Over time, Santa Monica Studio’s God of War became the premier Playstation franchise, eclipsing early contenders like Crash Bandicoot and outlasting other heavy hitters such as the Uncharted series. By extension, Kratos has become the most enduring and recognizable Playstation mascot, boasting nearly two decades’ worth of games across four systems with no poorly reviewed releases.
With the latest installment, God of War Ragnarok, right around the corner, we are looking over Kratos’ long and storied, but somewhat messy, history to clear the canonical timeline up until this point. Without further adieu, this is the in-game history of Kratos of Sparta. Spoilers are ahead.
Pre-God of War: Ascension
Though the first game Kratos appeared in was the original God of War for the Playstation 2, this is not where his story begins. On a chronological timeline, the PSP exclusive: God of War: Ghost of Sparta featured Kratos’ earliest moments.
Though the brunt of Ghost of Sparta’s campaign is between the first and second mainline titles, it does feature a flashback to Kratos’ youth. This glimpse into Kratos’ earliest years shows him and his brother Deimos (Dee-Mohs) together and explains their rough upbringing in the warlike Greek city-state of Sparta, both unaware of their status as demigods. Eventually, Deimos is kidnapped by the Greek God of War, Ares. This is done in the name of Zeus, who has come to believe in a prophecy that claims a “marked warrior” will eventually bring Mount Olympus to ruin. Believing this to be Deimos due to his distinctive birthmarks, Zeus sends Ares to kidnap the child and is successful. In a bit of irony appropriate for a Greek tragedy, Kratos tattoos or “marks” his body in the pattern of Deimos’s birthmark in remembrance of his brother, unknowingly, marking himself as the one who would truly bring the fall of the Greek pantheon.
Years pass and Kratos establishes himself as a great Spartan warrior general known far and wide for his bloodlust and brutality. He also manages to marry a woman named Lysandra and sire a daughter named Calliope (Cal-i-oh-pee). In a desperate move against the barbarian armies of the east, Kratos swore fealty to Ares. The god of war, in turn, provided Kratos with the means necessary to win the day, namely his iconic Blades of Chaos. Such a deal doesn’t come without a price: Kratos was now Ares’ servant.
Kratos served Ares as the god desired, by roaming the countryside and sowing discord, slaughtering innocents, and bringing about chaos and warfare in the name of the war god. Despite all of this, Ares felt that Kratos wasn’t fully committed to the cause, still having ties to mortals in the form of Lysandra and Calliope. So Ares hatched a plot, and at the next village, his family was present when Kratos arrived to raid. In his bloodlust, Kratos did not recognize Lysandra and Calliope and slaughtered them with the rest.
After Kratos realized what he had done, he renounced his allegiance to Ares and was cursed to forever bear the ashes of his wife and child, resulting in his pale complexion and his nickname, “the Ghost of Sparta”.
God of War: Ascension
With all of the pregame backstory out of the way, we can now move on to the first full campaign of the series, chronologically speaking anyway, God of War: Ascension. Released in 2013 at the tail end of the PS3 era, it is the seventh installment in the series and serves as a prequel to the entire God of War franchise and a sendoff for the Greek saga.
Ascension takes place roughly half a year after Kratos has broken his oath with Ares. Still haunted by the fresh memory of what he did to his family, Kratos found himself hunted and manipulated by the Furies as he sought to break his oath to the God of War once and for all. He adventures from the Temple of Delphi to the island of Delos, searching for the means to separate himself from Ares. It should come as no surprise that throughout the game, he slays the Furies and the reluctant Oathkeeper, Orkos, to free himself of this burden once and for all.
As GoW: Ascension tells the story of Kratos freeing himself from Ares, something we already knew happened in the first God of War, there are not many surprises here. Still, Ascension fills in some gaps for curious fans and offers a high-quality final adventure for God of War’s Greek saga and the Playstation 3 era.
Chains of Olympus
Next in the chronology is God of War: Chains of Olympus, first released on the PSP in 2008 and marking Kratos’ first, but not last, foray into the world of handheld gaming. It is another prequel to the first game and covers the intervening decade between the events of Ascension and GoW1, during which Kratos does the bidding of the Gods of Olympus. These exploits include slaying a basilisk thereby saving the God of the Sun, Helios, as well as foiling a world-ending plot put into motion by Persephone, the Goddess of the Underworld.
Seeing as this game is essentially canonized filler, and does nothing to move the overarching plot or flesh out the character of Kratos, there is not much to say about Chains of Olympus. The writers were put in a hard place when writing this game, as they were forced to tiptoe around the existing lore and plans for the series while still creating a compelling narrative. This goes doubly for Kratos, who has no choice but to end up in the same place emotionally as he was in God of War 1, which means he gets little in the way of character development. In the end, while the game is serviceable, you aren’t missing much storywise if you skip this one and go straight from Ascension to GoW1.
God of War
Finally, we arrive at the timeline of the game which started it all, 2005’s God of War for the Playstation 2. Picking up an undisclosed amount of time after the events of Chains, the repentant yet vengeful Kratos finds himself allied with the Goddess of Wisdom, Athena, the two sharing a common goal as he defends her city of Athens against the encroaching armies of Ares.
Athena puts Kratos on a path toward Pandora’s Box, the artifact required to defeat Ares. After a bit of digging and a lot of killing, he discovers that the artifact resides within the temple on the back of the titan Cronus, cursed by Zeus to forever wander the Desert of Lost Souls. Kratos ventures there and upon acquiring the artifact is killed in a surprise attack by Ares himself. This is Kratos’ first death, but not his last. In death, Kratos is sent to the underworld but can fight his way out and resume his quest to defeat Ares for good. In the final confrontation between the two, Kratos utilizes the power of Pandora’s Box to grow to equal size and power as Ares. They do battle, and eventually, Ares is bested and impaled on a massive sword, dead for good.
Even though the rest of the pantheon considers this a boon, Kratos’ request to forget his past atrocities is denied. Forced to live with the memory of murdering his wife and daughter, but with no revenge left to take, Kratos elects to end his own life. He leaps from the bluffs but, at the last moment, is stopped by Athena, who offers him the empty throne of Ares as the new God of War.
There you have it, the plot of the original God of War. While it’s certainly not the deepest story ever, with relatively straightforward plotting and characterization, this tale of redemption and vengeance laid a strong foundation for the franchise. Kratos as a character would particularly resonate with audiences. This brutal, screaming, loincloth-clad Spartan, this manifestation of pure rage and righteous vengeance, was a welcome deviation from the cool, silent protagonists of the generation like Master Chief and Link. The ripped, screaming badass completely covered in blood was not yet the edgy cliche it would become in the latter half of the decade, so Kratos as a character was fresh and new.
Ghost of Sparta
The aforementioned God of War: Ghost of Sparta is the second and final installment in the God of War PSP duology. Released in 2010, Ghost of Sparta takes place between the first and second mainline installments and improves upon the groundwork laid by its predecessor, Chains of Olympus.
Ghost of Sparta focuses on Kratos’ relationship with his brother, Deimos. Kratos, now the newly anointed Greek god of war is still haunted by the memories of his past and decides to seek the truth of his parentage, leading him to the Temple of Poseidon in Atlantis. There he finds his dying mother, who reveals that Deimos, Kratos’ brother, is still alive and stuck in the Domain of Death, ruled by the God of Death, Thanatos. She also attempts to reveal the identity of Kratos’ father before transforming into a mindless monster and attacking her son, forcing Kratos to kill the woman who birthed him.
Kratos travels to the Domain of Death, seeking his brother Deimos and eventually finds him and frees him. Deimos is initially upset with Kratos, and the brothers have an emotionally charged fight before reconciling and joining forces against Thanatos. Proving again that Kratos can’t have anything nice and is forever doomed to lose those he cares for, Deimos dies in the final conflict against Thanatos, leaving Kratos once again suicidal and heartbroken. This leads directly to the bloodthirsty and rageful state we find Kratos in at the start of God of War II.
On the whole, this may be the most emotionally charged and personal installment of the Greek saga. As opposed to Chains of Olympus, which serves little to no purpose storywise, Ghost of Sparta gives context to God of War II, while also expanding upon and adding depth to the character of Kratos. It may not be the ultimate revenge against Ares of the first God of War, or Zeus in subsequent chapters, but Kratos having to kill his mother and bury his brother in a single game is dark stuff indeed.
God of War II
God of War II was released in 2007 on the Playstation 2, and it takes place a decade after the first installment but only shortly after Ghost of Sparta. In it, we find Kratos at his most gravely violent, having taken to his role as god of war with gusto and arrogance that causes him to lay siege to the city of Rhodes without the consent of the other Olympians. Zeus takes it upon himself to take Kratos down a peg, tricking him and then stripping him of his godly powers with the divinely powered Blade of Olympus before killing Kratos for the second time.
Kratos is saved from the Underworld by Gaia, who introduces him to a plot by the titans to defeat the gods of Olympus, who previously defeated and humiliated them. The scheme involves seeking the Sisters of Fate and turning back in time to before Kratos was killed by Zeus so that he can take the Blade of Olympus and slay the king of the gods for good. Kratos hunts down the fates, does what he does best, and is eventually successful in his campaign to turn back the clock. He and Zeus fight and Kratos uses a bit of trickery to appeal to the god before getting the better of him.
Athena arrives in time to stop the murder of her father and sacrifices herself to allow Zeus to escape, revealing at that moment that Kratos is her brother and a demigod son of Zeus. The final scene of the game depicts the titans and Kratos climbing the face of Mount Olympus, ending exactly where the third game will begin.
The story of God of War II, as well as Kratos’ arc within the game, is stunted by being only half of the tale. The point of God of War II is clearly to set up the finale, and by doing that has little significance to say on its own, at least from a plot or character perspective. The revelation that Kratos is the son of Zeus plays well but again does more to set up their final confrontation than it does to give any added depth to Kratos at the moment.
God of War III
God of War III was released in 2010, the first of the franchise to debut on Playstation 3, and serves as the grand finale to the Greek saga, chronologically at least. While Ghost of Sparta and Ascension would be released after God of War III, they are both prequels.
The story picks up exactly where the second left off, with Kratos ascending the backs of the titans as they scale the face of Mount Olympus and attempt to overthrow the pantheon. Unfortunately for Kratos’ revenge mission, he is betrayed by the titans and sent to the Underworld for the third time in as many mainline titles. This guy just can’t stay out of hell. There he meets the astral form of Athena who assists him, claiming that her death gave her a new perspective on the war and that she now supported Kratos. Without thinking too hard about it, Kratos accepts her help and makes his way back to Mount Olympus to run rampant through the remaining gods and heroes of Greek myth, including Poseidon, Hades, Hercules, and Hermes before his final confrontation with the big man Zeus himself. With every newly deceased god, you can see the world around Kratos begin to fall apart little by little until he and Zeus face each other in a full-on apocalyptic setting. Kratos doesn’t care that Greece is dying with its gods, as he thirsts only for revenge.
Throughout the game, however, Kratos is softened by the presence of Pandora, after whom the box is named. She reminds him of his daughter and is key to unlocking the true power of Pandora’s Box, the power of “hope”. This gives Kratos a bit more depth and a much-needed softer side, but as with all of the people in Kratos’ life, she dies. She sacrifices herself to aid Kratos’ quest to defeat Zeus, in which he is successful. Once the gods were slain, the ghost of Athena appears before Kratos and demands the power of “hope” bestowed by Pandora to control herself, but he instead impales himself on the Blade of Olympus. This finally puts an end to Kratos, releasing hope into the world and ending the Greek saga as well.
What God of War III shows the player is that the Greek saga, and Kratos’ arc within it, is not about change. It’s quite the opposite. Kratos is not a character that develops in any direction or changes his mind depending on the information presented. He is static, and instead of changing himself to fit the world, Kratos changes the world to fit himself. It’s telling that the logical conclusion is the end of the world, or at least of Greece, and Kratos’ death by his hand.
God of War 2018
Of course, Kratos didn’t die. He simply went into hiding, fleeing to the distant lands of Northern Europe where he would become involved in a new conflict and rage against the gods once more. This, of course, would manifest in 2018’s God of War, released on the Playstation 4 and beginning the Norse saga.
We pick back up with Kratos an undisclosed amount of time later. He is much older, and his abject fury of games past was replaced with quiet stoicism. He now has a young son, a boy named Atreus. We find out that Atreus’ mother and Kratos’ wife, Faye, recently passed away from undisclosed means, and the remaining two wish to spread her ashes from the highest point in the Nine Realms. Death is treated here more seriously than it ever has been in the franchise, and sets a new, somber tone for the series to come. Gone are the days of meaningless brutality. The plot has been scaled back as well, from Kratos actively seeking revenge on the gods for the death of his wife and child to Kratos simply wishing to spread his deceased wife’s ashes with his son at his side. The two become embroiled in the conflicts of the gods reluctantly and inadvertently. The gameplay, the story structure, the stakes, and Kratos himself have all changed and matured with time.
So, the pair quests across the Nine Realms battling monsters and gods much like in the old days. Again, however, things have changed since then. It is no longer a story about meeting a rogue’s gallery of gods and ripping them in half… Okay, it is, but it is also more than that now. Kratos is a teacher to Atreus. Kratos has learned to manage his rage, balancing it out with a certain zen, and wants Atreus to manage his godhood the same way. As the game progresses, Atreus challenges his father’s new philosophy, showing a similarly impulsive inner rage to that which Kratos displayed in his younger days. Kratos, full of regret, does not want to reveal the truth of his past to Atreus, but the son, without context, does not fully understand his father’s hesitancy. It is a game of give and takes, a tightrope that the two walk together.
The actual content of their journey sees the pair go from Midgard to Alfheim, down to Helheim (as is God of War tradition), and finally to the hidden realm of Jotunheim where they can spread Faye’s ashes and say goodbye. Along the way, they make friends like Dwarven blacksmiths Brok and Sindri and the gigantic World Serpent. They make enemies as well, like Baldur, the God of Light, and Magni and Modi, the sons of Thor. All of them are slain by the end of this game, setting up their parents, Freya and Thor respectively, as primary antagonists in the forthcoming Ragnarok.
In the end, Kratos and Atreus return to their home in Midgard to rest and wait out the three-year-long Fimbulwinter in anticipation of Ragnarok.