To celebrate the fifth anniversary of God of War (the new one, and yes, it’s been that long), Sony Santa Monica shared a bunch of behind-the-scenes footage of Kratos and Atreus’ final battle with Baldur. Spoilers for a five-year-old dog walk down below.
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The lengthy Sony blog post begins with a quick story refresher explaining how Baldur, the first enemy bold enough to walk up to Kratos’ doorstep and German suplex him out of his moccasins, became the game’s primary antagonist. Despite Kratos snapping Baldur’s neck and kicking him into a chasm, Baldur got him back towards the end of the game. Unlike their first battle, Kratos takes on the role of mediator between Baldur and Freya. This, of course, doesn’t pan out the way Kratos would’ve wanted, leading to a high-octane punch-out between Kratos and Baldur.
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“We knew that the players would expect a big epic finale, so our goal was always to try and push what we had done on the initial Baldur fight and up the stakes in every way,” Bruno Velazquez, animation director at Santa Monica Studio said.
The Norse giants’ camera dilemma
With the plot motivation between Kratos, Atreus, Baldur, and Freya established by the writing team, the next piece of the pie was designing the stage for their divine intervention. It was at this point that the design team suggested that the final battle include a sequence where Freya, out of sorts, puppeteers the giant Thamur to stop Kratos from bludgeoning her son. By throwing Thamur into the fray, Santa Monica’s design team was able to use the lumbering giant as both an area of effect damage-dealing factor to God of War’s final battle as well as an intricate transitional set-piece. A staple in the God of War series.
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Thamur’s inclusion, as well as Jörmungandr the world serpent’s huge assist to Atreus, which was a late edition to the fight according to Velazquez, presented the team with the challenge of encompassing the grand scale of the fight so players could make heads and tails of where they were in relation to beating up Baldur.
“After a few iterations with animation to get Thamur’s hand as low as possible, we also adjusted the camera to pull back further than usual and widened the lens to provide contrast with the normal, close-fight camera,” God of War lead camera designer Erol Oksuz said. “This also opened screen real-estate to show off the ground below going into shadow while increasing the chance to see the Giant’s hand. With the final audio, a build-up of screen-shake, and controller rumble, there was enough there to communicate that something big was about to happen.”
Kratos vs Baldur round 2, fight!
With Thamur and Jörmungandr effectively taking each other out of the equation in the fight, all that was left for Sony Santa Monica was to bring it home with Kratos (featuring Atreus) and Baldur’s final bout of fisticuffs.
“We like to think of end-game fights as a final exam of sorts,” Denny Yeh, God of War lead combat designer said. “Unlike challenge bosses like the Valkyries, which are designed to test pretty much everything, a story boss like Baldur needs to feel more like the greatest hits of mechanics throughout the game. Think of it like a celebration of what you’ve learned, rather than a strict test.”
To ensure God of War’s final battle felt epic and rewarding to the player, Sony Santa Monica put stages into Baldur’s battle. For example, Baldur doesn’t use his element-absorbing powers at the start of the fight, which allowed players to “freestyle with whatever abilities [they] desire,” Yeh said. Yeh also revealed that savvy players could’ve turned the table on Baldur by kiting him into the vines Freya used to immobilize Kratos, allowing gamers to easily punch the Aesir god in the face.
The Kratos and Atreus Father-Son beat down
Aside from designing moments where Kratos made their fight personal by putting away his weapons so he can bare-knuckle brawl with Baldur, God of War’s final boss battle saw Kratos and Atreus team up against Baldur. I use the term “battle” loosely because those rocked Baldur’s shit something fierce.
“There are several sequences that sell the team up between Kratos and Atreus well, like Kratos tossing Atreus in the air to fire arrows, as well as when Kratos jumps off the Stone Mason holding Baldur, with Atreus leaping off after them,” Velazquez said. “However, nothing compares to the moment in which the player must press well-timed prompts as Kratos and Atreus take turns pummeling Baldur. It was such a highlight for us to be able to include some of these moments that really make you feel like a cohesive fighting unit as both father and son.”
Hel hath no fury like a mother scorned
After QT-ing Baldur’s generous white ass, Baldur actor Jeremy Davies delivered a heart-wrenching monologue about the physical and psychological damage Freya’s selfish spell placed upon him. Although his personal anguish doesn’t excuse his actions over the course of the game, God of War narrative director Matt Sophos said Davies’ performance added a “sorrowful layer of nuance” to Baldur.
“[Davies] brought such pain to a character who—though incapable of feeling the physical kind—is absolutely lost in his anguish and torment. His performance made it hard to hate Baldur since even the worst things he said had an undercurrent of tragedy to them,” Sophos said.
Ultimately, Kratos makes the decision to kill a freshly mistletoe-arrow-struck Baldur (tis the curse’s weakness) to prevent him from murdering his mother in a fit of rage. Freya actor Danielle Bisutti immediately followed up Davies’ gut-wrenching performance with a standout performance of her own when she admonished Kratos’ decision while cradling her lifeless son’s body in her arms.
“When Danielle Bisutti (Freya) promises retribution for the killing of her son, and slowly builds in intensity until she’s just spitting bile, hate, and grief at Kratos… it’s one of the most powerful moments I’ve ever been a part of,” Sophos said. “You could hear a pin drop on the performance capture stage. We were all just kind of stunned into silence. I knew based on how much of herself Danielle invests in her performance that she was going to go hard, but DAMN…”