With the upcoming God of War, Sony Santa Monica is delving into an aspect of Kratos’s life that has previously been glimpsed, but not explored in detail. Though best known for hyper-masculinity and a proclivity for stomach-churning, rage-fuelled brutality, the next entry in the God of War series promises to foreground themes of family and fatherhood, which have hitherto been present but not prominent in the saga. Since 2005’s seminal entry, Kratos’s roles as a father, husband, and son have informed his rise, fall, and apocalyptic anger, leading him first to become the eponymous God of War before setting him on a path that would bring about the end of the Olympic Pantheon. Across this six-game journey, the developers at Sony Santa Monica and Ready at Dawn have drawn on both Greek myth and historical sources to create the character of Kratos and portray conflicting ideas of family and fatherhood.
Prevailing notions of familial duty in Ancient Greece were neither static nor uniform. In many instances, care for children was handled by the city-state, with Sparta, in particular, adhering to strict regimes to ensure the creation of a powerful army1. Even in the forward-thinking city of Athens, a father’s responsibilities for his children were secondary to those for the political realm, as exemplified by the Socratic ideal of a philosophical life set out in Plato’s writings2. Nevertheless, stability of the household was often conflated with stability of the nation, ensuring that the raising of both respectful and respectable citizens was a priority3. Despite the centrality of these ideas to day-to-day life in Ancient Greece, the nation’s mythology was rife with intergenerational conflict4. As explained in God of War II, the Titan Cronos swallowed his children as they were born to protect himself from the inevitable power struggles between father and son that had led him to castrate and depose his own father, Uranus. Even on the human scale, the incompatibility of fathers and sons is a recurring theme of Ancient Greek mythology, with Oedipus and Theseus also responsible, whether directly or indirectly, for the deaths of their respective fathers5. The God of War series draws from myth to portray a morality tale that aligns with the teachings of Ancient Greek society. Kratos begins as a loving father and model citizen whose travails destroy his sense of civic duty, transforming him into a vengeful son whose determination to topple his father brings about the end of civilisation.
Kratos’s powerful allegiance to family is most keenly portrayed in the prequel entries of the series, Chains of Olympus and Ascension. Long before even the earliest entry in the series, 2013’s God of War: Ascension, Kratos—at that time a young and brilliant Spartan general—had been tricked by Ares into slaughtering his wife, Lysandra, and daughter, Calliope, setting in motion the events of the saga. God of War: Chains of Olympus tells a tale of Kratos’s early days when he remained in bondage to the Olympian Gods, and focuses on the character’s adoration for his daughter. With Morpheus’s dream-realm incurring into the real world, Kratos hears a melody once played by Calliope, which leads him onwards. Eventually, he uncovers a plot to destroy the world, hatched by Persephone, Goddess of the Underworld, who offers him a chance to reunite with his deceased daughter. Although he originally capitulates, Kratos reconsiders his decision on realising that Persephone’s plan would destroy the Elysian Fields, and therefore Calliope’s spirit, going on to kill a Goddess and enchain the Titan Atlas to the Pillar of the World. While Kratos thus surrenders any future opportunity to be with his daughter, he does so to keep her soul intact, revealing just how dedicated he truly is to his family. These core themes are revisited in God of War: Ascension, which focuses on Kratos’s attempt to escape from the Furies, who punish those who break blood oaths. Themes of family are less pronounced in Ascension than in Chains of Olympus, but the game casts Kratos as an atypical Spartan in that he truly loved Lysandra, rather than simply marrying her out of obligation6. Across the course of the game, the Furies offer the character several illusions based on the glories of his past, but the only one that holds any sway is seeing his wife again, reinforcing his familial loyalty. In this respect, Kratos stands in stark contrast to his own father, Zeus, who is too concerned with power and prophecy to attempt to cultivate a mutual understanding with his son.
With corruption of the father comes also corruption of the son. At the conclusion of God of War II, Athena reveals that Zeus fathered Kratos, contextualising the King of Olympus’s attempts to kill Kratos following the latter’s ascendancy to godhood. By endeavouring to kill his son, however, Zeus sets in motion a self-fulfilling prophecy, as Kratos’s consequent rage leads to his decision to end the reign of Olympus. This series of events draws clear inspiration from Greek mythology, continuing the cycle of patricide set forth by the line of succession from Uranus to Zeus7. God of War III is almost singularly focused on the fall of Olympus, but ever greater blights are brought upon the people of Ancient Greece by the death of the gods. By conflating the destruction of Olympus with the destruction of civilisation, Sony Santa Monica draws on the Athenian ideal of a clear connection between the oikos—the household—and the polis—society8. Because the gods are Kratos’s brothers and sisters, his killing spree is a tangible representation of familial discord, and the effects are cataclysmic. The Spartan general, a model citizen, is replaced by a ravening beast, with the effects being perfectly attuned to the tenets of Athenian social norms. As the Ancient Greek philosophers suggests, disunity within the household leads to the end of civilisation as floods, tornadoes and locusts plague the land by God of War III’s conclusion. The cycle of destruction, then, is complete with Kratos now the new King of Olympus, but rather than taking responsibility for his actions, Kratos appears to attempt suicide, releasing the virtue of hope (acquired when he opened Pandora’s Box in the first game) and giving the wider world a chance to rebuild.
By the time that 2018’s God of War takes place at some point interminably distant from God of War III, the world has at least begun to rebuild, with the game offering a new beginning for Kratos. Little is known about the story at present, though the setting has moved from Greek to Norse mythology and the eponymous character is now accompanied by a son, Atreus, giving him a fresh chance to experience the family life that he missed out on with Calliope and Lysandra. With Calliope dying young, however, and Kratos himself being raised in Spartan society, where fathers had no say in the raising of their children9 (a point briefly alluded to in God of War: Ghost of Sparta), the bond between father and child should be incomprehensible to the demigod. Therefore, as the game’s director, Cory Barlog has previously noted, the game will be as much about Kratos training Atreus as about Atreus helping Kratos to reclaim his long-lost humanity10. In doing so, next year’s God of War will double down on the ideas of fatherhood and familial relations, themes that have been iterated upon throughout the series and presented in two forms, one idealistic and the other cataclysmic. God of War promises a new, more measured approach that may well allow Kratos the family that he craves.
God of War has heretofore been a series marked by rage and brutality, but a tender heart has always beaten, buried amongst the horror. The games have revealed Kratos’s past lives as a father, son, soldier, and god, casting them in different lights while always holding true to Athenian ideas about the relationship between the household and society at large. Themes of fatherhood have permeated the series, but 2018’s God of War will allow those ideas to be fully realised by casting father and son on a journey of self-discovery that should show how humanity and fatherhood are inextricably intertwined.