I didn’t have to spend a lot of time with God of War Ragnarok to realize that it was exactly the game I wanted it to be- of course, further on, it would prove to surpass even those expectations. With just a few hours under my belt, I knew that Ragnarok had improved upon its already-impressive predecessor in nearly every way possible, and identified the perfect ways to do it. From combat to boss battles to pacing to storytelling, this is a game that confidently builds a towering skyscraper on the foundations laid down by God of War (2018), delivering yet another unforgettable experience that may very well rank as one of the series’ best ever outings.
For me, personally, a big part of that is the game’s pacing. God of War (2018) took a very deliberate and measured approach as it went about reinventing the franchise, and while that ultimately made for a much richer and more textured experience, some things were lost in the process- like the series’ trademark sense of scale. God of War Ragnarok, however, manages to strike almost the perfect balance between its predecessor’s more grounded style and the high-octane bombast of older titles in the series, and it makes that clear in its very first hour, where an intense set piece sequence instantly leads into a boss fight, into another boss fight, into another boss fight. It’s a packed opening, even by God of War’s standards, and sets the tone perfectly for an epic journey. No, it doesn’t ever come close to the frankly ridiculous scope of God of War 3, but it has much more of that unique God of War flair that longtime series fans will be very familiar with.
"God of War Ragnarok manages to strike almost the perfect balance between its predecessor’s more grounded style and the high-octane bombast of older titles in the series."
I spoke about balance though, which means that it’s not all action and explosive set pieces and boss fights. With its 2018 reinvention, the series added so much to what we now look at as God of War’s core identity, and complex characters and matured, layered storytelling were a big part of that. Ragnarok ups the ante here as well. Kratos and Atreus prove to be fascinating characters once again, and the latter in particular steals the show. True to what Kratos said to his son at the end of the previous game, this really is Atreus’ story- he’s no longer “boy”. He’s his own man now, steeled by the lessons from his parents and the hurdles of his past, and completely unyielding, much like his father, in his drive to achieve his goals.
Three years on from God of War (2018), the relationship between Kratos and Atreus has matured as well. There’s a much greater level of communication, a much greater degree of respect and trust, and at the same time, much more interesting conflicts of ideologies. While Kratos wants nothing more than to leave behind his destructive, god-killing ways and try and live a much less eventful life in order to keep his son safe, Atreus is desperate to leave the confines of his home, learn what role he’s supposed to play in Ragnarok as Loki, and try and stop Odin’s machinations. Watching the father and son clash and learn to trust one another makes for a fascinating experience- and yes, incredible performances from Christopher Judge and Sunny Suljic deserve a great deal of credit for that.
Of course, with God of War Ragnarok significantly expanding its scale, it also features a much larger cast of characters. Returning characters from God of War (2018) continue to shine- Mimir’s wisecracking ways are as delightful as ever, and his growing bond with Kratos and Atreus also adds more heart to the story. Brok and Sindri return, and the brothers are an even more integral part of the narrative, often in very unexpected ways. Freya returns as well, and her personal arc proves to be another highlight (even if her story in particular does stumble at a couple of key moments).
"There’s a wide cast of new characters- out of whom, it’s no surprise at all that Odin and Thor are the showstoppers. Thor is a menacing brute, and God of War Ragnarok’s portrayal of his character is surprisingly layered, while Odin serves as a spectacular villain, who always seems to be one step ahead of the heroes, at times in ways that took me entirely by surprise."
Beyond that, there’s a wide cast of new characters- out of whom, it’s no surprise at all that Odin and Thor are the showstoppers. Thor is a menacing brute, and God of War Ragnarok’s portrayal of his character is surprisingly layered, while Odin serves as a spectacular villain, who always seems to be one step ahead of the heroes, at times in ways that took me entirely by surprise. Incredibly nuanced performances by Ryan Hurst and Richard Schiff do wonders for both characters as well, and both tend to hog the spotlight practically every single time they’re on the screen. I won’t go into further detail on what other Norse gods, goddesses, giants, and what-have-yous appear in the game, but suffice it to say that God of War Ragnarok’s wide cast is full of memorable, excellently written, and brilliantly acted characters.
I still don’t think the story is perfect- a couple of important narrative moments do drop the ball a little bit, like some moments related to Freya, which I touched on earlier, and parts of the game’s ending, which feel like they’re wrapped up a little too neatly and a little too conveniently. Even so, flaws and all, by and large, God of War Ragnarok weaves a spellbinding tale. It’s excellently paced from beginning to end, ramping up and escalating at just the right moments and in just the right ways, while it also springs some unexpected surprises and developments along the way. Meanwhile, once again, just like its predecessor, the unique spins it puts on Norse myths often come together ingeniously. Also worth mentioning is the game’s usage of a one-shot camera- just like the 2018 title, Ragnarok has no camera cuts throughout its runtime, but the implementation feels much more impressive here, owing to the much wider and more ambitious scale of the story.
Moving on from the story and storytelling and coming to the combat, God of War Ragnarok feels like a significant step up from its predecessor, almost to a surprising degree. I say surprising because really, almost all of the changes it makes are incremental and obvious ones on their own, and might not seem like major upgrades. Collectively, however, these smaller improvements make for a game that feels much more satisfying to play.
"The biggest improvement God of War Ragnarok makes when it comes to combat is the sheer variety of enemies it throws at you."
The biggest improvement God of War Ragnarok makes when it comes to combat is the sheer variety of enemies it throws at you. Kratos and Atreus travel to all Nine Realms in their quest to stop Odin, and each of them presents unique challenges. A vast variety of new enemies are encountered throughout the game, and they vary from each other greatly in important ways, from their attack patterns to their weaknesses. There’s a lot of bosses and minibosses in the game (including several hidden or optional ones), but even fights against the more regular enemies feel more rewarding. Thanks to this, combat in Ragnarok feels inherently more challenging, which in turn encourages you to make better use of your arsenal of weapons, abilities, and combos.
And that arsenal has been expanded in several ways as well- the best of them are best left unspoiled and unmentioned, but there’s plenty more that I can talk about. For starters, grappling is back, lifted straight out of the older God of War games, with Kratos using his chained blades to latch on to a point to swing across chasms and pull himself up to higher ledges. This has an instantly noticeable impact on how combat arenas in God of War Ragnarok are designed, and how much more vertical they tend to be. That, in turn, leads to fights that feel much more dynamic and frantic- the fact that the game cranks things up to 11 with how brutal and visceral it is also serves as a bonus.
Weapon Signature Attacks are also a game changer. In Ragnarok, the triangle button serves a unique function, bestowing elemental powers to whatever weapon you have equipped. Hold down triangle with the Leviathan Axe equipped to boost its Frost, or mash it repeatedly with the Blades of Chaos equipped to make Kratos spin them around to stoke their flames. Elemental attacks and damage end up feeling much more important to the flow of combat, especially because unlockable skills make the Axe more effective against enemies who’re on fire, and the Blades more effectives against those who’re frozen. Mixing and matching between the two, creating new combos, and taking full advantage of elemental effects adds a whole new layer of strategy to the combat.
"Fights feel much more dynamic and frantic, and the fact that the game cranks things up to 11 with how brutal and visceral it is also serves as a bonus."
Combat also benefits from greatly improved loot and progression systems. God of War Ragnarok makes new loot and upgrades feel much more valuable and rewarding, and it goes about that in a very simple yet effective manner- it simply hands out way less loot than its predecessor did. Rather than feeling like an incremental bump, every upgrade you make feels much more effective, and every new piece of equipment you find feels like it could have a potential use. Meanwhile, you can now also equip multiple different shields, each coming with unique properties, all of which can also be upgraded. Add to that companion characters having a much more involved role, and new systems like enchantment slots and the ability to mod certain unlocked skills, and what you have is a game that grants much greater control over progression and build variety.
But of course, there’s much more to God of War Ragnarok’s gameplay than combat and progression. Like God of War (2018), Ragnarok places a great deal of emphasis on exploration, which is another area that reaps the benefits of many incremental improvements coming together to form a greater whole, and not just because the rewards in terms of loot and upgrades feel much more rewarding. Not every realm sports the semi-open world exploration-driven structure that, say, Midgard and Alfheim did in God of War (2018), but a good number of them do. Each of them is surprisingly large, and exploring every nook and cranny never gets boring. From excellent side quests to hidden puzzles to incredibly designed optional areas, Ragnarok keeps rewarding you for going off the beaten path. One particular entirely optional area later on might even be some of my favourite content in the entire game- it’s massive and full of incredible boss fights and side quests. Of course, there’s also plenty of endgame content on offer for those who want to keep playing once the credits have rolled- which is about as much as I can say on that front without going into spoiler territory.
I’d also be remiss not to touch upon how gorgeous God of War Ragnarok looks. Given how good God of War (2018) looked – and really, the entire series’ track record from a visuals perspective through the years – it’s no surprise that Ragnarok is yet another technical marvel. This is a game full of incredible sights and breathtaking scenery, all of which is consistently uplifted not only by a ridiculous level of technical polish and detail, but also strong art design that brings the game’s interpretation of Norse mythology to life in stunning ways. I did have a few technical issues in my time with God of War Ragnarok, but the more major ones – like dialogue going silent in some cutscenes, or a couple of crashes here and there – seem to have been entirely patched out with pre-launch updates. The few issues that I continued to experience in the later hours of my playthrough were largely minor, and hopefully these will be ironed out quickly as well.
"From excellent side quests to hidden puzzles to incredibly designed optional areas, Ragnarok keeps rewarding you for going off the beaten path."
When a game is as good as God of War Ragnarok is though, its issues become much easier to ignore, and that’s certainly been my experience. Ragnarok is better than what I was expecting it to be, and I was expecting the world. It’s a stellar game that perfectly captures both, the scale and bombast of the older entries in the series, and the heart and grounded nature of God of War (2018). From beginning to end, it’s an exciting romp that delivers a steady stream of thrills, whether you’re going through its captivating story, engaging with its massively improved combat, or getting lost in the endlessly explorable and wonderfully designed Nine Realms of Norse mythology. It might seen like an iterative upgrade on paper, but it’s much more than that- not for the first time, a new God of War game has come along and set a new standard for the medium at large. Anyone with a passing interest in games has to play God of War Ragnarok.
This game was reviewed on the PlayStation 5.
A largely captivating story; Large and varied cast of characters, all of which are brilliantly written and acted; Excellently paced story with the trademark God of War sense of scale; Healthy amount of bosses, minibosses, and set piece moments; A number of incremental improvements make for a massively improved combat system; Excellent enemy variety; Progression and loot feel much more rewarding; Exploration feels consistently rewarding; Tons of engaging side content, including plenty of endgame challenges; Looks absolutely gorgeous.
A few narrative missteps; Some technical issues.
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