Creative Director Cory Barlog on God of War’s new direction

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E3 2016: It’s an exciting new chapter for both Kratos and Santa Monica Studios. The God of War franchise has been wholly revitalized with not only new locations and characters but new themes. We sat down with Creative Director Cory Barlog at a closed-door session to talk about the former god of war, his son, and the human flaw of change.

As Kratos grew older and had a son, so too did the developers age and start families of their own. It gave them fresh perspectives and a desire to take the series down a new direction, adding depth and dimension to a character that has long been likened as being all Hulk and no Bruce Banner.

“As a parent, how much of your real self do you show to your kid?” posited Barlog. Kratos wants to teach his son how to be a god but he doesn’t necessarily want him to be one — in fact, the former god of war views godhood as a disease. After spending seven games making up for his life’s past misdeeds, it’s understandable why the Ghost of Sparta isn’t keen on his son making the same mistakes he did.

This father-son relationship will be a central theme throughout the game, as Kratos takes on the role of both student and teacher. He wants to master his legendary pantheon-wiping rage and hide it from his son, while at the same time teaching everything he needs to know to survive the harsh and frigid world of Midgard.

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We’ve already seen a glimpse of this training at the E3 reveal, during the final segment involving the bow and deer. The son takes aim as an on-screen reticle sways wildly across the screen, guided to its mark as Kratos instructs in a calm and soothing voice. And as with all children, his fear and hesitance will eventually be replaced by the confidence to say: “Dad, I got this.”

Not all players want to follow the itinerary, of course, so I asked just how much influence a player has over the son’s development. Will it be possible to intentionally mess up these training sections? Barlog says they’re still experimenting, to see how much freedom they should offer players to chase their own agendas.

Suffice it to say, God of War will be an intimate and personal story. Kratos starting a new family is a surprising turn of events and one of the most pressing mysteries — the mother’s identity — will be revealed during the game. And as with the trailer, the game will be chock-full of easter eggs and references because the developers were, in Barlog’s words, just that nerdy.

In regards to time and place, he clarifies that this is a direct sequel to God of War 3. “Kratos is not allowed to die; it’s his curse.” After bringing down the gods of Olympus, his revenge fulfilled, Kratos wanted to get as far away from Greece as possible. They didn’t want to disclose just how much time has passed, only that he had spent an extended amount of time alone.

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Technically, he still is the god of war — or should we say a god of war? — but he has shrugged off his powers. All mythologies exist in parallel, separated only by geography and the times, and thus Kratos winds up in a land that’s both isolated and empty. It’s the pre-migration period of the Viking era which, in other words, is the perfect refuge.

The E3 demo was a very small slice of gameplay and our hands-off session saw Kratos taking a more leisurely approach. “[God of War is] not open-world but we’re opening up the world,” explained Barlog, saying that there are now alternate paths to widen the player experience.

Kratos spends a few moments picking up runes, breaking jars for silver coins, and destroying various idols. They’ve adopted a new upgrade and loadout system for both him and his son although they didn’t dive into any details. They didn’t divulge on the whereabouts of the Blades of Exile either, saying that the iconic weapon was very effective at controlling space but simply wouldn’t work with the new approach they are taking. As for the axe and dagger, they both wield significant importance to the story and have a direct connection to the family’s history.

The demo encounters the same Draugrs — fallen warriors not selected by the Valkyries — and we got an expanded look at the combat system. Right off the bat, Kratos counters the first attack and moves into a combo that launches his opponent into the air, followed by the axe throw we’ve all already seen. Kratos then pins another Draugr to a rock before pummeling another with his fists. Barlog clarifies that players can leave the axe there for as long and as far away as they want — much to the displeasure of the coders — before calling it back.

Axe attacks are mapped to dedicated buttons but not in the same way as before. Rather than locking into a square-square-triangle combo system, the team wanted players the freedom to seamlessly chain attacks together. A series of swings and chops could be easily followed by a magical attack — a slow, overhead swing that explodes with frost — or commands for Kratos’ son to attack.

The son has his own dedicated button and, in combat, tapping it makes him attack the targeted enemy. In the demo he betrays his affinity to lightning, firing off electrically-charged arrows. Out of combat it’ll be used in all other aspects of gameplay, from traversal to puzzles.

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While God of War may look and feel different, the franchise is still the same at heart. “We knew we wanted to change the franchise, to tear it apart, put all the pieces on the floor, find out what the essence of the series is and take that to the next level.”

That feeling certainly came through during the demo and we hope it’ll ring true for the rest of the game.

God of War is a PlayStation 4 exclusive.

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Ade Putra

Ade thinks there's nothing quite like a good game and a snug headcrab. He grew up with HIDEO KOJIMA's Metal Gear Solid, lives for RPGs, and is waiting for light guns to make their comeback.