A History of Violence: The future of the God of War series
After recently completing the fifth entry in the God of War series, Ready At Dawn Studios’ PSP title Ghost of Sparta, I find it difficult to believe the franchise is little more than five years old. God of War is now such a tent-pole first party franchise for Sony that Kratos is arguably as iconic as Halo’s Master Chief. Though games in the God of War series are usually released in March, they are essentially the summer blockbusters of video games -- and to be honest, you’d likely be better off watching someone else play God of War III than trying to sit through a screening of the recent Clash of the Titans remake.
The God of War games are human id given audio-visual form. They have little depth but are overflowing with hyper-violent and sexualized set pieces, an evolution of trends started by games like Mortal Kombat in the early 1990s. The series was a natural progression for the original’s creative lead, David Jaffe, from his work on the Twisted Metal vehicular combat games.
Nick and I disagree on the merits of the God of War games. He prefers the eastern/Japanese approach to the character-action genre, such as Bayonetta, Devil May Cry or Ninja Gaiden. These series have more in-depth combat systems, but that is a trade-off for laughably terrible stories and voice acting. God of War games thrive because of their lavish production values, with each successive iteration attempting to out-do the others in terms of action, gore and the orgy minigame, a staple of the series.
At the conclusion of God of War III, Kratos’ deity-focused rage issues are wrapped up in about as tight of a bow as you could possibly hope for. This conclusion and the serviceable but unnecessary story provided by the PSP mid-quel now begs the question: Where does Sony take its best-selling franchise from here?
The critical and consumer reaction to Dante’s Inferno would suggest that simply moving on to new gods and myths and slathering them in blood and boobs isn’t enough to recapture lightning in a bottle. Creating more in-depth combat and puzzles might not be the solution either, as it risks reducing the series’ mainstream appeal. After all, a large factor of God of War’s allure is how incredibly easy it is to perform increasingly impressive and grotesque feats. While side-stories may work for the PSP, releasing one on a home console after the immensely epic finale of God of War III would likely only lead to diminishing returns in both sales and critical reception.
Kratos and Santa Monica Studios’ interpretation of mythical Greece has been taken about as far as it can go. What Ghost of Sparta shows is that, while the formula is still enjoyable, there is little that new set pieces or storylines can really add. It’s doubtful they would ever abandon such a cash cow, but it’s in the best interest of Sony Computer Entertainment America to take what they’ve learned creating the God of War games and apply them to something new.
In enough time, there could be more to say about God of War, or work could begin on the inevitable reboot (THE God of War). Franchising and minimalist iteration is such an enormous part of the games market but there are lessons to take from exhausted heroes. Ghost of Sparta is a fun game and worthy of the franchise, but the depth Ready At Dawn adds to Kratos’ pathos feels frivolous so late in the series. The Spartan functions as a paper-thin rage-puppet for the player, which is another reason continuing to embellish his story would only dilute the series’ impact. I hope the next game we see from Santa Monica Studios is as exciting, new and fresh for the PS3 as God of War was for the PS2 in 2005.