God Of War PS4 Almost Didn't Have One Of Its Best, Most Important Characters
The game could have worked without Atreus, but it would have been completely different.
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Sony's new God of War reboot for PlayStation 4 launches this week behind a glowing critical reception. Here at GameSpot, we thought one of the best parts of the game was the father-son dynamic between Kratos and Atreus. Reviewer Peter Brown said this dynamic "enhances combat and makes Kratos surprisingly relatable."
As it turns out, there was a point in the development where it was suggested that Atreus be cut from the game or have his role significantly scaled back. That's according to game director Cory Barlog, who told GameSpot that the game would have been possible without Atreus, but it would have been almost completely different. It would have felt like the Robert Redford movie All Is Lost about a man lost at sea.
"It would have been very different," Barlog said about if they went forward without Atreus. "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."
Presented with this scenario, the higher-ups at Sony gave Barlog the freedom to move forward with Atreus, despite whatever extra cost it might incur.
"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.'"
Lead level designer Rob Davis added that having Atreus in the mix opens up significant gameplay and storytelling opportunities that might not otherwise be possible. You might think that Kratos being the biggest badass in the world would provide enough opportunities for cool gameplay and storytelling, and that may be true, but Atreus adds an interesting element of his own.
"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. "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."
Further still, Kratos and Atreus are in a foreign land--Scandinavia. This allowed the developers to establish a third pillar of intrigue.
"You can do a third setup where neither of them really understand what's going on and then you get cool story telling level design and puzzles and exploration intersecting because they're discussing the thing they have to work out together," Davis added. "They end up kind of with things Kratos is really an expert in, things the son is kind of an expert in, and things neither of them are an expert in. And then, when you can write to that, goal to that, design to that, that's where I think you have a new peanut butter and chocolate between Kratos and Atreus, but it didn't exist before."
And regarding the character development that Kratos has gone through, Barlog said people think they know who he is. But he wanted to circumvent expectations and show the audience that no one--a God of War or a person like you or me--can be boiled down to one thing.
"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.'" -- Barlog
"And, I thought, alright, creatively, the best challenge I could ever take on is to actually make people reach the end of this game and go, 'I either feel bad, I feel connected, or I felt like that moment was specifically related to me, or I have gone through that same thing.'" Barlog said about making Kratos relatable. "If I could achieve that, with a character that everybody thought, 'Whatever, he's just a guy that, in a cinematic, goes to kill people,' now that's an amazing thing."
Another factor at play here is that Barlog had a son at the start of the new God of War's development--and this impacted how he thought of writing Kratos.
"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."
If Kratos was merely a soldier who went to war and came home to see his son, this wouldn't have the same emotional resonance than if he had to deal with his demons at home.
"It's kind of like, put him in a situation where he has no choice but to deal with it," Barlog said. "And, in this game, he'd been trying to avoid it, even though he wants to figure this out, he'd been avoiding it for so long, the beginning of this game is all about forcing him into that situation. Honestly, for me, that's the most perfect dramatic ground to play in."
We'll have our full interview with Barlog and Davis going up soon. Keep checking back for more. For now, you can check out GameSpot's recent God of War stories below.