God of War pulls a Keyser Söze moment in its final scene, but the twist happens so quickly, you might have missed it.
[Warning: This piece will contain spoilers pertaining to the end of the game’s story. If you haven’t completed God of War, feel free to Pocket this for later. If you have finished the game, you probably know what I’m talking about.]
No, I’m not talking about the Blades of Chaos. I’m talking about the gold. Throughout the adventure, Kratos and the player are directed into forests, over mountains and across lakes by spatters and smears of golden paint. The first image is this paint, in the form of a handprint, smooshed onto the trunk of an old tree. Kratos fells the tree and uses the wood to build the pyre that will reduce his deceased wife Faye to a parcel of ashes. He and his son Atreus will take those ashes to the top of the realm’s highest peak, honoring Faye’s final wish.
Most video games use a variation of this visual language. Otherwise realistic settings have arrows spray-painted on walls, telling you where to go. Other games are more subtle, only placing lights on the path you must take to progress, directing the player’s eye from one bright spot to the next. So even though God of War takes a naturalistic approach with its world, the instinct is to assume that all this gold paint exists on a metatextual level. Sure, it’s in the world, but really it’s the game’s creators telling us where to head next.
The gold does serve that purpose, but it’s also justified by the story. That is to say, it very much exists in the world for a reason. When the pair actually reach that peak, we learn that Faye had prophesied her husband and son’s entire journey. In fact, she’d taken steps to ensure they reached their destination, fulfilling her vision by creating the golden path. The handprint on the tree that would create Faye’s ashes and send Kratos, Atreus and the player on their journey — that’s her own.
“To me, it’s the highlight that Faye was an incredibly powerful and almost omnipresent character,” said God of War director Cory Barlog, when asked about the reveal. “Not just for Kratos and Atreus, but for the player. She was there every step of the way. She walked that path before they ever did.”
It’s a smart twist, using our expectations against us, allowing the creators to hide the game’s big reveal right in front of us. In the game’s intro, Faye appears to have been fridged, but the reveal gives her more depth and agency. She didn’t simply die as an excuse for the game to begin. She lived a rich life and took action that, if abandoned, would have rendered the story moot.
In the past, Sony has used DLC to explore the backstories of side characters. With the gold paint reveal, I’m left wanting not just more Kratos adventures, but time with Faye. The gold paint isn’t just a path for Kratos; it’s the remains of an exciting journey unto itself — one I hope we get to see.