Lead combat designers Mihir Sheth and Denny Yeh have over 17 years of God of War experience shared between them, and both played prominent roles in the previous game's success. The series' current direction is inspired by an old studio motto: Playing with your food.
"That's an internal philosophy that we've had since back in the day," Sheth says. "Kratos plays with his food. We tried to create systems you want to engage with that are fun, very playful, lots of different routes. And when we looked at the combat in the last game, we were like, 'We can push this further; we can find new toys and ways of playing with enemies and strategies.' That's been the guiding principle more than anything else."
Sheth and Yeh constantly emphasized the importance of enemy variety, so expect a bunch of fresh, grotesque faces to smash.
For seven minutes, I follow Kratos and Atreus across an enclosed arena chockful of explosive pots, advantageous high ground, wooden platforms, and bipedal lizards called Grims. The pair move in unison. Kratos pins a beast against the rock wall and then comes down on its skull with Olympian strength. Atreus fills stagger bars while locking enemies in place with sonic arrows. When a "Cursed" Grim tries to catch the bulky father off-guard, firing toxic bile from its swollen gullet, Kratos sidesteps the phlegm and masterfully deflects a second flurry with his arm shield. He throws his axe at a pot tucked between boxes, and the corner instantly erupts into flames, sending scaly appendages everywhere. Atreus demonstrates he's as much a powerhouse as his father, swinging at unsuspecting Grims with his bow while always repositioning to shoot. The two notice a few stragglers perched above, and in one fluid motion, the god-slayer latches onto the ridge with his Blades of Chaos, climbs the structure, stomps on a healthstone for extra flair, and launches the remaining creatures into the sky.
This adrenaline rush is tied to the versatility of Kratos' kit. The battle axe and chain blades increase maneuverability and power, but a misleadingly small-scale change to the Triangle button makes all the difference. "In the last game, if you pressed Triangle, you recalled the axe," Sheth says. "But if you already had the axe, nothing happened. If you had the Blades of Chaos and you pressed Triangle, you just went back to the axe. We looked at that concept and wondered, 'What if you could do something a little bit different with that button – a whole new suite of moves.'"
Triangle attacks are officially called Weapon Signature Moves. Depending on whether you have the Leviathan Axe or Blades of Chaos readied, Kratos can infuse the sharpened steel with ice or fire. These elemental moves, called "Frost Awaken" and "Whiplash," do extra damage by freezing or incinerating aggressors.
The shield is revamped, too. Yeh walked me through the pros and cons of the new Dauntless and Stonewall Shields, occasionally reminding me that the team wanted players to tailor their gameplay to immediate needs. The Dauntless Shield is all about twitch reactions. By parrying at the last possible moment, Kratos' shield glows a menacing red, signaling the player can unleash a devastating smash that tosses and stuns enemies. Dissimilarly, the Stonewall Shield is for tank-lovers that prefer slower-paced bouts. Kratos can't parry when equipped with the Stonewall, so keeping it raised is crucial to surviving barrages. The more hits the Stonewall Shield takes, the more kinetic energy it absorbs. And once it's fully charged, players can bang the shield into the ground emitting a screen-wide pulse, knocking anything foolish enough to approach off its feet.
But all that protection comes at a cost. The Stonewall Shield becomes increasingly unstable as it takes damage, opening Kratos up to otherwise ineffective block-breaking blitzes. Yeh says Kratos will have access to other powerful shields but warned players not to bite off more than they could chew: "Maybe don't play with all your food, because there will be food that can eat you pretty easily."
Both designers confirm enemy aggression and lethality would be heightened on harder difficulties, but players still need to keep their wits about them regardless of selected settings. Old locations are periodically repopulated with more powerful fauna, and optional territories could be tough without a stronger crew. Yeh mentions that fans of realm tears will get a comparable sense of gratification from besting some of Ragnarök's formidable side content. There's no word on whether Kratos will obtain other primary weapons, but last year's trailer unveiled an elk runic summon for Atreus to ride, so, hopefully, we'll see other new abilities soon.