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God of War Returns With a Mix of Family and Violence

LOS ANGELES — Although the rumors were swirling that God of War was going to make an appearance at this year's E3 gaming expo, the jaded journalist and gamer in me knew better than to get my hopes up. That's why when I saw Kratos emerge from the shadows, his entrance scored by a live orchestra at this week's PlayStation Press Conference, I screamed in excitement. But this Ghost of Sparta is a changed man from the one that beat in Zeus's skull during God of War 3 (GOW3). Now sporting a new beard and apparently new son, this Kratos is older and a little less angry (maybe) leaving fans with a lot of unanswered questions.

Don't Call it a Reboot

Although Kratos' new look and battle accoutrement might look like a reboot of the series, Cory Barlog, creative director at Sony Santa Monica, begs to differ, simply stating that"Kratos has entered a new phase in his life." The latest God of War is a continuation of the events from GOW3, which finds Kratos living a somewhat settled life in the Norse pantheon with his son.

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Watching the extended demo of the E3 2016 trailer reveals that this is very much a game about fatherhood. Seeing the titular God of War trying to teach his son to hunt is an exercise in patience that we've never seen from Kratos. I mean, this is the same man who pushed his dead daughter away in the Elysian Fields to fulfill his quest for vengeance. Now he's actively trying to control his anger, saving it for those that deserve it like the undead creatures and the ogre who disrupt this father/son outing.

Putting Away Childish Things

As Kratos has grown and started to change, so has God of War as a game. The garishly flashing combo counters from previous titles have gone the way of the dodo as have the distracting multicolored mini-games. Instead, you see demure notifications quickly appear and fade away as Kratos's son learns a skill or when it's time to unleash the god's Spartan Rage. The end result is a more immersive experience.

Another big change in the game is the lack of camera cuts. The demo trailer was one long cinematic take absent of any load screens or camera repositioning as the characters navigated through the world. Sony's Barlog says that the whole game would be framed like this, which is a wonderful change from the often spastic camera movements from earlier games in the series.

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Father/Son Road Trip

The biggest change to the GOW series is the addition of a partner. In all the games up to now, Kratos has worked alone in a bloody, yet efficient fashion. Having his son in tow adds a fresh take to the combat and opens up new battle strategies.

During the demo, we saw the boy shoot off electrified arrows, which can be swapped out for ones with different powers over the course of the game. For my play style, I assume I'll be relying on the boy to lay down suppressing fire or act as crowd control when Kratos is fighting a large amount of characters. But others might use him to wear down tougher enemies while the Ghost of Sparta quickly eliminates weaker foes.

Barlog says that the kid will have simple controls (simply look at a target and press square to fire) during combat and won't require any babysitting. Fingers crossed that he'll function more like Elizabeth from BioShock Infinite and less like Natalia from GoldenEye 64.

Bottom Line

As flawed as Kratos is as a character, I'm excited for another God of War series, just to see how he's grown, if at all. The game looks absolutely gorgeous and I can't wait to do battle with the monsters and gods of the Norse pantheon. But even more than that, I'm excited to see how Kratos interacts with his son as he raises him in the ways of war.