Updated: Feb 4, 2020
Like many of you reading this, I too have been obsessed with Santa Monica Studios' latest epic reboot of God of War for the PS4. I’ve always been a fan of the franchise and when I saw they were giving it a new chapter, I was all in. But I was skeptical. The game looked drastically different from its predecessors so I was rightfully nervous. I’ve always considered Naughty Dog’s "The Last of Us" my favorite game of all time, however, God of War was able to effortlessly topple Joel and Ellie from their post-apocalyptic thrones and boldly step into my 1st place position until further notice. I found myself strangely impacted by the emotion that this new game presented since other God of War games were strictly about body count and how many trolls you could decapitate with your bare hands. The opening scene in the new game, however, shows us a pensive Kratos, much more tamed than in his former life, as you’re prompted by the game to cut down the final tree that will be used to burn the body of his recently deceased wife. It’s not long after this that you are introduced to Atreus, Kratos' son, also known as “Boy,” which Kratos repeatedly calls him throughout the game. The relationship between Kratos and Atreus is one that is tangible and relatable. At the opening of the story, Kratos is a god with a tortured past, one which he has chosen to keep secret from Atreus. And now, with the passing of his wife, Kratos is wondering how on earth he will keep a curious boy from discovering the truth. Atreus' inquisitiveness is revealed throughout the game as you see him repeatedly ask his father direct questions, only to have Kratos respond with silence or a succinct grunt at best.
To me, this God of War story is less about the decapitations, especially since this is the least violent GoW game yet, and more about discovering the meaning of the parent-to-child, child-to-parent relationship. It's no secret by now, we've all seen the memes where Kratos is "forgetting" Atreus' name and simply calling him "Boy" over and over again. It's a bizarre thing to witness at first, but I later considered it a genius play by the writers of the game. By Kratos calling Atreus "Boy," he's objectifying him, making it so he does not have to emotionally connect to his son. It's plain to see that Kratos simply doesn't know how to relate to Atreus, and quite possibly has a hard time respecting him as an independent, thinking person. Atreus obviously responds by trying to continually live up to the impossible standards of his god father, not knowing that he himself is part god. Kratos continues to dismiss Atreus' pursuit for knowledge, occasionally giving him clues here and there, but without ever disclosing the whole truth.
Understandably, Atreus becomes frustrated when he realizes that his father is not telling him everything. It's not until one scene in particular where Atreus saves Kratos' life when Kratos begins to see how neglectful he's been of his "boy" and realizes how much this "boy" has grown since the journey began. The relationship between Kratos and Atreus is all-too-familiar for some of us; a parent who made mistakes, doesn't know how to affectionately love their child, yet still wants them to be better than they were in life. This is spelled out very clearly in GoW during a moment where Athena appears to Kratos and says, "You will always be a monster" and Kratos simply replies, "I know." It's in these moments, when Kratos is alone, plagued by his haunted mind, that we truly see that this once violent, barbaric god-slayer has a very human heart.
It's not until much later in the game when Kratos very noticeably calls Atreus "Son" for the first and only time. This striking shift would not have been so apparent had Atreus not been referred to as "Boy" the entire time. To me, this beautifully illustrates that Kratos has come full circle. He's confessed his sins, he's faced his demons, and he's allowed himself to be a vulnerable father in the eyes of his son. Letting Atreus bear the truth and giving him the opportunity to help his father carry the burden is indeed an occasion that will tug on your heartstrings for days to come. It's in that precious moment when the player realizes that lessons can always be learned, regardless of your god-like status.