Just a dad and his son, out fishing.
God of War’s hyper-violent protagonist Kratos is a dad now. Actually, he’s a dad again if you count his family he was tricked into killing that set him on a path of murderous rage at the outset of the first game in the series.
In the upcoming sequel to God of War III (annoyingly titled God of War and not God of War IV), Kratos has left Greece and its mostly-murdered gods to venture into the cold Norse wilderness. Somewhere between then and now, Kratos fathered a son named Atreus who has become a vital companion in Kratos’s journey.
I was able to sit down with God of War writer and director Cory Balrog at E3 and talk about what it means for Kratos to be a dad, how having Atreus as a son will make the traditionally one-note character grow, and how Atreus impacts the upcoming God of War game.
Here’s a glimpse at the dynamic between Kratos and Atreus seen in the recently released God of War gameplay trailer:
Atreus is old enough to fight in God of War and Balrog said he’s competent in combat — never a burden — which is crucial to making the latest God of War feel like an actual God of War game.
"He is competent, able to passively move around on his own and do what he needs to do," Balrog said. But he can also be used to help out in specific scenarios.
A single button is mapped to Atreus. In any given situation that button could be used to tell Atreus to fire an arrow at an enemy, interact with an object, or read a set of ancient Norse runes.
That’s where Atreus’s character really become necessary to Kratos. Kratos is new to this part of the world and needs someone to help him navigate it. This device alone deepens Kratos’s character immensely, changing him from a rage-fueled loner into someone that leans on another person.
Balrog said this was inspired from his own life and experience as a father.
"Kratos is this stranger in a strange land," Balrog said. "He doesn’t speak the local language — 100% pulled from my own life. My wife is Swedish and I am terrible at Swedish. I attempted to learn and realized I am very slow at that. But my son can speak Swedish already. He’s five years old and he’s already learning English and Swedish at the same time so he’s constantly pointing out to me, you know, ‘This is Svenska, Svenska,’ [This is Swedish, Swedish] trying to teach me. And I’m just slow, not grasping it.
"So [in the game] it creates this interesting power dynamic of this kid actually being the conduit when they meet somebody who’s talking in this language. Kratos has to trust that what the kid is telling him is what that is. Anywhere in the world, wherever there’s writing on the wall, if you can see the runes, if they’re legible, they are ancient Norse. They mean something. We wrote them. They all feed into the overall story. And the kid is sort of your conduit into understanding all of it. So he has a very strong role in being an important part of that team."
Atreus doesn’t just help in combat or with reading Norse runes, though. He will apparently help Kratos grow as a character.
"[Kratos] isolated himself from everyone for so long thinking that would fix the problem but the reality is isolation is not going to fix a problem like that," he said, referencing Kratos being tricked into killing his family in Greece. "You need other people around you to help you. You need a reason to change."
Atreus is that reason.
"Kratos needed that idea of: The best selves we have are usually the selves we have on display for those we want to influence," he said. "Children are the ones we want to show our better selves to, to show them there is a better way. And I think he had a very disastrous experience with his first family, but I don’t necessarily think that always shut him down for all of it, I think it’s making him realize he has a reason to be better."
With someone to teach and be a role model for, Balrog said Kratos is able to teach himself some things, too.
"That line in last year’s demo, ‘Don’t be sorry, be better,’ — he’s saying that to himself as much as he’s saying that to his kid. Which I found multiple instances of saying something and realizing, ‘I’m saying this to myself, I’m not even talking to this other person, I’m really just saying this to myself.’"
Kratos also learns about philosophy thanks to Atreus and the lessons he was given by his mother.
"Atreus is always that human element," Balrog said. "He’s always that. ‘Mom always said be open to those who can help you,’ because Kratos doesn’t want help from anybody. The kid’s the one always saying, ‘Look, not everyone’s a bad person, we have to be open to this.’"
The upcoming God of War game has some of the only friendly characters in the entire series. Which means Kratos won’t instantly eviscerate them. Atreus helps Kratos quell some of his distrust in people and stay his bloodthirsty blades.
Balrog pointed out that the giant world serpent in the gameplay trailer would normally be a huge boss fight in other God of War games, but Atreus tries to convince Kratos that the serpent wants to help them in this next chapter in the series.
"From a story perspective, [Atreus is] the humanity that Kratos lost. He’s helping Kratos understand what it was like to be a human and Kratos is trying to help the kid understand what it means to be a god. The kid has no idea about any of that stuff. They’re both sort of teaching each other a little bit and kind of helping each other hobble through a very difficult emotional journey."