Today (April 20th), Sony released their long-awaited soft reboot of the God of War franchise, which now features a new camera perspective, a new Nordic setting and a fundamentally altered, dad-rock version of Kratos. The review scores are already phenomenal, with critics praising how lead designer managed to change a franchise that was always about killing and fucking into something far more moody and substantial.
We at Revolver are extremely excited to play God of War. Who isn't? But to be clear, this series has always been about the boss fights, and even though the tone has changed, the trailers for the new game are still showing off some ridiculously huge titans we'll have to take down. That's good. I'm glad that Sony are holding onto some of that bombast, even as they're admitting that Kratos needs to grow up. To celebrate the release, we've decided to take a look back at 10 of our favorite boss encounters from the first three God of War games, and a few of the incidental spinoffs. Hopefully, in about a decade as they wrap up what we're guessing will be a new trilogy, we'll have a whole new batch of bosses to add to this list.
God of War is not a series known for its emotional subtlety, but we give a small tip of that hat to this otherwise minor encounter in the PSP-exclusive God of War: Ghost of Sparta. Callisto, a trickster, takes the form of Kratos' mother — who has herself never appeared on screen — and the two share a brief moment of tenderness before she morphs back into a horrible nightmare creature. Points for hitting a different beat, God of War. It can't be all guys and blood forever.
Unlike most of the other boss fights on this list, your encounter with Hercules happens on a fairly equal playing field. Kratos is a big angry guy, and Hercules is a big angry guy — not a giant, or a mythical leviathan, or a corrupt deity. The boss fight itself is well designed, but most people remember this God of War III engagement for its end, as you stand over a hamstrung Hercules, mashing the circle button to pound his face with the Lion Fists over and over again. If you were going to capture the God of War essence in a single sequence, that wouldn't be a bad choice.
The end of God of War II has Zeus betraying Kratos in one of the most brutal subversions in the history of video games. The end of God of War III has you wiping out the Pantheon one by one, before you finally ram a sword through the king's duplicitous ribcage. The game cuts to first person, so you get an up-close-and-personal look at Zeus as you punish him. The vengeance was profound, and the melancholy afterwards, when you realize you've left behind a world that is godless and debased with chaos, is equally moving.
My favorite moment in the God of War series might be the back-half of God of War II, where you spend a solid five hours cutting through endless enemies, and traversing several inhospitable islands to get to the secluded alcove of the Sisters of Fate. There are a ton of great encounters along the way, but I have a special place in my heart for the ghastly Kraken you face off with towards the end. Mechanically, he's similar to the other God of War beasties you fight, but it features some of the greatest and grisliest violence ever committed to the Playstation 2. You eventually kill the Kraken by slamming an extendable bridge through its mouth at lightning speed. It's awesome and horrifying in equal doses.
In which you take a trip to hell to dispatch the literal God of the Underworld. There have been a number of depictions of Hades in pop culture over the years, and generally they favor a waifish, ambivalent ghost. Not God of War III. Hades is terrifying. Gigantic, pallid, with a welder's mask covering his face and two rending claws that will rip the soul right out of you. Kratos, of course, turns the tables, and annihilates Hades' body and soul.
I love the look of Poseidon in God of War III. A big, angry, unreasonably powerful kingpin rising through the mists on his beguiling chariot of water horses. In Greek mythology, Poseidon has always been painted as an arrogant fool, and the brain trust at Sony spared no expense with his constant belittling shit-talk. It sure felt good to gouge out his eyes at the end.
The penultimate bosses of God of War II, the Sisters of Fate, make it onto this list for one clever moment. At about the halfway point, you hop through one of the magical portals in the room, and find yourself standing on the bridge-length sword you used to defeat Ares in the first game. It's a great callback, and it helps add to the mystique that these Sisters are truly masters of time and space — which makes it all the more satisfying when you start using their powers against them.
The Colossus of Rhodes is one of the seven ancient wonders of the world. In pop culture, it's imagined as this giant bronze statue that guarded over ancient Greece. God of War has always played it loose with Greek mythology, so in the beginning of God of War II, the Colossus comes alive, and you spend a solid hour cutting it down as you run along the ramparts of a besieged city. Historically, the statue was destroyed in an earthquake in the 226 B.C., but screw that, we all know that Kratos was the one that killed it.
Cronus was first teased in the first God of War as a lumbering, tortured Titan banished to wander the desert forever. He was also ridiculously huge, probably the largest character ever implemented into the PS2 hardware. Kratos has a propensity for killing everything he comes in contact with, so of course Sony gave us a crack at the beast in the second game. It's absolute spectacle, especially considering the scale. At one point you just kinda nip Cronus in the thumb with your sword. That's all you really can do when you're up against an ancient deity.
Anyone who lusted over God of War back in 2005 has some version of the same story. They were at a friend's house, or a Gamestop, or watching an E3 press conference, as an ashen, bloodthirsty Kratos dispatched the three heads of a savage hydra aboard a derelict ship somewhere in the Aegean sea. It is, without a doubt, one of the greatest first impressions in the history of gaming, and it set this franchise up for a long future of one-upping its own bombast. There may be bigger boss fights on this list, but man, when I go back and watch the encounter now, it's so clear how influential it was to the evolution of action games. You can still hear it echo.