The redefinition of a Greek tragedy
August 10th, 2022
Following the success of the God of War II, Santa Monica Studios immediately jumped into production on the third game with Cory Barlog at the forefront. Even Marvel Comics legend Stan Lee made a cameo appearance:
Unfortunately, Barlog left the project after eight months of development, much to the disappointment of the staff. One of his deleted story ideas involved Kratos dismantling humanity’s faith in the gods. Stig Asmussen, the art director of the previous games, assumed leadership with both Jaffe and Barlog advising him. His colleagues described Asmussen as easier to work with than Jaffe, though the game took three years to develop due to the PlayStation 3’s difficult hardware. This inevitably led to crunch in order to finish the closing E3 demo. Multiplayer became a possible inclusion, but the team wanted to focus on the story’s conclusion. It released to critical acclaim in 2008, sold five million copies by June 2012, and received a remastered edition on the PlayStation 4 in 2015 with slightly lower reviews in comparison. Where does this finale stand in the trilogy as of 2022?
Picking up after the end of God of War II, Kratos leads the titans up Mount Olympus with the intention of killing his father, Zeus. All the gods assemble to defend the mountain and send Kratos back to the underworld. There he comes across Athena’s ghost, who aids him in his revenge quest against those who wronged him in the past.
After playing the previous two games, this entry is the reason why both Kratos and the God of War series are perceived as shallow, toxic and unrelatable to modern gamers. It also does not help that this is the most accessible of the trilogy on modern consoles while the previous titles remain locked on the PlayStation 3. Hopefully this changes with the updated PS Plus premium subscription model.
By this point, Kratos’s anti-hero traits are gone as he slays one god after another leading to an apocalypse on humankind. But that’s the point given everything that’s happened since the beginning. In the first game, the gods played Kratos like a fiddle by promising to rid his memories, only to bring up the fine print after he killed Ares. Kratos tried to kill himself by jumping off a cliff, but instead the gods crowned him the new god of war. While a merciful act on the surface, they forced him to live with the memories and prolonged his suffering. In the second game, the Olympians turned on Kratos after his memories drove him insane. The third game contains two perspectives in the narrative: either from the gods suffering their own extinction for their past actions, or from Kratos as his blind rage brings about the end of the world. Either way, this is a gripping story with back stabbings, diverse locations, dangerous enemies and a resolution that benefits no one, at least until the 2018 game. The destruction of Olympus is unpredictable as egos clash with one another as only one emerges victorious from a pool of blood. With that said, this story contains the most plot inconsistencies.
First, the third trip to the Underworld is treated as a visit to the in-laws. Outside of a brighter coat of paint, not much is added to this element except the boss fight with Hades. Second, the need to seek the Flame of Olympus makes no sense. In God of War II, the blade of Olympus held the key to slaying Zeus because Kratos transferred all his powers into the weapon. It even wounded Zeus to a near death experience during the final battle. So why does the player need to seek out the flame after recovering the sword in the Underworld? Third, Kratos not knowing that he already opened Pandora’s Box and the subsequent revelation of it being empty after Pandora’s sacrifice. Even when he brings it up with Athena, she outright ignores this until the final twist, which brings up two other points of contempt from the gaming community.
The “unnecessary casualties”
Kratos comes across an imprisoned Perithious in the Underworld. He promises to bequeath the spartan his Bow of Apollo in exchange for his freedom. Instead, Kratos burns him alive to acquire said weapon. While it looks cruel thanks to the artistic improvements, it’s not much different from other collateral victims like the caged soldier from the first game. At this point, the narrative makes it clear that Kratos’ conscience is long gone, and he’ll step over anyone to reach his goal.
Poseidon’s Princess is discovered in a hidden chamber and Kratos escorts her to a turning wheel, only to use her to prop the gate wheel halfway open resulting in her bloody demise. Many labeled this misogynistic, even though this is barely any difference from other victims. One could say that this is the turning point where Kratos becomes unlikeable, but since the player is in control it works on a number of psychological levels. One can feel either powerful or guilty, but at this point there’s an emotional change in the actions going forward.
As stated in the previous reviews, there are no likeable characters in these games, regardless of how far Kratos pushes the envelope (one could make a case for Pandora and Hephestus). Even when Poseidon, Helios, Hermes, Hera, and Zeus berate him on the collateral damage, it’s only to keep the status quo of their needs and wants. In fact, Thor: Love and Thunder, for all its problems, showcased this when Christian Bale’s Gorr goes on a killing spree after the gods fail to save his dying daughter. There’s still humanity in Kratos as he goes back and forth on Pandora’s fate, taking a liking to her as a surrogate daughter while they get to know each other, which predated The Last of Us by three years.
As the ghost of Zeus attempts to infect Kratos with fear, it’s revealed that the spartan inherited the spirit of hope from Pandora’s box, which allowed him to fight the gods. Upon retrospect, Athena concludes that the gods became infected with the evils of the world while Kratos received the hope she placed in the box. This feels out of place in a God of War game and changes the entire dynamic of the story. While it’s supposed to show Kratos in a different light, it feels like a cop out in justifying all the terrible events over the course of the trilogy. This could work in the 2018 game that focused on becoming a better person, but not for this world of backstabbing gods and underdog mortals. However, compared to recent games that tackled the revenge story, the resolution does not chicken out at the end and brings the story to a satisfying, bittersweet conclusion.
With the advent of the art director taking over the project, this is the best-looking game of the trilogy. The PlayStation 3 edition already matched the quality of the Call of Duty and Uncharted games. The PlayStation 4 edition ups the framerate at a steady 60 per second, minus the cutscenes. The tradition of feeling like a flea in the universe carries over as both the environments and the monsters are expanded in scope. The camera also experiments with the first-person perspective to create new immersions like with the death of Poseidon:
The colors are brighter despite occupying a grim world. The lighting is vibrant even in the darkest caverns. The violence and gore reach a new level of realism that could give Mortal Kombat a run for its money (In fact it did when Kratos cameoed in Mortal Kombat 9). The different anatomies inhabiting the world contain detailed textures from pores to wrinkles. Take a gander at Aphrodite in her chambers or Zeus atop Mount Olympus as proof. The weather effects add a dramatic flair to the despair and chaos, like rain and lightning. This proves how far graphics have evolved since the early days of 3D experimentation.
All the voice actors from the previous games return with added veterans like Clancy Brown, Debbie DerryBerry, Greg Ellis, and Malcom McDowell. They bring the emotional turmoil to their characters as Kratos makes their miserable situations even worse. Finally, the soundtrack builds to a grandiose peak, especially with the final battle between Kratos and Zeus culminating in a perfect storm of choirs, strings and French horns. Every God of War entry pushed the boundaries of their respective console, and this reaches the peak of that technological advancement.
The gameplay is surprisingly untouched compared to everything else, since not much needed fixing in the first place. Kratos can use weapons and magic to wipe out enemies, stack combos, travel at faster speeds on walls or ceilings, and collect orbs to keep up his strength. Switching weapons is more manageable with the d-pad, though making them more reliant on magic than general combat is disappointing since three of them feel the same except with different colors. That is except for the Nemean Cestus, a pair of lion gauntlets that act as metal boxing gloves. But be warned that the difficulty takes God mode literally as enemies become crash dummies in the number of beatings they can take. Some sections involve Kratos ascending or descending to a new destination as the music swells while he dodges incoming obstacles. These provide one of the many roller coaster moments that elevates the gameplay to a monumental level of intense proportions.
Along with gorgon eyes, phoenix feathers, and minotaur horns, relics are littered throughout the journey that act as powerups, but they also disable trophies to make sure things aren’t too easy. The bosses are just as challenging with the likes of Hades, Hercules, Cronos, a giant scorpion, and of course Zeus. They stand out from both a gameplay and narrative perspective before and after toppling to the ground. And though the fixed camera takes getting used to, all enemies are visible onscreen, unlike the 2018 game’s claustrophobic third person perspective the clashed with the open-ended beat-em-up gameplay. Even the quick time events are improved by separating the button prompts to their respected position on the controller.
Most of the navigation is linear because there is only one direction to go after two games. Once the main campaign is finished, extra content includes more costumes, a battle arena to use for anger management, behind the scenes videos, and a chaos mode that increases one’s blood pressure before the next doctor’s appointment. Sadly, there is no museum of cut content to display what could’ve been before bowing out of this era of mythology. Though there’s not much room to improve on, the gameplay remains the meat and potatoes in this bombastic finale.
God of War III concludes the original trilogy with a satisfying, if narratively divisive, ending to an emotionally complex trilogy. The graphics and gameplay are at their peak in closing the Greek Mythology chapter of the franchise, the music lights the orchestra on fire, and the beat-em-up gameplay still holds a candle to the tradition of slaying every enemy within arm’s reach. Ranking all three games in quality, this lands in the middle above the first entry, while God of War II stands as the best in the trilogy without counting the side stories that delve deeper into Kratos’ character. Since this is the most accessible of all three games, securing a copy on either console is as easy as a hop, skip and jump through the digital store. Just be sure to play the other two games so nothing is taken out of context. Then it’ll be more thrilling going out on an Olympian note before migrating to the Norse chapter.
Pros: the best graphics, diverse bosses, gripping story, masterful soundtrack, refined gameplay
Cons: questionable narrative elements, interchangeable weapons
Does the trilogy still hold up?
After playing the entire trilogy and seeing the story and gameplay unfold, yes, the trilogy holds up and is not as shallow as many proclaimed when the 2018 game released. Behind the blood, gore, sex, and gruesome deaths lies a tormented character that experienced glory, power, loss, and self-hatred driving him to the point of suicide. Denied at every turn by the gods, even on the brink of death, his descent into madness redefines Greek tragedy that is relatable to all gamers that know the feeling when something doesn’t go according to plan. Furthermore, without the original trilogy, the 2018 game does not work as a character reboot with all the past references that go over the heads of new players. With God of War Ragnarök set to conclude the series in November, it’ll be interesting to see how everything comes together for both the new Kratos and his son as they take on Odin, Thor and Freya. Some traditions transcend generations.