With 2018’s God Of War, Kratos and his son Atreus have stepped out of the shadow of Mount Olympus, and into the wilds of Midgard. They’ve been exploring the fabled worlds of Norse mythology, fighting drooling Nordic beasties and making sense of ancient stories about gods and monsters. See why Jonathon Dornbush called it a ‘Masterpiece’ in IGN’s God of War review here.
However, taking Kratos from the Mediterranean to Germanic regions is more than a matter of swapping wine for mead and chains for an axe. It’s a fundamental tonal shift that tells us far more about the world of God of War than it does about Kratos himself.
Most importantly, it shows us that within the world of God of War, multiple pantheons of gods and religions are able to exist at once. This means there isn’t one “God of War”, but one for each religious group that worships one.
So then, the next question is – what’s next for Kratos? Without delving into spoiler territory for the latest game, we can look at other pantheons from around the world and how they could fit into the wider God of War mythos. We’ll even look at each of these civilisations and suggest a weapon that could be unique to that nation, in much the same way the Leviathan Axe is in God of War 2018.
Let’s start across the other side of the world from where Kratos and Atreus are currently squashing Draugr, and look at Aztec mythology, and one of the most devout and bloody ceremonial traditions of the Western world.
The city of Tenochtitlan served as the centre of the Aztec civilisation since the early 1300s in an area that is now Mexico City. Prior to this there were a number of smaller Meso-American cultures in the region that came together after the fulfillment of a local prophecy.
Many of the Aztec gods held dual roles, balancing creation and destruction in equal parts.
The city of Tenochtitlan was established as the major power in the Meso-American region, which maintained control until the Spanish conquistador Hernan Cortez arrived in the 1500s.
This amalgamation of Southern American traditions led to a rich and varied mythological pantheon, centred around gods that were representative of natural phenomenon, such as Tlaloc – god of rain and fertility.
One of the prominent Aztec creation myths centres around the birth of the sun and the sacrifice of gods to give it fire. This early creation myth is believed to be one of the hallmarks of the Aztec fixation with sacrifice and the act of ceremonial bloodletting. A key element of worship was a caste of priests who acted as conduits and interpreters of the gods. These priests gave offerings of their own blood, as well as human sacrifices at important events. These sacrifices were most often taken from other tribes during battles.
We mentioned the god Tlaloc earlier – as well as being a rain god, Tlaloc was also the wrathful god of thunder, and leader of a group of rain gods who lived in the mountains. Many of the Aztec gods held dual roles, balancing creation and destruction in equal parts. Similarly, in his most recent outing, Kratos himself is looking to balance the fury of the Spartan warrior, with the discipline of being a father.
These varying groups of gods linked together by similar powers and roles within society could make an interesting narrative thread for Kratos and Atreus to follow. They might need to travel to the mountains for the blessing of the rain gods, before heading to the volcanos to meet the watchers there. The Aztec traditions could also create an interesting dilemma for the player. The Aztecs highlight the importance of blood and sacrifice for power in the Aztec tradition, while killing humans has been something Kratos sought to ward Atreus away from.
Unique Weapon: The Macuahuitl
The Macuahuitl is a ceremonial weapon unique to South America. It’s somewhere between a wooden club and a sword, featuring a large four foot body made of wood, and an edge lined with obsidian blades. Obsidian is a form of black volcanic glass that was used extensively in Southern America for art and weapons, and prized for being able to hold an edge far sharper than steel.
This weapon would likely be the slowest of Kratos’ fighting options, due to its size and weight. But it could open up a broad range of tactics by doubling as a shield, and being versatile as both a club and a sword.
West African Fables
All over Africa there are tribes with rich cultural traditions and rituals, with ancient stories that have been passed down through generations. The Ashanti people, part of the larger Akan cultural group, have a collection of legends around the creation of man, the passing down of knowledge, and how animals play a crucial role in African culture.
Stories of the god Ananse, as either a trickster, storyteller or teacher, have been present across African communities throughout America as well. Ananse is the spider god, but also teller-of-tales and holder of knowledge. He was also a minor player in the American Gods TV series, which you can read about here.
Kratos deals in the physical. He takes gods and godlike figures, and breaks them down to people that he can see, touch, and at times kill. However, the Ashanti stories of Africa deal in the metaphysical, where creatures and gods can shape, shift and change the world around them.
One of the stories of Ananse involved him taking knowledge and the power of stories from the sky god Nyame. Nyame refused to name Ananse “King of all wisdom narratives”, and so gave him an impossible task.
“If you can catch and capture the Jaguar Who Has Dagger-like Teeth, the Hornets Who Sting like Wild Fire, the Invisible Fairy of the Forest, you will be King of the Wisdom Narratives.”
Suffice to say, Ananse was able to complete these three tasks by outsmarting and capturing Osebo the leopard, Onini the serpent and Mmoboro the hornet, thereby winning the wisdom stories for himself.
Throughout God Of War, both the 2018 game and the earlier titles, we’ve seen Kratos deal in the physical. He takes gods and godlike figures, and breaks them down to people that he can see, touch, and at times kill. However, the Ashanti stories of Africa deal in the metaphysical, where creatures and gods can shape, shift and change the world around them.
The world of African folklore is far more entrenched in the natural phenomenon and creatures of Africa than anything Kratos has dealt with before. Kratos and Atreus would need a whole new set of skills to challenge any of these gods, and he might not be able to rely on his physical strength as he has before.
Unique Weapon: The Akrafena
An Akrafena is a ceremonial sword used by Ashanti tribes in combat and for ceremonies. It is most similar to a modern machete, though far more ornate. It has a large sweeping blade built for cutting and embossed with ritual symbols.
The hilt of the Akrafena is highly detailed, with two enlarged sections on either side of the user’s hand. The Akrafena is a hand-and-a-half weapon, meaning Kratos could reliably use it as a two-handed sword for powerful attacks, or in one hand to free himself up for grappling, punching, knife attacks and more.
Japan is historically home to a number of different religious groups, including Buddhism, Shintoism, Christianity and more. However, the Japanese folktales of yokai and the spirits that live around everyday life have persevered throughout, with written records going back as far as the first century.
Yokai are an intrinsic part of everyday life, and live around humans…
While other groups and traditions on this list have relied on religious leaders and teachings that create a link between the everyday human and the gods they worship, the yokai are an intrinsic part of everyday life, and live around humans – helping them, harming them or just going about their lives.
The yokai are symbolic of aspects of everyday occurrences, from the mundane to the downright bizarre (Google ‘Akaname’, and remember to clean your bathroom). Many of them grew out of traditional folklore tales, while others came out of writings and stories during the Edo period in Japan.
There are a huge variety of yokai in the Japanese folklore pantheon, like the Binbōgami, a spirit of poverty and misery that can inhabit a person or a home and bring misfortune. The Binbōgami is often seen as a spindly old man, carrying a fan, a kendama and wearing one broken sandal.
There are plenty of more dangerous yokai around that Kratos would need to be careful of, such as Onibi, a ghostly light or flame that floats around open areas, looking to draw in living creatures and swallow their souls.
Or to provide a more massive challenge – akin to the cyclops or ogres Kratos has fought before, Japanese yokai legends have the Gashadokuro, a giant human skeleton said to be made from the remains of those who died in battle. These hulking creatures wander around at night and grab lone travelers to eat, though Shinto charms were said to warn them off.
PlatinumGames’ World of Demons is based heavily on yokai mythologies.
Unique Weapon: The Katana
Kind of an obvious choice, but the katana has long been known as one of the most dangerous weapons in history, as well as one of the hardest to master. The katana is a weapon unique to Japan, built with a combination of steel to create a cutting edge out of hard steel (Hagane) or medium steel (Kawagane) and a spine from soft steel (Shigane) that is flexible to absorb impacts.
The discipline and precision needed to properly wield a katana would likely prove a challenge for the grumpiest Spartan in the land, but could show more development of his character as he learns to control his anger.
Similar to other African religious sects like the Ashanti people we spoke of earlier, the Egyption pantheon is built around service to natural things, and the ways that humankind is indentured to serving the gods. Assassin’s Creed Origins recently took us back to ancient Egypt, showing how the intricate ceremonies and strict religious rulings of that period played a massive role in the life of the old kingdom.
Key to the Egyptian belief was the idea of an afterlife where human souls are either rewarded for their good works, or punished for their wrong deeds. In the ancient Egyptian religions, the human body and soul are two distinct entities that reside together, and reflect one another. The body is referred to as the khat, while the soul is a person’s ka. As such there is a duality to life and death – while alive, a person is feeding their ka with good deeds, intentions and serving the gods. In death, the body is preserved to aid the ka into a transition into the afterlife.
Key to the Egyptian belief was the idea of an afterlife where human souls are either rewarded for their good works, or punished for their wrong deeds.
The Egyptian form of worship and ritual focuses on balance, maintaining all elements of the human mind, body and soul to ensure they had a wholesome afterlife.
One of the most well known elements of Egyptian mythology is the trial that humans must undergo after death. There is a very clear depiction of this ceremony in the Ani papyrus as a part of the Egyptian Book of the Dead from 1275 BCE that shows the jackal-headed god Anubis weighing the soul of a deceased human against a feather of Ma’at to see whether they would join Osiris, or be eaten by Ammit – the devourer of hearts.
Judgement plays a huge role in Egyptian mythology, creating a backdrop for the ways that humans live their lives and how they are eventually carried into the afterlife. This could create a climactic conclusion to Kratos story, whereby he has to atone for his sins, and face the guilt of all the damage he’s caused across the world.
Unique Weapon: The Khopesh
Rounding out our selection of unique weapons, the Khopesh or sickle sword was a dangerous hooked weapon that provided the user with a unique tactical advantage in combat. The blade itself was sharpened on the outside portion of the curved end, meaning the soldier could use the hook to sweep the leg of opponents, while using the curve of the blade to deliver deadly cutting blows.
Since this weapon likely evolved from the Egyptian battle axe, the combat style for Kratos could be more combo-focused, seeing him setting up enemies for execution strikes and breaking them down with blunt strikes before finishing them with the blade.
These are just a few of the other legends and myths from across the world that the Sony Santa Monica studio could explore for the next entry in the God of War series. And of course, if any of them are reading this, call me.
Let us know what folk stories and legends you think Kratos and Atreus should tackle in their next outing in the comments.
Nathanael Peacock is a freelance games journalist based in Melbourne, Australia. Why not say hey on Twitter?