Sony Santa Monica has delivered an excellent culmination of the Norse saga with the recently released God of War: Ragnarok. While the game may have felt like more of the same in terms of the brutal yet methodical combat system and number-crunching progression, there’s perhaps little argument to be had in terms of the massive improvements in the character development department.
Ragnarok is a story that builds upon the foundations of the predecessors, and crafts a rich and complex characterization of its players, around a single point which is to do the right thing. At the epicenter of it all is the main antagonist himself, Odin.
While Sony Santa Monica’s long-running franchise has had no shortage of iconic villains from the Greek era, Odin stands out from the pack thanks to his unique traits and motives that constantly teeter-totter on the bridge of grey morality. He is easily one of the best villains that Kratos has faced so far, and there are plenty of reasons why that is the case.
Of course, story spoilers for the entirety of God of War: Ragnarok will be present in this feature, so proceed with caution. With that out of the way, let’s begin.
The first thing that sets Odin apart from the villains that have come before is the simple fact that he isn’t that larger-than-life figure that was teased to us during the entirety of the first game. Seeing the aftermath of the destruction and punishment caused to the likes of Mimir and Freya would have one think of Odin as a frenzied enemy who would turn someone into ashes, but our first encounter with him suggests otherwise.
Odin immediately makes it clear that he doesn’t want a conflict with Kratos, and the only thing that he wants is for Atreus to come along with him to Asgard. He talks calmly thanks in no small part to the excellent voice acting, and even offers to forgive all of Kratos’ past mistakes like killing Thor’s sons or freeing Mimir, but when Kratos refuses to comply with that offer – Odin instructs Thor to strike down Kratos with his Mjolnir.
We then come to know that Odin is actually a master of puppets, an antagonist who uses his wits and cunning tone instead of sheer strength to achieve his goals, and is also a man with a silver tongue that he can use to trick anyone into a false sense of security. That doesn’t mean that Odin doesn’t have any powers; he has eyes everywhere in the nine realms; he can take on the appearance of anyone he chooses, and is also a fierce fighter when the opportunity calls for it. But for the most part, Odin remains a leader who delegates his work to the most suitable of henchmen and leaves the most important discussions to himself.
And this includes persuading Atreus into joining forces with him to find a way to change the decisions that bind him to Kratos’ death during Ragnarok, and with clever dialogues and a composed body language – initially, Odin becomes a really sympathetic villain that we all found ourselves rooting for. He gives a false sense of freedom to Atreus as he dutifully seeks out pieces of the ancient mask, but he also disguises himself as Tyr to infiltrate the Realm between Realms – and find out each detail of Kratos’ planning for Ragnarok. That impersonation isn’t known to us for the majority of the campaign, and it’s easy to be led into a false sense of assurance that Odin might not be wrong after all in trying to find the answers of the mask – and that Atreus might just be right to help him achieve those goals.
But underneath that veneer of calmness and composed persona lies an insatiable thirst for power and knowledge, which combines with a whimsical ego to create a personality that would use all that knowledge and wisdom to cause humongous amounts of death and destruction for his own selfish needs – so finding the answers of the mask would only make things worse for all of the Nine Realms.
The game puts plenty of evidence before us that indicates that Odin becoming even more powerful would spell doom for all since he doesn’t care for anyone else but himself. For instance, he purposefully left kidnapped Midgardians to die during Ragnarok just because it enabled him to buy more time to prepare for the final battle.
And it’s just one of the many incidents where he used his allies (even those related by blood) just as a tool to get things done, which of course – includes Thor. Thor had to endure a rough parenting at the hands of Odin who never loved him, which led to him becoming a self-destructive person who drowns in sadness when he is not using his hammer to pummel down things and beasts, and vice-versa.
And when Kratos finally manages to knock some sense into Thor, Odin stabs him to death immediately before battling Kratos and Atreus for possession of the mask. And even when all hope seems lost, Odin once again tries to convince Atreus into joining him to see through the ancient mask by telling him that this is what he is meant to do, but when Atreus destroys the mask – he spins into a fury and tries to kill Atreus all over again, revealing his true nature.
What makes Odin such a memorable villain is this very dichotomy between his personality and his ulterior motives. He is as swift with his tongue and brains as he is efficient with a weapon, and that’s a quality few villains share – more so in a game that relies on bombastic fights with plenty of spectacles. His character arc from pretending to be on the same page as Atreus and Kratos to him showing his true colors at the end is one worth seeing through to its conclusion, and his history of mischief also lends a lot of weight to his character development as well.
The best villains should have complex personalities that demand attention from the audience when they are on screen, and their dialogues and motives should also make some sense despite how twisted or malicious they might be. And that’s something the character of Odin excels at, creating a believable personality that doesn’t fail to surprise us throughout the entirety of Ragnarok. And this is a trait that the best villains in all of the entertainment share, be it Vaas from Far Cry 3 or The Joker from Batman: Arkham or Dutch from Red Dead Redemption 2, just to name a few.
When all is said and done and Odin has proven himself to be beyond redemption, Atreus traps him into a giant stone, but Sindri soon emerges out of nowhere and destroys it all with a swift strike from his hammer. While this would certainly imply that Odin is gone for good now, but considering how much of a trickster Odin is and given his previous works – one can’t be entirely sure of that prospect either.
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