God of War begins with the player immediately assuming control of a visibly aged and greying Kratos as he starts to cut down a tree with his Leviathan Axe, with nothing more than a prompt that says “Press R1 to swing the Leviathan Axe”. Once down, Kratos reaches for the tree to pick it up, only to have the bandages around his left hand come undone. Kratos visibly steels himself at the reminder of who used to be and starts to tie them back up, only to be interrupted by Atreus, his son, who had been searching for a specific plant. Kratos turns his back to him, hiding his hands as he asks him to get into their boat. These are the things that happen within the first three minutes of the game (or longer depending on how long it took you to pick your jaw off the floor). The player is confronted immediately with four things. One, Kratos is older now; two, he still bears the scars, both physical and emotional, from the previous installments of the franchise; three, Atreus isn’t aware of the meaning behind Kratos’ scars (or his true nature, for that matter) and last but not least, you press R1 to attack.
As the duo row back home, it is revealed that the tree they’ve cut down is to be used for the funeral pyre of Faye, Kratos’ second wife and mother to Atreus. Her final wishes were for her son and husband to scatter her ashes from the highest peak in all of the nine realms. Believing the peak in question to be one not very far from their home, Kratos is initially hesitant to take Atreus on their pilgrimage, worried that ‘the boy’ is not ready (what Kratos always calls Atreus in lieu of ‘Son’. Older Kratos doesn’t mean nicer Kratos). However, this changes when their home is visited by a Stranger who feels no pain. Aware of Kratos’ past and true nature, the Stranger attacks him, while Atreus is forced to hide. The player is then thrown into what is the first of many boss battles in the game. After a battle that Kratos nearly loses, he finally manages to beat The Stranger, breaking his neck and seemingly killing him. Now having no choice but to take Atreus to the mountain for his own safety (the Stranger mentions that he was sent by Odin), the father and son set off towards the mountain, with a quest being added to the player’s in game journal, simply titled “The Journey.”
On their way to the mountain, the duo are met by a variety of enemies ranging from draugrs to trolls (they also make friends, at least in Atreus’ case) with the dwarf brothers Sindri and Brok, the original creators of the Leviathan Axe (who function as in-game merchants who sell and upgrade your gear), They finally arrive at the lake of the nine, home of Jormungandr, the friendly neighborhood world serpent, whose favorite hobbies include changing sea-levels and eating statues of Thor. Continuing onwards they are stopped by an impenetrable black mist on their way up the mountain. Here, they meet the Witch of The Woods, who reveals to them that the only way to pass the black mist is with the light of Alfheim and then proceeds to show them the way to get there using the bifrost. The bifrost is unsurprisingly is located at the lake of the nine, thereby unlocking the first of the realms the player is allowed to visit in the game as well as the first of the untold, but still enjoyable, number of hours the player spends rowing their boat to every corner of the lake. After their return with the light of Alfheim, the duo passes the mist and start the climb to the peak of the mountain, on the way fighting Hraezlyr, a dragon, to stop it from eating Sindri. Sindri thanks them for saving his life by gifting Atreus a quiver of arrows made from mistletoe. As they reach the peak, Kratos noticing that Atreus’ quiver had gotten loose during the battle with the dragon, breaks one of the arrows to tighten it, giving him one of the many lectures he dishes out through the game, “Pain, we endure. Faulty equipment, we do not”. As they reach the peak they overhear The Stranger, still alive and now revealed to be Baldur, along with his nephews Modi and Magni (the sons of Thor) speaking to Mimir, a one-eyed man who is trapped in the trunk of a tree. When the three Asgardians leave, the duo reveal themselves to Mimir, who then tells them that sadly, they are at the wrong peak. He states that while they are on the highest peak in Midgard, the highest peak in all the nine realms is however, in Jotunheim, home of the giants, the path to which had unfortunately been blocked by its denizens to keep Odin and the other Aesir Gods out. Mimir offers his help and knowledge reaching there, in exchange for his freedom which comes in the form of him asking Kratos to cut off his head and taking it to the Witch of the Woods, who’ll be able to re-animate it. He also mentions to Kratos, in private that the longer he keeps the truth about Atreus’ parentage a secret, the worse it’ll be for him.
With the head of Mimir, the duo go back to Witch of the Woods, who successfully brings Mimir back to life, and is revealed to be none other than Freya, a Vanir Goddess and Odin’s estranged ex-wife. Kratos immediately distrusts her the moment he finds out about her Godhood and angrily leaves with Atreus and Mimir, now hanging from his waist as a surprisingly talkative head, but not before Freya gets a chance to echo Mimir’s warning about not telling Atreus the truth. Freya also turns nigh hysterical when she sees the quiver of mistletoe arrows that Atreus possesses. She burns them and asks him to destroy any more that they come across. Kratos and son, now upgraded to Kratos and Co. make their way to find the necessary tools to open the gate to Jotunheim, which is located at the peak of the mountain. During this part of their quest they are attacked by Modi and Magni. The duo manages to fight them off, killing Magni while Modi escapes. Atreus however falls ill and faints right after the battle. Kratos rushes him to Freya’s house where she reveals the cause of his sickness, his belief that he is a mortal when he is in fact a God, thereby causing a contradiction in his being. She tells him the only way to save him is to travel to Helheim and get the heart of a being known as the Bridgekeeper who resides there. This impossible task is made worse by the fact that Helheim is an unbelievably cold realm where his Leviathan Axe will be useless. This prompts Kratos to return home, to reclaim the Blades of Athena, all while a vision of Athena mocks him about how he will always be nothing more than a monster. To this Kratos replies, “Yes, but I am your monster no longer.’’ He then proceeds to enter Helheim, slaughtering everything that stands in his way with his trusty blades, just like the old Kratos we all know and love. After killing the Bridgekeeper, Kratos and Mimir return to Freya who heals Atreus successfully, but not before another vision has the chance to haunt Kratos, this one of Zeus.
Once Atreus is awake, Kratos finally relents and tells him the truth about his parentage. This however backfires and leads Atreus to start behaving in an arrogant and overconfident manner for their second journey back up the mountain. This change in his character finally breaks the last straw for Kratos when the duo meet Modi once again, beaten and wounded, presumably by Thor. Atreus then proceeds to kill a defenseless Modi in a spectacularly bratty manner in exact opposition to Kratos’ orders, enraging him. When they reach the gate, however they are once again attacked by Baldur, during which two things happen, the blame for which can be put solely on the shoulders of Atreus’s newfound arrogance. The gate to Jotunheim breaks, and all four of them, Baldur included end up in Helheim. Atreus now aware of the consequences of his overconfidence learns his lesson and tries to make amends with his father, who is still understandably livid about being forced to enter Helheim twice in the same day and that too because of the same brat. The trio escape Helheim by repurposing a ship but not before Kratos sees another vision of Zeus or before they find out that Baldur’s mother is none other than Freya. It is also revealed that Freya placed a spell of immortality on Baldur as a child to protect him, as a side effect of which he feels nothing and is perpetually numb. This has led to quite the awkward relationship between mother and son, with Baldur wanting nothing more than to kill her, because according to him she has taken away all the joy of being alive and cursed him to an endless existence.
Mimir then remembers that they could possibly get to Jotunheim if they find his missing eye. Unfortunately, the eye was hidden in a statue of Thor that overlooked the lake of the nine, that was unceremoniously eaten by Jormungandr earlier in the game. This forces you to row your boat into Jormungandr’s belly to find the missing eye. However, the second you find it, something attacks the serpent causing him to barf you halfway across the lake. Here you meet Freya but before much can be said, the serpent’s assailant is revealed to be none other than Baldur. What follows is the final boss battle in the game, halfway through which Atreus jumps in between Kratos and Baldur taking a blow to the chest that was meant for his father. Atreus however survives, because his quiver, the one that Kratos had fixed with the mistletoe arrow, the only one that Freya didn’t destroy, was the only substance that could break Baldur’s curse rendering him mortal. Baldur is then defeated by both Kratos and Atreus working together. He then tries to kill his mother, who is creepily accepting of the entire murder attempt if it means her son will forgive her. Kratos however, stops him by stepping in and breaking his neck, for good this time. A distraught Freya is however far from happy about this turn of events and swears revenge, carrying Baldur’s body away as snow starts to fall all around, signifying that Fimbulwinter, the long winter before Ragnarok (the Norse doomsday), which was foretold to begin with the death of Baldur has started. Kratos tells Atreus about how he killed Zeus, his father and Atreus wonders if that’s all Gods are meant to do, for child and parent to try and kill each other. Kratos tells him that together that they can learn to be better.
Father and son then travel to Jotunheim, leaving Mimir in the care of Sindri and Brok and finally start the climb towards the highest peak in all the realms. Kratos, finally removes his bandages having no reason to hide his scars anymore, and lets them drift away in the wind. On the way up they discover a cave, filled with paintings of Faye and the two of them, foretelling their journey, revealing that she always knew what was in store of them. The two finally reach the peak and spread Faye’s ashes. As they turn to leave, Atreus asks Kratos why the paintings in the cave refer to him by another name. Kratos replies that Atreus wasn’t their first choice for a name. Faye initially wanted to name her son, ‘Loki’.
While the main questline, “The Journey” ends here, there exists a secret ending that can be unlocked by returning to Kratos’ home and choosing to rest. Atreus sees a vision, that come the end of Fimbulwinter in three years, Thor will appear outside their cottage.