Ragnarök approaches. It’s been about 4 years since Baldur’s demise and with Kratos and Atreus in hiding, they train for the inevitable. My 50 hour journey was filled with moments of gut wrench, incredibly high-octane action, low calm exploration that somehow kept the momentum from beginning to end – its gameplay evolution took several leaps forward making it a much more visceral experience, one I couldn’t get enough of. Santa Monica Studios took it upon themselves to not only give us a complete story, but an adventure that exceeds all expectations of what a sequel deserves to be: an unrelenting masterclass in every facet, while keeping the player engaged in an emotional journey – one that’ll be spoken about for a very long time.
We Must Train, Son
God of War Ragnarök continues its narrative design choice of single-cut motion with Kratos sitting by the fire in the opening menu. The seamless transition is a reminder that this is what players should expect throughout your journey. You will witness a much more matured Kratos this time around, willing to build more with his son Atreus as a father – a complete contrast to Kratos’ cold Spartan General mannerism he was giving a few years back; you no longer will hear Kratos calling Atreus “boy” every chance he speaks, which to me is the greatest sign of his character development. Atreus is noticeably older and much taller than his 13yr old self back in 2018, with puberty hitting his tone of voice, which took me a while to get use to; It’s amazing how time works, experiencing these actors grow with their in-game counterparts is a feeling that’s hard to explain, one I cherish and seem to only experience through PlayStation games like this and The Last of Us.
The story continues almost directly after the previous game, with time passing by in-game as it did in real life. Fimbulwinter is coming to a close and Atreus grows weary of training and isolation. He feels waiting for the inevitable will only worsen the outcome, when he should be out searching for answers on his destiny, on who Loki is. Kratos naturally is against prophecy and of course starts the attrition between them. Much like the start of the last game, Kratos feels Atreus is not ready but because his choice to be a father, goes along with Atreus’ path – with the promise that if nothing bears fruit, he should stop this search that can lead to war against Asgard. This foundation starts a long journey of great sorrow, intense action and immersive exploration that intertwines unlike any other game currently. The pacing is so unrelenting, it was hard for me to ever stop playing. I needed to know what comes next, needed to explore as much as the game allowed me – it is coupled with amazing voice acting, intriguing dialogue between Mimir and Kratos – which became evident that over the years Kratos took great confidence in his council.
We have a much more talkative Kratos that invites delicate themes, curiosity and self-improvement. His grunting self is still there, but not as prominent. Everything you’d expect to encounter in Ragnarök is there, but much bigger, much better and much more faithful to the Norse mythology than one would ever expect the writers to put into. I truly cannot fathom enough that this is one of the better stories told in gaming, ever – and it would be a disservice to spoil any story element by talking about it. You have to experience it yourself.
I have to mention though, even though it bothered me very little, I can see this affecting player – Atreus, for the love of Freya, be quiet! He loves to talk of solutions to environmental puzzles before I have taken the time to examine the area. This truly makes me feel like the developers had zero confidence in the players ability to solve puzzles. There needs to be an option to disable ambient conversations regarding puzzle solving. I suspect it would take time to patch in, but my goodness….
The Gods has Spoken
2018’s God of War was a technical showcase, even in today’s standards. It is a linear game by nature, but its Metroidvania approach coupled with wide exploration really brought something special to players. The games visual effects, environmental scope and character models are still top of the industry and Ragnarök goes beyond that. It’s no wonder people have a hard time differentiating between what’s considered next-gen – make no mistake, God of War was designed for PlayStation 4, but it still manages to go beyond that. A game doesn’t have to be open-world to be next-gen, Red Dead Redemption 2 and Death Stranding has already met that level of quality – what makes next-gen currently is performance and God of War does that in spades within the new and old gen. Digital Foundry did a splendid job dissecting the versions – but basically:
- PS4 1080p30
- PS4 Pro 1440p60 (roughly)
- PS5 4K30 | 40hz – 120hz with VRR
Each version comes with crystal clear imagine quality, with the PS5 obviously having higher polygon count, better lighting and shadow tech etc. But the real improvement is motion capture, overall animation, controls and scope of the game. Visual effects are truly visceral and wonderful to witness in conjunction of the chaos surrounding your gameplay. Everything is far denser, many more handcrafted elements to the environments, biomes are varied with a dense ecosystem unique to each realm, Kratos interaction with each hit feeling much more responsive and impactful – and much more. Next-Gen isn’t about how BIG something needs to be, although this game is enormous, it is defined by the developers’ level of dedication put into the overall experience for the players, which SMS has done in outstanding fashion.
The All-Fathers Grace
The evolutionary steps taken to ensure that God of War Ragnarök stays true to its core while improving upon it is insurmountable. The game will feel utterly familiar, but with some technical additions like allowing Kratos to lunge across the environment to then do an air move with the Chaos Blades, or different kinds of shields and shield attachments called Ronds for specific playstyles and more – it just feels more refined and varied than ever before. It is coupled with Kratos’ faster movement in strafing, and 180 degree turns. Relics has been modified to feel much more like an extension to the combo’s rather than something to do when the bar is filled – most of it are blade hilts that magically draws itself to then unleash a power move like mystical blades that would attack nearby enemies or send out multiple projectile slashes.
In addition are Enhancement Runes that plays a larger role – now instead of slotting them to additional armor pieces, there’s a separate section where you can combine up to 10 runes, and if you match 3 of the same rune type, you get an additional perk activation to further your build. I have found that my build focused more on high risk, high rewards where I parried often and matched runes to help regenerate my Runic abilities to constantly activate during intense battles – which are a lot – that also give me activation chances of becoming invulnerable for a set amount of time. I played on Give Me Balance, so my abilities were great enough to survive throughout my journey, but I did see runes that wouldn’t surprise me the slightest if some streamer happen to break during Give Me God of War difficulty.
Again, combat just feels much more visceral than ever before; each Leviathan hit that lands on something feels weighty with the animation giving you a sense of impact with every hit. Enemies react much heavier to your hits as well and when combined with the PS5’s DualSense haptics, it feels that much closer to being the God of War. Dismemberment activates much more naturally now – when recalling Leviathan while it’s behind a weakened enemy, it would slice off limbs or torse accordingly. I have countless moments where I’m in the middle of a hand-to-hand combo, only to do a last-minute dodge, recall my axe and see from my peripheral how it literally passed through a Draugr, sending both of its bits flying across the battlefield in great animation. Its seamless and glorious – and I want to keep doing it.
Where God of War 2018 mildly lacked, Ragnarök rectifies in great effort; there’s over 40+ enemy types ready for Kratos to rip apart. Each of these kind beings fight wildly different – smaller Wretches crawl across the arena aiming to flank and tag you at any given moment, while foot soldiers like a Draugr would attack head on. Then we have ranged types like Raiders Scout that’ll sling shoot you elementals. The number of humanoid enemies is impressive to say the least. And because we are at the height of Fimbulwinter, the Hel-Walkers will rise almost immediately upon death, much faster and deadlier as well. Then the larger enemies aren’t just limited to Trolls or Ogres anymore – no, this time you have the 4-legged Huntress ready to dash, shoot and stomp you unless you stun its glowing antlers, or a Drake that would crash through anything ready to chomp or shock you – or an even bigger beast that’s best not revealed…. You see, it’s not just Ogres and Trolls….
Other elements were added such as using the environmental as a weapon like ripping a large tree from its stump and swinging across multiple enemies is a thing – alongside elemental deposits Kratos would launch to enemies for corresponding explosive damage. This is coupled with explosive jars and more. Additionally, instead of pressing of just Triangle to recall your axe, you can also charge it to then do an enhance version of your light or heavy attack – same goes for the Chaos Blades but instead Kratos would swing it until it’s charged and whiplash across for a wide attack – you can imagine the sort of upgrades it can get. One of Atreus’ new abilities called Sonic arrows vibrates upon impact, causing shockwave damage and when leveled up, can chain the ability causing enemies to bounce, giving Kratos the opportunity to do ariel damage. Speaking of arial damage, jumping off ledges is a normal thing given the vertical design of the environment. There may be no jump button, but jumping is something Kratos does often, nonetheless.
There are several elements in God of War that returns, and some new – Hex and Sonic. Hex acts as a way to proc elementals from your weapons and cause massive AOE damage. Sonic stuns enemies over time which can help with finishers or weakening enemies’ posture. It’s a delicate and sophisticated approach to combat, especially for players like myself who love to combine it all – but for those that desire just pure brute status, these new abilities can entirely be avoided. There’s also debuffing elements like Poison, Frost, Fire etc., however now there’s Bifrost. Bifrost is very tricky if you don’t respect it. At first contact you are primed, and a chunk of health is affected. If you don’t use Rage to clear it, or have armor/runes to negate it, you would have to survive without getting hit because in doing so would activate the Bifrost taking a huge chunk of your health. This new element really helps the tactical side of combat which makes each approach feel significant and risky. When you combine all of this, you get this wicked experience of fluid chaos and when mastered you are left wondering how you existed without this kind of gameplay. Santa Monica Studio placed deep thought into what would suffice for a sequel, and over-exceeded.
There was one balancing issue I was dealing with during my exploration of the 9 realms, and that was when I was tackling the Berserker challenges – these enemies were overtly difficult to deal with even at my most prepared state – they were the only enemies I had issue with regarding ghost hits, tracking and invulnerability timers, in addition to incredible attack refresh moments. Often, I was left with no room to recover and had to restart multiple times before completion. Nothing a patch can’t fix but still.
The Realms are Nine
God of War Ragnarök allows the players to explore all 9 realms, as expected given that this is the final chapter to the Norse mythology. The exploration design approach is far better here than in the previous iteration. Entering a new realm for the first time is always linear given the nature of it being story driven, but once you are done, you’re left with a wide-open zone free to explore for loot and side-quest. Almost each zone is large enough to explore, equal or more to the size of 2018’s Midgar zones which is a showcase on the effort SMS went through to make Ragnarök feel free. It’s not an open-world game but it damn sure feels like it.
Each of the 9 realms is exceedingly beautiful filled with unique biomes and an impressive number of creatures and critters roaming about. It feels alive exploring through these environments, and with extremely beautiful craftsmanship to boot. SMS has some of the most talented artist in the industry because every stonework, building, biome, everything looks carefully done with immense love – the scope is insurmountable and to know this is a wide-linear game yet feel so open and free is a rare thing to achieve, one I think should be respected.
There’s been careful thought in level design where everything feels much wider and more vertical than ever before – environmental puzzles is far more sophisticated with the use of the Chaos Blades and more – clever work was done in making this solution feel organic to the world, and with Mimir giving insight to certain things makes everything feel much more grounded, like having that obvious path blocked make sense. I’m spellbound by the thought put into almost every facet of this game outside of story – it just shows the studio has deep love for their franchise.
Review Score: 10/10
God of War Ragnarök is an unrelenting achievement in the gaming space – a masterclass of art and programming that will be unmatched for a long time. Kratos’ journey with Atreus is one I will cherish and relive multiple times in anticipation of the next story of God of War. This near perfect project must be experienced by all with a PlayStation console.