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God of War is just as good (if not better) if you don’t remember the backstory

Turning Kratos into the Man With No Name

God of War - Kratos in shadow SIE Santa Monica Studio/Sony Interactive Entertainment

I’m regularly asked by friends and readers if they need to have played earlier games in a series to understand or enjoy the latest, buzz-laden release. Knowing what happens in previous games helps your enjoyment in some cases — but it usually doesn’t matter, since all AAA games want the broadest possible audience. However, I have some strong advice for the new God of War: The game is just as good (if not better) when you know absolutely nothing about past God of War games.

Don’t just avoid spoilers about this new game — avoid reading about any of the past games at all, if you can. The rewards will be worth the discipline.

Why this matters

The point of view in God of War shifts depending on your knowledge of past events in the series. That is to say that the game’s revelations will land differently depending on your knowledge of the franchise as a whole.

You effectively see the game from either the perspective of Kratos or his son Atreus, depending on your knowledge of the backstory. This is the decision you can make if you don’t know or remember the previous games:

  • Learn nothing. Play from the point of view of Atreus, or
  • Read about or play the previous games. Play from the point of view of Kratos.

It all comes down to knowledge of who Kratos is, what he is and what he has done. The game isn’t weaker if you’re a fan who has seen and knows everything, but new players have this amazing opportunity to experience this story with a very different — and more emotionally resonant, I would argue — point of view. If you’re in that position, don’t dig into the series at all.

God of War seems to know this as well, and doles out information at a deliberate pace. Kratos’ secrets are treated as just that, slowly and methodically revealed as if they aren’t waiting in the old games or in a Wikipedia entry. And so, the game often favors the POV of his son Atreus, even if we’re following Kratos through the journey.

Think of it this way: Atreus doesn’t know any other life, and he has no reason to believe his father is anyone but his father. You can take that journey with him if you go in completely blind.

God of War - artwork of Kratos and Atreus fighting a troll Image: Santa Monica Studio/Sony Interactive Entertainment

Ignorance of the story turns Kratos into a character out of something like Unforgiven, where we only know he is the product of violence and has violence in his past. We know from dozens of similar stories that characters running from their past misdeeds can only be effective for so long; sooner or later, they’re going to come knocking at your door.

Without knowing the backstory, you share Atreus’ frustrations. What exactly is this man hiding? Why is he so emotionally unavailable? He’s a difficult dad, but there must be more to it.

As a result, the rising tension and parceling out of information across the early hours of the game can feel like a noose tightening around your neck if you’re also trying to figure out what’s going on and why this is all happening.

Plus, going in blind allows you to play through the game a second time to see how it all feels through Kratos’ eyes. If you want to get the most out of the game, learn nothing about God of War as a whole. You’ll thank us later.