Games and UX: God Of War and Wayfinding


Credit:  Santa Monica Studios

Credit: Santa Monica Studios

In my previous Games and UX Quick Dive post, I spoke about “Florence” and the use of contour bias and color in one of the games mechanics. For a few posts, I’ll be speaking about God of War and a few UX concepts that I’ve learned or noticed in the game. I am not a game designer so these are just things I noticed as a fan of gaming and a developing UX Designer. If there are any pro game designers who want to correct/educate me, please feel free to reach out or put a comment below. 

2018’s God of War from Santa Monica Studio (SMS), follows an older Kratos and his young son, Atreus, on the journey of spreading the ashes of his deceased wife. If you’re not familiar with Kratos and his story, check out this video. The game is a mix of combat, adventure and puzzle solving while dealing with figures of Norse mythology. I will try my best to avoid any major spoilers since some people may have not played it yet (like myself as of recently).

In this post, I want to speak about how God of War handles navigation and the concept of Wayfinding. Wayfinding is the process of using spatial and environmental information to navigate to a destination.

God of War tends to be a pretty linear game. SMS makes sure not to waste the time of a player with menial tasks and limits the options of how to navigate during missions. The option to do side missions are there but SMS makes sure that you get the main job done quickly. Most modern video games have established ways to find your way around especially in first person and third person view games. I’ll mention a few of the tried and true methods as well as a couple of other things Santa Monica Studio does to help get you going in the right direction.

How Santa Monica Studio Helps You Navigate the Large World of God of War

In God of War, you’re given missions that will lead you to different regions of Midgard (Earth) along with other realms in Norse Mythology like Jotunheim, Helheim or others. As you can imagine, that’s a lot of terrain to cover and go through since you’re going through so many realms. So how does one navigate it all?

Good Ol’ Maps

The SMS team does a great job of creating a map for each of the available realms. For example, below is the map for Midgard along with a list of missions to be done in the realm and items to be collected, among other things. This helps the player not only figure out where they are but where to go as well as what can be done in each realm.

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Map of Midgard, God of War

Map of Midgard, God of War

Objective Reminders

Whenever Kratos gets a new mission by a character, a marker pops up on the left side indicating the Mission and a brief directive of what to do to get the mission going. The marker with a golden diamond with a white hand print indicates that this is a main objective mission. Side missions have their own icons so that you know what kind of mission you’re currently on.

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Credit: Myself

Credit: Myself

Navigation Bar and Indicators

After the mission has been established, the navigation/compass bar appears on the top of the screen and indicates which direction to go to (North, South, East or West) and how far you are from your destination (53 Meters away).

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ALways keep your eyes on this because it will help the most. Credit: Myself

ALways keep your eyes on this because it will help the most. Credit: Myself

Environmental Landmarks

Even though the world is already beautifully created, SMS also provides a landmark or something creepy like the (literal) Face of the Mountain spewing black mist to make sure that you’re heading in the right direction.

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When something looks this bad, that’s actually a good thing in video games. Credit: Myself

When something looks this bad, that’s actually a good thing in video games. Credit: Myself

Not to mention that every time you enter a new area, SMS introduces it to you with beautiful visuals and context, in this case, the name of the location.

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Credit: Myself

Credit: Myself

More Environmental Indicators

Over time, you will see some sort of carving/hand painted indicators on the walls like in the red box below. This means that you will have to either climb up/down or lift something to go on. There are also interaction indicators (white circles) or Calls to Action when you get close to items, other characters or terrain. In this case, pressing the circle button on the controller, forces Kratos jump to the next ledge to proceed.

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Credit:  Moby Games

Credit: Moby Games

There’s another concept, the Cathedral Effect, that comes into play. The Cathedral Effect is the idea that high ceilings promote abstract thinking while low ceilings promote detail-oriented thinking. This usually applies to real life spaces but you can see this concept in games as well when there’s an open, mountainous areas, the open space makes you think in vertically or in creative ways, where as when you’re in a dark and small space, you look for hidden clues or indicators in dark corners.

Credit: Myself

Credit: Myself

Verbal Nudges

Throughout the game, Kratos’ son Atreus is with you for the ride. Throughout the game, if the player seems to be stuck or isn’t moving, Atreus would give Kratos a suggestion. His suggestions tend to help with either navigation or puzzle solving. You also get help from Mimir, an Aesir, who helps Atreus and Kratos throughout their journey. Often times, Atreus and Mimir provide color commentary or exposition to the story.

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Atreus and Mimir. Credit for both:  Hero.fandom.com.

Atreus and Mimir. Credit for both: Hero.fandom.com.

These are all the ways that I’ve noticed SMS help the player navigate God of War. They are pretty generous with their wayfinding methods to ensure that the player keeps moving in the story. If there’s any other methods that I missed in God of War or you’ve seen other methods of helping the player navigate around in other games, please leave a comment below.

If you want to learn about Wayfinding, the Cathedral Effect and other design principles, check out The Pocket Universal Principles of Design, where you can find 150 interesting principles for all kinds of design. In the next Games and UX post, I will be discussing God of War’s Leviathan Axe and Fitts’ Law. I hope you enjoyed the post and have a great week!