God of War has never been on the cutting edge of storytelling, but after seven games of murdering his way through the Greek pantheon, creative director Cory Barlog is ready to tone down the rage-fueled Kratos. The series reboot-sequel hybrid announced during Sony's press conference takes him hundreds of years forward, and introduces a whole new set of Norse gods to destroy. However, this story appears more personal for Barlog, and as a result, we're likely to see a very different idea of the God of War.
The hands-off demonstration still evoked a gruff demeanor, but like many games in the last few years, it evokes themes of parenthood. Kratos is far from a perfect parent, but he's clearly trying to prepare his son for some untold future. In one of the demo's quieter moments, he conspicuously stops himself from comforting the child. Apparently, whatever future he has in mind for his son can't be tainted by moments of tenderness.
That makes Kratos far from the perfect parent, but it comes from an honest place. The character is at least attempting to make some form of amends for his violent past. Barlog said this game is really about Kratos trying to put his rage in check, after multiple games in which unchecked anger was the driving force and a major gameplay mechanic.
"I think parenting themes are coming up because a lot of us making games are getting older and having kids. For me, it's the adage of 'write what you know.' You get more moments of truth if you're not just writing something that you're completely disconnected from," he said. "Getting that human truth that you can get from simple moments--simple moments that I have with my kid all the time, seeing the worst parts of myself."
The constant joke following Barlog's work surrounded Kratos' "daddy issues" with Zeus. Barlog said that his anger probably stems even earlier than that, to whoever his earthly father must have been.
"The sort of father figure he must have had, during the Spartan training," he said. "That was probably the most horrific military training in the history of mankind. They beat them and starved them and sent them out into the wild, killed children who were perceived as ill."
The takeaway was clear. Destroying monsters is all well and good--and there will be plenty of them in this game, no doubt--but his ideas of parenthood and the way generations impact one another has turned more introspective. The old Kratos was an angry man lashing out at his deadbeat dad. The new one is trying to set a good example and prepare his son for the larger world. It's a resonant theme even set against the extreme conditions of this setting.
How well it will pull off this narrative thrust will remain to be seen. Video games like The Walking Dead and The Last of Us have set high bars for exploring the topic of burgeoning parenthood and responsibility. But it's a more thoughtful premise than we've seen from the series, and it allows for narrative possibilities more complex than a deific murder spree. That's enough to take notice.
This God of War preview was based on a hands-off PlayStation 4 demo of the game at an event where refreshments were provided by Sony.