When God of War: Ascension was released five years ago, no one had thought that it would've taken this long for us to once again see Kratos in action. After all, through commercials, appearances in PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale and promo material throughout the launch of the PlayStation 4, it seemed pretty clear that Sony considered the character to be key to the brand, a mascot. But where was he? Rumours circulated that Sony Santa Monica was about to launch a new IP instead (in fact, they worked on one, that later got cancelled), spreading uncertainty as to whether the series would return this generation at all. After all, while considered iconic, the character is not beloved by all, and his blind rage and shallow development over the course of the past few games in the series have been divisive at best.
But, in 2016 rumors started to spread like wildfire with concept art portraying Kratos tackling Norse mythology, and fans all over the world were once again clamoring for a comeback - and at E3 of that year, that's exactly what they got. In a moment that just might go down in E3 history, a live choir re-introduced the character in a new guise, with a son, with the camera closer to the shoulder and with action more subdued than usual. One thing was certain, this chapter was to be different - very different - and while it may seem relatively risk-free to use the grizzled, cinematic, The Last of Us-inspired approach, it's a risk beyond comprehension to use such an iconic character for markedly different visual and mechanical chapter.
But, risk assessment aside, here we stand, a mere five weeks from release, with only a few short trailers to show for it. The game is still shrouded in mystery, but that veil of uncertainty will now be lifted because we got to go hands-on with the game in Copenhagen, as well as chat with design director Derek Daniels.
The first thing you should know about God of War is that it truly does not feel like any other game in the series. So when the designers speak of retaining the basic structural and mechanical DNA, it's simple hyperbole. God of War is different, very different, and while it continues the story of Kratos this could even be considered a reboot, or perhaps even a spin-off of sorts. It's different because it's slower, closer, more concerned with dialogue-based exposition and swooping scenery. It could even be described as intimate.
Surprisingly, our two and a half hour long hands-on session with the game kicked off exactly where you, dear reader, will begin your quest in the not too far distant future: from the very beginning of the game. Exactly as the latest trailer has described (and spoiled, one could argue) Kratos's wife and Atreus's mother has died, and they set out to grant her last wish, to spread her ashes from the highest peak in the realm. It's a road-trip straight and true, and also a journey where Atreus will discover his father's past, come to terms with his heritage, and probably destroy half of Midgard along the way. Every journey, however, starts out small, with the first couple of steps, and so too does God of War. You surrender control constantly in cutscenes, by set pieces and dialogue exchanges, and while incredibly cinematic, it's... well, different.