Posted on January 15, 2013, Phil Hornshaw Kratos Revels in Cruelty, and God of War 3 Assumes You Do Too
I’ve been messing around in the God of War: Ascension multiplayer beta for a few weeks now, in hopes of putting together some impressions of what Sony Santa Monica’s new foray into the world of murdering Greek mythological characters will be like. The mandate of the game more than anything is, “Make players feel like Kratos, but against other players.”
It had been a while since I played a God of War title, and I’ve previously never gotten around to playing God of War 3. Back when it first came out, I really enjoyed the first God of War title. It seemed the right time to finally play God of War 3 to get a fresh comparison to the multiplayer offerings of Ascension.
My conclusions as they relate to Ascension are in another article; this article is to talk about what an incredible dick the character of Kratos is, and ask why anyone would ever want to make a game about him — much less play as him.
God of War 3 is an exercise in psychopathy, far beyond the usual power fantasy that many games usually want to convey. It’s striking how the game goes out of its way to be gross and force you to be a bad person. As I played through it, there were many times I just kind of couldn’t believe the things the game left me no choice but to do. Kratos is angry, I get it; he’s wrath incarnate, driven by revenge. And that’s fine, because we see that with lots of characters, all the time. But few go out of their way to inflict pain and anguish on people for no reason, just because they can, and take so much pleasure in doing so.
And even worse is the way the game assumes that we are also taking intense pleasure in this cruelty.
The moments pop up with alarming regularity. Early in the game, Kratos encounters a character in Hell, bound in a chair behind a wall of brambles. Despite the character’s repeated pleading, the puzzle solution for the room is to burn him alive. That’s it. Your reward is a magic bow that you apparently need to proceed, but there’s no way Kratos could have known burning that guy would reward him with a magic bow. The whole sequence is rendered an exercise in committing an elaborate murder, seemingly for no reason.
This happens all the time in God of War 3. Characters are constantly crying out for Kratos’ help, and he not only ignores them, he usually actively goes out of his way to inflict pain on them. As you run around Olympus and Hell, you pass people who are just wandering around trying not to get killed by falling debris or godly battles — and yet the game rewards you for grabbing any single one of them and stabbing the s–t out of them, totally unprovoked. You get experience points for it.
Those instances aren’t even that bad. Much worse are the many, many moments in which a character you’ve already bested begs you for mercy. In fact, this happens in nearly every boss fight, and a number of times with characters whom you don’t really need to kill for any discernible reason. Kratos is just like, “You were mean to me,” and proceeds to do some disemboweling.
It’s worse when Kratos consciously decides to hurt people who are objectively innocent, or at the very least uninvolved in his situation. There’s a moment late in the game in which Kratos discovers Poseidon’s mistress. The woman, held behind metal bars, doesn’t even get to wear real clothes — her breasts are exposed and bounce around because That’s What Gamers Want To See™, presumably. As Kratos moves through the palace, he allows the woman to leave her chamber, but she’s promptly attacked by various monsters.