Boy, God of War Ragnarök carries an immense weight of anticipation on its shoulders. Treading new ground beyond 2018’s masterful reboot will take some doing, but from the briefest cinematics and story trailers we’ve seen so far, it looks as though Sony Santa Monica might just pull this off.
Kicking off a few years after the events of God of War and the preceding Fimbulwinter, Ragnarök once again places Kratos and his now teenage son Atreus within the ancient Scandinavian realm of Midgard in a continuation of the revamped Norse mythology setting. Only this time, Kratos seems ever-more battle weary, whilst Atreus, evidently stronger, and more confident, appears to embrace an inevitability to brutality. Together, they traverse a frozen, unforgiving landscape, battling pitiless, larger-than-life monsters in an effort to halt impending apocalypse.
As foretold in Norse mythology, Ragnarök is an event whereby the Nine Realms are doomed to engage in deathly battle, precursing the end of the world and the demise of Odin, Thor, and Freyr amongst others. As a setting, it doesn’t get any more blockbuster for Kratos and Atreus, but against this backdrop of impending apocalypse the emotionally tense father-son relationship still appears the beating heart of the series. See, after Atreus discovers his lineage at the climax of God of War – that is, he’s Loki – he’s no doubt conflicted as to his true purpose, seemingly both bloodthirsty, akin to father Kratos’ violent past, and noble, tasking himself as his father’s sworn protector much to Kratos’ chagrin. His mother Faye’s reference to him as Loki, as revealed during the climactic scattering of her ashes atop the highest peak in Jotunheim, ties his fate somewhat to the events of Ragnarök. Without speculating too deeply on how this could play out in God of War Ragnarök’s story, it for certain seems there’re themes of fate and destiny – that will play a big part.
The pair of wolves prominent in September’s 3-minute story trailer certainly appear bound to Atreus. It’s all-but-certain these wolves are brothers Sköll and Hati, whom in Norse mythology are grandsons of Loki. Sköll and Hati chase horse-drawn chariots that’re personifications of the sun and moon, eventually bringing the onset of Ragnarök when caught and devoured. Is this what we see in the story trailer? In perhaps the most memorable spectacle in a trailer stuffed with eye-popping visuals, we see Atreus shoot an arrow at the sun with giant-wolf Sköll giving chase, literally and figuratively tearing at the fabric of the cosmos as he goes. As a cinematic sequence, it’s majestic, but likely not the only visually arresting moment we’ll be treated to.
As now confirmed, God of War Ragnarök will forge Kratos and Atreus through each of the Nine Realms; whereas six realms featured in God of War, Ragnarök adds Vanaheim, home of the Vanir, masters of sorcery and magic and one-time home to bitter enemy Freya, dwarf home Svartalfheim, and Asgard. Asgard holds Odin of course, who’s shadowy presence was strong in God of War despite him never making an appearance. It’s expected he’ll show his face in Ragnarök, together with Thor and Tyr, both of whom we glimpse in the game’s story trailer. Most notable for Tyr is towards the end, the ginormous half-brother to Baldur and Thor dutifully shaking hands with Kratos. Thor appears right at the trailer’s climax hurling Mjolnir across a frozen lake, the hammer stopped in flight by Kratos’ Leviathan Axe.
Another new character of intrigue is Angrboða, giantess of Jotunheim, mate of Loki and mother of monsters Jörmungandr the World Serpent, whom we all know and treasure, Hel, who’s only part mentioned up to now in Jötnar shrines, and Fenrir whom we definitely do see in Ragnarök’s swift 30-second cinematic trailer. Precisely how Angrboða and Fenrir feature is anybody’s guess; remember, Fenrir is son of Angrboða and Loki, who, according to Norse mythology was imprisoned in unbreakable chains by Odin, effectively tied up until the coming of Ragnarök whereby Fenrir breaks free and avenges his captures. He’s looking pretty mean in God of War Ragnarök’s trailers though, and with Sony Santa Monica open about the fact they’ve played fast and loose with the accuracies of Norse and Greek mythology throughout the entire God of War series, it seems more likely Fenrir will be an exhilarating boss battle than furry friend.
There are a handful of returning characters too, most notably Freya who swore revenge on Kratos for killing her once immortal son Baldur, and Mimir, the headless wiseman with Scottish accent who’s more in common with Shakespearian thespian than figure of Norse mythology.
Gameplaywise, God of War’s combat is still the primary draw, providing the bulk of the action. Kratos once again swings the Leviathan Axe, wields the Blades of Chaos, and blocks with the Guardian Shield. A notable addition comes in the form of traversal; Kratos appears to swing over chasms using a grapple hook of some sort. It’s tied to the end of chains so may be an alternative use for his hated Blades of Chaos, we’ll have to wait and see. One thing’s for sure, it catapults him across platforms before dealing a devastating blow to an enemy.
In truth, aside from a few choice refinements – Atreus dealing the killer blow in a one-two combo, for instance – there doesn’t appear a whole lot of change in the way God of War Ragnarök will play. This isn’t a criticism; Sony Santa Monica practically perfected Kratos’ stupendous power and the ability with which he wields it in the 2018 revamp that there’s no real need to reinvent the wheel. Ragnarök looks as damn-near a perfect continuation as it could be. It’s at first seems the same, but it’s not; it’s grander in scope, more widescreen in its presentation, and, remarkably, more detailed and nuanced in its story telling. Observe how Kratos abjectly tosses the Blades of Chaos whilst studying and carefully placing the Leviathan Axe. The Blades of Chaos represent past failures, bloodlust and anger, the affirmation of irresponsibility and the path in which he’s determined Atreus won’t follow, whilst the Leviathan Axe represents responsibly and growth, of self-improvement and betterment.
Yes, God of War’s stunning scenery and jaw dropping action rightly garner heaps of praise, but the journey Kratos takes as he struggles within the duology of morally righteous fatherhood haunted by ethical ambiguousness and extreme violence is spellbinding. Don’t forget, he kills his own father Zeus in God of War 3. His secret uncovering of a mural in Jotunheim depicting Atreus cradling him in his deathly throes must play havoc with his mind. Yes, it’s been said before in this feature but bears repeating: the relationship between Kratos and Atreus throughout Ragnarök will be tense and emotional and might just propel this God of War title to the best of the entire series.
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