God of War and the Times

Written by: Carlos Zotomayor

Features | Jul 6, 2016

God of War Kratos Playstation

In a distant past, mankind was overcome by his base instincts.

He was angrier, more animalistic, and craved the feeling of stepping on his opponent like a cockroach that just totally ruined the last slice of pizza. His lust for violence, gore, and wanton destruction was overwhelming not just in his tone of voice and mannerisms, but in his forms of entertainment as well. Man did not laugh nor find joy in anything if it did not involve explosions, decapitations, or exploding decapitations.

Yes, I am talking about that darkest of ages: the early 2000s.

That time when punk rock made a comeback, 300 professed to the world that this is, in fact, Sparta, and when video games started taking the blame for just about every hate crime imaginable: from terrorist attacks to littering.

And when speaking about violent video games, none sticks out more like a protruding bit of bone than God of War, a game series known for having a violence level that's over NINE THOUSAAAAND as well as its lead character Kratos: the whitest, baldest, most emotionally unstable atheist the world has ever known.

Now I'll be honest: I rather like God of War. I indulge in a franchise that takes the Forrest Gump approach to mythology wherein you experience firsthand sights, creatures, and famous mythological figures, even if Forrest Gump himself seems set on reducing the world's population to just himself and the two swords attached to him like the world's most dangerous pair of yoyos.

Fast forward to E3 2016 and the reveal of an all-new God of War in which we see an older, beardier, and ever-so-slightly less violent Kratos in a game that seems more invested in keeping another character alive rather than using his skull as a makeshift drinking goblet.

So what gives? Has Kratos gotten too old and soft that he can't go apeshit at the slightest hint of provocation?

Let's look at the franchise and see how it has changed over the course of eleven years.

When the first God of War released in 2005, it was revolutionary.

Quick-time events, puzzles, satisfying gameplay, and a narrative centered on revenge were the driving factors of the game. They spurred on an entire series as well as various other games that tried to mimic the magic that it delivered.

And for a time, it thrived.

People ate up the meaty combat, the furious mashing of buttons in order to pull a cyclops' eye out of its socket while at the same time declaring war on the buttons of your controller, and Kratos' voice, which was always set at that constant volume whenever you look for someone at a heavy metal concert.

But after seven games and countless remasters, the series began to show its age.

Ripping off the limbs off of some unsuspecting creature and beating him to death with his own appendage while saying "Stop hitting yourself!" is all well and good, but by the time you've ripped-off arm number four hundred fifty-seven, you more or less used up all the good arm puns out there and pretty soon, you'll need a HAND to come up with more (Eh? Eh?).

It didn't stop at the bad pun opportunities, either.

While the video game landscape changed with the release of the PlayStation 3, focusing more on compelling narratives and new gameplay mechanics, God of War adopted the personality of its lead character and bravely (or stupidly) clung to its past.

Let me sum up your typical God of War game: You are Kratos. Kratos is mad at something or someone who has an army the size of a small country, a labyrinth full of puzzles and devious challenges, and to top it off, this someone is also seemingly unkillable. But Kratos doesn't care and sets off to kill said deity and anything else that gets in his way because fuck you, that's why.

Along the way he will meet mythological foes (and kill them), make various allies (and kill them), and kill whatever it is that he set out to kill in the first place in order to seek redemption for killing his wife and daughter. I don't know about Kratos, but covering up a murder with more murder does not seem like a very sincere way of showing that you've turned the other cheek; more like you would rather cut that cheek off entirely.

I recently played God of War III (the supposed conclusion to the franchise before the upcoming reboot came along) and apart from the graphics and gameplay, the one thing that stood out the most was how horribly written the game was. Whenever a character addressed Kratos, he would respond by either growling about he would not be denied his vengeance or by rudely chopping off a limb or two from said person, sometimes both. 

See what I'm getting at here? Apart from changing the enemies and settings, the base formula for God of War hasn't changed at all. The series has always been there, yes, but every time someone brings it up, you would address it as a parent would when asked about their twenty-year-old son whose main pastime is arguing with complete strangers on the Internet.

The world has changed but God of War has remained the same, stuck in a past where nudity, profanity, and excessive violence were still cool.

We've gotten over that adolescent part of our lives; we now know that murdering people is wrong, being human entails more than just getting angry like the Hulk on PMS, and that the world doesn't just revolve around us and what we want.

So why all the fuss about the changes to the new game?

Because they were needed.

God of War became so synonymous to "that angry game" that that's all it ever was: a game wherein you play a guy who hates everything that is alive. But in this age of video games (or media, for that matter), that just isn't enough.

People have become smarter, our tastes have changed, and it would take more than just senseless violence for a piece of media to ascend from the random crap we usually get and become something more, something... godly (okay, bad pun).

The new God of War understands this.

From what we've seen so far, it looks to have deviated from its teenage-angst roots and grown up to become something completely different. It focuses on building relationships rather than breaking them like the spinal column of a gorgon. It shows us that Kratos has left that part of his life behind and moved onto a quieter, more reflective phase in his later years (maybe he drinks prune juice now in order to regain health). 

Yes, there is still violence in the new game, but it seems to serve a purpose now, which is to reinforce the harshness of this new Norse setting and stress the importance of the relationships you have with the people around you, rather than just being violent to look cool or funny.

I'm looking forward to the new God of War. It finally realized that the 2000s have long since passed and strives to create something new from the carcass of its ageing predecessors not just graphics-wise but in the tone and feel of the overall experience as well.

Kratos may be older and a bit softer now, but with age comes wisdom and hopefully, he will be able to pass some of that wisdom down to his son that puberty should end as soon as you enter your twenties and not a second later.

About the author: Carlos Zotomayor

Zoto can see your underpants. Mmm... tasteful.

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