With 2018's God of War, Sony Santa Monica turned an action hero into the heart of an emotional epic about fatherhood. Now, with God of War Ragnarok, it looks ready to do it all over again. GamesRadar+ spoke to Eric Williams, director of Ragnarok, and Cory Barlog, the director of 2018's God of War, about what to expect from the father and son team this time around.
"There's the internal struggle with Kratos; he made a lot of ground up [with Atreus] and released those bonds at the end, and walked up there and released the ashes," explains Williams.
"But at that moment – the thing that a lot of people miss is – he also gets gut-punched when he finds out that [his wife] didn't tell him everything. This person he loved, that he opened his whole life to, also held a secret from him. He has to hold that... and he has to still be there for his son."
As you can see in the new God of War Ragnarok trailer, some years have passed since the end of God of War, and Atreus is bigger. Like, a lot bigger, and ready to push back against Kratos.
"Staying true to what we did last time, it's keeping the father-son relationship moving," explains Williams. "It doesn't just stop, like, 'oh, we finished this for mom, we're good.' No, like, there's a lot more that goes on in life, and it continues moving forward."
"Last time, it was one kid with a lot of adults talking. This is like, well, there are some different perspectives. We're gonna see it from a kid's perspective in the world, figuring things out that they thought were black and white, or maybe much more gray, and a lot more family dynamics."
The decision to make Atreus older meant new stakes for the storytelling, but it also reflected the reality of using a child actor for the role. Sunny Suljic – who plays Atreus – was nine years old when he was first cast for the part, he turned 16 this year. "Sonny just keeps growing. He won't stop growing," jokes Williams. "His voice changed, I'm not kidding, like five times. He started out and he was the same size and now he's as tall as I am."
But the main reason for the shift was in service of storytelling – to offer some separation and for players to be able to see this cute kid becoming a young man. "That's where the world isn't easy anymore. It's like, when we're children, you go to the playground and that's your day. Now you have chores, the responsibility, and they live in a world where that comes a lot faster. What a 10-year-old in ancient, mythological Norse times is dealing with is probably what a 20-year-old deals with in our times."
We saw a little of Atreus in combat in the latest trailer, but when asked if he would be able to participate more in battles, Williams would only hint. "I will say this, he is his father's son."
I took this as a chance to test out one GamesRadar+ writer's theory, that the game will end with a battle between Atreus and Kratos, but again, Williams won't reveal anything.
"There are so many universes, maybe there's a universe where that happens? Maybe there's a universe where it doesn't happen? We'll have to wait and see which universe we're in."
Kratos vs Colin Robinson
This Norse saga was set in motion when the narrative of 2018's God of War was first being written, but did that mean the team at Sony Santa Monica always knew how it would end for this particular part of Kratos' story? Williams looks to Barlog to field the question.
"So, basically, the ending is that they get office jobs. Yeah, just working in cubicles. Atreus shows up with a coffee mug in the morning and is like 'yeah, Kratos,'" teases Barlog. Williams can't help but join in with a What We Do In The Shadows reference.
"And the only person that can defeat Kratos is Colin Robinson!"
Barlog eventually stops teasing and likens building the story to mapping weather patterns. "In order to understand the timeline we were in for the last game, we sort of projected out," he explains. "But as we project out, similar to the way that when meteorologists start to project out beyond the few hours around the time that they're projecting, it gets fuzzier, fuzzier, and fuzzier, and allows you to sort of just say what we're trying to hit is this general target."
He adds the team had a sense of where the story would go emotionally, what the feelings were they wanted the audience to walk away from the game with, and also what possibilities they wanted to leave open. "When we started on Ragnarok, the discussions then started to be like 'this is the general vicinity, start thinking about these things, let's kick around ideas,' and then kind of continue to whittle down, but maintain the flexibility to say, we have this really crazy idea," Barlog says.
"Because that's how the Loki thing came up. It was a crazy idea that Matt Sophos had when driving into work with Rich Gaubert [both God of War writers], and then he came in and pitched the actual line we ended up using when he made the pitch. And I was like, 'gold, done,' with no thinking whatsoever because halfway through it, I was already sold on it.
"The surprising part is both for the audience and for us, as we're discovering it and going, 'This is awesome. This is great.' It surprised me. And I know all about these things!"
Unfortunately, I couldn't get the answer to the most important question, the vital fact left out of the trailer, the elephant in the room. What is the name of that adorable octopus squiddy pet thing?
"It does have a name, but we're gonna wait to reveal that for later," says Williams.
God of War Ragnarok will be released in 2022. Now see what Cory Barlog had to say about handing the director's Leviathan Axe to Eric Williams.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.