Sony Santa Monica’s revival of the God of War franchise on PlayStation 4 is an attempt to reinvent the series: new mythology, new voice actor, new weapons. That last change required a rethinking of the entire combat setup in 2018’s God of War, as the studio explained in a video interview with Game Informer.
The first concept art for God of War showed Kratos holding an ax, a decision that the team made partly because it wanted to take a more “grounded” direction for the game, according to lead gameplay designer Jason McDonald. He said that the developers were initially unsure of how to make Kratos’ ax feel distinct. It was a tall task, considering that Kratos’ previous weapon is unique and so closely associated with the character. (After all, the Blades of Chaos consisted of a pair of large, jagged slicing tools that were literally chained to Kratos’ forearms.)
McDonald, who has been working on the series since the original God of War on PlayStation 2, told Game Informer that things started to fall into place once a developer came up with the concept of Kratos throwing the ax — and having it magically return to him, à la Thor’s hammer. (There’s no word on whether the ax has a name that’s as badass as Mjölnir.) With the ax instead of the Blades of Chaos, said McDonald, combat is “a little bit slower than [in] previous God of War games, but it’s just as fluid and just as brutal as it’s ever been.”
For the new God of War, Sony Santa Monica brought the third-person camera much closer to Kratos, moving the perspective to what’s basically an over-the-shoulder position. While that decision fits with the more up-close-and-personal ax combat, it limits the player’s ability to see threats from behind. That’s part of the reason Atreus, Kratos’ son, plays a role in combat — the kid and other indicators help out with the player’s situational awareness, calling out attackers’ locations.
“It took a lot of iterations on the tech of the enemies, and just the control of the character, to really get this into a place where we’re like, OK, even though the camera’s close and you can’t see everything around you, the game somehow still works,” McDonald told Game Informer.
As you may have seen in God of War trailers, Atreus tries to hold his own in battles using a bow and arrow, so he won’t merely distract his dad’s foes. And Kratos can throw his ax to pin enemies down, which frees him up for combat moves like tackles and throws. That’s a pretty good father-and-son team!