There are a few things to be expected when you start playing a God of War game. God slaying, vengeance, brutal kills, and quick-time events increasingly in-depth combat. What I didn’t expect was for a God of War game to make me feel something other than awe. The series has always featured incredible moments such as the huge camera pans that reveal its massive scale. These moments are often breathtaking, but never lasting. The latest God of War relies less on these temporary moments and instead replaces them with meaningful character development, the most important of that being the developing relationship between Kratos and his son Atreus. (I’ll be avoiding blatant spoilers but will be touching on a few important story moments. Bear this in mind as you read on.)
We don’t learn much of their relationship prior to the events of the game other than Kratos was often away and that Atreus had built a much stronger relationship with his mother. He was clearly devastated by her passing and Kratos being Kratos was not fit to properly console him. Instead, he tries to remain focused on the task left to him by his wife, to travel to the highest peak in all the realms to spread her ashes. His only issue is the “boy” as he so often refers to him, an unloving and impersonal title. Obviously, not a title Atreus takes to kindly.
Kratos, not convinced Atreus is ready for the journey, aims to test him and we begin to see the great divide between them. We know Kratos and his past, a past he has seen fit to hide from the boy. He refuses to open up to him as he sees no reason why. Atreus, on the other hand, is wide-eyed and eager to impress. He allows himself to get carried away at times and loses sight of the bigger picture. What begins as a simple hunt where he shows impressive knowledge of tracking quickly turns into a scolding as he carelessly attacks his prey without proper preparation. Kratos does not hide his disappointment and we can see the early signs of our impact on the boy.
Atreus means well and clearly wants to impress his father. He wants to prove his strength and that he can hold his own in the world. In his eagerness he becomes reckless and only angers his father, proving only that Kratos is correct in assuming Atreus is not ready. But in the end, when the hunt is finally complete, we see a touching moment where Atreus makes his first kill but is overwhelmed by the moment. Kratos, as stern and cold as he may be, reaches out his hand to his son’s shoulder but thinks twice and decides against it. Maybe he thinks he’ll coddle the child too much, or perhaps he believes himself unfit to provide that kind of compassion. Regardless, we at least see he is not without some love for his son.
This is a very early example of their relationship, but it is an important first step. It gives us a clear baseline of where their relationship stands and gives us perspective on how things change over time. Their initial time together is more of a feeling out process. Kratos is trying to test the boy’s knowledge and prowess while Atreus is trying to get a greater understanding of who his father really is. He asks questions until he finally gets something out of his father or continues to try and impress him with the knowledge he does have, hoping to get some kind of positive response.
Overtime Kratos begins to open up and answering more of the boy’s questions. He tells some stories to fill the time on the boat and try to teach valuable lessons such as, “don’t trust spirits,” “don’t trust gods,” “don’t trust anyone!” Meanwhile, we begin to see Atreus’ frustrations start to boil up as the duo continue closer to their goal. He wants to be more involved but is constantly told no with little reason other than, “because I said so.” Atreus, who usually replies with a prompt “yes sir” begins to sigh in frustration and doesn’t move with a sense of urgency. Kratos notices this but does little to address it until it reaches the breaking point.
Without getting into too many details surrounding why this comes up, Atreus accuses his father of not even caring about his mother or her passing. He is tired of just tagging along and feeling like he doesn’t care about anything. Kratos fires back with a scathing reply, saying that just because he may not show it doesn’t mean he does not grieve. Atreus, shocked at his father’s response, apologizes and says he didn’t know, with Kratos replying that of course he doesn’t because he doesn’t know his ways.
This is a bit of a turning point for the two. Kratos now understands that he is keeping himself too distant from his son and that Atreus can’t possibly understand what he is trying to achieve. He begins to open up more to the boy, becoming more personable and explaining a bit more. He becomes more willing to involve Atreus and begins to build his confidence. After combat Atreus would ask how he did and Kratos would reply stating he was improving or even that he did well. He became the source of positive reinforcement Atreus so desperately needed. All he wanted to do was show his father he was capable, and now his father was showing confidence in him.
Though things were fine now, Atreus, being that he is still eager to impress, begins to become reckless again. He seems like he wants to show off his newfound confidence to receive even more praise from his father. He gets too involved in fights where he is at a disadvantage and loses control of his emotions when he finds he isn’t quite strong enough. Despite Kratos’ best efforts to keep him in check he cannot and it eventually results in Atreus becoming sick, deathly so as he becomes so strained. Though he doesn’t always show it, Kratos is willing to do anything to protect his child, even turning to the gods he despises so much to save him. He is literally willing to enter the depths of Hel (nothing new for him I guess) to save him.
It’s tough to say much more in detail without spoiling much of the later game. The up and down nature of their relationship continues and makes each of them more likable in the end. Some of the game’s highlights are when Kratos has to step up and be a good father, to the point where he even calls Atreus a brat and has to scold him for not being nice. It isn’t just Kratos being angry, it is tough love and it’s tough for Atreus to hear his father speak to him like this, putting his behavior into perspective when suddenly his father is truly disappointed in him. On the other hand, Atreus regularly becomes arrogant as he lets praise go to his head and gets carried away. Of course he does, he’s still just a boy, but when push comes to shove he is willing to learn and eventually levels off. He takes the lessons of their journey to heart and feels matured by its end. Meanwhile, Kratos earns a depth that makes him incredibly endearing. He feels more like a proper hero now, and more importantly a proper father.
For as many jaw-dropping moments there are in this game in classic God of War fashion, it’s the moments in-between that feel most meaningful. The excitement of a great boss fight will fade as time goes on, but the relationships that are built over the course of a game remain powerful. This isn’t a story about slaying Gods or exploring the world, this is a story of a father and son learning from each other to become the best them they can be. It’s a story of a father with a troubled past who, more than anything else, wants to ensure his son grows to be better than him. It’s a tale of a son who wants to know this man he calls father but knows little else about. There are many reasons why you’ll come to God of War, the visuals, the gameplay, the overarching story, but the reason you’ll keep going is the bond you build between these two characters.