The God of War games have never interested me. I enjoy action, gratuitous violence and ancient mythology, so what’s not to love? I couldn’t tell you for certain, but here’s something I do know – the God of War I saw at E3 is a different beast indeed, striding boldly with a level of nuance and maturity that surpasses the trilogy preceding it.

Kratos encounters his toughest obstacle yet: single parenthood

It’s clear that God of War vies to stand on its own two legs, otherwise it’d be called God of War 4 (or God of Four, as I like to call it). Instead, God of War is a different game with different pursuits. It’s still an action packed hack-and-slash, but it’s a bit more grounded and grown-up. Kratos himself is emblematic of this change in direction, right down to his appearance. He’s weathered and quiet with bearded wisdom. He shows restraint but not weakness. Kratos is no longer a man encompassed and defined entirely by anger and rage, but a god learning to become a man once more.

Kratos’ journey to rekindle his humanity is motivated by his duty as a parent. It must be said that Santa Monica have done an incredible job at intertwining these themes to speak volumes about Kratos’ state of mind. For instance, after the boy lands his first kill on an oblivious elk, Kratos sits cautiously behind him. We see Kratos reach out to embrace his son and congratulate him, only to stop and retract midway. Through the fantastic animation, you can see the conflict in Kratos’ mind. This is a man fuelled by ordeal, pain and suffering. Expressing love and pride is an innate human feeling that Kratos is struggling with, especially after the death of his old family and the torment it preceded. His gesture’s ambivalence indicates that he’s not even sure expressing such feelings is for the best, either; Kratos knows first-hand that strength is a product of perseverance and pain, and mollycoddling his son is no way to foster the power he’ll need to survive this cold, hostile world. Such is the preface for Kratos’ story in the new God of War – Kratos teaches the boy how to be strong, whilst the boy teaches Kratos how to be human. Just have a look at the short clip below, and you’ll see exactly what I mean.

If you hadn’t sussed me out already, I’m really impressed with God of War. It’s intelligent, heartfelt, succinct, and perhaps most impressively, it achieves these merits without compromising the franchise’s gameplay strengths. Kratos is still toppling titanic foes with haste and fury, and the fundamental combat looks rapid, satisfying and joyfully brutal, as any God of War game ought to be.

If the whole game pans out like this demo, then colour me impressed. God of War showcases beautiful environments, polished gameplay and touching storytelling with admirable brevity. It’s hard to fault what’s been shown of God of War so far, and it’s one of the very few games at E3 that makes me want to give my PS4 a thorough dust-off. I implore you to check out the footage right here.

God of War is coming out exclusively on PS4, and no release date has been announced yet.