E3 preview: ‘God of War’

‘God of War' adds a bit of Bruce Banner to Kratos' Hulk

“God of War is not a reboot,” SCE Santa Monica creative director Corey Barlog was quick to point out during our recent hands-off demonstration of the revived action series. Barlog walked us through the same demo revealed during Sony’s press conference, but played live by one of the game’s combat designers. “From a gameplay perspective we want to tear God of War apart, put all the pieces on the ground and see what rises to the top.” The core elements are all there, but it simultaneously feels very new.

Less Hulk, more Bruce Banner

This is the same Kratos we’ve come to know from the previous entries in the series, but a little older and a little wiser. The choice to remove the number instead of continuing on at 4 was instead about signifying that Kratos’ story from the first trilogy has concluded, and that this is a new phase in the notoriously angry warrior’s life. “It’s sort of a BC/AD thing,” added Barlog.

“You must think, not simply react.”

“The entire Greek pantheon of games, the sort of Greek era of God of War, was marked by Kratos being rage-filled, focused on that goal of getting vengeance.” By the end of God of War III, Kratos had finally accepted that neither he nor anyone else could change the past, and instead began to learn acceptance and self-control. “In the previous games, Kratos was always the Hulk, and never Bruce Banner, never had that balance between the two of controlling the monster inside.”

Fatherhood is one of the main reasons for Kratos’ change of heart. Kratos’ son, who features prominently in the demo, will remain a companion throughout most of the game, forcing him to constantly consider his actions and how they appear to an impressionable child who is looking up to him. “This iteration of the game is about that idea of controlling himself, the idea of how much of ourselves do we really show our kids, you know? How much of our worst selves we see in our kids changes us.”

E3 2016: I like playing shooters, too. But can’t we do better?

You can see this inner struggle at work in the first few minutes of the demo when Kratos’ familiar rage flares up after his son botches his first attempt at shooting the deer, before he catches himself and suppresses it. “You must think, not simply react,” he advises the boy. “Be calm and plan.” This is not quite unhinged berserker we once knew.

That all changes once the battle begins, however, and we get to see Kratos unleash the beast. His signature chain-mounted Blades of Chaos are gone, and instead the weapon shown off in the demo is a battle axe, etched with glowing runes. A similar mix of melee and ranged combat is achieved, however, by Kratos’ ability to hurl the axe at distant foes.


When the axe lodges itself in something (or someone) Kratos can then call it back by extending his hand, bringing it spinning back towards him like Thor’s hammer Mjölnir. The button to call the axe back is separate from the attack button, allowing Kratos to, for instance, throw it at a distant enemy, start punching a nearby foe, and then summon it back mid-combo for a nasty attack from behind.

There’s no limit to how far he can call it from, or how long he can leave it. “You could throw it away in the very beginning of the game, leave it behind, and then call it back to you midway through,” Barlog mused, “though my programmers would hate you.”

A matter of perspective

The most immediately striking difference between God of War and the original trilogy is the camera. Where the earlier games were much more distant at a fixed, isometric angle, this time we will be up close and personal right behind Kratos. “Right from the beginning the concept of telling a more personal story meant we needed to be closer to Kratos,” explained Barlog. “For me we needed to be closer to Kratos all of the time, so while the cinematic camera was fantastic and presented a tremendous amount of opportunities, the idea of really getting in and staying close and seeing the world from Kratos’ perspective. It’s also empowering for the player to be able to look where they want to look.”

The mechanics, theme, and presentation all flow beautifully into one another in a coherent and holistic design.

That ability to look around more closely pays off with a beautifully rendered and exquisitely detailed world that you’ll want to take time and examine. Environmental storytelling has been a big focus of the design, with places bearing the marks of what happened there without explicitly laying things out for the player. For instance, after the big troll fight in the demo, Kratos wanders through a ruined camp of troll hunters who were in the midst of processing a huge troll carcass when the beast Kratos just slew had torn through the camp.

The game’s world will also be generally more non-linear than previous entries in the series, encouraging players to explore more. Barlog described it as “a world that is open, but not an ‘open world’.”

Barlog also pointed out that the camera never cuts away during the demo, and in fact it won’t for the entire game, maintaining one continuous shot. In addition to helping achieve the intimacy with Kratos’ point of view mentioned before, Barlog also saw this as an embrace of the game as a game, which can maintain a continuous shot in a way that films generally cannot (with rare exceptions, like the film Russian Ark).

E3 2016: Gears of War 4 has a new breed of evil, but it’s the same old fight

“For me, the film language of camera cuts is sort of intrinsic to the film industry. I love movies, but I want to make games. We can do something that they can’t do, which is this concept of a prolonged experience in which you never cut the camera away.”

By Odin’s beard!

The other obvious difference from the previous games is the move from ancient Greek mythology to Norse. Barlog pointed out, however, that despite what many fans have assumed, it’s not in fact set in the Viking age. Instead it is set in earlier age of gods and heroes about whom the Vikings told stories, when Scandinavia was more sparsely populated and the gods walked among men, analogous to the heroic age of Greece explored in previous games.

All told we were extremely impressed by God of War. Barlog and his team have taken a thoughtful approach to the series’ reinvention, maintaining its core while making something that feels fresh and modern. The mechanics, theme, and presentation all flow beautifully into one another in a coherent and holistic design. The original God of War revolutionized action games for its time, and every sign so far indicates that this return to the beloved series has the potential to be just as much of a milestone.

God of War is currently in development for PlayStation 4, with no release date yet.


Apple discontinues AirPort Extreme, Time Capsule as it exits Wi-Fi router business

Apple is now officially no longer in the router business. The company had already stopped selling the AirPort Express, and now its retail stores and websites have stopped offering the AirPort Extreme and Time Capsule.

The world’s first 3D-printed titanium wheels are so intricate they look fake

HRE Performance Wheels and GE Additive have teamed up to create the world's first 3D-printed titanium wheels. They are not only impressively durable, but extremely lightweight as well.

‘Gears of War’ designer Cliff Bleszinski says he’ll never make another game

Cliff Bleszinski, the game designer best known for his work on the Gears of War series, says he will never make another video game. His studio, Boss Key Productions, shut its doors earlier this year.

Bug is turning ‘Fallout 76’ players into mutants even more terrifying than usual

A bug linked to the Power Armor gear in Fallout 76 appears to be turning players into bizarre naked mutants, complete with extremely long limbs that are more than a little unsettling.

How to become a master assassin and perfect the art of execution in 'Hitman 2'

'Hitman 2' introduces new and improved story missions with a scale that can feel overwhelming if you're not prepared. Learn everything you need to know to obtain a high score while remaining unnoticed.
Digital Trends Live

Digital Trends Live: Nissan turmoil, product designer Jae Yoo of Nerf, and more

For today's episode of Digital Trends Live, we turn our attention to the L.A. Auto Show and Lamborghini's race-ready version of the Urus. We also speak with Jae Yoo of Nerf and MLS defender Zarek Valentin about their origins, modern tech…

Playing ‘Battlefield V’ on an $800 Nvidia card is stunning. And disappointing

‘Battlefield V’ is the first game to use Nvidia’s ray tracing support, now available with the RTX 2080 and 2080 Ti graphics cards. The feature can, in an ideal scenario, make the game look better, but the performance hit may not be…

The best Gamestop Black Friday deals in 2018

Gamestop is hosting one heck of a Black Friday and Cyber Monday promotion period, highlighted by excellent deals on games, gaming consoles, and gaming accessories. We combed through everything and have all the best Gamestop Black Friday…

The best cheap-but-awesome PlayStation 4 game deals under $20

The PlayStation 4 has hit its stride in recent years and is now more affordable than ever. If you have a PS4 or are thinking of buying one, we’ve collected some must-have games. The best part? Each of these is just $20 or less.

Valve responds after ‘Artifact’ slammed for taking microtransactions too far

Streamers and gamers heavily criticized the monetization model of Artifact, as the digital card game may have taken microtransactions too far. Valve quickly responded to the feedback, with planned changes to the game's public beta.

‘Darksiders III’ gets its own Fury-led ASMR series, and it’s weird

Darksiders III is out in less than a week, and to celebrate the game's impending release, publisher THQ Nordic has released an ASMR video starring Fury. The video focuses on her fire abilities.

Check out the best Xbox One deals and bundles for November 2018

Microsoft's consoles are just as capable of streaming movies as they are of playing the latest games. Check out our top Xbox One deals and bundles, which include new and upcoming triple-A games like Battlefield V and Fallout 76.

Play cowboy in the new limited-time ‘Fortnite’ Wild West mode

Epic Games has added a new limited-time Wild West mode to Fortnite: Battle Royale. The mode limits players to weapons from the time period, including revolves, hunting rifles, and shotguns.

'Pokémon: Let's Go' is a different kind of Pokémon game. Here's how to master it

Pokémon: Let's Go is a mashup of traditional Pokémon RPGs and Pokémon Go. Still, new mechanics will make it feel somewhat new for even seasoned trainers. To help you on your journey to Victory Road, check out these tips and tricks in our…