I was skeptical. I expected this new, serious, grown-up God of War to mistake misery for maturity—to think a Kratos that’s sullen instead of angry, that’s struggling to connect with his only living son rather than seeking vengeance for his dead family, would somehow make up for the adolescent angst that has defined all these games so far. I expected it to show one asshole’s journey into being a slightly different kind of asshole. There’s definitely a lot of that to this game—early on it seems like Kratos is worried that his son won’t grow up into a merciless, rage-filled genocide machine if he shows him even the slightest bit of tenderness—but it isn’t entirely a po-faced paean to surly dads and their sad mama’s boy sons. There’s at least a bit more soul here than the name on the box would ever lead you to believe.
Here’s the gist: after slaughtering the entire Greek pantheon, Kratos beats it far north, settling in a cabin deep in Norse territory with his new wife. Eventually they’re joined by a son, Atreus; ashamed of his bloodthirsty past, Kratos decides to never let his son know about his life in Greece, or that he’s a god, and in effect turns into a stern, emotionless dad that feels like an absent father even when the whole family is literally living in a one-room shack. Eventually Kratos’s wife dies off-camera (seriously, never marry this man, all women of videogame antiquity), and he and the son he doesn’t really know have to take her ashes to the highest peak in videogameland, per her final request. Before they can leave Kratos has a major dust-up with a mysterious stranger who can’t feel any pain and is covered in rune tattoos, and who’s played by Jeremy Davies (of Lost and this ad) at his Jeremy Daviest. Who is this unknown assailant and what does he want? Could this be a harbinger of a whole new family of gods that Kratos will have to slay, one by one, but this time begrudgingly instead of lustily? Could it be anything else?