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Understanding God of War’s vast new concepts

Covering the basics so you can get right into glowering and murdering

Jeffrey Parkin (he/him) has been writing video game guides for Polygon for almost seven years. He has learned to love just about every genre of game that exists.

There’s a lot about God of War that feels familiar. Kratos is still grumpy, the gods are still jerks and murdering mythological creatures with your bare hands is still fun. God of War is also very different. We’ve talked about the biggest differences in another guide, but this guide will teach you about the new concepts and core mechanics you’ll be dealing with most often as you traverse Midgard.

Open world

You probably already understand the concept of an open-world game. It’s new and different for a God of War game, though, so it’s worth mentioning here. Exploring the open world of God of War is (largely) optional. You’ll earn experience points and hacksilver (in-game currency) and find new gear (see below) while exploring. This will make your journey through the game’s main story much easier, but they aren’t, strictly speaking, necessary.

SIE Santa Monica Studio/Sony Interactive Entertainment

A lot of God of War’s exploration is gated. There are places where it’s just physically impossible to get to until later in the game. Some locations are populated by high level enemies that you won’t be able to fight until you get better gear. Other areas and items are blocked by barriers that you can only open with later-game abilities. All of that means you’ll be making multiple visits to some locations to discover every item. If you know something is nearby based on your map, you might just have to wait to find it.

Along with the exploration and discovery aspects that are inherent in open-worlds, God of War has a couple of the other trappings of open-world games — namely, side quests (called favors) and collectibles.


SIE Santa Monica Studio/Sony Interactive Entertainment

Favors are tasks you take on for an NPC. These usually involve Kratos murdering something (spoiler?). Completing favors (and even the component steps of a favor) will earn you enough rewards — like XP, hacksilver and enchantments — that they are usually worth the time.


SIE Santa Monica Studio/Sony Interactive Entertainment

There are sets of collectibles scattered around the various regions of God of War’s map. There are lore markers to read, spying ravens to kill and knickknacks to pick up. Those last items follow a theme for that region — there are four of Atreus’ childhood toys scattered around his home in the Wildwoods, for example. Collecting all of the items in a set will earn you an XP reward. More importantly, though, you can sell these collectibles for good money at the shops.

Realm tears

SIE Santa Monica Studio/Sony Interactive Entertainment

Realm tears are small holes in the fabric of reality. When you encounter one, Kratos can close it by jamming his hand in. Some tears will close at this point and reward you with a rare crafting resource. Other tears will spit out a handful of high-level enemies that you have to defeat first. After they’re dealt with, you can collect your reward.


SIE Santa Monica Studio/Sony Interactive Entertainment

There are four kinds of chests you’ll find as you explore:

  • Small, wooden chests that Kratos “opens” by smashing through the lid with his fist. These have hacksilver inside.
  • Glowing red, stone sarcophagi (sarcophaguses?). These are the coffins that Kratos slides the lid off of and loots. They function like any other chest, though, so our guides will just call them red chests. These contain anything from enchantments to runic attacks to crafting materials.
  • Legendary chests. These chests look like big, fancy, stone freezers. Some of them have a floating mask on the front. You’ll find the same stuff inside as the other chests, but there will be more of it with higher levels.
  • Nornir chests. These are interesting enough to get their own section.

Nornir chests

Nornir chests tend to contain the best items you’ll find in God of War — the highest-level enchantments, rarest crafting resources or strongest runic attacks. You’ll might also get an Idunn Apple or Horn of Blood Mead — which raise your max health and Spartan Rage gauges respectively, once you collect three.

SIE Santa Monica Studio/Sony Interactive Entertainment

Nornir chests have three glowing blue runes on the front. These runes will also be somewhere in the area around the chest. Your job is to hit the runes with your axe to unlock the chest. There are three kinds of chest puzzles you’ll find:

  • Seals. These are the simplest chests to unlock. You just have to find three seals and break them with your axe. There is no time limit, but the seals can be hidden, so they still take a bit of work.
  • Bells. Some chests have bells instead of seals. For these, you have to hit all three runes quickly — before the first bell stops ringing — to get the chest open.
  • Dials. The final type of Nornir chest puzzle involves getting three nearby dials to display the same runes (in the same orientation) as the chest. You’ll use your axe to spin the dial. The trickiest part with these is that the dials are often out of sight of the chest.

Kratos’ weapon and combat

SIE Santa Monica Studio/Sony Interactive Entertainment

Kratos no longer wields the Blades of Chaos in combat. Instead, he now uses an axe — the Leviathan Axe. Instead of the frenetic mowing down of hordes of enemies, combat in God of War has become more considered and tactical. The axe moves the combat up close to Kratos, so parrying, blocking and dodging are all important. Kratos can also throw the axe at distant enemies or targets. This opens up ranged combat options like headshots or tripping enemies. And it allows for some environmental attacks like dropping a chandelier on a group of bad guys.

Atreus, Kratos’ son and sidekick throughout his adventure, plays an important role in combat. Initially, Atreus just fires arrows at enemies. They don’t do much damage, but they do drive up their targets’ stun gauge. They can also interrupt certain enemies’ attack animations. As the story progresses, Atreus gets elemental arrow attacks and even some melee techniques of his own. For the most part, Atreus operates on his own in combat and just generally helps out, but you can tell him to fire at certain times, or you can wait for him to distract an enemy and create an opportunity for you to deal some damage.

Runic attacks

SIE Santa Monica Studio/Sony Interactive Entertainment

You can modify Kratos with two runic attacks — one light and one heavy. You’ll find these in chests or as drops from powerful enemies. Runes are magical attacks that deal extra damage. Each rune has a level, type — like aimed or area — and a cooldown time between uses. You spend XP to upgrade your runes.

Stats and gear

God of War is an action role-playing game, but it doesn’t quite work like most other action RPG games out there. You earn experience points, but Kratos doesn’t level up. Instead, you spend your XP to unlock skills — attacks, combos and techniques — to use in combat. Kratos’ level — the number at the top of his character sheet in the pause menu — is really just the combined level of his gear.

SIE Santa Monica Studio/Sony Interactive Entertainment

Kratos’ weapon and armor all have stats of their own, and it’s the collective level of his gear that determines Kratos’ level. (This level doesn’t really serve any purpose other than to compare it to enemies’ level — if an enemy’s level is too high, you won’t stand a chance in a fight.) You can upgrade all of your gear (until you hit its max) or replace it at the shops you’ll encounter on your journey, and you will unlock and discover new armor and weapon parts as you progress through the story.

Crafting resources

Kratos can’t craft. The crafting resources you collect act more as an alternate in-game currency. Upgrading your gear or making new gear requires (a lot of) hacksilver, but higher-level gear may also require crafting resources. Some of these crafting resources are locked behind main story missions and favors. More common resources will have hints about where to find them on the resources tab of your menu.


Higher-level (well, higher than level 1) armor will tend to have at least one enchantment slot. You’ll find the enchantments everywhere to install, but you can also buy them from shops. Every enchantment will give your armor (and, therefore, Kratos’ level) a boost to at least one stat. Rarer enchantments boost multiple stats and might even give an additional buff like protection from a certain flavor of elemental damage or a certain type of enemy.