The last God of War series had Kratos tearing a bloody red wound through the Greek pantheon before impaling himself only to have the epilogue of the series reveal a blood trail sans body. It's a comforting thought—in a final defiant act against the gods, Kratos chose to take control of his own narrative whether it may be at the end of a pointy blade or a last-minute decision to see where his story will take him.
That was eight years ago. Come 20 April, we see the return of Kratos in a soft-reboot called God of War. Now, Kratos is a dad to a son, Atreus, and has set up a life in the wintry wilderness of Scandinavia. That is until he and his kid run afoul of the monsters, the denizens and, yes, even the gods from Norse mythology, who have put Kratos on notice because he straight-up ended the Greek pantheon and are wary that he might do the same to them. This "strike-first" approach proves to be a compelling incident for Kratos to put his murder face on but whereas his motive for the last series was vengeance on the gods, in this instalment, he's fighting to protect his son.
It's the usual hack-and-slash game that you've always wanted but instead of the double-chained blades in the last series, Kratos now wields a battle axe that he can swing with deadly menace as well as hurl at enemies before calling it back like a magical Norse hammer. Combat controls have shifted from the usual face buttons (square, triangle) to the shoulder buttons (R1, R2); you can still change the controls back to the original if you so wish. Gone is the fixed cinematic camera that's now replaced with an over-the-shoulder free view camera.
Players can passively control Atreus by firing arrows at your opponent (he helps in other things as well like helping you traverse tricky obstacles and translation). Atreus can be taken out though if there are too many enemies ganging up on him. This father-and-son team-up doesn't feel contrived; it's a perfect match—Kratos is focused, the only noise he makes in the heat of battle are grunts, while Atreus cracks wise as he nocks and loose arrows with abandon. It's reminiscent of Batman and Robin.
We spent 20 minutes on the game preview and as we're flooded with the familiar visuals and sounds of war, this version of Kratos struck us as more nuanced. The last series, while fun, started to feel samey. Old Kratos was angry, and there's not much emotional pull you can get from a character who is always screaming and pummeling his foes. In this game, New Kratos is, dare I say it, sensitive. There's restraint in his interaction with Atreus especially when it comes to revealing his god-killing past; you can almost hear a parental sigh as Kratos trying to deal with a kid who is trying to be a man.
From our scant preview, this interplay, the design and the combat already made this an easy addition to the shopping cart. It is a bold new direction that is confirmed by the acclaim from early reviews.
God of War will be released 20 April and is only available for PS4.