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For over a decade, the God of War series was synonymous with action hero machismo and unbridled anger. From the first vicious battle with a multi-headed hydra to the utter decimation of the Greek pantheon, the franchise found its groove and dug in, with flashy chained blades, acrobatic movement, gigantic enemies and a story of revenge. It even had a jump button.

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As some of that is changing with the series’ latest entry, which hits stores this week, I figured now was a good time to go back and rank the God of War games to date. Yes, even the Facebook one.

So here we go.


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God of War: Betrayal Javaground, SOE Los Angeles/Sony Pictures Digital

9. God of War: Betrayal

(Mobile, 2007)The hottest flip phones of 2007 found themselves in possession of a side-scrolling God of War game, complete with all the Blades of Chaos swinging you could cram onto a one-and-a-half-inch screen. While the developers did an admirable job translating main character Kratos’ flair for gory combat onto touch-tone controls, the overall art and design suffers from the limitations of the phones of the time. To the game’s credit, the developers seem to have taken some inspiration from Prince of Persia’s winding hallways, resulting in simple yet satisfying 2D platforming, but that can’t save God of War: Betrayal from repetitive enemies, a lack of “epic” moments and nothing of a plot.


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God of War: A Call From the Wilds Facebook/Sony Interactive Entertainment

8. God of War: A Call From the Wilds

(Facebook, 2018)The idea of a text-based God of War game might seem laughable when you consider the gore, giant monsters and giant monster gore the series built its reputation on. That I’m even including it on this list might turn some heads. Starring a young version of Atreus, God of War: A Call From the Wilds uses simple text commands to allow players to follow concise but not overly restrictive prompts from the Facebook Messenger interface. You’ll practice shooting arrows with your mother, collect herbs from the garden and explore the dense woods surrounding your small Nordic cabin.

Over eight brief chapters, you’ll encounter creatures both docile and dangerous. How you deal with them is generally up to you, and reliant on how well you’ve listened to the lessons that have come before. The experience is largely linear, but like the best text adventure games, it does an admirable job of making you feel like an invisible world around you is actually reacting to your whims, complete with eight pieces of collectible art to cap off each chapter’s conclusion. It won’t blow your mind the way an epic boss battle might, but it’s a perfect jumping-off point for Sony Santa Monica’s new game.


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God of War: Chains of Olympus Ready at Dawn, SCE Santa Monica Studio/Sony Computer Entertainment

7. God of War: Chains of Olympus

(PSP, 2008)Technically Kratos’ second outing on a mobile platform, God of War: Chains of Olympus managed to harness the PlayStation Portable’s superior horsepower (at least compared to Betrayal’s early smartphone tech) to create what was then one of the handheld’s most ambitious and beautiful experiences. Set during Kratos’ 10 years of service to Olympus, Chains of Olympus sees the mad Spartan protecting the city of Attica from Persian invaders before becoming enveloped in a plot by the queen of the underworld and the Titan Atlas to destroy the Pillar of the World.

There’s a decent bit of character exploration regarding Kratos’ daughter Calliope, but it’s quite literally pushed away for combat and a toothless ending that leaves Kratos exactly where he was at the outset. While developer Ready at Dawn (which you might recognize from PS4 shooter The Order: 1886 and last year’s VR adventure Lone Echo) managed to almost perfectly translate the God of War experience to a handheld, the team did little to push it forward.


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God of War: Ghost of Sparta Ready at Dawn, SCE Santa Monica Studio/Sony Computer Entertainment

6. God of War: Ghost of Sparta

(PSP, 2010)Building upon its experience developing Chains of Olympus, Ready at Dawn managed to make a more expansive portable follow-up. While it featured tweaks to combat (including a new “fire meter” that allowed Kratos to multiply damage), God of War: Ghost of Sparta’s proudest achievement came from its narrative, which gripped players with an emotionally charged tale of Kratos’ search for his long-lost brother. This simpler, more intimate story managed to surprise at times, and resolved with some genuine character growth for Kratos. While the game was released after God of War 3’s hollow everything-and-the-kitchen-sink adventure, Ghost of Sparta showed that there was still an emotional depth worth exploring in the red-and-white Spartan.

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God of War: Ascension SCE Santa Monica Studio/Sony Computer Entertainment (PS3, 2013)Despite the upward-sounding title, God of War: Ascension was a clear sign that the franchise was on a downward swing, lacking much of the series’ inspiration in its fourth home console outing. Rather than expanding on the world around Kratos, Ascension saw fit to delve into his past yet again, detailing a sometimes overly complicated plot concerning the vengeful Furies and the not-at-all-secret truth behind the death of Kratos’ family.

Despite the C-tier list of gods to contend with, though, the action is still as familiar and satisfactory as any player can ask for. The supplementary weapons are gone, but Kratos is able to yank his enemies’ weapons right out of their hands and use them for brief periods of time. Ascension’s online multiplayer also added an enjoyable, if ultimately hollow Favour of the Gods mode, pitting four players against each other in a race to collect the most points. Ascension largely rests higher than some of its siblings thanks to the excellent presentation afforded by the hardware it was released on.

4. God of War

(PS2, 2005)For many gamers, walking by the demo booths at Walmart or Circuit City was filled with the wonder of witnessing an enraged Spartan fend off a towering, three-headed hydra in the most violent display of action heroism our young, innocent eyes had ever seen. It was this sense of scale and bloody grandeur that would carry the God of War franchise for an entire decade, and for good reason. The original God of War managed to tell an engaging (if emotionally vapid) tale of revenge set against some incredibly impressive backdrops, including Pandora’s Temple, a massive structure housing a series of puzzles set atop the back of the Titan Cronos, and the game’s final super-sized battle with Ares outside the city of Athens.

Whereas Ascension feels like a series of setpieces strung together by a committee running out of ideas, God of War feels like an actual journey, from the lowest street of Athens to the highest peaks on the Cliffs of Madness. More importantly, every second of combat feels powerful, flooding the eyes with flurries of color and mayhem as enemies fill the screen. What holds God of War back from claiming the top pick is a distinct lack of boss characters to tackle, with the Hydra, Medusa, the bull-faced Pandora’s Temple Guardian and Ares barely filling out the roster. For a game called God of War, it seems striking to have so few figures of ancient history present, even in this first template-setting adventure.

3. God of War 3

(PS3, 2010)In retrospect, it seems so obvious that the God of War series would find a nice home on the then-next generation console, complete with improved graphics, bigger combat scenarios and quite literally the death of all Greek mythology (and society) on display. Mechanically, the development team embraced Kratos’ final leg of vengeance with a flair for the violent and magical. Instead of acting as separate tools, magical abilities are imbued into Kratos’ weapons themselves, demanding a more varied and quick-witted approach to combat. Kratos also receives the ability to grapple with enemies and fling them away, and to use them as a battering ram, giving a more visceral style to Kratos’ bloodlust.

Now that Kratos was in the home stretch, the buffet of Greek gods left alive afforded him plenty of chances to exact horrific justice upon Mount Olympus. Whether it was pulverizing Zeus in a first-person point-of-view until the screen went red, scaling the gargantuan Titan Cronos to skewer him through the head or watching Poseidon’s miserable death through his own eyes, God of War 3 did not screw around. Unfortunately, for every striking moment of violence or antiheroism, the writing behind the game seemed to forget that Kratos was supposed to be at least something resembling a character, rather than the shouting, stalking totem of rage he had become. If you’re looking for an emotional or narrative payoff that results in more than additional bloodshed, you’ve come to the wrong place.

2. God of War 2

(PS2, 2007)One of the PlayStation 2’s greatest action games and arguably the console’s swan song, God of War 2 built a bigger, better God of War adventure, replete with excessively epic setpieces, more varied combat strategies and a narrative that managed to instill some level of intrigue and emotional depth. After killing the original god of war, Kratos’ only solace is pillaging the rest of world with his Spartan army, forcing the pantheon of gods to step in and usurp him. What follows is one of Kratos’ greatest journeys — across oceans on the back of a flaming pegasus, across the miles-long chains of a giant chariot and through the literal fabric of time itself.

The sequel had a grander sense of scale and a better sense of pacing than its predecessor. While the trilogy’s end had the upgraded graphics and grocery list of Greek gods to slaughter, God of War 2 followed through on every bit of scale while retaining much of the beating heart that let one very pissed-off Spartan into our own.

1. God of War (2018)

Once the poster boy for gritty action game protagonists everywhere, Kratos’ softer and older side has revealed an honest depiction of a man struggling to both impart wisdom to his son and not allow him to make the same mistakes that tortured his own life. It’s no shock that many male game developers (like God of War director Cory Barlog), now aging into their mid ‘30s to late ‘40s, are beginning to tackle issues surrounding fatherhood, but to do it in such a way that it redeems a lost figure like Kratos is nothing short of stunning. In 2005, God of War introduced us to a man besieged by monsters on all sides. In 2018, he finally began a journey to quell the monsters within himself.

Update (May 8): We added the latest God of War entry to this story, following its release.