Spoilers for the God of War series ahead.
2018’s God of War garnered a great deal of critical acclaim for its profound story and visceral combat. The game sees the Ghost of Sparta, Kratos, venturing across an inhospitable landscape with his son, Atreus. While on this journey, the two form a dynamic bond. They transform into one of gaming’s best duos of the past decade. Today, I want to look at the father-son relationship between Atreus and Kratos, focusing on the influence of the boy. Pun intended.
Atreus’ background is somewhat fascinating in the context of the God of War universe. He is the son of Spartan demi-god Kratos and Faye, a Jötunn, or giant for those who are unfamiliar with Greek mythological terminology. Atreus was primarily raised by his mother, while his father was away “hunting”. He was actually training to control his rage. Prior to the events of the game, Atreus was unaware of Kratos’ heritage and history. This becomes an essential fragment of the narrative, with Kratos’ primary inner struggle being how to come to terms with his past and whether or not to tell his son about his lineage.
In his formative years, it is evident that Atreus learnt plenty of things. This is clear in his knowledge, where he acts similar to a mythological compendium. In essence, he documents and explains the lore behind many of the story beats to Kratos, or more importantly, to us as the player. Atreus frequently details lessons that he learned from his mother. It seems that his mother taught him to be caring and to use logic, and the role of Kratos is to now teach him how to be protective and disciplined. Kratos must teach Atreus the value of life, and the power of order.
The first time most people saw Atreus would probably have been in the announcement video. Atreus and Kratos are hunting a deer, and this acts as a valuable life lesson for Atreus about death. The deer scene also teaches Kratos a valuable lesson in being a father, marking the first time in the game where we see his relationship with his son develop.
A key aspect of this scene is the distinct difference between Atreus and his father. Atreus is apprehensive. He requires help from his father to push the blade into the animal’s neck. Kratos is indifferent, as would be expected from a man who has sliced and diced his way into being one of the most iconic characters in video game history. But the sublime acting from both Christopher Judge (Kratos) and Sunny Suljic (Atreus) works to emphasise the difference between the two.
This scene was first shown off in the announcement trailer. This provided a great deal of insight not only into the characters but also the story as a whole. It taught us about Atreus’ vulnerability and Kratos’ cold exterior. But more importantly, it taught that this game isn’t about mindless violence, which is perhaps how some would view the previous games. This game is about the duality of human nature and the fundamental values of caring. This scene teaches us a great deal from a moral perspective and emphasizes how these characters act prior to their journey.
The pair’s journey to spread the ashes of Atreus’ mother, Faye, is littered with adversity, from frost trolls, fairies, and dragons to the everyday struggles of a demi-god father-son relationship. To many, the key aspects of the game will be the combat and the jaw-dropping narrative. The game’s writing is mature and emotional at every step of the journey. The foundation for the tale is rooted in family. Kratos’ and Atreus’ bond works as the primary driving force behind the narrative.
At the start of the game, Atreus seems somewhat reserved. He is eager, yet unsure. This again is epitomised in the ‘deer scene’. Atreus runs on ahead, showing his explorative nature, but when he must act, he falters. Naturally, as the story progresses, Atreus becomes more and more important not only to the story, but also in combat. He can learn a range of diverse skills and grows into a key component of battle. He can lock enemies down with his bow and arrow, stunning foes, opening them up for Kratos to thwack and crush them with his Leviathan Axe.
Atreus’ inner turmoil and hatred of the gods cause him to fall ill, and it’s fair to say that Kratos shows his true paternal instinct. The entire narrative shifts to saving the boy. Kratos’ journey hasn’t just been literal, but emotional. His mental development can be solely accredited to Atreus. It is odd how the narrative of God of War‘s seemingly resonated with the cast and parallelled real-life events. Cristopher Judge said of Kratos that “a lot of this performance, for me, is a love letter to my kids, and it’s an apology”.
(Click here to check out the rest of the God of War documentary, Raising Kratos!)
ATREUS: HIS FATHER’S SON
I won’t be shocking anyone by saying that Kratos is cold and distant. His traumatic past, where seemingly everyone close to him dies, makes it understandable why he would seem somewhat detached. However, this attitude is distressful to his son and creates a rift between the two, due to Atreus just wanting a dad, rather than a command husk of a father. This attitude ultimately influences Kratos. Cory Barlog, the director of God of War stated that “Atreus teaches him to become human”.
Kratos and Atreus have a wonderful dynamic, they learn from one another and are equally important to the narrative. Kratos’ combat prowess, strength, and an undying will to defend his son are complemented by Atreus’ intellect and desire to learn. In the older games, it could be argued that Kratos’ escapades into the depths of the Underworld and god-slaying tendencies are egocentric. Not in the vain, Instagram model sense, but his pursuits of vengeance are purely driven by his own rage, even if they are justified. However, this entry in the series sees Kratos develop into a more sympathetic and dynamic character. His journey isn’t about revenge, it’s about family. Family is a key theme in this game, and his relationship with his son is the focal point that epitomises his development.
Kratos’ influence on his son cannot be ignored. Upon learning of his godhood, Atreus grows arrogant. Kratos teaches his son the pitfalls and morals of being a god, seemingly having learned from past experiences. Kratos teaches him discipline and maturity. The duality of the characters work to provide a foundation for mutual development.
To conclude, Santa Monica Studios‘ God of War possesses one of the greatest stories put to the gaming medium. A key component of this narrative is the central characters. The bond between Kratos and Atreus drives the narratives and provides a foundation for character development. The themes of family and growth are ever-present and can be seen to influence both characters in a positive manner. Kratos, especially, is influenced by his relationship with his son, after being an absent father for such a long time.
If you’re interested in some of Culture of Gaming‘s other God of War content, you can click here to read our review of the game!