God of War (2018) was the first game in the series I played, thanks to its stellar reviews. So I played most of God of War Ragnarök while referring to it as God of War 2 or God of War: Boy Strikes Back. If you have made the mistake of assuming Ragnarök is a pure sequel, know that it is an entirely understandable one. The 2018 game has the eponymous title of the 2005 original, and it’s a pretty hard reset, taking the franchise into the modern console age. Ragnarök is actually very confusing if you haven’t played God of War (2018). And this led me to wonder whether previous entries were worth revisiting too, for my own understanding.
Though my peers assured me that 2018’s entry stands alone well enough, I ended up compulsively reading the Wikipedia entries of prior installments to see if there were plot beats and tidbits that would enhance my understanding of Ragnarök’s story. The recap of God of War (2018) on Ragnarök’s main menu is incredibly confusing and not very helpful — but I’ve found Wikipedia to be a perfectly serviceable way to enjoy things, from horror films I’m too scared to watch to books that I want to make small talk about.
To be clear, I am not reviewing the games themselves based off of the Wikipedia descriptions — that’s not reviewing, baby! I am, however, reviewing how valuable these entries are to me knowing what the hell is going on in Ragnarök, in an effort to give a good — or if not good, passable — description of vital background information. And while there were a number of God of War spinoffs for platforms like PlayStation Portable or on mobile, I’ll be sticking with the three main entries — God of War (2005), God of War 2 (2007), and God of War 3 (2010). Without further ado.
God of War (2005)
Funniest Kratos line: Going with the classic opening banger, which Kratos says while standing atop a massive cliff before launching himself off the side: “The gods of Olympus have abandoned me. Now there is no hope.”
Oddest fact that won’t let me live: So, I watched a supercut of every sex minigame. I knew that at least one of the games had such a minigame, but I didn’t know how many there were. It’s a lot! God of War (2018) was the first title in the core franchise without any kind of sex scene. I’m thankful for that.
What Wikipedia taught me: When I played God of War (2018), I was initially disoriented by its lore. This world is clearly steeped in Norse mythology, with the prominent Yggdrasil, Viking aesthetic, and a reveal that Atreus is “Loki.” I’m pretty sure Loki’s dad, in the mythology at least, isn’t some Greek guy named Kratos. I have also noticed that they periodically talk about the Greek gods, which I’m also pretty sure are totally different. Like other terminally lonely kids, I had a favorite book of Greek mythology that I would tell other kids on the playground about. Was there some interplay between Greek and Norse mythology I had somehow missed?
Though the 2018 game fills in some of that context, the Wikipedia entry for the original game is really doing it for me. God of War (2005) is set entirely in a world of Greek mythology. This makes a lot of sense. This whole time I thought Kratos started as a god (the god of war, in fact) but he was actually Some Guy who made a bad deal with Ares before making a bad deal with Athena. Unfortunately the details are a bit jumbled as I’m reading, but the clear takeaway is that Kratos made deals with gods that repeatedly did not go well. But he does eventually slay Ares and take his spot in the pantheon. Killing a god is very metal and incredibly JRPG of Kratos. I can respect his ascendance from a Spartan to becoming god of war.
I am also, unfortunately, learning that Kratos had an entirely separate wife and child that he tragically, accidentally killed. I didn’t know that an oracle bonded the deceased’s ashes to Kratos’ skin; I had assumed he was simply pale. This is an extremely stressful development. Does the ash… ever come off? Is Mimir breathing that in while his disembodied head slaps against Kratos’ ass during exploration and combat? Cursed thoughts for another time.
God of War 2 (2007)
Funniest Kratos line: Kratos monologuing about the “lies of the gods” and shouting “I am cursed!” while facing an enormous Kraken.
Oddest fact that won’t let me live: Kratos then fights the Kraken, which is pretty wild.
What Wikipedia taught me: The Wikipedia plot summary here is extremely detailed; kudos to the people who contributed to it. While I don’t think the plot itself is invaluable to an understanding of Ragnarök, the themes of this sequel give much more heft to the themes of the contemporary games.
Like in the first game, Kratos is knocked to the ground at the very start, killing gods and climbing his way to victory. Kratos also spends much of God of War 2 attempting to alter his fate in order to exact revenge on Zeus, who tricked and killed him — and rendered him a mere mortal — at the start. Changing one’s fate is a prevalent theme in Ragnarök, and I can understand why a man once obsessed with altering his own might be wary to see his son retread his path.
I also appreciate the plot point that Kratos frees Prometheus (to his death, and final rest), which echoes the themes of the contemporary releases — notably when he frees Mimir.
Here are the enormous and important takeaways. Kratos kills Athena; she sacrifices herself to protect Zeus. Then, Kratos learns that Zeus is his father. This explains a lot of Kratos’ exhaustion in Ragnarök, and why he is loath to see Atreus follow in his footsteps. We were reminded that Kratos’ dad is Zeus in God of War (2018), when they meet up in Helheim — this is also how Mimir figures it out. Atreus later sees a memory of Kratos killing Zeus. While the scene was moving, I was still confused about the Greek god’s presence in this Norse game. Now I have a fuller picture.
This context also gives more meaning to the “Atreus is Loki” reveal at the end of the God of War (2018) — Kratos genuinely is one of the only characters who could plausibly relate. If only he and his son could have an actual conversation about it!
God of War 3 (2010)
Funniest Kratos line: It’s extremely hard to choose, since Kratos shades so many gods. But I have to go with Kratos sassing Hephaestus. The smithing god says, “I thought Zeus would have killed you by now.” Kratos responds, “I thought you would have escaped this cavern by now.” Extremely sick burn.
Oddest fact that won’t let me live: Not a fact on its own, but just the sheer number of Greek gods he slays is impressive. An inspiration to us all.
What Wikipedia taught me: Unlike other Wikipedia entries, which gave me more of a preamble as to why Kratos is acting a certain way, this one jumps in pretty fast. Kratos is picking off the Greek gods. From having read the Wikipedia pages for previous entries, I actually know why. But coming in cold would be pretty funny.
Kratos plummets toward the Underworld yet again, and must fight his way from the bottom to the top. All of the gods are on his shit list, and it appears he’ll kill them whenever he gets the chance, starting with Poseidon. That’s not enough. He kills Hades. He kills Helios. He is a very angry man! Who is he fighting for? The Wikipedia entry does not really say, but I’m buckled in for the ride.
Next in his burn book is Hermes, who Kratos kills. Then he kills Hephaestus (in self-defense evidently), and then he kills Hera. By the way, every time a god is killed, an entire category of item is eradicated from the surface of the Earth — and it’s important stuff too, like light and plants. The Wikipedia plot summary builds up to this final moment of Kratos’ ultimate revenge: “He forces Zeus’ spirit back into his body and then beats him to death.” Then Kratos stabs himself and presumably dies. But not actually, because a trail of blood indicates that perhaps he survived. (Spoiler, he survives; there are more God of War games.)
After reading these entries, if I were to go back and play one of these games, I’d probably go with the third entry. Though the first two have a more coherent backstory and give better insight into Kratos’ story, I just love the premise of going after all the Greek gods in a massive slasher-fest. (By the way, my favorite quote from 2018’s God of War is “boy.”)
I can also better appreciate the risky move of making Kratos a father in the contemporary series, given his vengeful, gore-filled past. Though the idea that this Kratos is the mellowed-out version is pretty funny, given he still is prone to rages (which I do enjoy, since they are ideal for finishing fights). If we are to expect another entry, I hope they mellow him further by giving him a dad bod. I think that would be worth the Wikipedia entry.