Optional boss fights, no jump button, and new themes punctuate a very different approach the franchise.
When the game was announced at E3 two years ago it was evident God of War 4 was going to be a divergence from the preceding trilogy. Sony Santa Monica has moved to an over the shoulder camera, more open maps to explore, and more significantly the addition of a new character to join Kratos on the adventure. In a recent interview with Game Informer, game director Cory Barlog spoke about some of the big changes in God of War 4.
Sony Santa Monica’s newest mythological adventure is only a few months away and it is looking pretty phenomenal. Ever since the return of Kratos was revealed at E3, sporting his new full beard and Norse inspiration we have been eager to learn more. It appears as though Kratos has retired his god killing ways and started a new family in a new land. Norse mythology will be the basis of the new game which means an entirely new pantheon of Gods and monsters to face.
One of the big things that worries some fans is the removal of the jump button. Sadly this does mean no more brutal aerial combos, but Barlog promises that we even miss it. The developers have focused on more grounded combat and traversal.Kratos has traded in his Blades of Chaos for one large ice axe, the Leviathan.
This new weapon has been featured heavily in the trailers so far but it will only be one of the many tools and weapons the old God of War has in his arsenal. The gameplay certainly still looks as visceral and brutal as ever, Kratos ripping through enemies. His axe acting as both an effective melee combat weapon and a ranged weapon with a return function similar to Thor’s legendary hammer.
Atreus plays an important part in combat as well. We have observed him calling out enemies for Kratos and leading attacks himself. Barlog commented that Sony Santa Monica was fortunate to be developing this title within the first party family of Sony games because it has given them the opportunity to speak with other developers about there experiences with things like friendly AI and more. Sony Santa Monica consulted with Naughty Dog and Bend Studio among others to help them navigate some of the pitfalls of the mechanics they have chosen to include.
The powerful slow-motion finishers will be part of the final game, some will be available from the start while others will have to be unlocked. There will many returning mechanics as well although they may not return exactly as you remember them. There will be collectables to buff health for instance and you will be able to unlock new moves.
One of the most interesting points from the interview was Barlog’s comment on skippable bosses. He quickly responded simply yes, but did not further clarify. It certainly seems God of War 4 is looking a lot less linear than previous titles and this supports that directions. Players will be able to choose not to battle certain bosses and perhaps revisit them at a later time.
While it is not a truly “open world” the maps will be much larger than previous games and be designed to reward their exploration. While Barlog was careful not to draw comparisons between other games when questioned if the map would work similarly to Rise of the Tomb Raider in functionality he said that “there’s an encouragement to feel like, if you see something over there you should go check it out because you are going to be rewarded by actually discovering the world open up even more than you had imagined before.”
There are a number of side activities to do in this world outside of kill monsters and Barlog says they open up the world and make players feel more connected to it. He also reconfirmed the use of boat travel and a significant part of world traversal. Some fans were nervous when early reports said that as much as 30% of the game was by boat. Barlog did not walk back those comments but commented that it was an interesting way to break up traversal and adds interesting character to the story.
The story of God of War 4 is also already notably different in theme and tone than its predecessors. From the earliest reveal footage at E3 we observed a much more reserved Kratos, a man infamous for his rage working very hard to keep it in check for this boy. Although that footage did show off some of his iconic brutal combat it ended on a rather sentimental scene between father and son.
This is the driving concept of God of War 4. Barlog says that the story is informed by his own experiences with fatherhood, so much so that if he had had a daughter the narrative may well have revolved around Kratos and his daughter. The journey is about the growth of these characters, both Kratos coming to terms with his own history as his mentors his son.
The newest trailer indicated that Kratos has not made his son aware of his lineage and that it will be a crucial plot point. Barlog noted that in previous games Kratos spent a lot of time blaming others, which may indicate we can expect to see him accepting responsibility for his past deeds. While previous God of War titles are immensely fun they have often fallen flat in their narratives. Focusing on Kratos’ anger and story of revenge.
This story will allow the creators to explore more emotions beyond rage. Already we have seen Kratos struggling with fatherhood and with his own demons. It will be interesting to see what other themes Sony Santa Monica explores.
Now if you are concerned that Sony Santa Monica is giving too much away before their game is released in April don’t worry. The marketing team has actually been keeping a tight lid on what we can expect from the full game and Barlog remarked during the interview, even the latest story trailer actually reveals very little about its contents.
At its core, it still feels very much like a God of War game but the development team have made a number of changes both to the mechanics and narrative motivations that aim to take the franchise in a new direction. Sony Santa Monica is attempting to elevate their previously one-dimensional protagonist and explore more mature themes and that’s a good thing.
There are risks in changing core elements of a beloved series but those risks are necessary for any studio to move forward and grow creatively. Until we get our hands on the game, it is difficult to say whether those risks will pay off for fans but it is looking very promising.
God of War 4 will be available April 20th exclusively for PS4.