God of War is back and—apparently—better than ever, and the latest instalment features our scowling, perpetually angry protagonist as a father. The dynamic between Kratos and his son Atreus is wonderfully illustrated throughout the game as players watch Kratos slowly but surely grow to accept and even excel in his role as a father figure. There are some touching moments of sincerity mixed in with classic Kratos’ brusque one-word responses (or often times simply a grunt), but Sony Santa Monica managed to add some weight and seriousness to the relationship between father and son, showing that Kratos has in fact grown and perhaps moved on from the rage-fueled bloodbath that was his previous life. The Ghost of Sparta is finally ready to settle down in family life.
But hey, remember that time he killed his first wife and child? Or that other time when he killed his OWN father, Zeus, who also killed his own father? That’s not even getting into the backstabbing, inter-family feuding and murder within the Norse pantheon, another lovely family whose feud Kratos finds himself in the midst of when we join him at the start of the game.
Patricide, matricide, fratricide, and filicide are hallmarks of Greek and Norse mythology, and clear themes in the God of War series. If there’s anything to take away from the games, it’s that everyone is a dick that wants to kill or manipulate everyone else, especially if they’re family. So let’s briefly delve into the wonderfully sick and twisted familial relations of the Greek pantheon and how that eventually bled into the whacky misadventures of our buddy Kratos.
So once upon a time, there was this guy named Uranus, and he and his wife Gaia had some kids. Uranus, like his descendants, would eventually also prove to be a bit of a jerk, and hid several of his less desirable children in the Greek equivalent of Hell so that they wouldn’t ever see the light of day. This made Gaia—understandably—pretty cheesed at her husband, so she convinced one of her sons, Cronus (or Cronos) that it would be a good idea to ambush Uranus and cut off his testicles with a sickle made from her own bones. Obviously. Long story short, Cronus also thinks this sounds like a fun idea and goes through with it, castrating and dismembering his father and taking over as the head honcho of the heavens.
Eventually, Cronus and his sister-wife Rhea start popping out babies, but he becomes rather paranoid that one of them might do to him what he did to his dad. The next logical step, of course, would be to prevent this, and he starts eating his children as soon as they’re born to make sure they can’t grow up and kill him. Rhea isn’t so keen on having her children devoured by their father, so she tricks him into eating a rock dressed as a baby in order to save one of her sons, Zeus, who eventually grows up to do exactly what Cronus was eating his other children to prevent! Zeus’ grandmother gives him some kind of potion made from mustard and wine (yum) that he sneaks into Cronus to force him to vomit up all those kids that he ate, who, in all fairness, aren’t super keen on their cannibalistic jerk of a dad. They join forces with Zeus to help him wage war and eventually imprison Cronus in the very underworld where Uranus imprisoned his kids.
Enter Kratos, aka Mr. Sunshine. At one point in the series Zeus becomes the primary antagonist of our hero, and after doing all sorts of awful and shocking things to Kratos, we finally learn the reason why, and you’ll never guess!
It turns out that Kratos is a demigod, and the godly blood that flows through his veins was inherited from his father…Zeus. Zeus, like his father before him, fears that, also like his father before him, his son will grow up and kill him. So, Kratos grows up, goes on some epic adventures, and *drumroll* kills Zeus, thus continuing the cycle of attempted (and failed) filicides and a rather successful string of patricides.
The tale picks up again several years later, and we find Kratos alive and well somewhere in Northern Europe, a region where the Norse pantheon holds sway. Not that there’s much left of the Greek pantheon anyway, as Kratos murdered almost all of them. Our ashy pal now has a wife and son…well, had a wife. The game begins with her death, and a mourning Kratos and his son Atreus go on a father-son road trip to spread her ashes on top of a giant mountain. Shenanigans ensue as the guys find themselves under the focus of some very violent Norse gods, who are equally murderous, subversive, and incestuous as the Greek ones that caused so much strife for Kratos.
The main narrative in the game is the developing relationship between the dad who really could beat up your dad and his son, and showcases a Kratos that seems to have actually left most of his rage back in the Mediterranean and is trying really super hard to be a decent father. Now, given everything we’ve learned so far about the Olympian methods of raising children, there is a sinister undercurrent that runs beneath the surface level “Dad and son are different people but they have to learn to get along”. Kratos has killed both his child and his father in the past, something his father and grandfather also did (or tried to do). Watching Atreus learning to be a man under his father’s tutelage is touching, but it honestly feels like it’s just a matter of time before something terrible happens and a violent death meets one at the hands of the other. Do Kratos and Atreus break free of the cycle, or will some crazy twists go down that force the endlessly suffering and endlessly pissed off hero to get smacked back into familiar territory?