“Hope is what makes us strong. It is why we are here. It is what we fight with when all else is lost.” – Pandora
The story of Kratos is a sad and bloody one. From the beginning, Kratos is bent on domination. He seeks victory leading the Spartan armies into battle again and again, never satisfied, sure that he cannot be beaten. However, pride cometh before a fall, which is exactly where our story truly begins. Kratos finds himself up against a foe he could never hope to beat, a barbarian army exceedingly larger and more fierce than his own. In true Spartan fashion, Kratos will not admit defeat; instead, he begs the God of War for aid. He offers his soul to Ares and, in return for eternal servitude, asks that the god win this battle for him, saving him from the disgrace of loss. Ares accepts, destroying Kratos’ enemies and bestowing upon him the Blades of Chaos, along with a nifty set of chains to signify his servitude.
During his service to Ares, Kratos becomes all the more vicious and bloodthirsty, slowly losing his humanity, nothing more than a slave to the god of war’s ambitions. Eventually, this lack of anything resembling human emotion leads him to the first victory he will regret. Ares seeks to mold Kratos into the perfect warrior and assumes that to do so, he will have to rip from Kratos everything he cares about. To this end, Ares sends our Spartan into battle once more; his mission: full-scale slaughter. Kratos is dispatched to decimate a village and temple designated to the worship of Athena. Unbeknownst to him, Ares has spirited his wife and child inside the village. Kratos goes about his deadly task, cutting down anyone who stands in his way – including, he realizes too late, his family. Kratos butchers his wife and daughter, sending them to the after-life in the same sea of blood as his enemies. It is with this act, and his realization of what he’s done, that we get our first glimpse of humanity in our anti-hero. This is the point in his story where Kratos earns the title Ghost of Sparta: as punishment for his heinous actions, his body is covered in the ashes of the wife and daughter he murdered, a constant reminder of his unforgivable act. It is also at this point that Kratos denounces Ares, swearing vengeance on the god who tricked him, though personally, I think this is just a way for him to deny responsibility for his actions; Kratos’ wife begged him to see reason, to stop his rampage before it was too late, and in his refusal to listen to anything but his own desires, he traveled blindly down the path to his own ruin.
For the next decade, Kratos will play champion for the Gods, sent on errand just as he was by Ares, until one day he asks something in return. Plagued by nightmares and unable to escape the torment of his deeds, he begs for release from these visionst; Athena gives him a chance at redemption, as well as revenge. Zeus has forbidden the Gods from killing each other, so Kratos once again becomes a tool in someone else’s schemes when Athena asks him to end her brother, Ares. Kratos is more than happy to accept this mission, hoping with its successful completion he will be free from his torment. With help from various Gods along the way, the Ghost of Sparta reaches his goal, Pandora’s Box. The Box is said to hold the power to kill a god, the power he needs to kill Ares. Unfortunately for Kratos, his foe has been keeping track of him all this time. Just as the Spartan thinks victory is within his grasp, it’s cruelly snatched away by the God of War. Ares takes Pandora’s Box, and to add…well injury to injury, he strips Kratos of all the power he was given and sends him brutally to the Underworld. Of course, anyone familiar with this story knows Kratos is not so easily defeated; he crawls his way back from the realm of Hades, retrieving the Box which, once opened, restores his god-like powers, allowing him to kill Ares at last. When he asks Athena to fulfill her promise, she delivers heartbreaking news: Kratos will never be free from his nightmares. While his sins are forgiven by the Gods, he must live with his horrid actions for the rest of his days. Upon learning this, Kratos, all hope lost, throws himself into the Aegean Sea to end his suffering and finally escape madness. However, Athena isn’t done with our Spartan yet. She pulls him from the waters, raising him up and saving his life, to bestow upon him the gift of godhood. Kratos, having killed the former God of War, is given the title himself to rule in Ares stead.
Having apparently learned nothing, Kratos continues his bloodthirsty ways as the new God of War, to such an extent the Gods themselves demand he stop the needless destruction. Once again, Athena comes to his aid, shielding him from the Gods’ wrath and pleading with him to change. As usual, Kratos ignores the council he receives until Athena is left with no choice but to take back the power she had given him. With Athena’s help, Zeus lays a trap for Kratos and together they sap away all of his godly abilities, leaving him mortal once again and sending him back into the bowels of the Underworld. Just as before, Kratos is saved from what I would consider a just punishment by Gaia, a Titan and enemy of Olympus, who allows the Ghost of Sparta to crawl out of hell a second time. Gaia sets Kratos on a path that will allow him to exact his revenge against the Gods for their perceived betrayal, sending him to see the Fates so that he might go back in time and defeat Zeus instead of dying at his hand.
Kratos does reach the Fates, who tell him he is not meant to change the events that transpired. The sisters reveal that Zeus destroyed Sparta when he killed Kratos, wiping out his city and people as he descended into the Underworld. They also reveal that Kratos has once again been made a pawn in someone else’s game. Gaia has not been truthful with Kratos; she cares only for her revenge on Zeus for his acts against the Titans, and is using our main character for her own personal gain. Kratos, unsurprisingly, does not listen to the cautioning words provided him. The Fates tell him he will perish and never find peace because of the monster he has become, to which he responds, “I am what the Gods have made me,” once again shirking his responsibility for the events that have led him here. Once Kratos has killed the Fates, as he has so many others who have stood in the way of his ambitions, he takes their Loom of Fate and returns to the moment Zeus killed him. Now fully restored and more powerful than their first meeting, Kratos nearly kills Zeus, but his daughter Athena steps in. She pleads with the Spartan, once again, to see reason, echoing the Fates assertion that Gaia and the Titans cannot be trusted. Kratos ignores her, and in his attempt to finish Zeus off, kills Athena, stabbing her through the chest as she comes to the aid of her father. We see some remorse from the Ghost of Sparta, but not enough for him to rethink his actions. Kratos vows he will see the end of the Gods, and anyone who stands in his way will meet the same fate as Athena. Before she dies, Athena reveals that Kratos is, in fact, a son of Zeus, making him a demigod. Kratos pauses at this knowledge, only a moment, before taking up the Loom of Fate and using it to go back in time to save the Titans, bringing them back to the present with him to continue his attack on Mount Olympus.
Of course, just like the Fates predicted, just as Athena had warned him would happen, Kratos is betrayed by Gaia. Finding himself once again friendless (are we seeing a pattern here?) and weaponless, Kratos is cast back into the Underworld. There, he is visited by the spirit of Athena, who admits she was wrong about Zeus; to save all mankind, Kratos must continue on his mission to destroy his father, which will lead him once again to Pandora’s Box and, this time, Pandora herself. Pandora is a key character in the story of the Ghost of Sparta; for the first time in over a decade, Kratos finds someone genuinely under his care. This little girl, not unlike the daughter he failed in the past, is as reliant on Kratos as he is on her to complete his mission. Kratos grows to care for Pandora, and in the final moments when it is revealed she must give her life to extinguish the Flames of Olympus and give Kratos the revenge he has longed for all these years, our Spartan hesitates. He tries to stop Pandora, telling her he will find another way, desperate not to lose the one thing he might care about more than his murderous rampage. In the end, Pandora does sacrifice herself. The Flames of Olympus smother, enabling Kratos to kill his father once and for all.
After his victory, Kratos is once again visited by the spirit of Athena, who tells him that, basically, everything was his fault. Upon opening Pandora’s Box, Kratos released, along with the power he needed, evil into the world in the form of Fear. This Fear infected all the Gods, causing them to become violent and mistrustful, and causing Zeus to go after his son. Fear has ripped the world apart around the Spartan; while he sought his recompense, he paid no mind to the untold damage he was doing, the havoc he was wreaking on everyone around him. Athena demands Kratos give back the power he stole from the box – the power to kill a God – Hope, so that she might start to fix all the destruction and put the world to rights. Kratos, defiant till the end, refuses, stabbing himself with the Blade of Olympus, releasing Hope into Greece and restoring the city. Athena pulls the blade from his chest, leaving him to die alone. As we move away from this sad final scene, assuming Kratos has finally found peace in death, we see the image of a Phoenix, a symbol of rebirth.
Of course, we all know the story didn’t end there, and so we find ourselves in Midgard. We aren’t sure how much time has passed since the Ghost of Sparta left Greece, or how long he’s been in Midgard; however, it appears he’s turned over a new leaf. Kratos now has a family, although we meet them at a most unfortunate time. He’s learned to love again, to stifle his rage and put someone else’s needs before his own. After all of his mistakes, he is determined to be a different man. Kratos is a father again; he has a son who wants to know him and look up to him. As you can imagine, the once wrathful warrior does not want to see his mistakes repeated, by himself or his progeny. He is learning to harness his rage, a skill he would have benefited from in the past, and one that will help him in the future. He shows patience when dealing with his son Atreus, helping him hone vital skills; Atreus seems to have inherited his father’s anger issues, something Kratos sees and is attempting to help him with. Kratos, contrary to his past nature, councils patience and acceptance. He does not run headlong into battle with whomever comes along, nor does he insert himself into fights that do not concern him. Atreus has yet to learn these life lessons, but Kratos is intent on teaching him; he does not want to see son become father.
The Ghost of Sparta has come a long way. He still bares the marks of his past mistakes, both physically and mentally, but I think we are going to see a lot of growth going forward. He truly wants to be a better man, and a better father. This is a side of Kratos we have not seen: the human side, the humble side. He still has that rage boiling beneath the surface, but it’s controlled, making him potentially more dangerous than ever. He has more to fight for than just petty revenge; he has a son to raise, and a mother to honor. He is no longer the God of War. He’s a man, a father; he has finally learned to put others first.