Playing God of War “will make you a better dad” claims Sony
The new God of War makes some big changes to the gameplay, but few action fans will be prepared for the impact made by Kratos' son, Atreus.
God of War has always done a good job of making us better at things. Better at linking together over-the-top combos. Killing mythological beats by pulling their jaws so far apart their head explodes. Getting angry as hell. Dropping our jaw. But being a better dad certainly hasn’t been one of them. At least, not yet.
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That’s set to change with the upcoming sequel to God of War III – curiously titled just God of War – which launches for PS4 on April 20. The reset of the series’ name after seven well-received titles is to help define a new chapter for the mighty Kratos. He’s destroyed Greece after all, and is now hiding out in the wilds of Europe’s north. He is older; he is calmer. And he has a son.
As I detailed in my hands-on preview, the new God of War’s stunningly emotional, cinematic storytelling zeroes in on this relationship between Kratos and the young Atreus. The boy’s mother has just died when the game begins, and a palpable wall exists between the father trying to harden a son, and the son who wants to impress his father.
I recently sat down with Sony Santa Monica’s senior online community strategist, Aaron Kaufman, to talk about the big game. We’re both fathers, and impressed with how well the dialogue and animations of Atreus captured the way my own son reacts to the world, the conversation turned in that direction. His response shows just how far gaming has matured since the days when Kratos first went on a bloody, vengeful adventure.
Since the first God of War came out, gaming culture has matured greatly. We’re looking for meaningful connections to our games. Do you agree? Is this the right time to start doing games where we can start fully explore concepts like father-son bonding?
AK: Yeah, absolutely. I do think though that regardless of what our story was in this God of War game, it would have been deep. It could have been about Kratos and his wife on an adventure or Kratos trying to rediscover his humanity on his own. We wanted to make a story that felt more connected to people like you and me, whether you're a parent or not. The greater theme in this story is to be better, you know. To look at the next day as another day that you can be better than you were the day before. A theme of the story is don't forget your past, but learn from it. Nobody ever forgets their past and is able to grow. And those are the bigger themes that kind of ring throughout this God of War game.
Being a father myself, what I'm teaching him right now is thing like how to ride his scooter and how to draw and how to communicate with me. And I struggle with that a lot. I mean, when he falls down, I run over and say, "are you okay?" And, you know, he says, "I'm fine, dad. Fine" And he kind of pushes back at me even though I'm just trying to be there for him, you know? But at the same time he wants to hear me say, "good job."
I think this game is so much about Kratos struggling with that phrase, "good job." And on the other hand, it's Atreus who wants to hear that phrase from his dad. He wants acknowledgment. And I think we as a society are learning today that there is a lot of good in the world. We should be doing more to acknowledge the good that is happening with all the people around us, and I think making a game that gets you to care about a character is really important today.
So do you think it is fair then to say that God of War can make you be a better dad?
AK: You know, I think God of War will make you a better dad, or a better parent, because when I play this game, it cues memories for me. It makes me feel like I miss my son. It makes me feel emotional. There is a moment early in the game where Atreus has his first kill - the human lands on him and he kills him - and Kratos gets down on his knees and he tries to be tender in that moment. To tell him it's going to be okay. But also to remind him that he has this long, dangerous journey ahead. When he puts his hands on Atreus’ face in the scene I kind of lose it inside. It makes me want to just go grab my son and say, "I know you're only two and a half years old, but don't worry, I'm going to grow you in this world. I'm going to help you become a man until you're 18 years old and off on your own."
So I think, for me personally, seeing a game about a parent and their child, it makes me feel like I can be a better parent. I'm watching the struggles that he's going to go through, and in a way I can relate to that on a much greater level. I'm not filled with vengeance and anger.
My boy is six and I feel like Atreus is the same age. Does he have an official age?
AK: We're not getting into numbers, but he's definitely a younger boy. I hesitate to say he's elementary or middle school, but it's probably somewhere in that range.
His dialogue is just eerily similar to the way that my son talks to me: in the way he chips in with comments and spontaneously asks honest questions.
Well I love hearing that. It's really a testament to the writers: Matt Sophos and Rich Gaubert are the writers on the team, and Cory Barlog, our creative director. They all kind of came together to write the script. And it's an even greater testament to Sunny Suljic - the actor that plays Atreus - who was essentially the same age as Atreus when he first started putting on the mo-cap suit and getting into this role. And Chris Judge, who's Kratos, as well. The first time they did a table read together, it was like instant chemistry. Sunny is dwarfed by Chris Judge. Chris Judge feels like a giant compared to little Sunny. But Sunny's a kid going on teenager and you see a lot of that in the way he's acting with the character.