Four years have passed since the 2018 soft reboot of the highly popular and successful God of War franchise, and since then, there haven’t been many modern games that have come close to delivering the storytelling and gameplay tour de force of Kratos and Atreus’ maiden adventure. And now, with the sequel God of War Ragnarok upon us, Santa Monica Studio is attempting to capture lightning in a bottle once more.
And to answer all the prayers of the fan base, this is one sequel that surpasses all godly expectations, and continues to showcase the AAA prowess of Sony’s first-party studios.
With Fimbulwinter well underway, our father and son pair attempt to live their lives away from curious gazes, hoping to take no part in the impending prophesied end of the world. Yet, a surprise visit from none other than Odin himself set things into motion, unravelling a tale of high drama and stakes across each of the Nine Realms, and setting the stage for cinematic storytelling of the highest order.
Granted, for fans of the series and the soft reboot, the narrative of God of War Ragnarok carries extra weight, especially with the foretold fate of the new-age icon of fatherly love. Yet, the writers have somehow managed to tell a story that raises the stakes even higher, fully embracing the supposed end and adding more layers to character dynamics, and giving newcomers and returning players alike plenty of reason to see things through to the end.
Atreus, fresh off the knowledge of his other identity of Loki, seeks knowledge to establish where he stands in this world. Kratos, having only recently warmed up to his role as a father, now has to balance the safety of his family and the rest of the realms. It is a compelling relationship, to say the least, not to mention the ramifications it can have for the greater universe and all the other players in God of War Ragnarok.
The fact that the entire narrative is able to continue in this vein is a testament to the craft of the writers and developers, not only giving us more reasons to see our heroes in a different light, but also allowing the supporting cast plenty of time to shine and play their roles to perfection.
Mimir remains a steadfast companion that supplies helpful glimpses into the wider Norse mythology, while Brok and Sindri grow further into their roles as eccentric dwarven uncles that balance things out in both fun and seriousness. The accompanying pantheon of Norse gods and goddesses is also not lacking in making their presence felt, with Odin and Thor being characters of immense depth, maintaining the franchise’s focus on family and how relationships can take a drastic turn depending on an individual’s actions.
Without delving into spoilers, the entirety of the 30-40 plus hours you will spend in God of War Ragnarok are full of exciting action, entertaining segues, dramatic standoffs, and narrative payoffs that tie up loose threads, while also teasing of even more to come. This is hardly an easy feat to accomplish on its own, much less as a sequel to a beloved game.
Of course, all the best storytelling in the world wouldn’t make sense in a video game if the gameplay wasn’t engaging, and for God of War Ragnarok, it’s more of improving on an already excellent combat and puzzle-solving system than wholesale evolution. After all, after being the bane of so many gods and monsters, Kratos’ craft hardly needs any big changes.
However, what has been added allows for more strategic play both in and out of combat, and gives players more to experiment with beyond the bread-and-butter processes of dicing the enemies to bits.
Both the Leviathan Axe and Blades of Chaos now boast new Weapons Signature Moves, expanding Kratos’ repertoire of damage-dealing skill sets. Frost Awakens is perfect for extinguishing the flames of the opposition, while Whiplash often leads to explosive results for anyone unfortunate enough to be standing in your way. Even the defensive side of things allows for varied gameplay, whether you like to parry attacks, stand sturdy by blocking, or anything in between. The options are there to suit your play style, and it is satisfying to see everything come together as planned.
The same goes for the companions, with Atreus and the like offering more options in God of War Ragnarok to mix things up further. Sonic arrows help to build up stun and amplify the effects to reverberate across multiple foes, while Sigil arrows bequeath the Hex effect on enemies that augment elemental damage. Although Kratos remains your main vehicle for destruction, there is always help on the sidelines, and that comes in handy against the vast rogue gallery that pervades the Nine Realms.
From local flora and fauna to the more godly beings that call the lands home, our heroes have probably never faced a more diverse cast of enemies in their adventures. It is not just a visual gimmick, so to speak, even within variants of the same type of enemy. Every combat encounter becomes a puzzle to solve, with all of the tools at your disposal becoming vital at certain stages. Other than a couple of occasions where it’s mainly cannon fodder, combat in God of War Ragnarok is to be savoured.
This potent mixture is perhaps most obvious in fights against foes of a more mythical nature. The challenge is suitably increased, and the pace can get frenetic, but it doesn’t ever venture near the territory of being unfair. As long as you have been honing your skills throughout the game, these bouts become the best platform to show off just why Kratos is to be feared. Intense and exhilarating action is to be expected, and God of War Ragnarok has it in spades.
Outside of combat, therein lies other avenues of entertainment that serve to flesh out the various Realms and help players understand their place in this particular mythology. Exploration often yields secrets to be found in the form of more resources, or upgrade materials that hide behind tricky Nornir chests. You might also discover Favors to pursue, directing players to uncharted territory in search of more adventure and discoveries, while environmental puzzles will challenge your problem-solving skills adequately.
There is a light touch of Metroidvania influences in God of War Ragnarok, teasing areas that are only reachable after a certain point in the game, and in preparation for the end of the world, it seems only fitting that our heroes go to extreme lengths to prepare themselves. With new tools in tow, familiar realms can provide fresh impetus to keep on going, all the while still supplying that intoxicating gameplay mixture, although it may not be to everyone’s taste.
It all also feeds into the roleplaying aspect in the sequel, with new gear a constant reminder that statistics still play an important role in your odds against Ragnarok. While certain items are only obtainable through quests or discovery, Brok and Sindri are always happy to upgrade gear to make you more powerful, while the returning Pommel and amulet systems further provide players with the chance to min-max Kratos to their hearts’ content, built to tackle any problem that may crop up. Be sure to always keep your gear sharp and refined to meet the increasing challenge, it is the only way to survive.
Experience points gained can also be put into learning useful skills and upgrading relics, and through the new Weapon Skill Labors, you can ensure that your most used moves are made exponentially better through the choice of three bespoke upgrades. No one’s Kratos will ever likely be the same, considering the different play styles available, and that will definitely lead to some interesting combinations down the line.
Having already created the perfect storm of gameplay systems and world design, God of War Ragnarok brings everything together amazingly when it comes to the visuals too. All of the Nine Realms are distinct and absolutely beautiful, filled with details that portray a living, breathing world that we have the luxury of visiting. In the absence of abundance in certain areas, it evokes that lingering feeling of what could have been, and that’s not something that can be said of every game.
The characters are wonderfully realised individuals, made possible by some of the best acting and motion capture out there. Actors Christopher Judge and Sunny Suljic remain superstars as Kratos and Atreus, but it is fair to say the likes of Alastair Duncan (Mimir), Danielle Bisutti (Freya) and the new faces have all upped their game for God of War Ragnarok. This is a cinematic experience that is unparalleled in its execution, and the returning one-shot presentation trademark of Santa Monica Studio continues to elevate proceedings further.
With the power of the PlayStation 5, God of War Ragnarok definitely takes advantage of its unique features to up the immersion levels. The multidirectional 3D audio is a blessing when surrounded by enemies, while the haptics and adaptive triggers do their best to translate the action on-screen onto your hands. Naturally, loading is extremely fast on the SSD, and while the game offers various display options, there isn’t much quality tradeoff when opting for the 60FPS Performance mode, which is only a good thing.
It is clear that there have always been high hopes for the sequel, but the fear was that the heights of the reboot could not be reached again or even surpassed. Yet, just like how it did four years ago, the final product blew our expectations out of the water, a divine experience that marries storytelling, gameplay, and presentation as flawlessly as it could. Descending upon the PlayStation audience like nectar of the gods, God of War Ragnarok is a game that truly deserves its place as one of gaming’s greatest achievements, and a legendary addition to the pantheon of best games ever made.
God of War Ragnarok is available via the PSN Store for $97.90.
GEEK REVIEW SCORE
Ascending beyond our wildest expectations, God of War Ragnarok bucks the trend of misfiring sequels and sets a new bar for video games in general, cementing Kratos and Atreus’ positions as true legends in this industry.
Gameplay - 10/10
Story - 10/10
Presentation - 10/10
Value - 10/10