Like most rational people, I feel skittish around sharp objects that could cause grievous harm to life and limb. Unfortunately for me, I spend a lot of time with people who are much braver than I. One of my friends recently dragged me to an axe throwing bar, and I found out that throwing an axe is much more difficult than it is in God of War: Ragnarök.
The Leviathan Axe was first introduced in God of War (2018) as Kratos’ primary ice weapon. It was gifted to him by his wife Laufey sometime before her death. After being thrown, the weapon can be instantly recalled with a single button press. This ensures that Kratos can spend his time shredding as many enemies as possible, rather than chasing after his weapon after he throws itt. The PlayStation 5 controller vibrates after Kratos catches his axe, which helps significantly with player immersion. So my impression of axe throwing was “easy” and “satisfying,” even when it wasn’t grounded in any kind of reality.
Here’s what happens before you’re even allowed to step foot inside: You have to sign a release form that says you won’t sue the venue in the case of death or dismemberment. “If you haven’t figured it out yet, throwing axes can be hazardous to your health,” the form stated cheerfully. “Serious injury and/or death can occur.” Wondering if this was my last time with intact kneecaps, I entered the bar area where patrons imbibed alcoholic beverages while throwing deadly weapons.
I eventually worked up the courage to step inside the safety cages. If people were lopping off their forearms all the time, then I’m sure that the city would have closed down the business a long time ago. Besides, the axe-throwers around me were hardly beefy Greek gods. They were hipster-looking patrons who could have been from startup companies. If they could throw an axe, then so could I, right?
My weapon wasn’t nearly as impressive as the legendary Leviathan Axe, but it still felt heavy and deadly in my hands. I pressured my finger against the dull curve of its under-blade. It was real metal. This object could be thrown with enough force to split a human skull. I looked over at the wooden board across from me. The deep grooves convinced me that even tech nerds were much stronger than they looked. Maybe there is a god of war within all of us.
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This is how you throw an axe: You hold the handle with both hands, draw it backwards until the butt of the axe is pressed against the top of your back, and then you throw the object forward. The axe spins end-over-end a few times before (hopefully) landing into the wooden board.
Once I actually started throwing, I realized that throwing an axe and using it as a projectile weapon were two very different things. I did manage to hit close to the target a few times—but the axe mostly bounced off the board and fell to the ground. I watched our trainer, desperately seeking advice. Dominant leg back, elbows out, and torso up. I did everything he asked, but sinking the blade into my immobile target felt like it was entirely up to some real-life RNG. Was there some kind of technique to ensure that the axe spun just the correct number of times? I never found out. Whether or not I managed to sink the blade into the board still felt entirely random.
I had one beer. That helped. Then I watched my friend land multiple consecutive throws. That didn’t help.
It’s incredible that Kratos could hit moving targets, yes. But it’s impressive that he could hit anything at all. If the developers at Sony Santa Monica had prioritized realism over gameplay, then the Leviathan Axe would have uselessly bounced off a target instead of biting into an enemy’s flesh. I’m thankful that isn’t the game that we got. But it did set me up for some unrealistic expectations. The trainer showed us a trick where he threw two axes into the bullseye. He was a Kratos among men, and I was a lowly blogger who had to take an arm break every seven throws. The gulf between us was too vast.
I did manage to survive my evening with all of my arms and legs intact. Maybe that’s the best victory that I could hope for. If I want to try this again, I think I’ll go back to God of War: Ragnarök.