NOTICE: This post contains spoilers for the God of War Series
Characters and Monsters
While I’ve stated that I love how the God of War series adapted and utilized traditional Greek Mythology into its story and world, what has always particularly wowed me about the series is how it has represented the gods, heroes, and monsters.
When compared to other representations of the gods I have seen or caught glimpses of in popular culture, there is something that has just felt right about how God of War has represented them. Though the series does still have some glaring flaws in that department — such as the unexplained absence of Apollo — their representation of the Olympians and Titans is something I’ve admired.
Firstly, funnily enough, I find them to be appropriately absent. Throughout much of the series they don’t appear directly to Kratos all that often, but instead manifest in statues, disguises, or other abstract forms to aid or communicate with him. This created an appropriate layer of mystique to their presence in the world. Their statues and monuments were all around you, yet you were never sure how much you could rely on their help. This was very quickly shown to not be the case, as by God of War 2 they were your adversaries — or rather, you were theirs.
In the myths about heroes the gods rarely interacted directly with their affairs, and when they did it was always a big deal. They would intervene at a key moment to save them, advise them on an unwise course of action, or provide them with divine equipment essential to victory. Additionally, while certain gods were there to help the hero, others went out of their way to make the hero’s life more difficult (such as Hera to Heracles).
This leads to my next point, which applies to pretty much all of the divine characters in the series: everyone is gloriously grey. Kratos briefly lost control of himself because of Ares, and murdered his own family. To redeem himself he pledged his service to the gods, overcoming many obstacles and dangers in order to free himself from haunting guilt. When the time came, however, the gods did not deliver, and forced him to live with his guilt, even after divination. A justifiable enough reason for revenge, sure, but Kratos’ ultimate answer to this results in leaving the world in absolute ruin. We can sympathize, but for all intents and purposes he became the villain.
The Olympians are presented as fickle, petty, and manipulative throughout the games. Zeus helps Kratos gain power and defeat Ares in the first game, for instance, then turns around and tries to kill him for becoming too powerful in the second installment. They continually use Kratos to do dirty work they would rather not, and are quick to eliminate or turn on others to protect their own interests. What appears paramount to them, especially in the likes of Zeus, is that they maintain their control over the world by any means necessary. Yet the world they oversee is not a ruinous one, nor do mortals appear to have suffered all that much under their reign. Though they are far from purely benevolent, they do maintain an order to the world that Kratos unabashedly tears down.
The Titans are painted sympathetically in God of War 2 as having been the victims of Zeus’ cruelty, when it was only Cronus he needed to enact revenge on, yet they all turn out to be just as manipulative and power hungry in God of War 3 as the Olympians. They are no different; they just want their power back and are willing to exploit the accomplishments of Kratos just the same toward this end.
This all ties very well with the gods of the old myths, whose blessing were also often curses, and to gain the favour of one you might be inviting the spite of another. Cassandra was cursed with perfect foresight that nobody would believe for scorning Apollo as her lover, for example. Even some of the more noble gods were depicted as quite petty as well, such as Athena, who tore apart Arachne’s weaving during their contest because it depicted true accounts of the gods misleading and abusing mortals.
By far my most favourite representation of a god in the God of War series is Hades. Many interpretations of the mythology erroneously depict him more or less as Satan, just because he is the king of the Underworld, and cast him as the main villain. The mythical Hades was never really evil; he was a god performing a necessary function in the world. He was only really adversarial in how death was something all mortals wanted to escape. There is a reason, however, for one of his epithets meaning “receiver of many.” He is ultimately the final host for all living people who are his “guests,” a relationship considered rather sacred.
Though Hades is depicted as a lot more brutal and macabre-looking when compared to the other Olympians in the games, he is counted among them, being represented with his brothers amongst in-game architecture, and fighting alongside them in the third game.
Lastly, and I may just be gushing a little more than normal, but I give special kudos to everybody behind creature design. The appearance of a new creature I recognize from the mythology has never failed to amaze me in how accurately represented they turn out. Though boss monsters like the hydra and Scylla are very notable examples, I was actually blown away by the reveal of the chimera in God of War 3.
Many depictions of this creature deviate from the classical design regarding the head arrangement, placing them next to each other at the shoulders, but not so in this game. The designers did a fantastic job adapting the creature concept into something that works visually, while maintaining the unique head arrangement as classically depicted — lion head, goat head, and snake-headed tail being arranged in a line along the spine. The classical design admittedly appears a little silly, but they really managed to make it work.
Lastly, as an honourable mention: although I did not play through all of God of War: Ascension, they did the nigh-impossible by creating a very accurate depiction of the Hecatonchires — “the hundred-handed ones.” Their massive size and variously sized arms growing out of larger arms like branches made for an awe-inspiring depiction of something that is infamous for being difficult to depict. During the entire opening sequence of that game I could not stop admiring the design, often stopping gameplay just to take it all in.
I hope my account of my personal experience with the God of War series with a knowledge base in the mythology has made for an interesting read. This is something I’ve wanted to share in some way for a long time, and actually posed an interesting writing challenge for me, since it wasn’t so much about analyzing and presenting an argument, but more conveying experience in a compelling way. I hope that I’ve succeeded in doing that.
Thank you for reading.