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Let’s recap God of War’s story before God of War Ragnarök

Here’s the full tale of what Kratos (and Atreus) have been up to

God of War - Kratos and Atreus meet Jormungandr, the World Serpent Image: Santa Monica Studio/Sony Interactive Entertainment
Ryan Gilliam (he/him) has worked at Polygon for nearly seven years. He primarily spends his time writing guides for massively popular games like Diablo 4 & Destiny 2.

For all its bluster and bravado, the God of War series really just wants to tell a story. God of War Ragnarök is the fifth main game in the iconic PlayStation series — and that’s not including all the spinoffs: two PSP games, a mobile game, a text-based game, and a full-fledged prequel, God of War: Ascension, for PS3. And even with the 2018 refresh creating a relatively clean break from the series’ original Greek era, it still featured a few key aspects of Kratos’ past that played into the game’s narrative.

It’s a lot of plot to mentally juggle. For its part, God of War Ragnarök at least attempts to catch players up to speed: There’s a two-minute recap video accessible from the main menu, but it’s vaguely structured and light on details. (Frankly, if you either haven’t played the 2018 game or are fuzzy on the narrative details, the video is likely to leave you more confused.)

That’s where we come in. What follows is a thorough accounting of every important narrative beat in the God of War series — from the Ghost of Sparta’s days in Greece through his more recent adventures (i.e., pissing off the entire Norse pantheon). As you’re playing God of War Ragnarök, keep this page handy. If you’re confused about a plot beat or can’t quite parse a side character’s errant remark, you’ll find the answer here. Consider it your god of lore.

The original God of War trilogy story recap

Kratos stands with his back to the camera looking at some classic Greek architecture. Image: Santa Monica Studio/Sony Interactive Entertainment

The original God of War came out in 2005 on PlayStation 2. Set in ancient Greece, the hack-and-slash action game starred Kratos, an extremely angry general of the Spartan armies.

Why was Kratos so angry, you might ask? Because after being granted extreme power by Ares, the Greek god of war, Kratos was tricked into slaughtering his own wife and daughter during a village raid. Their ashes were then bound to his skin, giving him the ashy white hue he’s known for — as well as his “Ghost of Sparta” nickname.

During the first game, Kratos runs through a series of tasks to grant him the power to face down Ares himself. In the end, Kratos kills Ares and inherits the dead god’s former title, becoming the new god of war.

God of War 2, released in 2007 on PS2, picks up years (likely centuries) after the first game and sees Kratos abusing his new godhood by wreaking havoc across Greece with his Spartan armies. The other gods aren’t happy about this, and Zeus betrays Kratos, stabbing him through the chest with the Sword of Olympus (hence Kratos’ gnarly tummy scar you may have noticed in the 2018 game and in pre-release footage for Ragnarok).

Kratos is rescued by Gaia the Titan and works with her to attempt to assassinate Zeus. Kratos then learns that Zeus is his father — essentially meaning Kratos is a demi-god. Soon thereafter, Athena (one of Kratos’ only allies in Olympus) sacrifices herself to save Zeus. Furious that he’s suffered yet another loss at his/the gods’ hands, Kratos rejoins with the Titans and prepares to assault Mount Olympus head-on.

God of War 3, which came out in 2010 on PlayStation 3, begins with the battle to take Olympus. Kratos inflicts the first major casualty on the Greek pantheon in the opening minutes: Poseidon, the god of the sea. The death of Zeus’ brother floods the lands around Mount Olympus, and Kratos continues his assault. Over the course of God of War 3, Kratos kills almost the entire pantheon, starting with Hades and working his way through Hercules, Hermes, Hephaestus, Hera, and more. All of this destruction essentially destroys Greece, turning it into an uninhabitable wasteland.

Finally, Kratos succeeds in his mission to end the Greek pantheon, kills Zeus, and jumps off of Mount Olympus, seemingly to his doom.

The non-mainline God of War games are technically canon but aren’t terribly impactful on the broader narrative. Chains of Olympus (PSP) sees Kratos stop Persephone — the wife of Hades — from using the Titan Atlas to destroy the world. Ghost of Sparta (PSP) follows Kratos as he searches for his mother, Callisto, and his brother, Deimos. Thanatos, the god of death, kills Kratos’ brother, leading Kratos — as usual — to exact revenge. Ascension takes place before the original God of War and pits Kratos against the Furies.

God of War (2018) story recap

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

God of War (2018) picks up with an older (can immortal demi-gods age? Maybe it’s just the beard) Kratos in an unfamiliar and icy land: Midgard. Kratos has found his way to the land of Norse myth and has a new child — Atreus, his son — and wife, Faye, who passed away shortly before the game begins.

The game opens with Kratos cutting down a tree that Faye had marked, breaking the protection spell around their home. This leads to a visit from a mysterious stranger, who we later discover is Baldur, son of Odin, the All-Father and king of the Nordic gods. Kratos and Baldur battle it out, and Kratos breaks Baldur’s neck — although Baldur’s death doesn’t stick. Baldur is impossible to kill, thanks to a protection spell cast by his mother, Freya.

Kratos and Atreus then set off to scatter Faye’s ashes from the highest peak in all the realms, which they believe is in Midgard. On the way, the two meet Freya — who simply calls herself the Witch of the Woods to mask her identity — and then Jormungandr, the aptly titled “World Serpent.” Curiously, Jormungandr, who is positively gigantic, somehow recognizes Atreus, despite Atreus claiming to have never seen the snake before. Kratos and Atreus also meet the Huldra brothers, Brok and Sindri, who forged Thor’s hammer and the Leviathan Axe that Kratos inherited from his late wife. When they first meet Kratos, Brok and Sindri aren’t on speaking terms with each other.

Freya helps Kratos and Atreus reach the highest peak in Midgard, but the path is blocked by thick smoke. Freya then helps Kratos and Atreus travel to Alfheim, the realm of the elves, using the Bifrost in Tyr’s Temple. However, due to a curse placed on her by Odin, Freya is unable to leave Midgard, and is forcibly pulled back to her home after taking only a few steps into Alfheim.

Kratos and Atreus proceed through the Temple of Light until they claim light arrows for Atreus’ bow. The pair also manage to evict the Dark Elves from the temple, changing the power dynamic in Alfheim in favor of the Light Elves. (The Light Elves and Dark Elves have been warring for centuries in Alfheim. Kratos and Atreus’ characteristically violent interference is primarily chalked up to self-defense.)

Back at the mountain, Kratos and Atreus use their newly found light arrows to pass the smoke, and then find themselves battling a lightning dragon on their way to the peak. When they reach the top of the mountain, they overhear Baldur — alongside his dipshit nephews, Magni and Modi, sons of Thor — interrogating a mysterious character. When the Aesir gods leave, Kratos and Atreus emerge from hiding and meet Mimir, the self-proclaimed (and accurately titled) smartest man alive.

Mimir informs the duo that, unfortunately, they aren’t on the tallest peak in all the realms. The tallest peak is actually in Jotunheim, realm of the giants. Double unfortunately for Kratos and Atreus, it’s impossible to reach Jotunheim from Midgard. Mimir has some ideas on how to get there, but triple unfortunately, his body has been trapped inside of a tree by Odin.

Mimir asks Kratos to lop off his head and take it to the Witch in the Woods, offering his eternal wisdom in exchange. Accustomed to murdering people he just met, Kratos obliges, and quickly brings the head back to Freya. The witch reanimates Mimir, who then reveals to Kratos and Atreus who this mysterious witch really is: ex-wife of Odin, mother of Baldur, and queen of the Vanir gods.

With Mimir’s fully alive head now dangling — and chatting incessantly — from Kratos’ belt, the trio heads out into the world to seek a way to Jotunheim. After adventuring through the corpse of a literal giant in search of a chisel, the group faces Thor’s sons. Kratos kills Magni. Modi escapes.

Kratos and crew head to the bowels of Tyr’s temple and use their new chisel to get inside. However, a pissed-off Modi ambushes the crew. While he doesn’t do any real damage, Atreus collapses with a mysterious illness. Freya and Mimir explain that Atreus’ sickness is because he doesn’t understand that he’s actually a god — as Kratos has never explained his true nature or Greek god lineage.

God of War - woman and Kratos caring for Atreus Image: Santa Monica Studio/Sony Interactive Entertainment

In order to heal his son, Freya instructs Kratos to venture to Helheim and collect the heart of a guardian. However, due to the extreme cold of Helheim, Kratos’ icy Leviathan Axe will be useless. The demi-god then returns to his home and literally unearths his past, pulling his classic Blades of Chaos from beneath the floorboards. On the journey, he faces visions of Athena and Zeus, leading Mimir to learn Kratos’ identity as the Ghost of Sparta — a legend so brutal that it’s somehow made its way to the Norse world.

After adventuring through Helheim and claiming the heart, Kratos heals Atreus and reveals to the boy that the pair are gods. This goes as well as you might expect, considering Atreus is only a child. He quickly develops a superiority complex. When the group runs into Modi once again — now beaten and battered by Thor — Atreus stabs and kills him, despite Kratos’ protests.

The trio return to the peak where they found Mimir and attempt to open the Jotunheim gate there. However, Baldur shows up and causes havoc. Confused, Atreus betrays Kratos by shooting him with an arrow. The Jotunheim gate is shattered beyond repair and Baldur, Kratos, and Atreus end up stuck in Helheim together. Kratos sees another vision of Zeus and uses a flying boat to escape.

In a desperate attempt to finally get to Jotunheim, Mimir suggests the trio reclaim his missing Bifrost eye, which was hidden in a statue of Thor that Jormungandr devoured earlier in the game. Kratos, Mimir, and a humbled Atreus paddle their boat into the serpent’s mouth and recover Mimir’s eye. Unfortunately, Baldur shows up and causes the snake to vomit up the heroes.

Kratos and Baldur battle, much to Freya’s dismay. Baldur accidentally stabs his hand on a mistletoe arrow tip that Sindri had given Atreus earlier in the game, and it’s revealed that mistletoe was the one living thing Freya couldn’t protect Baldur against. Her protection spell breaks, and the battle continues. Freya reanimates the dead giant’s corpse in an attempt to stop Kratos, and Atreus summons Jormungandr to fight off the giant.

Baldur eventually attempts to kill Freya for ruining his life by removing his ability to feel anything for centuries. Freya apologizes to Baldur in an effort to earn his forgiveness, but Baldur won’t give it up; he still plans to murder Freya. Freya tells Baldur she’s willing to give up her life if it’ll make him happy, but Kratos steps in and snaps Baldur’s neck again, killing him for good. Freya vows vengeance on the father and son as they head to Jotunheim.

After opening the realm portal with his eyes in the newly flipped Temple of Tyr, Mimir stays in Midgard with the Huldra brothers, who have since repaired their relationship. Kratos and Atreus go to spread Faye’s ashes. In Jotunheim, the pair discover that all of the giants are dead, and that Faye herself was a giant (who went by the name Laufey). They also learn that Atreus’ giant name is Loki, while Kratos sees a prophecy that foretells his own death come Ragnarök — the Norse apocalypse — which he hides from Atreus.

Kratos and Atreus bond over the spreading of Faye’s ashes and then head back to Midgard. When they return, however, Fimbulwinter — the forever blizzard that heralds Ragnarök — has already started, signaled by the death of Baldur. At the end of the game, Kratos and Atreus go to sleep, and wake up to a visit from an enraged Thor.

Outside of the main story, God of War also has plenty of side quests, some of which have significant impact on the story. For example, Atreus, Mimir, and Kratos rescue a trio of dragons that are actually cursed dwarves. They also defeat all of the Valkyries, powerful warriors cursed to serve Odin ad infinitum. During that quest, it’s revealed that Mimir and Sigrun — queen of the Valkyries — used to be lovers.

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