The relationship between Kratos and Atreus as father and son is imperative to the new God of War. It’s the catalyst that sets the stage in those early moments, and it persists throughout. The ashen-skinned Spartan is making up for a previous family lost, a loss that led to a life of vengeance and suffering. Atreus is central to this new chapter of Kratos’s story, not only in narrative, but as a key component of the gameplay, and he almost didn’t happen.
Sony was apparently worried about the cost of adding Atreus into the game in such a central role. Speaking to GameSpot, God of War Director Cory Barlog talked about how different the game would have been had Sony cut Atreus early in development.
It would have been very different. The early phase when they told me, “Man, this might be too hard, too expensive, we’re already looking at so many challenges, it’s maybe too much.” When I went back and said, “Alright, fine, if it was not with Atreus, what would it be?” And, it would have been a very, very different game? The comparison I made was, “Alright, it’s gonna be All Is Lost with Robert Redford”; it’s gonna be one character who talks to himself occasionally, but generally, it will be very silent and everyone will talk in old Norse, so that you won’t understand anything anybody’s saying.”
Apparently Sony liked the idea of having Atreus far better than that of an aged Kratos talking to himself, so they gave Barlog the freedom to move forward with his original vision. “I think that threat was enough for them to go, ‘Okay, we’ll take on Atreus.’ So, it was kind of the creative director, passive aggressive, ‘Oh, yeah? Well, we’ll take all the toys away.'”
GameSpot also conversed with Rob Davis, God of War’s lead level designer. He quipped that it added a dynamic between Kratos and Atreus as the son understands this Norse world in ways that the father simply cant. “Actually like having Atreus be an expert in Norse language and mythology is awesome because you can do a whole other set of design based on what Atreus is an expert in, that Kratos is sort of not,” Davis said before comparing the pair to a famous Pixar duo. “And then you get a bit of an odd couple relationship. You know, Buzz Lightyear’s good at one thing, Woody’s good at another thing. So, that’s the foundation of a sort of odd couple.”
Davis added that the discussion between Kratos and Atreus as they explore the mysteries of these Scandinavian lands makes for great intersections of puzzle solving, level design, and interactions between the characters. Allowing the developers to design around these interactions created a whole new kind of world design that they got to have a lot of fun with.
Barlog’s idea for Kratos’s next chapter came from a pretty personal place. H was intent on having Atreus as a part of God of War because he wanted to give Kratos a path for meaningful and reasonable growth and development. “I had just had my son, at the start of this game, and I was kind of looking at it like ‘Oh, wow, how much of myself do I wanna show here.’ How much of my faults do I want the mask and cover up and how many of the dumb things that I’ve doe in my life do I wanna prevent him from doing? And, it’s like, wow, that’s Kratos, that’s Kratos to a T–he has made the worst decision in his life, but be able to actually, earnestly, be a parent.”
Reviewers seem to agree that the decision to keep Atreus in was a good one. God of War currently sits at 95 on Metacritic, second only on the PS4 charts to Grand Theft Auto V. Our own review agrees with the consensus, awarding the game a resounding 10 out of 10 and Editor’s Choice award. I can personally say that God of War Atreus is one of a number of elements that really make the game something special. Had God of War simply been Kratos muttering to himself, I cannot see it having been received quite so highly, nor can I see his character developing in a way that would connect with players.
God of War releases exclusively for PS4 on April 20.