God of War (2018) Story Analysis

God of War (2018) Story Analysis

Originally, this was going to be another review. I scrapped the whole piece seconds after I finished reading this.

While I don’t agree with many of the criticisms presented in this review, what struck me was the point Ahmed made about reviewing narrative-based games: ‘why focus on that [graphics, gameplay, online features] which is agreed upon when a story is there to be dissected?’ Indeed, for games which are primarily story-driven, I believe that greater discourse and debate around the story would lead to a much more interesting exchange of ideas and theories as compared to, say, multiple reviewers reiterating the same praise for the game’s visuals.

God of War brings with it a narrative the scope of which I have never seen in a hack and slash game before. If you can’t tell already, this was my first God of War game – and it is surprisingly friendly to newcomers, for that matter.

As this is a story analysis, spoilers for God of War follow.

(Greek) Hero’s Journey

In a broad sense, much of the game mirrors to a large extent the traditional structure of the hero’s journey, with its backdrop of Norse mythology and in-game lore adding layers of richness to the story. At the start, we are presented with the seemingly impossible task of taking Faye’s ashes to the highest peak. The rest of the game takes Kratos and Atreus across realms, meeting allies, godly foes, and also involves their own personal journeys of coming to terms with their identities. In this instance, we witness two heroes’ journeys. Or should I say, for the most part we play guardian to the hero who undergoes his own transformation.

Kratos and Atreus look at the highest peak in all the realms
Greek heroes’ journey
Image: Santa Monica Studio

The Sins of the Father

Through the stories of the father-son protagonists and supporting characters, both seen and unseen, we learn of the toxic traits passed on from one generation to another. In fact, these unhealthy cycles are a recurring motif. In some cases, this result is a direct consequence of a parent’s actions (Thor’s cruel behaviour affecting his son’s self-esteem), in others it’s caused indirectly (Freya’s intention to shield Baldur from harm turning him into an emotionless monster). On the surface, it seems that their parents’ actions end up dooming children’s lives – whether they are taken out of excessive care or indifferent mockery doesn’t seem to matter much. This would be a cynical note to end the game on; thankfully it doesn’t do that.

Kratos and Baldur fighting in God of War
Baldur is the first godly foe players encounter in the game
Image: Santa Monica Studio

Kratos firmly believes in charting his own destiny (‘Fate is another lie told by the gods. Nothing is written that cannot be unwritten’). He initially hides his past from Atreus, fearing that knowing where he comes from would doom his son to the cycle of suffering and vengeance that Kratos himself went through. Witnessing Baldur attempt to murder his own mother finally makes him see that shielding one’s child from pain could just as well end the same way. This pushes him to come clean, hopefully breaking the cycle.  

False Idols

Another noticeable point in the story is its vehement anti-Aesir (Norse gods) stance. At times it seems like the writers worked overtime to drive home the point that the unchecked power possessed by the Allfather is all-corrupting as well. Through Mimir’s tales about the history of the giants, exploration, and side quests, we learn of Odin & Sons’ lasting damage to the realms, from the decimation of the giants to their villainy and trickery when dealing with the Vanir.

It seems that the Aesir have neither conscience nor any restraint when taking the lives of others. I have not looked into the authenticity of this portrayal when it comes to existing Norse mythology myself, but even factoring in creative liberties, it is a compelling take on the subject matter which usually tends to depict gods as saviours.

Conclusion

There are countless other points in the story that are worthy of their own analysis: how Freya’s love for her child even in the face of imminent death at his hands aids her transition from ally to future-foe, Atreus’ journey from irritated pre-pubescent boy to being overwhelmed by the prospect of power, and finally accepting responsibility, and much more.

Truly, God of War with its superb writing and use of mature themes sets a high bar for narrative-based action games, and its own upcoming sequel: how Ragnarok pans out remains to be seen.

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