Following 7 successful and critically acclaimed titles, the latest God of War finally lands next week. In the previous games, the hero Kratos took revenge on the Greek gods who used him then destroyed his life. Now in the reboot/reimaging of the franchise, an ageing, bearded Kratos is set to face his biggest challenge yet: Parenthood. No joke.
We sat down with two prominent members of the God of War team from Santa Monica Studios: Creative Director Cory Barlog and Lead Level Designer Rob Davis to talk all things God of War. We also scored an opportunity to cast our own replica of God of War’s Leviathan Axe but more on that later. First, the interview.
Straight up, pitch us God of War?
Cory: God of War is an epic, Norse mythological road trip in which an ageing demi-god learns how to be a human again while teaching his son not to become the monster he once was.
Rob: What we always shoot for is the ultimate action-adventure game.
Cory: While delivering on the promises on the back of the box. When we make these promises to the player, we want to make sure we deliver on every single one.
Left: Creative Director Cory Barlog. Right: Lead Level Designer Rob Davis
The New God of War is quite different to the previous games. Why did you shake up the core design and setting?
Cory: Different, yet familiar in so many ways. At its heart, its DNA, God of War is asking what would happen if an action game character you know grew up? What would they be like? How would they make different decisions? At the beginning of this game, Kratos our hero is shaking off the cobwebs. He hasn’t done this in a long time. The player can watch Kratos grow, unlocking different aspects of his personality. It’s not rehashing what we’ve done in the past.
We’ve made 7 God of War games that I think are fantastic. When I get my hands on a controller and hit the buttons, they may be different buttons to what I’ve hit in the past, but there’s a connection to the play experience that’s very familiar. We revealed the game and showed a tonne of gameplay early to rip the band-aid off. To let players know we are the same people who made the previous games. We are changing a lot, and it’s immediately different but trust us, it’s still home. It’s just a different home.
What’s so special about his new weapon the Leviathan Axe?
Cory: At the beginning of this one, we started with a new palette, and I feel like we’ve taken it five steps beyond. We’ve brought a new creative expression that I am so excited about. It permeates not just through the combat but also level design, exploration and puzzles. It’s all throughout. I couldn’t even imagine the game without it.
Rob: The axe is forged by the blacksmiths who made Mjölnir (Thor’s hammer), so of course, it’s going to be cool when you pick it up to play with. It offers something that I don’t think has been done in games. Throw the axe, press the triangle button and Kratos will call it back to him. From combat, exploration and puzzle solving perspectives, the number of uses we found is incredible. Probably the most important thing is every time you call then catch the axe you get a little smile on your face and think yep, still awesome.
Cory: We wanted to capture the same feeling people got when they saw the very first God of War back at E3 in 2004. It’s visually different, but at its heart, there’s the giddy happiness that is I want to keep doing this.
Leviathan Axe replica
Why did you shift from Greek mythology to a Norse-inspired setting?
Cory: In the beginning, it was the weird Scandinavian sense of humour. We were going to tell a bigger broader story, and I knew we needed dynamics to shift between levity and seriousness. We couldn’t just be serious all the time. We needed a myth that would allow us to embrace humanity. If Kratos is to be relatable, he needed to have some levity.
Scandinavian mythology just afforded us this fantastic palate to work with. It has characters that are doing very serious things, but also looking at life and not taking it completely seriously. You read some of these myths and they’re just so weird. My wife is Swedish. I worked out of Sweden for over a year and just that limited exposure, seeing all the people is what inspired it.
Rob: Our aim with God of War, was to make the levels broader, more explorative than before. So different realms, epic Norse forests, mountain landscapes were all perfect. I think the level design team and the environment team came together to add a lot of mystery. When you look at Norse mythology, there’s a lot of weird characters and weird rules. This was perfect for us to draw from. We were able to build a lot of mystery, and of course, the player wants to uncover the mysteries and discover its secrets, so that’s been terrific for us.
Did you get to visit Scandinavia or anywhere else interesting for research?
Cory: I wasn’t allowed to leave the office, but we did send the studio head Shannon Studstill, concept artists, environmental artists and programmers to Iceland. They were able to go out into the wild, get a lot of photography and get a good sense of what that place felt like. We had a recent Norse-themed event in Norway. I got to go out on a Viking longboat. The game’s finished, so now I can experience cool stuff.
Kratos defeated the Greek gods, some with his bare hands. Where does parenting fall on a scale of all his challenges?
Cory: Parenting is his hardest challenge yet because he can’t brute force his way through it. I’m going to steal a quote from Chris Judge, the actor who plays Kratos. Once in an interview, he said “how can you father when you’ve never been fathered yourself. Look at God of War’s history. Zeus was Kratos’ dad. He was a terrible parental role model. When you understand the soft skills it takes to try and teach a child a lesson like don’t let your anger control you, but that’s all Kratos knows. It’s like the Hulk trying to teach his kid not to be the Hulk.
It is an amazing journey to watch – Seeing such a bastion of power struggle through something. But that’s why we engage with stories. Because we see characters struggle, fall then pick themselves back up. That’s what inspires us. It’s what inspires me, to see someone fall and get back up so when they succeed, they feel like they’ve earned it. There’s a sense of rooting for that character that’s so satisfying.
God of War launches exclusively on PlayStation 4 on 20th April 2018. To celebrate, Sony has partnered with Sydney’s Eveleigh Works for a God of War inspired axe-making masterclass. You can forge your own replica of the Leviathan Axe. All the details right here.