God of War tells an unusually satisfying, self-contained story. But because it exists in this age of interconnected universes and unending franchises, it also contains plenty of hints about where the series might go next.
Spoilers! This post will spoil everything about the ending of God of War. The spoilers come immediately after this warning. So, you know, don’t read it unless you already know how it ends or don’t care about spoilers.
The final acts of God of War set up a number of possible directions for the series to go. Let’s break all of that down, starting with the stuff that’s most explicitly laid out.
I’ll admit I’m not familiar enough with the nitty-gritty of Norse mythology to understand the full ramifications of what it means that Atreus’s mother, Faye, wanted to name him Loki. But that’s where we are: Kratos’ son is the Norse god of mischief.
That fact will almost certainly figure into the series’ future in a significant way. I’ve also seen some rumblings and theories surrounding Atreus’ relationship with the World Serpent, who seems as though he knows him when they first speak. In Norse mythology, Jörmungandr (the serpent) is actually Loki’s son. But that’s all further down the rabbit hole than I’ve traveled.
After a number of violent encounters, Kratos finally defeats Baldur and, in the final face-off, Baldur’s mother Freya. Kratos initially seems content to leave them to deal with one another… but that would mean letting Baldur kill his mother, whom he has never forgiven for taking away his ability to feel pain. Kratos apparently can’t stomach watching another god kill another god-parent, so he steps in at the last moment and snaps Baldur’s neck, killing him for good. (I’m still not sure I buy his logic that killing Baldur would break some sort of cycle, but hey, I get that Kratos operates according to his own jacked-up moral compass.)
Freya is furious that Kratos killed her son and vows revenge. What that revenge might look like remains unclear, but it’s a safe bet that she’ll be back when it’s time for Kratos and Atreus to deal with Odin and his remaining son, Thor. Speaking of those guys…
By the halfway point of God of War, I had become pretty certain that we weren’t actually going to get to fight Odin in this game. And indeed, he never appears, though he’s also never far out of mind. Assuming you listen to all of Mimir’s stories as you row around on the Lake of Nine (and why wouldn’t you?) you’ll finish the game with a vivid portrait of Odin as a duplicitous, destructive ruler who grabbed power whenever he could and ruined all those he came into contact with, even his supposed allies.
Much of God of War is concerned with the war between the Aesir, led by Odin, and the giants, whose guardian in Midgard turns out to have been Kratos’ wife/Atreus’ mother, Faye. Led by Odin’s son Thor, the Aesir wiped out the giants and chased them through the World Tree gate into Jotunheim, where they slaughtered them en masse.
One of the final shots of the story is a devastating scene of carnage viewed from atop a mountain in Jotunheim, where Kratos and Atreus see giant corpses strewn as far as the eye can see. Atreus assumes that means that the Aesir were successful in their genocide of the giants, but of course, it seems just as likely that somewhere in that realm, some giants remain.
Safe money says a handful of giants escaped the slaughter, and that at some point in the future, Atreus and Kratos are going to get a visit at some point from someone who knew Faye… but hey, that’s just a guess by me, a guy who has seen at least one movie sequel.
Another significant wrinkle at the end of the story: somehow, Kratos and Atreus have triggered Ragnarok, AKA the Norse apocalypse. Upon returning to Mimir after visiting the realm of the giants, the friendly head informs our heroes that the snow that began when they killed Baldur has intensified, signaling a winter that will last for two summers, after which will come Ragnarok. Mimir says that Ragnarok wasn’t supposed to arrive for 100 more winters at least, which means Kratos and Atreus are likely responsible for speeding things up. Doubtless that’ll factor into the story as it continues.
Of course, the scene atop the mountain isn’t the final-final scene of the game. There’s also the final ending, which you can watch here.
Atreus and Kratos head back home and go to sleep. Years later, they awaken to find Thor standing outside. (When I first got to this scene, I thought that meant they had been asleep that entire time, which cracked me up. They’re gods! Gods can sleep however long they want.) The god of thunder has finally tracked down the duo who killed his brother and both his sons, although it’s not certain if both sons are really dead. Some lightning courses through Thor’s fearsome hammer Mjölnir, and the screen slams to black. Credits.
When I saw that scene, I assumed the showdown with Thor would be coming sooner rather than later, maybe even as a DLC expansion. Other big PlayStation exclusives like The Last of Us and Horizon Zero Dawn got one big DLC expansion apiece (Left Behind and The Frozen Wilds, respectively). It seemed likely to me that while Kratos’ conflict with Odin and Freya would be reserved for a sequel, the showdown with Thor might happen sooner.
Last Friday Jason Schreier and I spoke with God of War director Cory Barlog for a special bonus episode of our Splitscreen podcast, and he actually threw more water on that initial DLC assumption than I’d expected. You can (and should!) listen to the entire conversation, but here’s a lightly edited transcript of the exchange in question:
Cory Barlog: I made this game to be so that you bought it, you went home and played it, and you got the whole game. There’s not a plan, at all, in any of this, that I was going to deliver any DLC or anything like that, simply because I loved, as a kid, to get a game and play the whole game. And feel like I got everything.
Kirk Hamilton: Yeah, but your final scene has got Thor standing outside the door with his hammer!
Barlog: But I mean come on, if you played God of War II, you know that I’m not gonna end it with, “everything’s done!” I love the sort of Lord of the Rings concept of, when you finish Fellowship, you’re getting ushered into Two Towers, right? I think, for me, that is the continued engagement. There is the end-of-the-credits scene that teases something, right? And I don’t think anybody watches any of the Marvel movies and goes like, man, you ripped me off, you put this credits scene at the end, when are you gonna finish it? Obviously you’re gonna finish it in the next movie. This is the same. This is all building towards this sort of grand story.
For me, I’m not a huge fan of DLC simply because sometimes it is approached in the manner of, “Okay, well, here’s the game, let me just cut this off and that’ll be DLC.” Also, I need a rest, man! Five years! I don’t wanna jump into DLC right now.
Barlog said that if he were going to go on to make another full game, he’d rather start prepping for that than begin on DLC, so that all those teases at the end of the game have somewhere to land. He mentioned that the start of God of War III was as strong as it was because of the literal cliffhanger at the end of God of War II, which concluded with Kratos riding the Titan Gaia up the side of Mount Olympus, bent on the revenge he would finally have... three years later, in the sequel.
While in Tyr’s vault, Kratos and Atreus find a wall-panel with four interesting symbols in the corners.
In the upper-right you can see the Omega, Kratos’ well-known symbol as the Greek god of war. In the upper left sits the Egyptian Eye of Horus, which people probably recognized after playing Assassin’s Creed Origins. The other two symbols appear to be a tomoe symbolizing the Japanese war-deity Hachiman in the lower-left, and a Celtic Triskelion in the lower-right. The panel indicates that Tyr was able to travel to these other worlds in some manner, which suggests that at some point, Kratos may be able to do the same.
It seems unlikely that the God of War series would jump immediately into Egyptian or Japanese mythology with so many Norse plot threads still unresolved, but it’s still a fun little easter egg. We asked Barlog about it, which led to an enjoyable exchange, edited and transcribed below:
Kirk: There is a scene in Tyr’s vault, where you see the symbols of these various gods, and one of them is the Egyptian symbol, which a lot of people will know from having played Assassin’s Creed Origins. Is there anything to that? Are there other pantheons in this universe that Kratos might go explore?
Barlog: Oh, totally. I’ve always looked at this universe like our world. The geography separates the cultural mythologies. The cultural mythologies are stories of the zero-point to present day. These are the birth and the origin of these cultures. So the Norse mythology exists in Scandinavia, and simultaneously, across the world, the Mayan mythology has its origins, right? These are cultural stories about how they explain the birth of their cultures. And I think, as I look at the whole world, that each of these gods had their own domains, right? The way that countries had their own domains…
Kirk: …and their own special fighting moves, and their own special sweet weapons…
Cory: [laughing]…right, and their own special fighting moves, and their own DLC…
Jason Schreier: …and their own upgrade trees…
Barlog: Right [laughs]. But yeah, it is a consistent single universe. As we start to look at these things, there’s little bits, here and there, that let you know. Like, Tyr, had connections to a lot of other pantheons. And there is reference, in Norse mythology, of gods interacting with Roman gods. It’s very small, it’s very minimal, in their connections, but it shows that there was an awareness. And whether that awareness was post-the time where they were moving the pagans away from the pagan religion by having the mythology slightly modified, to kind of move towards Christian religion… I think it is fascinating to imagine that at all times, there [are] these connections to every one of these locations.
Kirk: Is there a world in which Kratos goes and explores the Christian pantheon and like, fights Samson and Jesus?
Barlog: I don’t know, maybe! I’m looking at every aspect. There was a point in the early part of the project where I was imagining, “What would God of War look like in modern day?” Right? It’s interesting, it’s a great thought experiment…
Kirk: Kratos takes on Scientology. Kratos takes on the megachurches and tears them down…
Barlog: Or he’s the head of a corporation, right? And everything’s like boardroom battles, or something like that. I don’t know, there’s possibilities for everything.
Jason: Kratos takes on Monsanto. I love it.
Kirk: There’s a negotiating minigame with quicktime events where he has to make the right bid…
Barlog: Contract law, it’s fantastic.
Jason: He has to go get the blades and then he just takes them and cuts up this paperwork in this dramatic scene.
Obviously that’s just a bunch of joking around, but at the very least it seems clear that it’s possible Kratos really will explore a bunch of other religious myths and gods at some point in the future. The guy already jumped from Greek mythology over to Norse mythology, so it stands to reason he could make a similar jump in the future.
Story stuff aside, it’s hard to shake the sense that God of War feels like it was made to be expanded by post-release additions. I’d gladly take on a new set of Valkyries, or a new collection of traps and fights in the mist realm of Niflheim. I’d happily take on a dozen more challenges in the fires of Muspelheim, too. Whatever Barlog says about DLC, this game feels designed to be easily expanded, if not narratively, than at least in terms of the less narratively consequential side content.
Then there’s that table at the center of the World Tree, which hints at realms where Kratos and Atreus cannot go. Here’s what Barlog had to say about that:
Kirk: How come some of the realms are clearly highlighted in the [World Tree] and yet I can’t go to them? Why can’t I go to Asgard? I wanna go to Asgard!
Barlog: Right. Okay, so, because that’s later, right? Here’s the thing. The conflict between all this is, there are nine realms, right? Midgard being the base realm, the mid-realm, and then the additional eight realms. And it’s very hard to do the visualization of it without at least acknowledging the other realms. But we really never planned on going to any of those. That was part of the continuation of the story. But we did struggle with figuring out how to indicate to people, because it was weird when they weren’t included. Because people kept asking, I thought there were nine? Where are there blank spots here?
Kirk: And you’ve got that UI prompt, that says “this will never be accessible.” And I read that as pretty final. But even so… it’s still there!
Jason: You should’ve said, “This will be accessible in the sequel.”
Barlog: I mean, honestly, we had played around with tons of different language to figure out, “How do we get people to understand? It’s not gonna be there!” Because taking it away didn’t work. And then different wording was very difficult. And a lot of people kept [saying] “Aw, I’m getting the DLC vibes. You’re gonna make me pay extra for this.”
The difficulty is, the game is so big, even if we wanted to, we would’ve never been able to realize those realms the way we wanted to. They would’ve just always been like, quick [trips] there, so I figured you know what, if we’re gonna take some lumps we’re gonna take some lumps on the idea that Odin, this sort of omnipresent force, has locked it out and you’re never gonna get in there. That one seemed to be the most effective for people to at least go, “Oh, okay, I get it…. [joking] I’m still thinking you’re gonna make me pay for DLC.”
Kirk: Yeah, it’s hard not to come away with that.
Turns out there really is no secret way to access Asgard or Vanaheim, no matter how cool it would be to get there. That doesn’t make me any less hopeful that at some point, God of War will get some sort of additional content, even if it’s just more side challenges and sub-quests. I’ve got all these cool abilities and all this neat gear, but nothing left to use it on.
Given how successful God of War has been, as well as Sony’s tradition of releasing at least some sort of post-release DLC for their big exclusive games, it seems safe to say that at some point down the line, God of War will get some kind of expansion. It also seems safe to say that this game will get a sequel, and that sequel will dive back into the war between the giants and the Aesir, Atreus’ true identity and his mother’s legacy, the coming of Ragnarok, and Kratos’ place in all of that. (Barlog told us that he has lots more material mapped out in his head, but in the wake of some overly-excited headlines that cited our interview, he later clarified on Twitter that he hadn’t been talking about concrete plans for five more games.)
The farther I get from God of War, the more impressed I am with how Barlog and his team threaded the needle, telling a complete story focused on a small cast of characters while also paving the way for a grander, more far-reaching sequel. It’s to their credit that I came away feeling satisfied by what I played, even as I’m hungry to find out what happens next.