With the release of the latest God of War game, God of War: Ascension, the series shows itself nearing a vital creative crossroads. The God of War gameplay remains as strong as ever; if anything, it has improved and tightened-up over time. However, the setting and the storyline are starting to become strained for ideas. The time may have come to shake things up a little and give players a new setting and main story.
Expanding the universe mythos to other cultures and gods is not a new concept to the development team. As revealed by the series’ writers, they have always toyed with the idea of introducing other pantheons to the God of War universe. In fact, they were even considering including them in the main trilogy at one point. While the decision to keep the trilogy constrained to Greek mythology was probably a good one at the time, now might be a ripe opportunity to revisit those ideas. Since the developers have been toying with the idea for some years now, they have had plenty of time to work out some strong design and gameplay ideas.
An obvious choice for theme and setting would be the Norse and their colorful pantheon. Their legends – and especially the character of Thor – mesh quite well with the macho, violent heroism and spectacle of the God of War series. Creatures like the Midgard Serpent, Jormungand, and the unstoppable wolf, Fenrir, seem already tailor-made for the massive action set-pieces that are iconic to God of War. Norse mythology also holds similar themes of fate and mortals being the playthings of capricious and flawed deities. Such a setting could even have a spin-off title such as “God of Thunder” or some such name (though preferably one that would not cause problems with Marvel). Other large ancient pantheons such as the Sumerian/Babylonian, Egyptian, Celtic, or even Indian could lend inspiration as well, though they are looser fits to the tone and style of God of War.
Alternatively to the Norse option, Santa Monica Studios could choose to go a less obvious route and diverge the God of War universe further from existing real world myth, expanding it into a more fleshed-out and unique setting. They could do something such as have the Greek pantheon reincarnated in their Roman forms by the worship of the Romans. Gods from throughout the other pantheons could start a war for control of the now godless Greece. The font of divine power and influence itself could be revealed and explored, making the focus of a new trilogy. As long as the finished product carries the same tone and aesthetic of the rest of the games, any number of ideas are possible.
Of course, a substantial shift in the setting would have one major problem to solve: the protagonist. The God of War series has always centered itself upon the character of Kratos. His prominence in marketing and multiple guest appearances in other games speak to his popularity. As God of War III does leave the matter of Kratos’s survival ambiguous, he could certainly appear in further games. Since early ideas for the main trilogy included Kratos fighting the Norse gods, the idea of him fighting them now certainly remains in the realm of possibility. Furthermore, the replacement of an iconic protagonist almost always leads to complaints from the fanbase and said new protagonist being held to impossibly-high standards.
Even if a new game were to have Kratos as a protagonist once again, his personal story arc already feels complete with his revenge in God of War III. The longer the writers stretch out his storyline, the more strained the plot feels. One man can only be betrayed and toyed-with by the gods so many times before he starts to look like an idiot and loses the audience’s sympathy. That is not to say that Kratos could not be made to work in a different setting, but there are many pitfalls to avoid.
The God of War series is one of the killer app cash cows of Sony, so the games will not be going out-of-production until they stop making money. The games have thus far managed to maintain a good mixture of interesting story, character, and setting along with tight and exciting gameplay. God of War: Ascension, while still a great game, shows that the series either needs to take a risk and try something new or be prepared to stagnate. The writers need to expand the universe of the games to allow for an indefinite number of sequels to work.