An axe has a curious duality about it: a quintessential homemaker’s tool on one hand, a brutal weapon on the other, just as easily buried in a skull as a tree log. It’s a duality that 2018’s God of War understands from the outset (and that PC players can now experience). The game opens with long-serving series protagonist Kratos using his Leviathan Axe to fell a tree, only to find catharsis in cleaving through it with the kind of rage he might reserve for an enemy.
This duality runs through the heart of God of War. Kratos must take care to raise his son Atreus, often struggling against his own habits and temper with an almost comedic severity. But he must also protect Atreus, cutting a bloody swath through the Norse pantheon in the process. More so than any individual quest or objective, it’s this tension within Kratos that drives God of War’s narrative.
The Leviathan Axe is more than just a signature weapon then — it’s a symbol for a key tension at play in God of War. Given this, the decision to change the gameplay perspective and keep the camera in close over Kratos’ right shoulder works not only to tell a more intimate narrative, punctuated with bouts of violence that feel visceral for their proximity, but as a constant reminder of this tension. The right shoulder, after all, is where Kratos keeps the axe when it’s not in use and when he doesn’t have alternative weapons equipped.
Above all else, however, the Leviathan Axe is a bloody good time. It can be swung in light or heavy attacks, or it can be thrown. A light throw will deal minor damage and bounce off an enemy, while a heavy throw will embed the axe in their skull and freeze them in place. A tap of a button sends the axe boomeranging back into Kratos’ hand with a satisfying millisecond pause in the animation, accompanied by rumble feedback from a controller as it slaps into his palm.
Axe skills can be upgraded for longer and increasingly devastating combos and effects. A late-game unlock, for example, allows it to target up to eight enemies, ricocheting between them like a pinball before returning to Kratos’ grasp. Meanwhile, another skill turns that axe return into a devastating slam attack.
The skill upgrades are complemented by an almost eye-watering range of axe pommel modifications, from a simple wooden grip to a fire-drenched carving of a wolf, granting bonuses to attacks, defenses, ability cooldowns, or all-round buffs. In a lesser game these upgrades might have been little more than annoying collectibles, but in God of War they keep the Leviathan Axe relevant for the duration of the campaign.
It’s almost a shame, since it overshadows every other weapon in Kratos’ arsenal. Even the Blades of Chaos, the jagged swords at the end of whirling chains made famous by previous God of War games, do not have the same satisfying heft as the Leviathan Axe. This may be at least in part due to the more intimate feel of the combat — with the camera pulled in so tightly, there simply isn’t room for the screen-spanning flourishes of those chains. And with more emphasis on dodges and parries than on long combo streaks, there is less opportunity to let loose with the blades in the first place.
But it may also be because, like the new Kratos, the Leviathan Axe feels grounded. It helps, too, that it is exceptionally detailed. Like the signs of age on Kratos’ skin, lines of woodgrain are visible beneath the bright varnish of the axe pommel. And like the ripple of his muscles, intricate runes and patterns adorning the axe blade shine in the cool Nordic sunlight. God of War already looked great on PlayStation 4, but it looks even better on PlayStation 5, with the free 4K and 60 FPS update — all things PC players can now enjoy.
The PC port also opens up other opportunities, notably modding. And even as a part of me shudders at what the modding community might turn the Leviathan Axe into — particularly now that we know it changes scale in Kratos’ hands — another part of me can’t wait to see it. Because even if a mod might break the Leviathan Axe, it would serve to show just how exquisitely well designed it was in the first place.