God of War: How Kratos’ Son Atreus Grew From Concept to Reality

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God of War: How Kratos’ Son Atreus Grew From Concept to Reality

Game Director Cory Barlog offers insight into how the character of Kratos' son took shape.

As you’ve likely picked up on in the two trailers released to date, Santa Monica Studio has some big, bold ideas for Kratos’ impending PS4 adventure.

Gone are the gods of Olympus. With his vengeance complete, Kratos now quietly resides in the realm of Norse gods and monsters. But he’s not alone. Central to the studio’s bold reimagining of its long running series is the introduction of Atreus, Kratos’ son. The youngster will be at your side throughout the game, as father and son embark on a deeply personal quest into the Norse wildlands.

However, this is not your typical stroll in the woods. The pair’s quest represents both a physical journey from point A to B, but also an emotional one. Atreus is Kratos’ second shot at fatherhood, and to get where he needs to go in that regard, he’ll need to confront his rage and rediscover his humanity. Conversely, Atreus will need to come to terms with his own destiny and learn how to behave less like an emotionally vulnerable child and more like a god. Like I say – no teddy bear’s picnic.

To find out more, we sat down with Game Director Cory Barlog at E3 last week, and he was happy to give us a step-by-step rundown of how the character has taken shape:

Deciding on Atreus’ appearance wasn’t easy…

Once Cory Barlog had settled on the game’s central conceit, the first challenge was deciding what Kratos’ offspring should actually look like. Given the protagonist’s enormous personality and iconic appearance, this was no small task…

“At first I tried to describe to our artists what Atreus was about to go through, and what he had gone through,” recalls Barlog. “I gave them an idea of the world he was about to experience – a world that is not going to be friendly. But I don’t think that really helped the team figure it out.”

Next, Barlog and his team collated reference images, but again, they continued to struggle to visualize Atreus.

“At one point we actually sat down and said to ourselves, ‘What would Kratos actually look like aged 10? Let’s do a drawing of that and see if there’s something analogous we can work from’. But that didn’t work either – it was just really goofy and weird.”

Atreus’ look is based on a real person

The team continued to run up against a brick wall, right up until the casting process began. But then serendipity struck…

“We met Sunny Suljic and his audition knocked it so far out of the park, that I was like ‘Gosh, this kid is incredible.’ And here’s the crazy thing – he looked exactly like I imagined Atreus should look.

“And it just went from there. The initial images after we scanned his face were just so striking, and that was even before we had hair on him. He has these big blue eyes and that look of innocence, but he also looks like he’s seen things. He was perfect.”

Kratos and Atreus relationship was defined in a short story

Just as challenging as deciding on his appearance, was crafting Atreus’ personality and the dynamics of the father/son relationship. The bones of this were initially defined by a short story that Cory wrote at the very beginning of development to serve as a foundation stone for his writing team – Rich Cobert and Matt Sofos.

It was straightforward – just a brief snapshot of Kratos and Atreus out on a hunting expedition in the woods – but it gave the team vital context to help them make Barlog’s vision a reality.

“I created that story for the rest of the team,” recalls Barlog. “They could read it, they could visualise it, they could feel like they were there. They could go, ‘Ah, that is who Kratos is now, and that is his son.’ I think that short story really helped the team frame it.”

Sure enough, that short story became the basis of the E3 2016 reveal trailer.

Defining Kratos’ ‘parenting style’ took time…

So, exactly what kind of dad is Kratos? After all, this is the guy who ripped Helios’ head off and used it as a lantern – he’s not exactly the touchy-feely nurturing type.

“Figuring out how to nail that was hard,” agrees Barlog.

“Kratos is not a guy who’s going to talk to you a lot. I think a lot of us have fathers who are from a generation that is not very loquacious. They were men of few words. It doesn’t mean you had a bad relationship, it just meant you weren’t very chatty a lot of the time.”

It took time for the new, more mature Kratos’ to take shape, and the writing team’s first attempts didn’t always hit the mark.

“Certain people on the team had a lot to say about our early drafts,” recalls Barlog. “I think one person said a very early version was actually depressing to play; that Kratos was just too hard on Atreus and we had gone too far.

“But that feedback eventually led us to the magical moment in the original E3 reveal, where Kratos is starting to yell at Atreus and then catches his breath. He has to calm down, speak through gritted teeth and explain to Atreus what he did wrong. And that’s real; that’s a moment of truth. It didn’t come immediately; it came from that initial struggle with the rest of the team.”

How do you teach a boy to become a god?

As noted above, there are two ambitious narrative arcs in God of War on PS4. Firstly, how exactly do you chart the journey of a regular boy on his way to becoming a god? That’s a tough ask for any writing team.

“Well, it’s not so much Kratos teaching Atreus how to be a god, but how not to make the same mistakes he did,” Barlog clarifies.

“To Kratos, being a god is a disease. It’s a disease that he’s passed onto his kid, and he doesn’t want that. In our children, we often see our own mistakes – the worst parts of ourselves amplified. But Kratos hates everything about being a god. All he wants to do is make sure that the mistakes he’s made are not passed on and repeated.

“But then, of course, he also needs to make sure his kid can take care of himself – it’s not a friendly world out there…”

And how do you teach a god to be human?

In turn, it’s up to Atreus – albeit perhaps subconsciously – to teach his father how to be human. So, of the two, who has the toughest job?

“Atreus!” replies Barlog without drawing breath.

“Kratos’ humanity is locked up in a vault deep inside him. The way to get to it is long and hard. But once Kratos gets there, relating to his son will be like riding a bike. It’s just been stamped down for so long.”

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  • We’ve already seen Kratos as a kid in Ghost of Sparta.

    Can’t wait to see the Collector’s Edition!

  • There’s one word I can think of that perhaps best describes all that you guys are putting together here…”tantalizing”!

  • First God of War game I will not be buying day one. Now if they include an option to make Kratos the bad-ass he has always been rather than the “Mr. Sensitive” they seem to have turned him in to, then I would pre-order in a heartbeat. I imagine people are going to be freaking out when they release this as there is a child in a game like this and he is participating in the carnage! I am not one of them as it just seems comical how far Kratos has fallen.

    Wonder if he takes him to that special room on the boat……

    • I completely and whole heartedly disagree with you. As a PS fan because of the jrpgs the PS One delivered, it wasnt until God of War on PS2 that I became a PS advocate. The GoW series deliverd a mature story, a troubled anti hero, all set in the wildly violent Greek mythology era. Ive continued to grow and evolve as a person and a father since then. Having a daughter and now a son I can relate to Kratos in wanting to do better by them. While my Dad was around to raise me, his Dad wasnt so I know how a man struggles with his anger when someone isnt there to show you how to control it. They arent turning him into Mr Sensitivity, Kratos is evolving as a person outside of being pure unbridled rage. He will still use that rage to protect those he cares about, but will ask them to be better than him. Lastly with the kid being a part of the violence, go play The Last of Us, similar concept where you do play as the child doing very violent acts to survive, and I dont recall anyone complaining about that game. Instead the game won over 200 awards, Im hoping God of War will live up to the comparison to TLOU, and set itself apart from the comparison to stand on its own.

    • Thank you Drago for that reply! Even though I do not agree with you, it was probably the most adult driven reply I ever saw on this blog. My kids are grown and out so i am an old fart compared to most and that was refreshing to read!

      I am surprised about The Last of Us not getting riddled by complaints myself. I never bought it as it looked SO boring in the videos. Now to put that in prospective, the only game I ever, EVER, traded in was Witcher III and I only played till the first village/stupid card game thing as I thought it was the worst game I ever played. Love Skyrim, Horizon Zero Dawn, mass Effect, but Witcher was a convoluted mess of excessive controls and horrible fighting….perspective for you :)

      Will be interesting to see when God of war is released how well it does. I am just totally offput by the little kid and the “dad” aspect.

  • I’m a huge and I mean a huge GoW fan and was highly disappointed when I saw this announced last year…1st – Because Sony won’t let GoW rest and 2 – Because Sony won’t even let Kratos rest.

    No matter how much you keep telling yourselves and the fans…this guy is not Kratos,I hope we take control of Atreus sometime in the game and keep playing with him in the other hundreds GoW games that will come over the years because it’s blatant how y’all are taking advantage of the name “God of War” and “Kratos” to advertise something that ain’t both.

    Having said that the Be The Warrior trailer won me over and I’m looking forward to play the game.

    • It might be beaus I haven’t finished working my way through the series but when I see people say “That’s not Kratos” my first reaction is to ask “Because he isn’t doing big sweeping chain strikes or because he has a personality?” The original games drew people in with gameplay but it looks like this time they want to have a meaningful story. Its like that broody punk guy you knew in highscool as being good at parties and not much else had a kid and decided to become a real dad. The fact that norse gods are getting added into the mix also interests me. Im intrigued to see if tale will lead to Ragnarok weather intentional or by accident.

  • God of War is one of my favorite games, but think the kid being there hurts it. When I first saw the game announced with the kid I thought he’d be dead in the opening scene, but it looks like he sticks around. Kratos shouldn’t be playing father of the year… Kratos should be out for blood and lose everything.

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