The final battle is coming as God of War Ragnarok soon approaches this November, seeing the latest chapter of Kratos’ god-slaying saga. We were able to interview the God of War Ragnarok game director Eric Williams who was kind enough to tell us more about what we can expect from the anticipated sequel.
Eric Williams has been working on God of War since the first game emerged from the primordial chaos of Santa Monica Studio back in 2005 as an additional game designer. He’s since worked his way up the ranks before reaching Valhalla as the director for Ragnarok.
Here’s what he had to say about the highly anticipated conclusion to Kratos and Atreus’ father-son bonding time:
The previous game was all about the relationship between father and son but now Atreus is all grown up. What kind of aspects were the most important when expressing the themes and characters in Ragnarok?
Eric: It’s been three years since the end of God of War (2018) to the start of Ragnarok, and Kratos has been training Atreus in the backyard and teaching him a lot more things. As you can kind of see in the opening scene, there’s very little dialogue but they work very well together. Like he brings the deer and gives them the arrows as they go outside. He goes “Do you need help?” and he’s already doing it and they don’t even need to talk anymore.
That’s far from where we left off and last time when they were arguing and the kid always gotta be told what to do and pulled back. In the last game all the adults spoke down to Atreus, but now he’s asking questions back up like a kid would, so it’s not so black and white anymore. There are a lot of grays he’s figuring things out for the first time. Also, at the end of the last game, he found out that he was Loki and Kratos found out that his wife was a giant which he didn’t know.
He also criticizes the kind of torn relationship with Faye. This amazing woman gave him life again, but she also lied to him. Atreus wants to know the giant part of who he is, but there’s no one to ask because Faye’s not around. That kind of puts Kratos in a bad spot because he wants to help his son, but he can’t. The only way he knows is by training him to be a warrior, to be smart, and to be strong. So that’s where a bit of the conflict comes in because the kid wants to go out and learn all these things. Kratos can’t answer those questions, and he wants to hold on to him because they already got a good thing going. He doesn’t want to lose that. I think parents and children all go through this phase, right?
What was the most important or crucial change that you guys brought to Ragnarok? Is Kratos’s verticality also a part of that?
Eric: The verticality was really important to us. We’re gamers at the end of the day and we played a lot of games, and we thought that was the one thing that was missing because we took the jump out on purpose last time. The more you jump around, the more difficult it is to keep track of everything, but we found it was too much for players so we were like, well, how do we do that?
Well, Kratos used to have these abilities with the blades where he could swing and pull himself up and move around a lot quicker. We were like “We need to give him back some of his old stuff” and then he can teach his son those tricks too. So you see Atreus can grapple up and down with his little rope arrow.
That was important and it allows the monsters to move, then you get this kind of “King of the Hill” sometimes where the monsters are on top, and you’re trying to get up to them or you’re up there trying to keep them down. Sometimes they’ll flank from other sides and chase after you, but you can come off the top and do very explosive attacks. Overall It just allows more creativity. On the battlefield, we didn’t want you to feel like you’re a tank. You can move quickly if you want, or you can hold your ground, depending if you’re an offensive or defensive player.
What kind of new skills and moves have you added to the previous weapons?
Eric: If you’ve played the game up to this point, I hope you already experimenting with the triangle moves, what we call the signature moments for the weapon where you can frost over the axe and create the frost awaken that allows you to do a melee move and a projectile move.
Then with the blades, you can do the flame whiplash, where you mash and spin them around or you can also let the fire out of the chains that way. The reason why we chose to go this route was that in the last game, you had basic attacks and you had Runic attacks. Basic attacks had no prevention to them, other than just not getting hit while you’re doing everything and the roots had a cooldown on them.
If you explore around in the skill tree, you’ll see that there’s a little counter every time you land the skill itself and once they’re maxed out at Gold, you can pour more experience into that skill, and then you can customize a token on it. These range from damage to stone to elemental to momentum and other things as well. So then you can actually change the way your skills behave compared to another player. The idea is that the story will always be the same from start to finish, but your Kratos and the way you play him and the way you build him will be very different than someone else. That allows for more expression in the combat system.
Like in the previous game, there are areas that are sealed off but can be accessed later with new items. Can you tell us more about these?
Eric: There are areas within the path that you won’t be able to open up until you get all the tools, and you do that as you move through the game after which you can bring them back and learn more about those spaces or gather more resources. If you’re the type of player who just likes the story, you can just continue forward, it won’t affect your progress too much since the game is balanced, so if you don’t go off the beaten path and collect everything, and level up, you’re not going to be like under-leveled.
So it’s more for those types of players that would really like to explore. It’s kind of like the old history of the player types, there are what they call killers, explorers, completionists, and socializers. We kind of cater to the top two where most people just like to beat stuff up, and they like to explore. We want to make sure that those players have content that will bring them back. It’s also a callback to some of our favorite games from our youth, for example when you play Zelda and at some point, you realize you can get the bombs, blow up the rocks, and you can always come back to these spaces later. It’s just something that’s familiar, but we have our own twist on it.
How about the development team? Is it the same compared to the 2018 team and was there any challenges during the pandemic?
Eric: Yeah, that was a tough one for sure. I mean the bulk of the team was returning for sure. Our Animation Director, he’s been with the studio forever. Raf, which is our Art Director was at the last game. Matt Sophos is Narrative Director and Jason McDonald which is our design director has been with us since every God of War game was ever made at the studio, so the heavy hitters were all back, and then we had a bigger team out of the gate compared to 2018. Our original team was like eight people, so this time around we had almost 200 out of the gate, so we were ready to go and grew to a pretty good size.
The pandemic obviously disrupted development for sure, because we just had to learn how to work from home and how to communicate with each other. There’s a lot of miscommunication because you can’t just run over to someone’s desk and talk to them, you lose out on a lot of the conversations at lunchtime. I think that was one of the biggest things that we didn’t realize the impact was going to be, there’s so much knowledge shared just by eating lunch together that you lose. So trying to replicate that in a virtual environment was very difficult. Luckily for our game, we had it planned and everyone knew what we were doing before the pandemic hit. If we didn’t have it planned when the pandemic hit, it would have been a lot harder to get everybody to rally around this one idea.
The game also comes to PlayStation 4, but how different the experience would be between the previous and current-gen platforms?
Eric: It was very important to us to be on both consoles. We wanted to make sure everybody can play the game even if they couldn’t get a PS5. I actually just finished my third playthrough on the base PS4 last week and the game is amazing on there, it runs a solid 30 FPS all day long just like 2018 did and it looks even better too. It plays smooth, and then you go to the PS5 and play on performance, you’re running at 60 frames which feels amazing. And then you play on quality for native 4K which also looks incredible.
Are you guys still following the plan to end Norse mythology with this game? If yes, then there are still many important Norse gods waiting in line to be introduced into the game. Is the storyline enough for all those gods to play their part in it?
Eric: Yes, the plan is still to finish the North saga with this game. There are many characters you’ll see in this game. We believe in our story has a very fitting ending with the characters that are there. You can only decide for yourself whether you think it’s fitting or not. So I would encourage you to continue playing and see if the experience lives up to your expectations. That’s mostly how I answer a lot of these questions. I don’t want to tell you how to feel or if I think it’s good or bad. I’m wildly biased, so I want you to have that experience and to be a surprise.
God of War Ragnarok
It’s both exciting and somewhat sad to see the Norse Saga of God of War come to an end, especially with all the developments Kratos has had from a rage-fueled god killer to a slightly less rage-filled boy raiser.
We’re very thankful to Eric Williams for speaking to us for this interview on God of War Ragnarok and wish him and the rest of the development team as the twilight of Ragnarok soon falls on to Earth.
God of War Ragnarok will launch on the PS4 and PS5 on November 9th, 2022.
For more information on God of War Ragnarok, check out our new preview of the game.