There are a lot of cool sequences in God of War. Let's talk about the coolest one.
No seriously, that is a spoiler warning! This conversation quickly spoils one of the best surprises in God of War. It happens towards the middle of the game. We don't actually go into detail about endgame spoilers, final story revelations, or anything like that, but we do spoil the crap out of this one thing.
Still here? OK.
Kirk Hamilton: Gentlemen, we are gathered here today to talk about THAT scene from God of War. The scene when, partway through the story, a fan-favourite character makes a surprise return appearance. His name is Mr. Blades of Chaos, and he's a real charmer.
Chris Kohler: This is the real spoiler.
Kirk: It's kind of amazing, right? The fact that basically the biggest spoiler for this game is not a narrative revelation or unexpected cameo, it's the fact that the flaming chain swords come back.
Jason Schreier: It's so ballsy that Sony Santa Monica and crew made a game that straight-up makes it impossible to share photos or videos from the second half. Here we are in Share Everything world, yet...
Kirk: Yeah. It's been a pain for covering the game - I've been cropping all my images, and it's made it a lot harder to talk about how good the combat system gets, since the blades are such an integral part of Kratos's arsenal by the end of the game. (Though it has been enjoyable to watch other journalists and YouTubers be so circumspect when talking around it.)
That said, I wouldn't want to ruin the surprise for anyone, because I really loved it when it happened in the game. I'm not even a God of War superfan or anything, but that whole sequence was pretty great.
Chris: Yeah. So, just to set this up, Kratos spends much of the game using the Leviathan Axe, which is what we were all led to believe was the only major weapon he would wield.
Kirk: Which: really good weapon. My favourite video game weapon in recent memory, really. But it's not the Blades, which led to a LOT of people getting pret-ty mad in the leadup to this game coming out. "That's not God of War," they would say.
Kirk: Nothing but respect for MY god of war
Chris: The Axe, the game notes, does Frost damage. And there's one enemy type it just doesn't work on, which is these undead frozen dudes.
Kirk: And that should have been such an obvious tell, right? Yet I really just didn't see it coming, for whatever reason.
Chris: Well, not necessarily. You might think, as I did, that that was an invitation to use Kratos' bare-handed fighting style. Which, for a good 10-15 hours, it was. You'd drop the axe and pummel them with your fists, which was a good way of reminding the player that, hey, bare-handed fighting is also a thing you should try, by forcing you to do it.
Jason: You also didn't see them very often.
Chris: Yeah, because they were annoying. But then ...
Jason: But then Atreus gets sick and you have to go to hell and Kratos says "IT'S TIME TO GO HOME" which totally made me think we were going to go back to Greece and I was like, holy shit. But no, you just go back to Kratos' house, where he picks up the Blades from where they were hidden and it's this totally epic scene.
Chris: Rushing ahead a bit there, Jason.
Jason: I'm very excited.
Kirk: I had actually forgotten that at the end of that one scene where you run into the human scavengers, they transform into the Hel-walkers at the end. I always just thought of them as "ice dudes."
But, right, Kratos has to go home, and he gets the Blades, and the specter of Athena is at the door, and it's all very dramatic. Which, again, something that was foreshadowed at the very start of the game. Kratos tells Atreus to hide in the crawlspace below their house when the Stranger shows up, and Atreus mentions that he isn't supposed to go down there.
Chris: Right. But, you know, could have been anything - just memories of Kratos' old life, whatever.
Kirk: And I mean, it WAS that.
Chris: Right. But that he actually went back to use them, that was the surprise.
Jason: It was all extremely well done, I have to say.
Chris: So this all gets started when, as Jason said, Kratos has to go to Hel (funny line: Freya asks if he is familiar with the underworld, and he says, "Not this one"), and his frost axe won't work there since Norse hell is cold.
So he makes the decision pretty quick, since it's Atreus' life on the line, to head home to get a weapon that will burn the dead. But before he gets there, he has to fight a bunch of annoying-arse dead icicle dudes again, just to remind you of how much of a pain in the arse they are.
Jason: They really paced it perfectly, because this all happens juuuuust when combat is starting to feel a tiny bit repetitive. Don't get me wrong, I'm with Kirk on loving the Leviathan Axe, but when you're swinging that thing around for 10 hours or so (especially if you're doing sidequests), you start to wish the game would add some variety. And it does!
Kirk: I took my time getting to the blades, as well. I was probably 20 hours into the game or something, I'd done a ton of exploring and sidequesting. The fact that I had played that much and the game was only now adding an entire new primary weapon was wild.
As a purely narrative side-note, I enjoyed that the "Atreus is in jeopardy" storyline happened at this point in the game, as opposed to at the end. I've seen the complaints that this story was too long, but I actually liked how it was paced and arranged.
Jason: Wait, what? No way was it too long. It was the perfect length IMO. The rare game that never made me wish it was shorter.
Chris: That's a whole 'nother VGChat. But yeah, blending the inevitable "you lose Atreus" stretch with this solitary journey home is a good choice. Killing two gods with one axe.
Jason: Or two gods with two blades.
Chris: Anyway, Kratos gets back to his house and we get this scene:
Kirk: ha ha ha
Chris: And then you walk back out and find way, way more frost guys. And you realise, oh shit. I am about to slice through these fuckers like a hot knife through butter.
Kirk: Jason, as a fellow Destiny player, were you also reminded of re-forging Gjallarhorn in Rise of Iron? "Behold, this iconic and beloved weapon, and now here is an army of scrubs for me to totally wreck with it."
Jason: Yes! But I think that's a tried-and-true video game trope - here is a new weapon, now go forth and use it to beat up some trash mobs.
Kirk: Sure, but in this case as in Destiny, it's not a new weapon. It's the triumphant return of a classic.
Jason: But yes, I immediately thought of Gjallarhorn coming back, too.
Kirk: Feels like the more games we see reforming and re-imagining their mid-2000s gritty anti-heroes, the more common this kinda scene is gonna become.
So there's something I think is interesting and funny here, and that's how Video Games this whole thing is. The biggest twist, the most consequential development in the game isn't a story beat or a monologue. It's a weapon. And that makes total sense in the context of a game, right? Particularly this game.
First of all, it's an exciting twist because we quickly realise we're going to get to USE these things. Second, it works narratively because it's a mechanical expression of how Kratos is reconnecting with his past. It's not quite as simple/easy as that, since my reaction was definitely more "Fuck yeah omg check out these dope blades!" and less "I now understand the burden of Kratos' sins." But still, it holds together unusually well.
Chris: Exactly. It's accomplishing so much. It's such an impactful moment for so many reasons that span story and mechanics and fuse them together.
Jason: Very good points there, Kirk - and you could certainly zoom out a second and think, "Wait a minute, the message of this game is that this guy's violent rage has ultimately ruined his life and yet the game's most exciting scene is when you get a BRAND NEW WEAPON?"
Kirk: Right. The game wants to both have its cake and eat it… but also… it owns… and the blades own… and that sequence where you wreck the dudes owns… so… you know... at least it's delicious cake!
Jason: I was never much of a God of War fan but I really loved that whole sequence. Even if you haven't played any of the games, it's easy to appreciate the symbolism. And of course, when a game is firing on all cylinders the way this God of War does, the power fantasy is really hard to beat. Plus... you need to save Atreus!
Is it just me or does Atreus never actually say anything when he's back and sees you with the blades?
Kirk: He remarks on them, I believe.
Chris: Yeah, I definitely felt like it would have been a bigger scene. Like, "WHOA WHAT ARE THOSE." With Atreus' eyes going wide.
Kirk: I'd guess that, to some extent, they probably had to maintain the continuity with a lot of the open-world stuff, which you can take on before or after you get the blades.
But yeah, I remember wondering why he wasn't noticing that I was like, Scorpioning dudes and solving wind puzzles with these crazy chain blades. I guess maybe if you're a kid who's seen your dad do 5,000 completely bonkers things in the past few days, a set of chain blades is just one more on the heap.
Chris: So then there's another revelation after you finish up the fight against a hundred dead popsicles, which is that these blades are now a third combat option, and they have got their own whole massive upgrade tree and everything. Like, that was not just a fun interlude. And that's the big reveal - that this whole major aspect of the game was a secret.
Jason: And you can switch back and forth between them and the axe! For a second I was worried you'd lose the axe, until I realised that of course they wouldn't take it away from you.
Kirk: Yeah. Which again ties in with how it's a twist that could only really work in a Video Game. I was psyched about the twist because it meant that there was more to this game than I'd realised. That its best aspect - the combat - had just become even more interesting.
Jason: It's such a great example of how games can blend storytelling with mechanics. Eat it, ludo-narrative dissonance.
Kirk: This whole part of the game, from the blades onward, does some lovely stuff tying Kratos back to his past, and showing him struggling with how much of that to share with Atreus. There's always that conflict between how much Kratos hates the weapons with how totally kickass it feels to use them, but I appreciated how well they reconciled the two things, given that built-in friction.
And hey, given how conflicted Kratos remains about his past throughout the story, some ambiguity is fine! Part of him probably likes using the Blades, too, even after all the horrible things he's done with them.
The sequence we've been talking about puts all of that high-level narrative stuff in motion, and pretty much everything afterward is handled unusually well.
Chris: It's quite a moment. I can't imagine it being done any better.
Kirk: On a straight gameplay tip, I've been dying to talk to more people about how the Blades actually work in combat. They're a good complement to the axe; strong at controlling mobs, with runic specials focused more on crowd control than damaging an individual enemy. Lots of spins, range, and whirlwinds, all super different from what we've gotten used to with the Axe.
Jason: Yeahhh when you start fighting the optional Valkyrie bosses (which are super hard!) you have to find a good rhythm of switching between the two weapons, using the axe to deal big damage and the blades to clear out crowds. It's really, really fun.
Kirk: It's also nice to have two more runic attacks. I tended to default to my axe for Valkyrie fights, but sometimes I'd switch to the Blades real quick just to dish out my runic attacks, then switch back to the axe.
I still haven't come close to mastering the number of combos I have at my disposal, let alone the other runic attacks I haven't experimented with yet. One of the reasons I really hope the developers add a New Game+ is that I've mastered all these skills and have run out of things to do with them!
Jason: Ha ha, I have enough video games to play without New Game+s on top of that.
Kirk: The funny thing is, NG+ would (I guess?) give Kratos the Blades from the beginning of the story. Which… whatever, I don't care hahaha
Chris: Well, it would be like Chrono Trigger, where you lose the Masamune. And with that Chrono Trigger reference, we must be done.
Kirk: A good ending note if ever there was one.