God of War (2018) reinvented more than just the series’ gameplay style and setting- it also reinvented Kratos as a character. Once the embodiment of rage and, as a certain Metal Gear character would say, a lust for revenge, Kratos was deemed mind-numbingly one-dimensional by many for a long, long time. Given the style of the series during its Greek era years, his character made sense- God of War was like a popcorn flick back then, and it didn’t need a protagonist with too much depth or complexity (though saying that Kratos had no complexity even back then wouldn’t entirely be accurate- but that’s a different discussion).
With the 2018 soft reboot-slash-sequel, however, the series matured and grew up, and as its style of storytelling changed and became more grounded and character-driven, it ended up needing a protagonist who could back that up. And thankfully, Kratos was more than capable of turning into that protagonist. Much more subdued, consciously holding back his famous rage and actively trying to be a different person, 2018’s Kratos was very much done with his furious, violent ways, and even though he got pulled back into the sort of situation that he was so desperately trying to avoid, he knew that he had to keep his worst tendencies in check. Seeing him with that sort of self-awareness was refreshing.
And it looks like things will be taken a step further on that front in the upcoming God of War Ragnarok. It goes without saying, of course, that as a sequel to the 2018 game, Ragnarok will continue to build on its plot threads and character arcs, so Kratos coming to terms with his ugly past and reconciling who he is now with who he used to be is going to continue being a crucial part of the story, especially with Atreus being such an important character now. But it’s pretty clear that there will be another character in addition to Atreus and Kratos himself who is going to hold up a mirror to the Ghost of Sparta’s violent past.
We are, of course, talking about Thor. Alongside Odin, he’s going to be the central villain in God of War Ragnarok, and even though he never made a single appearance in the 2018 game, we still have a really good idea of what kind of a character he is. Driven first and foremost by fame and glory, with an unquenchable thirst for proving that he’s the strongest of them all. Unflinchingly violent, relentless in his pursuit of his enemies, ruled by extreme bloodlust and brutality. Let loose by the Aesir on their enemies like a mad dog, who then just watch him rampage and bulldoze over everyone and everything in his path. Sound familiar?
That is very much the role that Kratos once served for the rulers of Mt. Olympus in Greece. Even before that, in fact, when he was a general in the Spartan army and unaffiliated with Ares, Kratos was a force of nature. Starting with those days, leading into his years of servitude tied to the gods of Mt. Olympus, leading into his quest for vengeance against Zeus and co, Kratos was a single-minded man driven by nothing but anger. He was excessively violent, relentless, and destroyed everything in his path. The parallels between who Kratos was then and what Thor is now are clear to see.
And it’s those parallels exactly that we’re pretty sure are going to play an important part in the story. Kratos as we know him now has been on a journey of self-discovery and self-improvement, and coming face to face with a terrifying foe who reminds him of what he used to be and holds up a mirror to his own past is probably going to be the next step in that journey. That works out well, too, because there’s still plenty about Kratos’ past that his new and improved self hasn’t been forced to face and come to terms with.
In God of War (2018), Kratos tells Atreus that he used to be the Ghost of Sparta, and that he killed his father, but as anyone who’s even remotely familiar with his deeds in the series’ Greek era games would tell you, that’s not even anywhere close to being near the top of the list of his most atrocious acts. In fact, killing Zeus is probably one of his more understandable actions. Kratos is also the man who killed his own wife and daughter though, the man who still has their ashes stuck to his skin, the man who has killed countless innocents, the man who destroyed all of Greece just so he could satisfy his boundless need for vengeance.
Those are things that he is yet to face in a more direct manner, and in all likelihood, it’ll be seeing Thor in all of his bloody glory that’ll compel Kratos to do that. It’s worth pointing out, of course, that Atreus is likely also going to be a crucial component of that. More than anything else at this point in his life, Kratos wants his son to be better than he was. That was a key plot point in God of War (2018), after all, and it was a big part of why he ended up killing Baldur, even though he probably didn’t want to for Freya’s sake.
The question, however, is whether or not Kratos is going to be able to keep his worst tendencies in check. All the Aesir will be coming at him with everything they’ve got. The terrifying force of nature that is Thor will be hunting him and Atreus like a bloodhound, and Freya has sworn vengeance as well and will clearly stop at nothing to avenge the death of her beloved son. Given what he will be forced to not only face but also unequivocally defeat, will Kratos be able to not give into his bloodthirst and his brutality? Will he decide to stoop down to his enemies’ level, or will he try and find a better way to deal with the mess he finds himself in? That’s going to be an important plot point in the game, no doubt, and we’re more than a little curious to see how Kratos continues to grow and evolve- or perhaps regress.
One way or another, it’s clear that God of War Ragnarok is going to be yet another fascinating deep dive into his character. God of War (2018) did the impossible when it turned Kratos from an angry one-dimensional revenge machine into an actual character with complexity and nuance, and it did so with great aplomb. As the last game in the series’ short-lived Norse saga, Ragnarok is going to have to wrap up a great deal of narrative threads and character arcs, but it goes without saying that Kratos and his own personal journey are going to be at the center of it all. How that personal journey progresses and how his own character comes out the other end is going to be one of the most fascinating parts of the experience. Here’s hoping the game can do justice to what its predecessor has set up.
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