I played the first few hours of the newest God of War - a game about a father, son, and their host of relationship issues - with my dad. The experience turned out exactly as I anticipated: it involved a series of mishaps, frustrations, and a ton of laughs.
When the latest entry in the action-adventure God of War series released on PS4 a little over a week ago, I wavered between buying or skipping. The earlier games were fun for their hack and slash action, but I wasn't very invested in Kratos as a character. Kratos' unrelenting rage served a purpose, that purpose being the bloody gore and fantastically close-up violence the games are known for.
I had a tradition to uphold (and it helped that reviews were glowing). I played the first two God of War games with my dad many years ago. He's a man who enjoys fantasy fiction, and a good action-packed movie or game.
We've bonded over other video game franchises, too. He knows a bit about Drake, Elena, and Sully because he watched me play Uncharted 2, and really liked it! Until he felt nauseated watching as I rotated the camera too quickly, and too many times, trying to shoot a helicopter out of the sky. Whoops. God of War, however, is the series he enjoyed most.
Best of all, as I become acutely aware of time, and panic that my parents are in retirement and getting older, it's nice to connect with them however I am able.
And so it made sense to invest in the latest God of War, even though I knew that when I invited him to watch me play he'd drive me slightly insane in the most 'Dad' ways possible.
These aren't the same ones we fought on that particular island but they also destroyed me.Screenshot: N. Ho Sang
My dad always has advice for how I should be playing. Much of it ranges from the obvious plans of attack to what makes sense to him as an onlooker. His latter advice usually results in conversations in which he'll prompt me to "attack its head, man!"
Usually, after letting him know that his particular observations are not possible in a specific situation or would not work effectively, he'll acknowledge that. And then he'd reiterate his advice. Typical dad behaviour of knowing what's best, I think.
To give credit where it's due, he did keep pressing me to tackle a rock creature (a 'Soul Eater,' as per the game's lore) a certain way. The solution was obvious to me as well but my timing was off, and I couldn't land hits.
The result was that I ignored the obvious solution and tried to tackle it another way, much to my dad's annoyance.
In the end, I mastered my timing and fought the battle the way it was meant to be. My father could not have been prouder (and ever so slightly smugly justified) of his strategy.
It's times like these I'll give him these small victories.
He Laughs At The Silliest Things. Sometimes That Means Me.
Whenever Atreus, Kratos' son, jumps on Kratos' back to climb cliffs, my dad laughs. I chuckle along with him. Atreus seems to appear from nowhere to hitch a ride, and it's amusing. That's one little thing we share a laugh over. But a later adventure to topple a statue is the one sidequest he can't stop talking about.
The quest isn't particularly inspired but to him, our approach to it was.
This specific sidequest required us to make a detour to an island where stronger enemies awaited. In God of War, different coloured health bars indicate how much more powerful an enemy is than Kratos.
The reavers (enemies) we found had purple bars, which were well above Kratos' strength. I decided to stop and see just how much of an arse-kicking I'd get. It was over in one hit - for me, that is.
Never the quitter (yeah, right), I went back to see if I could dodge my way to victory. Two dodges and one hit later, it was over again. A blow to my ego.
I see this "Game Over" screen oftenScreenshot: N. Ho Sang
On my third attempt, I tossed the axe at the enemy as it rushed forward, had Atreus shoot a few arrows, then hurried back to the boat. Something told me to return to the island right after. Maybe it was a divine act of the gods, or what I call a 'fluke,' but I proceeded to engage the reaver again.
Lo and behold, its health had not regenerated, so I enacted my dad's plan: I snuck a hit in, ran like a coward to the boat, shoved off, turned the boat around with my terrible rowing skills, docked, rinsed and repeated.
This scenario was strategic brilliance to my father but mostly it was comical: running back to the boat, watching our foe try to swipe at our heads,but failing to connect once the boat boarding animation sequence began.
In the end I spent a solid ten minutes clearing the island of reavers this way. My dad was proud (and couldn't stop laughing the entire time), and he insisted I make note of this story for the article I was writing.
But hey, it worked. As cheap, tedious, and ridiculous as it was, it was our moment; one of the funnier ones we've had that I'll surely remember. It's these lighter, accidental moments I appreciate.
Even when dad laughs at me for missing hitting an object, it's understandable. Again, it comes back to the wealth of advice he always seems to give. As frustrated as it makes me, I know he's got my back. These are stories for him to remember, and to share, on days when we're reminiscing over the stupid things in life.
About This New God of War Story
I have a confession to make: I've been observing Kratos' behaviour to see not only how he's changed and if he can be redeemed as a character to me, but to draw parallels in the story to my own relationship with my father. No, my father isn't the blood-obsessed murdering machine of yore. Nor am I an Atreus - a child who doesn't understand her father.
By all indications thus far, Kratos is a changed man. I'm not surprised by how the writing has handled his newly found fatherhood. The story is everything I expected it to be so far in his journey of redemption, and establishing and navigating a more rooted, caring relationship with his son.
Atreus' acting has felt fluid and natural, even if he sometimes has to deliver stock dialogue. There's no real connection I can make between my own relationship with my father and that of Kratos and Atreus.
Doing so would be a stretch. It's a story about family and the bonds we create, and that's pretty much as far as the parallels go. That's something many of us can relate to with our own loved ones, and it's what makes this God of War more mature.
As for my dad's thoughts on the story? He's more into the lore of the world, watching Kratos execute his finishing kill moves, and directing me to what I should do next.
So much for my thought experiment.
Dad jokes. The Kratos way. Screenshot: N. Ho Sang
There's a point in the game where Atreus will ask Kratos to tell him stories as they paddle along in their boat. Kratos, being the no-nonsense, stiff, unfunny man that he is, tells these stories without padding and they're all matter-of-fact lessons of life.
They're some of my favourite moments in the game thus far because they're hilarious, in part for Atreus' reactions and Kratos' lack of humour. They're quiet moments which are necessary for development of their relationship — the type we've seen before in lots of games.
In a way, these stories remind me of my dad. The warmth he has for his family radiates, even if he doesn't always show it outwardly, like Kratos. Somehow I saw my dad and his corny jokes in Kratos' dead-pan story delivery.
We didn't end up too far in our joint playthrough of God of War. It was just enough to go on a few sidequests, get lost in our boat, and have my dad question many of my decisions about how to unlock chests or fight swarms.
My response has been mostly giving him a fierce side-eye look of exasperation, with playful, light bickering.
I knew there'd be no grand revelations about our relationship while playing God of War. This was much simpler: I've been meaning to play a game again with him for a long time. Maybe it's fitting that God of War - a game about a father and son strengthening their relationship - is the one a dad, his daughter, and their unwavering family bond, chose to play together.
All I know is that I am thankful that years later after our first two adventures with Kratos, we could still sit together to share in new moments - both the frustrations and the laughs - which are some of the most important to me.
If you've got stories of playing games with your beloved parents, I would love to hear them.