We’ve been slaying gods in games for years, but never have they been as brutal, graphic, and gruesome as in the God of War series. Playing as the Spartan warrior Kratos, the son of Zeus from Greek Mythology, we get to single-handedly face off against nearly every major and minor god and creature from the Greek pantheon of legend in his initial run of games. In his subsequent reboot/sequel, Kratos is in a new land with a new set of gods and monsters for even more larger-than-life encounters.
While the series caught the public’s eye for its over-the-top violence, there’s much more to these titles than just a screaming, shirtless man. While many attribute the growth of the series entirely to the 2018 title, there’s always been a deep story behind Kratos’ rage. From his early beginnings on the PlayStation 2 to his more subdued and personal journey on PS4, we’ve followed Kratos’ travels from one mythology to the next to rank every God of War game from best to worst.
God of War (2018)
While we will go into why Kratos was never as one-dimensional as most cast him, the team certainly did him no favors in trying to present him that way to the audience until God of War. This game took a character and series that had seemed to run its course and reinvented it for a more mature and subtle type of experience. Yes, you’re still a god that can punch men through mountains and throw trolls over lakes, but it’s how sparingly those moments are used that make them impactful again. Most of the story involves Kratos trying not to use his strength and just connect with his estranged son, whom he fears will end up far too much like himself. This is the story of a man who is trying to grow beyond what he was while learning how to care for someone else, always being pulled back to his old ways.
Of course, God of War is still a game, and you will be doing a lot of fighting in it. The new star of the show is undeniably the Leviathan Axe, which Kratos can swing, throw, and recall just like Thor’s hammer. There’s nothing new that can really be said about how satisfying every aspect of this weapon is, so we won’t waste time trying here. Otherwise, while we didn’t exactly love the gear system (loot in God of War doesn’t feel right, in our opinion), the change to a more intimate fighting style compared to the fixed camera angle with mobs of enemies to crowd-control feels amazing.
How do you follow up a game like the first God of War? You go bigger. God of War 2 is exactly what a sequel should be in just about every aspect. It looks better and has more weapons, abilities, cinematic bosses, and set pieces. Kratos, at this point in the story, has gotten his wish. He killed Ares, the god he placed the blame on for tricking him into murdering his family, and took his place. However, achieving revenge is never the answer, and Kratos’ rage is unsatisfied, leading him to abuse his godly powers until the rest of the gods step in to stop him. Zeus makes him mortal once again, and he must drag himself out of the underworld on a new mission to take down Zeus, his father.
The second chapter of Kratos’ journey is pivotal to his character. It is emblematic of how trying to satisfy one’s own rage with violence only leads to more rage, violence, and self-destruction. Kratos is still looking for external things to blame his internal problems on, thus never fully confronting them. He’s even willing to challenge Zeus, the most powerful god (not to mention his father) rather than take personal responsibility for his past.
God of War 2 is pure setup for God of War 3. The last game ends with Kratos and the Titans beginning a siege of Mount Olympus, and boy does this game deliver on the promise of just how epic an event such a thing would be. And honestly, for some people out there, the opening hour or so of this game might be enough to edge it out over God of War 2. This game basically starts at one climax — the largest, most graphically impressive set-piece the series has ever seen — and doesn’t give you a moment to breathe until you’ve fought tooth and nail up the mountain on the back of a Titan while facing down the multi-phase boss fight with Poseidon.
The rest of the game is by no means weak, but it is a little uneven in pacing. Still, as the conclusion to the original trilogy, it makes good on just about everything the series promised fans. You get to finish off all the remaining Greek gods you expect in the most brutal depictions of violence Kratos has displayed yet (we’re looking at you, Helios), but Kratos himself doesn’t get much chance at all to show any character until the very end. This is when he feels most like a rage machine in the original trilogy, which is a shame because his confrontation with his father Zeus had a lot more potential than it paid off. Still, the ending of Kratos acknowledging his selfish desire for revenge essentially doomed the entire world, and apparently sacrificing himself was not only essential to the story but perfectly set up his change in the reboot, too.
Back where it all began, God of War let us know what we were in for from the jump with the massive intro battle against the Hydra. This set the tone for the entire series by giving us a taste of the larger-than-life bosses, brutal quick-time event animations, and sheer power that Kratos has. The title doesn’t just rest on being a spectacle, either, but also a game with great ground-level combat (if it is very basic by today’s standards), fun progression, secrets, and a balance of puzzles to break up the action. God of War also gave plenty of replay value thanks to tons of unlockables and challenges to complete that, sadly, are far less common in modern games. It’s just a shame that the platforming is kind of terrible.
As for the story, God of War is as true to a modern Greek myth as one could hope for from a game. Kratos has one of the most tragic backstories of any character, having killed his family in a fit of rage only to have their ashes permanently stained on his own skin so he never forgets his sin. If that isn’t something straight out of a Greek myth, nothing is. His backstory is handled quite well here, pieced out over the narrative, even though his primary motivation to kill Ares has been critiqued harshly since it was his own fault for killing his family. Still, in hindsight, that ends up being core to his growth later on.
The second PSP game in the series has the advantage of building off the first but will always be limited by the hardware it was made for. God of War: Ghost of Sparta can’t give us the same sense of scale and wonder of fighting mountain-sized enemies like the console games could and has to rely on other ways to wow the player. One way it does so is in a surprisingly varied and detailed set of environments and smaller set pieces. The gameplay feels almost on the level of the PS2 titles but is lacking in length and variety of everything, including weapons, abilities, and innovation.
God of War: Ghost of Sparta places itself between the first two major entries in the series, and thus is limited in how much it can really impact the story. However, even with these constraints, it actually manages to pull off a story that does a lot for the character of Kratos. While it seems kind of pulled out of thin air, Kratos goes to Atlantis and learns that his never-before-mentioned brother is alive and attempts to rescue him. While his brother’s fate is set in stone, since he can’t appear in the future games already made, seeing Kratos interact with family is the first baby step we get toward his character in God of War (2018).
This is the last game made before the reboot, and boy does it prove that the series had reached its limit in the traditional style. While we’re back to the original developers and the home console, they were still beholden to the chains of a prequel after how they left the third game at a fairly conclusive point for the setting, if not the series entirely. This time, we’re sent back 10 years before the events of the first game, to the very earliest point in the timeline, but if you were just playing the game, you wouldn’t be able to tell. The combat is somehow worse here, being far more punishing without giving the player enough new tools to fight back. Puzzles are uninspired as well, and the multiplayer mode was the biggest sign of the series losing its way we could imagine.
God of War: Ascension tries to do something interesting with the narrative by splitting it up between two time periods — one in the present, the other one three weeks prior — but it ends up just being an excuse to reuse environments rather than tell an interesting story. It is all about Kratos being hunted by the Furies for betraying Ares and breaking his oath after being “tricked” by the god into killing his family. The entire story just feels like it’s spinning its wheels with no growth, revelations, or anything interesting for Kratos to really do.
Our first PSP game was no doubt ambitious but clearly struggled to transfer the fast, fluid combat of the main series onto the smaller hardware. As a result, this game has by far the least amount of combat and instead is frustratingly slow, despite being the shortest game so far, due to it being primarily puzzle solving. Combat, when it is there, does feel fine, though it has the fewest amount of weapons and abilities so far. Once you beat the short story, all that’s really left is a Challenge of Hades mode, which are bite-sized levels where you’re given a task to complete that unlocks some basic stuff like concept art.
Wow, can you believe it? Another prequel? Yeah God of War: Chains of Olympus chains itself to the past. While it was the earliest game in the timeline when it came out, Ascension would later go back further. The game is set when Kratos was still in the service of the gods, performing tasks like killing the Persian King and a basilisk, rescuing Helios, and carrying out other mythological feats only Kratos could accomplish. And that’s exactly what this game story feels like: a series of tasks that just so happen to feature Kratos.
You’re probably wondering what this game even is since almost no one ever speaks about this mobile title existing. God of War: Betrayal is about as perfect a title as this shovelware deserves. It certainly isn’t as bad as modern mobile games are, coming before the real invasion of microtransactions and pay-to-win elements, back when slapping a popular IP on a barebones product was the style. This is a 2D sidescroller, somewhat like an old-school beat-em-up, only it’s also trying to incorporate puzzles and platforming … with lackluster results.
The villain this time around is Argos, who is tasked by the other gods to stop Kratos and his Spartan army as they rampage across the lands. Argos ends up getting killed by someone else, though Kratos is framed for the murder, which only makes the gods angrier with him. It’s all very contrived and uninteresting. Plus, as a mobile game, Kratos gets the least amount of characterization and is really just your avatar for the mild gameplay.