For the last 13 years and seven video games, an incredibly chiseled and powerful Spartan named Kratos has been seeking revenge for the death of his beloved wife and daughter. Along the way, he’s grown from being a mere muscle-man to a Greek mini-god—all the while hacking and slashing his way through a pantheon of Olympian deities and all manner of pernicious, colossal beasties.
So what now?
Well, with all those aggrandizing Greek gods kaput, I guess it was time for Kratos to kick back, grow out his beard and start another family. And that’s pretty much where the 2018 version of God of War begins.
It’s some dozen years or so since the events of the last game. Kratos is visibly older now. No dad bod going on, to be sure, but he looks a bit more tired. And it turns out that in the intervening years, he has indeed started over.
The weary warrior’s wife, though, has recently passed away from unknown causes. So it’s time for Kratos and his 10-year-old son, Atreus, to take her ashes and spread them on the highest peak in the realm.
What Atreus doesn’t realize, though, is that his massive and grizzled father isn’t just another imposing woodsman. No, he’s part man and part god. In fact, it turns out that Atreus himself is part human, part god and part giant. And that’s not an easy combination for an awkward preteen to sort through.
Thanks to Kratos’ violent history, this journey will be anything but an easy stroll. As they leave their magically protected forest, a new set of dangerous gods—Norse ones, this time—step up to block their path and to crush them.
Thanks to Atreus’s inclusion, this newest God of War title is the most poignant and thought-provoking game in the franchise. This series has always featured a cinematic visual scope and showcased a stalwart scrapper in massive, gruesome battles. Those things are still in evidence here. But the latest entry takes an interesting tack by focusing on the father-and-son dynamic at this narrative’s core.
As the journey grows ever more perilous, the bond between a distant-and-brooding Kratos and his hot-headed young son slowly deepens. This emotional connection adds a more meaningful layer of gameplay motivation and even sparks moments of familial introspection for the gamer.
What’s the balance point between preparing and protecting your kids for the world they’ll face? the game asks. What price is paid when you hide terrible truths? Can bad decisions of the past be redeemed by better ones today? These and other thoughts keep the former Ghost of Sparta growing and eventually fighting for something he comes to value much, much more than hot-blooded vengeance.
That said, this is still a bloody game designed to make gamers feel massively empowered. This newest title may have jettisoned the fleshy sexuality that popped up in entries past; but flesh ripping and gory gushing is a habit that God of War will likely never kick.
Kratos tries to counsel his son about controlling his anger issues, for instance. But then he flies into his own fuming rage, snapping necks like twigs, tearing bodies apart with his bare hands and hacking off creature limbs like they were so many prune-worthy branches.
Enemies spew blood as Kratos bludgeons, chops and skewers them (while Atreus pincushions them with arrows from a distance). And in some prolonged battles, the brawny antagonist is literally spatter-painted with drops of his opponent’s blood.
Elsewhere, someone’s head gets lopped off … then mystically reanimated. (Kratos ties the gory talking lump to his belt.) Eyes are stabbed, necks rent and torsos carved from stem to stern. We also see a pile of corpses heaped up. And that gallery of geysering gunk is all delivered with button-mashing panache and showcased with top-notch visual fidelity.
When god-like and demonic foes aren’t spewing goop from their hacked at necks and nether regions, they might also indulge in spewing foul language: f- and s-words and other crudities, such as “a–hole,” “b–tard” and “c–klump,” flow freely here.
Where will the God of War series send Kratos and his newly introduced son in the future? Only time will tell. But based on the franchise’s past and this game’s present, it’s likely that testosterone-engorged violent spectacle will still be a centerpiece of the mix.
After spending more than two decades touring, directing, writing and producing for Christian theater and radio (most recently for Adventures in Odyssey, which he still contributes to), Bob joined the Plugged In staff to help us focus more heavily on video games. He is also one of our primary movie reviewers.