By Kratos’ Beard! We have a Nordic adventure fast approaching with ancient Greece’s fiercest bald dude with an axe to grind (literally), and Kratos Jr. in tow. With that being said, I thought it requisite to examine the legacy of Kratos in the entirety of his catalogue of adventures (not including the mobile game God of War: Betrayal). As someone who considers himself a massive God of War fan, *ahem* nay, the biggest God of War fan, I am completely ecstatic to see what Corey Barlog and company over at Sony Santa Monica have in store for us. While, I thoroughly enjoyed every God of War title released, God of War Ascension was, perhaps, the indication that any future release in the series would need to change things up a bit.
Whilst God of War is known for its visceral, bloody combat and epically cinematic fight sequences with immense scale where Kratos and his foe at times could rival a fight between a dog and one of its own flees, the newest entry is certainly taking things in a bold, new direction. I hesitated to use the word “tempered” to describe the new path as I have yet to play the new game, obviously. But from everything we’ve seen, Kratos’ modus operandi doesn’t appear to be nearly as rage-inspired as his quest up the side of Mount Olympus in his younger days. His son, Atreus, is the key that, I believe, changes all of that. This journey is about Kratos moving past his rage into something a bit more vulnerable. Is there a chance we’ll get to see Kratos cry like a baby? Probably not, but a change for him is on the horizon.
The presentation of the game also compliments this notion with a closer third person perspective than we’ve been used to. It also shows that the fights will not necessarily be more bombastic and over the top, but far more gritty and intimate. To say that I’m counting the days until its release would be an understatement of my level of excitement. This ranking will start with the meager and finish with the best!
God of War Ascension
For what it’s worth, I truly did enjoy God of War Ascension. Even if that was nothing more than an extension and rehash of ground that we’ve already tread. But it clearly was a step back from its other major PS3 predecessor, God of War III. God of War Ascension hit all the right notes for a series entry with the combat gameplay. In fact, it hit them almost too perfectly. And that’s where this game faltered.
Yes, God of War is known for fast-paced, brutal combat on a large scale with quick-time events (QTEs), super-charged magical attacks, and a few different weapons that can be upgraded and provide different advantages. However, the benefit of the previous games in the series was that each of the entries had far more compelling stories. Ascension is a victim of it’s timing, perhaps if Ascension fit anywhere in the release schedule prior to God of War III, it might have had a greater appeal.
Ascension, chronologically, is technically the first story in the God of War series. It takes place shortly after Ares tricked Kratos into killing his own family. Kratos subsequently breaks his blood oath with Ares. This causes the Furies to imprison Kratos and punish him from breaking this oath. The game tells the story of Kratos breaking free of the Furies and per usual, utterly destroying his enemies. Let me guess, I bet you probably saw that one coming before you even popped the game in your disc tray. If there’s anything that has become completely predictable, it’s that anyone who crossed Kratos on any level dies horribly. So, we’ve been there and done that. The game leaves off with Kratos becoming a champion for the Olympian gods.
With a story that wasn’t on par with the climactic finale in God of War III, it would have been left to the gameplay to truly innovate in order for all of us to be left with lasting impressions comparable to it’s predecessor. That is something that we didn’t get.
God of War: Chains of Olympus
Chains of Olympus was the first portable God of War title, initially being released for the PSP, and later, remastered for the PS3. After determining that God of War Ascension falls in sixth place in my listing, the rest of the titles become much harder to sort as I found it hard to rank Chains of Olympus as fifth on this list. Just understand, that this ranking is not necessarily a critical view but a listing of one of Sony’s greatest franchises.
Chains of Olympus continues the story where Ascension left off as Kratos extends his servitude to the Olympian Gods. He only does this with a promise from the gods that he can be free of his nightmares. In a quest to find the Sun god Helios, Kratos eventually is confronted with the decision to depart this world and reside in Elysium with his daughter forever or turn this opportunity away and stop Persephone and Atlas from using the power of the sun to destroy the Pillar of the World effectively ending mankind.
In a heartbreaking and perfectly executed sequence, the player must rapidly push a button to do the most difficult thing Kratos (quite possibly) ever had to do and slowly turn his daughter away in the fields of Elysium. The poetic irony is that a man with so much strength who has torn beasts to shreds with his own hands was reduced to a purely weak struggle just to slowly and painfully push his small daughter away. He does this so that he can confront Persephone and Atlas from ending the world and eventually binds Atlas to the pillar making him the new Pillar of the World.
God of War
God of War is the entry that started everything back in 2005. Funny enough, it’s also the next entry in the timeline following Chains of Olympus. I promise this ranking will stop following chronology by the end. God of War came bounding in as the quick-paced stylish action adventure game to beat after the release of other such titles in the genre like Devil May Cry.
God of War is truly the stuff of ancient Greek tragedies, despite Kratos never being a character who truly belonged to ancient Greek myth. This game follows the abuse of Kratos’ servitude by the gods as Athena tasks Kratos with killing his original divine master and orchestrator of his family’s death, Ares. Again, with the promise of ridding his nightmares firmly implanted in his mind, Kratos carries out Athena’s bidding. After all that he endures, and although the retribution against Ares may have been oh-so-sweet, the gods still refuse to eliminate Kratos’ nightmares. After trying to kill himself, the gods prevent his suicide and offer him Ares’ throne as the God of War. At this point, I’m definitely on board with the monstrous chip on the guy’s shoulder. These Olympians are bad business.
When this title was released, it was unlike any other game in its genre breaking ground with the famed scale and story-telling we’ve come to know from the series. It quickly became a classic.
God of War: Ghost of Sparta
Yet another PSP hit, God of War: Ghost of Sparta was released after the epic finale of God of War III hit stores in 2010. However, chronologically, this title fell in between God of War and God of War II. God of War III, provided us with a hint of what the next release would be about as Kratos can find a note in the underworld where a lost soul is seemingly bemoaning his brother having the chance to become the God of War.
That’s right, Ghost of Sparta dealt heavily with Kratos’ familial drama and relationship with his brother, Deimos. Deimos, who’s strange birth marks as a child identified him as the warrior to bring down Olympus that was foretold by an oracle, was taken by Ares and placed as a tortured prisoner in Death’s Domain until adulthood. Kratos attempted to halt Deimos’ kidnapping as a child but failed. He honored his brother by tattooing himself with the iconic red design he now holds to reflect the markings on his brother’s body. And, obviously, this was where the Olympian gods had mistaken the prophecy and claimed the incorrect “marked warrior” for imprisonment.
Kratos’ attempt to save his brother eventually only deepens his hatred for the Olympians for holding his whereabouts in secret from him for so many years while not fully realizing the scope of their involvement in his demise. Furthering Kratos’ dismay, Deimos had expressed the anger and betrayal he felt that it had taken Kratos so long to come for him.
While the gameplay largely remains the formulaic action/slash combat with a progression system that fans had come to know and love, it did boast one different mechanic: the Arms of Sparta. The Arms of Sparta was the fabled Spartan combo of spear and shield which allowed for simultaneous defensive and offensive actions that added a new layer to the gameplay.
God of War III
If there is one thing that absolutely stood out about God of War III, it was taking the series to even further heights regarding the scenery, scope, and scale utilizing the new PS3 hardware. At the time of it’s release in March of 2010, the game was absolutely stunning. The visuals were out of this world and the action was amongst the most fluid combat we had seen to date.
God of War III is also the epic finale to the Greek era of Kratos’ life as we know he’ll continue on to an all new realm with a different set of gods and circumstances. However, this title was the satisfying conclusion to the vengeance the titular character had been building towards since the very beginning of the franchise. In my humble opinion, nothing else but the deaths of the remaining Olympian gods at Kratos’ hand would have done this finale justice. And boy, did it deliver. Yet, at the heart of the title, despite the combined whirlwinds of rage, despair, and loneliness that Kratos experienced, God of War III, poetically, was the first title in the entire series to be about hope at its core.
While Kratos’ quest left a trail of casualties, not only of his enemies, but also of innocents that were either in his way or a useful tool to fulfilling his mission, Kratos couldn’t bring himself to make one final sacrifice to end Zeus. He couldn’t toss Pandora to the Eternal Flame so that he could access the mysterious powers of the box to defeat Zeus. In a shocking twist, the power inside of the box has been with him since he first opened it to defeat Ares in God of War. Shocking! That power was Athena’s power of hope. It was only by hope, not pure rage, that Kratos was able to accomplish what he had thus far. Thereby turning the notion of rage and vengeance entirely on its head at the climactic finale collectively blowing all of our simple minds! What was that hope exactly? Perhaps, it was to finally end his nightmares since the gods could no longer torment him. Maybe it was hope for a world not governed by seemingly corrupted deities. Whatever the case was, Athena demanded her power of hope back following Zeus’ death. In a quest of pure selfishness, Kratos committed one last act of selflessness. He impales himself with the Blade of Olympus in order to release hope to the world and not keep it for himself or any one god. A perfect ending to a conflicted and tormented soul… or was it?
God of War II
It’s pretty difficult to top Kratos’ finale in God of War III. However, God of War II may have taken the cake if only by a hair. God of War II was the first “sequel” so to speak, meaning it was the first chance the Sony Santa Monica team had to innovate on the gameplay ideas of it’s predecessor. The leap in gameplay execution between God of War and God of War II is perhaps the biggest leap taken between any of the games. Gameplay-wise, most titles that followed, felt more like variants of the mechanics God of War II established rather than leaps or entirely fresh ideas. God of War II introduced mythically iconic items such as the parrying ability of the Golden Fleece, the gliding ability of Icarus’ wings, and the ability to manipulate time with the Amulet of Fates. These items were essential to unlocking challenges and completing puzzles. This was also aside from the various weapons Kratos would receive just like in all of the other titles that would offer a range of different fighting styles and attacks.
Aside from the more innovative gameplay, the game features some of the most dramatic points in Kratos’ story. We witness Zeus’ betrayal and trickery to rid Kratos of his godly power. We witness some of Kratos’ old foes coming back to haunt him in battle such as the Babarian King that he was able to kill with Ares’ help. We also get to witness Kratos’ interactions with a large collection of characters of Greek myth such as Icarus, Prometheus, Pegasus, Perseus, and Jason, leader of the Argonauts, to name a few. Additionally, Kratos’ fight in God of War II is literally with destiny itself as he seeks to end the Sisters of Fate so that he is no longer bound to his own demise at Zeus’ hands. It’s an intricate battle, and I would argue, one that is nearly as legendary as the famed Psycho Mantis battle from Metal Gear Solid. Besides, how much more epic can a conflict get between the philosophy of man battling his own destiny! I know right? It sounds like something Tenacious D would write a superbly comedic song about.
The game also features some of the most memorable sceneries and vistas including Rhodes and the battle with the Colossus of Rhodes and the Island of Creation which was breathtakingly beautiful by design. Just from the architecture, to the bog, chasms, and various landscapes right down to the two majestically monstrous Steeds of Time that were chained to the island, nothing in the God of War legacy quite compares to the Island of Creation.
God of War II is the epitome of what a perfectly executed sequel looks like. To make things even more exiciting, Corey Barlog, the same man who led the team behind God of War II is once again leading the team behind the upcoming title. I can’t wait to get my hands on this game!