God of War has never been a touching series. It's a brutal and gruesome one, and I ate it up every step of the way. I carried my ragged God of War III lanyard with me everywhere I went for years after the game debuted, a leftover souvenir from picking it up from GameStop. I loved the ruthless Kratos as he tore through his enemies as if they were stacks of loose paper. I still feel that way, and I'm a huge fan of the original God of War as well as its sequels and side-stories.
That's why I was initially skeptical of how the new entry in the God of War series would handle Kratos' relationship with his son Atreus. Though the original E3 presentation that introduced the bearded version of the Ghost of Sparta blew me away, I was worried. Would Kratos lose his edge and turn into some lame dad character in the name of bowing to trends and "mature" storytelling in gaming—or review-bait, if you will?
Luckily, my fears were put to rest once I had a chance to play through the new vision of God of War, which retained everything I loved about the gritty, rage-fueled Kratos while allowing him to grow as a character. His new voice actor brought a type of fatherly love out of him and I found Kratos flourishing in a guiding role, passing down all he had learned to a clearly impressionable young boy who's consistently looking up to dear old Dad for guidance.
Now, Kratos isn't "dad" material, not by a long shot, but you see glimpses of how much he cares for his flesh and blood throughout the game. The beginning stages of the adventure find Kratos nurturing Atreus as he teaches him to hunt, survive, and how to get by in the cruel and violent war that took Atreus's mother from him. Kratos is now an oddly patient man, and while it seems uncharacteristic of a man who used to tear a gorgon limb from limb without a thought, it feels right.
This is a father who knows there are secrets he must one day share with his son. Though he's gruff at every opportunity, shouting and barking orders, there's a kindness beneath it all that warmed my heart in spite of how I felt about returning to God of War with a newly-wizened frontman. Seeing the two share some of the most tender moments I've seen in gaming cemented Kratos as someone fully realized, as a dad. Slowly, it felt less like a hackneyed vehicle for story and more normal for a character I had grown up with. I liked what I was seeing as I played through the game.
There are moments where you can see the kindness reflected in Kratos as he looks to his son struggling to deal with his own battle, and many times where you're paddling in a boat throughout a massive river where Atreus asks his father to tell him a story (Kratos recounts "The Tortoise and the Hare"). It's touching in ways you'd never have expected. Later, when Atreus goes through something of an "angsty" phase, it feels just as natural as if you had experienced the same moment with your parents. Slowly, I fell in love with Kratos as a dad—and I believed it, too.
If you were previously uninterested in God of War because you felt there was no story to speak of, or it was too violent, or you didn't care about Kratos' origins or his antihero ways, don't discount it. These are excellent games, especially the violent bits (that's the best part!) and they offer a look into Kratos' past necessary to his evolution into a father. Kratos isn't perfect, and his relationship with Atreus isn't either. But they're learning and growing together, and the story arc of God of War has come full circle.