s the Ghost of Sparta, I’m pretty sure he already has enough Survival XP, alongside his Kill-Everything- XP and Yell-Angrily XP. Instead, it’s going towards his son. As you play the game, he’ll learn from you and grow.
To make use of his growth, there’s an entire button dedicated to interacting with your son. While the developers didn’t go in to great detail about the breadth of actions you’ll be having your son do, there are combat applications. You can tell your son to attack a foe with his bow, which will stagger them or lock them down for a set amount of time. Because the combat now looks a lot more deliberate and weighty than before, this seems key – you’ll want to limit the amount of enemies you engage to increase your odds of survival.
Further along that line are the fundamentals of combat itself. As can be seen from the preview reveal, gone are Kratos’ chain-swords (although the marks of them are still visible on his forearms). Kratos has traded them in for a nifty axe which, when thrown, can be summoned back to his hand. Its use seems to add a natural ebb and flow to the pace of battles: you need it to do large damage, but throwing it at an enemy locks them in to a stun state – taking them out of the fight, but leavn you with only your fists. Barlog stressed that coordinating when you’ll throw the axe, and when you’ll summon it back in to your hand mid fist-combo is key to performing well in combat.
Outisde of that, it looks like the game will feature some type of buying or selling economy, as I witnessed our ghostly-white hero pick up silver coins. There could also be crafting systems, as I also saw him pick up a resource called Asgardian Steel. The developers didn’t want to comment on those parts of the game yet.
I was initially of two-minds when Sony unveiled a new God of War – what they showed looked really cool, but did it have to be Kratos in this role, in this story? My gut-reaction was simple, and a little dismissive: “Why?”
While I’m still not entirely sold on the idea of bringing Kratos back to tell this story, if the folks at Santa Monica Studios can form a more personal, altruistic tale with him – and can make me care about it on an emotional level – well, they might just be doing something great with the franchise.