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Memorable moments in a game series: How the latest God of War created memorable moments for both newcomers and longtime fans

Memorable moments are a big part of designing games, and in long-running series, this sometimes involves series throwbacks. In this blog, we'll be looking into the latest God of War, and how it makes one moment work for both newcomers and series fans

Daniel Heslop, Blogger

April 8, 2019

9 Min Read

Games are filled with memorable moments, from epic boss battles that challenge your skills to close encounters with the horrors that go bump in the dark, from puzzles that make you scratch your head until you hit that eureka moment and solve it to heartfelt stories with characters that resonate with us. They're the reason many of us play games (aside from being fun, of course). In game series that have been around for a while, however, there can often be times where the history of the series is used to add weight to these parts of games, to give them a deeper emotional impact with us, the players.

So, what does this mean for newcomers? Or even players that may be returning to a series after a long absence?

Well, the obvious answer is they may not feel the full impact, because they may not have the prior knowledge that the scene may require (or remember specific details, in the case of players returning to a series after a long absence), and the obvious solution would be to play prior entries to gain that knowledge before playing a game later in the series. That isn't always easy though, for example, if older entries were on older consoles so copies of those games aren't as easy to get (especially if there are no readily available ports), and sometimes watching a let's play just doesn't cut it. Does this mean that these players are doomed to miss the full effect of whatever it is the game is going for?

No, not necessarily, and that's what this post will be talking about, how these moments can work for both veteran players and newer players. For this post, let's take a look at the latest entry in the popular series God of War. Why God of War? Well, the latest entry in the series is the 8th game overall, as well as the series having extensions to the story through comics, but despite that, it's treated as a game for both fans of the series and those looking to jump into it as a new starting point.

(Please take care, as there will be spoilers for the latest God of War past this point)

Fig 1: Kratos and Atreus, ready for their Nordic adventure in the latest entry in the God of War series

Kratos facing his past - The design of the moment

The latest God of War is filled with memorable moments, but there's one, in particular, I want to speak about, due to the build-up to it and the effect it has on gameplay. After Atreus falls ill and Kratos realizes his Leviathan Axe won't be of any use to him in Helheim, the location of an item that will help cure his son, he makes the difficult decision to confront his past and return to his home to retrieve a weapon that will be familiar with veterans of the series; the Blades of Chaos.

Soon after you retrieve them, you're given a large group of enemies to test the weapons on, tearing through them like a hot Blade of Chaos through Nordic butter. Though their play-style differs from the Leviathan Axe, they still use a heavy and light attack system, making it easy to transition to them, even though the player hasn't used them in the game before. More importantly, however, this moment marks the true return of the titular God of War, as Kratos is forced to embrace the past he wished to leave behind in order to protect his son and the new life he has forged. The game builds up the moment through his journey to go and collect them, as the spirit of Athena appears to essentially taunt him about his past, and the atmosphere changes to reflect the turmoil Kratos is going through as a storm begins to form. It's a perfect example of what could be called fan-service for longtime fans of the series, and I admit I felt goosebumps as the Blades were fully revealed and understood what they meant.

But here's the thing. This is the first God of War title I've played. I'm a newcomer to the series, but this wasn't a problem because the way this point in the game was designed meant that even newcomers could understand the full impact of what this scene meant. It may seem obvious, but when designing and creating these parts of games, which plays upon the past of the series, it doesn't have to leave behind the newcomers to be fully effective.

Fig 2: Even if you're new to God of War, the bandages on Kratos' arms are already a clear indication of something in his past, especially as he appears deep in thought as he looks at the bandages

Building the context - Narrative

Now, while this was the first God of War I've played, I had a little knowledge of the series' past, but definitely not enough to give an overview of events/plot points. This didn't matter, however, as the short journey Kratos takes to go home and retrieve the Blades is used to help build up to the reveal in a way that acts as a throwback for veteran players while giving a little context to newer players.

The way it does this? Through a key figure from the series, Athena, returning in a spiritual form as Kratos makes the journey, with her presence alone enough to illicit unease from Kratos (he also refers to her by name soon after she appears, confirming her identity for newer players and returning players). Then, once he reaches his home, she returns again, this time speaking to him and mocking his resolve to be more than the monster he once was, stating he cannot change. The dialogue doesn't need to go deep into plot points from the past, as the player only needs to know, through Athena mocking Kratos, that he was a 'monster', and that hiding the Blades was his way of trying to hide from that past. At this moment, Athena is also a representation of Kratos' doubt, fear and potentially guilt.

What makes this scene more powerful, however, is Kratos' acceptance. He isn't running or hiding now, and as he stands with the Blades in hand, Kratos tells Athena that while he is a monster, he isn't her monster anymore as he faces her head on. The scene is a big throwback, but it remains rooted in the present, within the story and lore that this game has introduced, because his driving force to face his past again and become a 'monster' isn't revenge or anger; it's his love for his son and wanting to help him. Whether you've played previous titles in the series or started with this one, you can see that Kratos, in his own way, has grown as a person, and still is. Despite what Athena claimed, Kratos has changed.

Fig 3: The Blades of Chaos, as seen in the latest God of War

Building the context - Gameplay

Even the gameplay factors into how effective this part of the game is. In combat, the Blades of Chaos have wider reaching attacks due to the use of sweeping attacks and the use of the chains attached to them to extend Kratos' range, but due to following the light and heavy attack system previously used when the player fights with or without the Leviathan Axe, it's easy to dive into combat and grow quickly accustomed to them. The player doesn't need to suddenly learn a whole new host of combat abilities, instead, they're given a group of enemies to test the Blades on and see how the skills they've built up work with the Blades equipped.

A lot of games use this kind of technique, presenting players with a new weapon or ability and quickly following up with a situation to utilize it, but on a narrative level, these are weapons that Kratos is familiar with, it makes sense that the player, as Kratos, can quickly adapt to them for combat too. This moment is a return to form for the titular God of War, so it gives the player a combat situation that is designed to make them feel powerful and unstoppable.

Combining the two together

These two elements, together, create a memorable sequence that provides a satisfying gameplay experience with some strong narrative payoff for the path of growth Kratos has put himself on. For longtime fans of the series, it acts as a fanservice moment as Kratos reunites with the Blades of Chaos and shows defiance against the spirit of Athena, but this isn't lost on newcomers because of how it plays upon the current narrative and reflects on both Kratos' attempts to try and be better than who he was, and how it seamlessly fits into gameplay to introduce an extra element to the games satisfying combat. 

I know at this point, some people may ask themselves 'Is this really how the scene was designed? To work for both newcomers and veterans?'. I completely understand, and without speaking to the team at Santa Monica Studio, I can't outright confirm this was the intention. This brings me back to the earlier point, however, of this being a game that can act as a jumping on point for the series. For it to be a suitable jumping on point, the main elements of the game need to work for multiple types of players, even the moments that harken back to the games history and lore. Easter eggs and smaller moments/side references don't have to adhere to that as strictly, but the main beats of the game should, and they do. It isn't just this scene that is like this either, scenes that throwback to the past are presented in such ways as to remain friendly to newer players (such as, and this is a smaller moment, Kratos finding the pottery depicting his violent past, which he breaks to hide from Atreus. We don't need the full details, we just know that it's something Kratos doesn't want Atreus to know yet).

Will every game in a long-standing series plan things out this way? Not necessarily, but if the developers wanted to, then it's definitely possible. And you know what? Now I want to go back and learn more about the series past.

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