In 2005, Santa Monica Studio introduced gamers to a bloody new experience simply known as God of War. Gamers were so blown away by its action and cinematic presentation that even the game’s murderous anti-hero, Kratos, soon became an unlikely PlayStation mascot. Even though God of War was seemingly designed as a one-and-done story, its success all but guaranteed a sequel When that second game proved to be just as lucrative and acclaimed, even more projects were greenlit. In the grand tradition of many long-running video game franchises, those follow-ups soon formed an elaborate timeline that is as confusing as it is impressive.
Granted, the series avoids the worst curse of narrative bloat that plagues franchises like Kingdom Hearts, but every God of War entry provides intriguing extra bits of lore and context. To make matters more confusing, the main entries in the series feature references that call back to earlier events gamers might have missed if they didn’t try some of the slightly more obscure titles in the franchise. Even the latest God of War games, which softly rebooted the series, share countless connections with the previous games that might elude some gamers’ eyes.
So if you’re waiting to dive into God of War: Ragnarök and need a refresher (or explainer) on how the series got to this point, here’s a chronological breakdown of the God of War timeline so far.
God of War: Ascension (Release Date – 2013)
Since the first God of War game kickstarted the franchise, logic would dictate it should be the first game in the franchise chronologically. Instead, Santa Monica Studio saved Kratos’ true origin story for the last entry in the franchise’s Greek saga. Go figure.
God of War: Ascension takes place six months after Kratos was tricked into killing his wife and daughter. Much of Ascension’s narrative relies on story beats and backstories that gamers had learned from previous entries, but it adds details that provide extra context and character motivations. As was God of War tradition up to that point, Ascension primarily consists of Kratos killing Greek monsters and mythological figures. This time, Kratos’ vengeance is aimed towards the Furies: vicious arbitrators who punish anyone who breaks their oaths and promises. They also have a hypocritical streak, since they teamed up with Ares to overthrow Olympus by siring a child. The child, Orkos, didn’t live up to their expectations, so the Furies and Ares turned to Kratos.
By this time in the franchise, fans should be well aware Kratos sold his soul to Ares in exchange for power. Ascension expands on that plot point by revealing that Ares did so because he thought Kratos would make a fine pawn in his machinations. Furthermore, Ares tricked Kratos into killing his wife and daughter so he could serve the God of War without familial distractions. At the end of the game, Kratos kills the Furies, as he was told their death would free him of his bonds. In a last-second plot twist, Orkos reveals he was turned into Kratos’ oath-keeper. In stark contrast to previous releases, Kratos initially refuses to kill Orkos but eventually relents. That absolves his oath to Ares but also brings back the memories of his family’s murder, which sets Kratos on the path to absolution that fuels the rest of the timeline.
God of War: Chains of Olympus (Release Date – 2008)
Several years after the PlayStation 2 launched, Sony released its first handheld console: the PlayStation Portable. Sony needed some killer titles to win over handled fans, and what could be more “killer” than a spin-off of the PlayStation 2’s best hack-and-slash series?
Before Santa Monica developed God of War: Ascension, the studio teamed up with Ready at Dawn to create another prequel: God of War: Chains of Olympus. The game takes place during Kratos’ ten-year sentence in service to the gods of Olympus. Desperate to relieve himself of the nightmare of murdering his family (that he unwittingly brought upon himself due to the events of Ascension), Kratos does random jobs for the gods. When Chains of Olympus opens, he is in the middle of defending Attica from Persian invaders. However, the narrative quickly shifts gears when the sun falls from the sky.
The rest of Chains of Olympus follows Kratos on a mission to save the god of the sun, Helios, from the god of sleep, Morpheus. Helios’ sister Eos promises Kratos that Zeus will finally relieve Kratos of his nightmares if he rescues Helios, and while Kratos has his doubts, he does so anyway. Scant hope is better than none, after all.
Along the way, Kratos encounters Persephone, the titan Atlas, and even his dead daughter, Calliope. While Kratos begrudgingly serves the gods to get rid of his nightmares, Persephone offers a better deal: give up his powers and reunite with Calliope in the afterlife. Unfortunately, that offer turns out to be a cruel trick designed to allow Persephone to unchain Atlas and destroy the world (along with the afterlife).
Had Persephone not gloated, she might have gotten away with her plan, but Kratos manages to retrieve his weapons and powers just in time to kill her as she’s monologuing. Since Persephone and Atlas are in cahoots, Kratos also rebinds Atlas to make sure he can’t destroy the world again. With Persephone and Atlas defeated, Helios is finally freed. While he doesn’t take away Kratos’ memories, he does set him down peacefully near the Aegean Sea, where the first God of War game starts.
God of War (Release Date – 2005)
The original God of War game is, narratively speaking, the simplest adventure in the franchise. In fact, the ending strongly implies the game was intended to be a one-and-done story about a man determined to kill a god.
God of War properly kicks off in the Aegean Sea, three weeks before an ominous opening cutscene that suggests Kratos jumps off a cliff. After Kratos kills a hydra, Athena gives him one final task before the gods finally will fulfill their promise to end his nightmares: kill the God of War, Ares. Of course, no mortal man can kill a god, so to complete this mission, Kratos needs to retrieve Pandora’s Box and the weapon inside it.
Kratos’ adventure, which is interspersed with flashbacks within flashbacks to fill audiences in on his backstory, takes gamers across a version of mythical Greece filled with bloodshed and monsters. Kratos receives blessings from different Olympian gods and finds Pandora’s Box in a temple atop the wandering titan Cronos. Before he can actually use it, though, Ares kills him, which sends Kratos to the underworld. Being the protagonist, though, Kratos crawls out of the afterlife (which happens so often throughout the series it’s almost a running gag) and meets a mysterious gravedigger on his way out.
Ultimately, Kratos retrieves Pandora’s Box, opens it, and is able to fight Ares on even footing. Kratos wins, but despite his success, the gods only forgive Kratos for killing his family. They do nothing about the actual nightmares. Soon, Kratos decides to take that dive off a cliff teased in the game’s opening cutscene. But instead of letting him die, Athena rescues Kratos and elevates him to the position of the new God of War. After all, Ares’ throne is now empty, and who better to fill it than the man who killed Ares?
God of War: Betrayal (Release Date – 2007)
Most of the God of War games were developed for the PlayStation line of handhelds and consoles, but God of War: Betrayal was actually developed for cell phones. Mind you, we’re talking about retro flip phones that predated touchscreen smartphones.
God of War: Betrayal‘s story doesn’t amount to much. The game takes place after Kratos became the new God of War. He is leading his Spartan soldiers, intent on conquering all of Greece, when he is attacked by a creature known as Argos. Hera sent the monster to stop Kratos, and before he can kill it, a mysterious assassin finishes the job in a clear attempt to turn the rest of the gods against Kratos. Kratos hunts down the assassin to learn its identity, as well as who sent it, but he is stopped by Hermes’ son, Ceryx. Like Argos, the gods sent Ceryx to make Kratos stop. Kratos kills Ceryx, and the game ends with Kratos realizing his mistake.
Even though Betrayal’s story doesn’t add much (or anything) to the overarching God of War narrative, the animation director at Santa Monica Studio, Bruno Velazquez, has claimed the game is canon. Since the assassin’s true identity is never revealed, the company probably intended to expand on Betrayal in a later entry. Sadly, that never happened.
God of War: Ghost of Sparta (Release Date – 2010)
Not counting God of War: Betrayal, Ghost of Sparta is the only true midquel in the franchise since it takes place during Kratos’ godhood.
Most God of War games revolve around Kratos trying to stop the nightmarish visions of him murdering his family. In Ghost of Sparta, though, he searches for the origins of visions from his childhood. Kratos’ journey takes him to Atlantis, and the game soon reveals Kratos had a brother, Deimos, who was born with an unusual birthmark that the gods of Olympus feared. Why were the gods so terrified? A prophecy stated they would be killed by a “marked warrior,” and, being the flawed characters they were, the Greek gods assumed that prophecy referred to Deimos’ birthmark.
On his journey, Kratos also finds his mother, who reveals that Deimos is trapped in the domain of the god of death, Thanatos. She also tries to tell Kratos the name of his father (spoilers: it’s Zeus), but, as is a tradition in Greek stories, she is turned into a mindless monster as a result. Kratos eventually finds Deimos and has to punch him back to sanity, just in time for them to team up against Thanatos.
While Thanatos does kill Deimos, he realizes too late the prophecy of the “marked warrior” was talking about Kratos’ tattoo and ash-white skin. Given that Ghost of Sparta was released after God of War 3, though, most players saw that plot twist coming. Still, players get to see side characters from previous God of War games, including God of War 2’s “Last Spartan,” and the original God of War’s gravedigger. Oh, and Ghost of Sparta ends with Kratos wearing the same armor he donned at the beginning of God of War 2.
God of War 2 (Release Date – 2007)
God of War 2 takes place 13 years after the events of the original God of War. Kratos might sit on Ares’ throne, but the other gods have not accepted him, mostly because he is currently trying to conquer Greece. However, the feeling is mutual since Kratos has not forgiven them for breaking their promise to him.
God of War 2 opens with Kratos leading his Spartan army in Rhodes against Athena’s pleas. While there, an eagle saps Kratos of his power and transfers them into the Colossus of Rhodes. Kratos immediately accuses Athena, and Zeus comes to his aid, offering the Blade of Olympus (which he used to defeat the Titans). However, wielding the blade has a price, as Kratos needs to inject his remaining godly might into it. The gamble works, but it leaves Kratos vulnerable. At that moment, Zeus arrives to twist the knife and reveal that he tricked Kratos.
Zeus kills Kratos and whispers cryptically about ending a “cycle.” As you probably guessed, Kratos soon once again escapes the underworld, this time with a pep talk from the titan, Gaia. At the suggestion of Gaia, Kratos decides to rip the space-time continuum a new one by visiting the island of the Fates and using their loom to travel back in time. As usual, Kratos’ mission takes him across countless lands that lets him encounter/kill famous Greek mythological faces, including Atlas (who still hasn’t forgiven him for the events of Chains of Olympus).
When Kratos arrives at the island of the Fates, he meets people who have come to request their aid in reversing destiny, which includes a mysterious figure known as the “Last Spartan.” In Kratos’ absence, Zeus decided to raze Sparta, so this final warrior sought out the Fates to prevent it. Sadly, this meeting proves fatal for the soldier, but Kratos carries on, defeats the Fates, and claims their loom for himself. While Kratos uses it to erase his defeat in Rhodes, Athena sacrifices herself to save Zeus and states that the “cycle” Zeus referenced was actually a curse that has plagued his lineage. Every son has killed their father, or at least tried to, and Zeus hoped that he could break the curse by killing Kratos. Of course, Zeus escapes, and God of War 2 ends with Kratos yanking the titans out of the past so they can wage war with the gods in the present.
God of War 3 (Release Date – 2010)
Unlike every other God of War game on the market, God of War 3 picks up pretty much exactly where the previous game left off. In this case, that means we start with Kratos riding the back of the titan Gaia.
All the gods join forces against the invading Titans, and the first to die is Poseidon. When Kratos reaches Zeus next, Gaia intervenes, which earns her and Kratos a quick trip back down to Olympus. Then, in her infinite wisdom, Gaia claims Kratos was nothing more than a pawn and tosses him down into the underworld (told you it was a running gag). Robbed of his powers again, Kratos meets Athena, who has recovered from death and acquired what she calls a “higher existence.” Good thing too, since she points Kratos in the direction of the Flame of Olympus, which she claims is the source of Zeus’ power.
While searching for the Flame of Olympus, Kratos bumps into faces new and old, such as Hephaestus and the corpse of Persephone. Eventually, Kratos finds the Flame of Olympus and discovers it holds Pandora’s Box. The only way to douse the flame is with Hephaestus’ “daughter,” Pandora. Kratos doesn’t find her until he has waded through rivers of blood, killed most of Olympus’ pantheon, and retrieved a stone from the stomach of Cronos (long story). Kratos brings Pandora to the flame, but along the way, his fatherly instincts kick in, and he bonds with Pandora. We soon learn that Pandora can only destroy the Flame of Olympus by sacrificing herself. It turns out that Pandora is game to do so because of how Zeus treated Hephaestus. Zeus pleads with Kratos to not let Pandora douse the flames, and, for a moment, Kratos agrees with his father. Then Zeus botches his own message by telling Kratos to not fail as he failed his family, which triggers Kratos’ need for vengeance.
After Pandora kills the flame and herself, Kratos opens the box to claim the weapon. Unfortunately, the box is empty. Naturally, Kratos doesn’t let that detail stop him from killing Zeus (and Gaia for good measure). Once the deed is done, Athena returns and demands Kratos return the weapon from Pandora’s Box, and it takes her a few moments to realize he had it ever since the first God of War game. The weapon, as any Greek mythology buff will tell you, was hope, and it’s been inside Kratos. Unfortunately, this means that when Kratos opened the box, he let out the great evils it also housed, and they infected the gods of Olympus. In other words, Kratos unwittingly caused the events of God of War 2 and 3. Oops.
Undeterred, Athena demands her hope back, but Kratos has been burned by gods too many times to trust even her. So, he kills himself one final time to spread hope to the mortals. God of War 3 ends with Athena walking off, disappointed, followed by a post-credits scene where Kratos has seemingly recovered from death once again.
God of War (Release Date – 2018)
The 2018 God of War is a soft reboot that takes place an unknown number of years after God of War 3. Kratos has left Greece and its gods behind and found himself in the Norse lands of Midgard (not to be confused with Final Fantasy 7’s Midgar). Not only that, but he found a new wife, Faye, and had a son named Atreus with her. Unfortunately, Faye died before the game starts, so Kratos sets off to fulfill her final request and scatter her ashes from the top of the highest mountain in existence. Before he can do so, though, he is attacked by a mysterious man who can’t feel any pain. Kratos fends off the attacker but is soon forced to take Atreus with him on his journey.
Unlike previous entries, the narrative of God of War doesn’t revolve around Kratos’ need for vengeance. It instead focuses on his growing desire to be a good father to Atreus while also hiding the truth of his godly heritage from the boy. What results is a trek across several realms from Norse legend as Kratos and Atreus try to find a path to the land of the giants, Jötunheim. Along the way, they encounter some friendly faces, such as the dwarves Brok and Sindri and the goddess Freya.
Ultimately, Kratos and Atreus arrive at their destination, and they are all the stronger because of the journey they shared. Atreus grows and learns of the burdens that come with godhood, while Kratos finally makes peace with his bloody past. Naturally, the two have to kill a few Norse gods along the way, including the sons of Thor and that mysterious stranger, who we eventually learn is actually the son of Freya, Baldur.
Kratos didn’t want to kill Baldur, but he had to in order to save Freya. In doing so, Kratos says he is breaking the cycle of children killing their parents that has plagued the gods for too long (not unlike what his father said in God of War 2). Unfortunately, Freya declares vengeance on Kratos for killing Baldur, even though he did so to save her life.
God of War ends with three important plot twists. First, Kratos and Atreus learn Faye was actually a giant. Second, the deuteragonists discover that the giants prophesied their journey and left another prophecy regarding their participation in the upcoming Norse apocalypse, Ragnarök. Finally, we learn that Faye wanted to give Atreus a different name, one that should be more familiar to fans of Norse mythology: Loki.
God of War: Ragnarök (Release Date – 2022)
2018’s God of War truly ends on a post-credit cutscene where a mysterious cloaked man pays Kratos and Atreus a visit. We don’t see the stranger’s face, but we know all too well from the hammer dangling from his hip that it’s Thor. Of course, the cutscene is actually supposed to be a prophecy of the future, which means that God of War: Ragnarök picks up from there.
God of War: Ragnarök takes place several years after the events of God of War. Midgard is in the midst of Fimbulwinter: a three-year blizzard that blankets everything in the realm with snow and eats away at magic items (the developers had to take away weapon upgrades from the previous game somehow). It turns out that killing Baldur unintentionally heralded the start of Fimbulwinter, and, once the blizzards settle, Ragnarök is just around the corner.
While we can’t spoil much of God of War: Ragnarök’s story, just know it will take Kratos and Atreus all over the nine realms of Norse mythology and bring them face to face with even more gods (including Thor, Tyr, and Odin). More importantly, God of War: Ragnarök will answer many questions left by the previous game. Ultimately, isn’t that why most of us want to play the game? Well, that and the chance to beat the snot out of Norse beasts and gods of legend, of course.