The newly released God of War, developed by Sony’s Santa Monica Studio, has already received universal acclaim. The title has become the best-reviewed game of the entire series. In a recent interview with The Guardian, Cory Barlog, the game’s creative director, discussed how he developed Kratos’ character and was inspired by his own relationship with his son.
Throughout the earlier titles, Kratos’ character was not especially nuanced; characterized by rage more than any more complex emotions. The new game, however, transforms Kratos into a much more complex and humanized character. Past God of War titles focused on Kratos venting his fury upon the Greek pantheon. The new title, however, is underpinned by a powerful story about family, parenthood, and coping with grief.
Speaking in a recent interview, Cory Barlog explained that revising Kratos’ character was something he set out to do from the start.
“I wanted to take on the challenge of a character everybody thought they knew, and make them think twice about who he is. I liked the idea that there was a lot more to Kratos than any of us knew. In order to get that change to ring true, especially with a character as quiet as Kratos, you need an external force. That’s where Atreus came in.”
God of War’s development happened to coincide with the birth of Barlog’s own son Helo. He cites his own parenthood as a major inspiration to his portrayal of Kratos and Atreus.
“You can’t plan these things. Kratos also thinks he knows what he wants, but he’s not really sure how to do it. It’s a great concept, the character who doesn’t really know how to deal with something. This is somebody who could take down a mountain-sized beast, but a conversation with his son is a challenge that he just can’t overcome. Something we take for granted is, for him, Herculean.”
Barlog describes the difficulty that Kratos has communicating with Atreus as echoes of his own relationship with his son. Development “crunch” periods often required him to work extremely long hours, and expresses regret over losing time with his family as a consequences.
“I would love to go on an adventure with [Helo]. I hope that he would want to – that we wouldn’t have this awkward relationship that unfortunately we have right now, because I work so much. Because Kratos wasn’t around much in Atreus’s early years, Atreus interprets that as, ‘You don’t love me, you don’t want to spent time with me, it’s obvious that I don’t live up to your expectations.’ I’m trying to be better for my son. And regretting every moment that I’m not spending with him.”
Barlog was concerned that gamers would not appreciate the change in tone. However, the reaction from fans since the game’s launch has been quite the opposite. Not only has God of War become the best-reviewed game of the series, but the game has taken the top spot on many sales charts, including in the UK. Many gamers have appeared to be moving toward more intimate, character-driven games, as evidenced by the success of other titles such as Last of Us.
“The audience now is more open to storytelling that tries to hit a note other than ‘awesome’,” says Barlog, “… Years before, I felt like I was creating the same game over and over again … We didn’t know the audience would be open to these things.”