After multiple leaks, Sony Santa Monica finally revealed a new God of War game for PS4, but what we saw was a far cry from what we expected. The newest entry in the series makes a number of departures from its tried and true formula, most notably by adding a companion character for Kratos.
The introduction of Kratos's son is indicative of a shift in tone, an attempt to reframe the character as a father trying to guide his son away from making the same mistakes he did. This, director Cory Barlog admits, is a challenge, particularly given the character's history as a brutish, bloodthirsty slayer of gods.
We discussed this, and more, with Barlog during a quick interview at E3 2016. For more on the game, check out GameSpot's feature about everything you missed from the God of War PS4 trailer.
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You must be really excited about finally showing the game.
Yes, I'm riding high on being able to talk about this, but also last night [Sony's press conference] was amazing.
We'd seen concept art for something rumoured to be a new God of War through leaks, and yet what was shown was still so far off what we expected. Did you feel confident that people wouldn't see your reimagined God of War coming?
I would love to say I was confident, but I think there were many moments of doubt and fear. I don't know if anybody noticed since but that Shinobi602 guy [that leaked the announcement] had actually said "to the halls of Valhalla, my boy," but nobody picked up on that thank god because I was really worried that would get out there early.
It's never fun to have that stuff leak out. The biggest thing is that it's work-in-progress stuff, which we would pass around and say, "That's not approved, that's not good." That character [that leaked] wasn't representative of anything anywhere near what our artist did on [new] Kratos. Seeing that version out there was very tough. At the end we knew we'd be able to show him.
People kind of felt that Ascension would be the last time we see Kratos, even more so when the Norse mythology theme was leaked. Why did you bring him back?
Personally I find it an interesting challenge as a storyteller to take a character that you've taken very close to the darkest of dark sides, then see if you can pull that character back. Kratos is someone that has repeatedly made the wrong choices, but what happens if he makes other choices? In the beginning there was some talk about not bringing back Kratos, and maybe we should look at other protagonists. But then look at Mario, nobody on the internet is saying, "Another Mario game with Mario? C'mon guys." Kratos is intrinsically tied to the brand and the world. The idea of this immortal tragic figure being forced to walk the Earth forever as his punishment.
It's like the punishment of Vic Maccy at the end The Shield. I'm going to spoil that. Killing Maccy would have been a mistake, but putting him behind a desk was amazing. That took the essence of the character and put him in the most torturous position, with his gun hanging over there and him behind a desk with a suit. This is a similar thing, but instead of torturing Kratos we're putting him in a situation where he has to constantly fight the nature that he let loose so freely in the greek era.
One of the challenges you now face, after multiple games of this guy brutally killing everything is getting players to take him seriously when he's being sincere. All they've seen is Hulk, so when you bring out Bruce Banner, it's a weird turn.
Yes, we want to show you don't have Banner without Hulk and you don't have Hulk without Banner. The god and the human side coexist within him and he let out that rage for a long period of time, but we're trying to find the motivation to change within him, and actually get people along for the ride for that change. It's like Arrow Season 1 and Season 2, from brutal killer to struggling in situations where he's being forced to kill.
Deliberately, I went for that Buffy Dawn reveal; one day everyone was calling Dawn "sister" and they didn't explain it was a spell for like three episodes. I like that--enter the scene late and get people in, pull the bandaid off quickly and put him into situation where you see him struggle. He gets upset, but pulls it back, he doesn't let the kid get in the fray, but then gives him an opportunity and the kid screws up. It's all anchored in real human experiences we've had. Probably not fighting trolls or shooting lightning but my dad was holding a piece of wood and a nail and I hit him on the hand with the hammer. It was the same thing where I was like, "Oh man, sorry," and he was all, "Don't say anything."
To what extent does Kratos's son factor into gameplay?
We aren't doing precise finite control. You don't ever have control over the movement of the kid. He finds his own way, he splits the battlefield and focuses on specific things, as you upgrade him he gets better and will do things automatically. But there's a specific button dedicated to the kid and in combination with the free-look camera, he will attack wherever you're looking. So that guy approaching you, he can fire a couple of lightning arrows on your command. Other times he'll fire them just to split the battlefield and keep the combat going. Sometimes he can get overwhelmed, as there's other enemies that will specifically target him. He's like magic, an additional combat resource, and you're training him and teaching him.
You're training him to be a warrior like you?
Not like you. Kratos is teaching him how to survive. This time period is very much away from the Viking stuff. There's migration before them, and pre-migration before that. We're at pre-migration, in Scandinavia it was a very barren time when it was said the Norse Gods wandered the earth. The Vikings always talked about, "The gods have abandoned us," and the gods not being around, even though they thought Thor, Odin, and Loki walked the Earth. They did walk the Earth, but they just pre-dated them.