Many things are changing in the new God of War. Sony’s Santa Monica Studio is reimagining combat, moving to Norse mythology, and taking the narrative in a different direction. Those are the large-scale changes, but the game also explores new territory for Kratos in smaller ways, like having him traverse some of the Scandinavian wilderness by boat. Though this isn’t a revolutionary feature by video game standards, why boats are prominent in God of War – and how they enhance its storytelling – might surprise you.
Kratos and Atreus use boats for the same reason the rest of us do: They can’t swim where they want to go. Despite his limited experience exploring underwater in previous games, swimming is not part of Kratos’ repertoire in this God of War. Creative director, Cory Barlog, explains why: “As we started looking at, first, the crazy amount of investment for full 3D swimming to be awesome, and, second, to have a character follow you in in full 3D swimming, the programmers kept giving me that look.”
Ultimately, the team decided that its resources would be better spent in other areas, leaving swimming as a challenge to tackle in potential follow-up titles. However, Kratos and Atreus still needed a way to cross water. “I started investigating this idea of a big Viking longboat, and then realized you could really continue the narrative throughout,” Barlog says. “You can slow traversal down and you can change the pacing and interaction style and point of view. All while having these moments that you probably couldn’t get in any other situations.”
The concept of two people in close proximity on a small boat has some built-in dramatic weight. Surrounded by water, they cannot escape interaction. And if they try – if they don’t say anything to each other – their silence can speak volumes. By allowing players to witness moments like these as part of the journey, the team hopes to provide a different perspective on the relationship between Kratos and Atreus.
“It turned out really well, but to be quite frank, it was not popular for a long time on the team,” Barlog says. “That was the running joke; if ever there was a discussion of scope or anything related to taking on too much, it was always, ‘Well, we could cut the boat!’ I think most those people wanted the swimming – as I wanted the swimming – but I think I just accepted earlier than they did. But it’s a bigger win to do this. It really took a core group of people digging in and finding that core feel that really made it, ‘Oh, okay, I get it.’”
While a boat can be a useful narrative tool, we haven’t seen an extended look at its implementation. We didn’t get a chance to steer any watercraft ourselves during our hands-on time with God of War, but players will have plenty of opportunities to do so in the final game. When we asked what percentage of the game players spend on a boat for our rapid-fire interview, Barlog’s full response was: “I’m speculating here, but I’m going to say 25 to 30 percent of the game’s surface area, perhaps, is covered by boat. Wow, that’s a good one. I don’t know. We’re gonna go 25 percent.” While that seems like more of an approximation of size than time, it’s still clear that players should expect boats to be used for more than just cinematic transition scenes.
So, if want to sail the seas, how do you get started? First of all, you won’t have to scan the coastline for long when you want one. They’re just always around when you might need them. As a result, Kratos and Atreus use a lot of different boats; you don’t have one special vessel, and you don’t earn any upgrades or improvements as your progress. It’s a more practical approach in which Kratos and Atreus just use what’s readily available.
Though traveling by boat is part of the journey, God of War does not wrap a bunch of extra mechanics around the process. “It’s not a sailing simulator,” Barlog says. “It’s not the focal point of the game. It is definitely one of those situations of traversal, the way you get a horse in The Last of Us. It’s just there – it’s not like you’re going around breeding horses or anything like that.”
Because it is so foreign to the traditional God of War experience, fans are understandably curious to see how this new form of transportation fits into the franchise. But remember that it is just one of many changes reshaping God of War; we just have to wait and see how all of the elements work together to create a new identity for God of War.