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God of War: Ragnarok - Review



Stated this several times in the past, but I don’t think people realize how important storytelling is in video games. Especially now that the technology the industry works with has advanced, improved, and allows us to present grander adventures. Now I’m not saying focus on the story primarily and forget about gameplay, no. Gameplay is as equally important as storytelling as it is what engages with the player. How do you keep the player entertained, not be bored out of their mind with all the dialogue being spewed about, and not drop the game halfway through the journey? I completely understand why so many gamers out there are outraged with modern game design and philosophy, because so many games are starting to move away from giving grand adventures. Now modern games just hold you by the hand, and what was once engaging games are now “movies.” I understand this claim, but at the same time I disagree. I believe storytelling is important to video games, because it gives context. A reason as to why you should push forward and see what lies at the end. It can make a game more memorable, and if the story is written well then it hooks the player further. It gets them to care about the characters, the world, and feel more emotionally heart-struck when a tragic moment commences. Some of my most favorite stories have come from games, and I’m not joking when I say this. Gameplay and story are equally as important. If both areas are handled carefully, you may achieve a perfect game.


I wanted to get that statement out of the way first, because God of War: Ragnarok may be one of the best games I’ve played in a very long time. It is the sequel to God of War (2018) and was developed by Santa Monica who have worked on all major entries to the God of War series. I would say Santa Monica is “a golden game studio”. All of their games have been highly acclaimed, they have passion for what they do, and they haven’t done anything controversial for the public to hate them. They have a golden track record, hence why I call them “a golden game studio.” All of the God of War entries before the reboot followed a similar format. Extreme hack and slash adventures focused around skill and mastery, akin to titles like Devil May Cry. What made these games stand out was that they focused on telling mature narratives. One for people to look at and feel affected by. These narratives made the God of War series memorable and stand out against other hack and slash titles. However, after the third mainline entry they stopped and took a long break to rethink their approach. This hack n’ slash formula worked, but it was starting to get repetition and wear out fast. How do we carry on this property we love without milking the old formula dry and running it into the dirt. Simple, you grow up. If the industry is growing you must grow too, and so the next God of War was made in such a way where both the old and new could enjoy it.


Thus the 2018 reboot of God of War comes into existence. Brought back from death and utilizing the modern hardware of next generation consoles. When it was first revealed fans were skeptical on how this reboot would end up. It looked so different and unlike anything the original games were. Surely it would be a flop and a cash grab method for Papa Sony to make dough on series that should have remained dead. Surprisingly it wasn’t that. The new God of War managed to carve out its own identity while still paying respect to the past laid out. Combat was still visceral and methodical although in a different sense, we were taken to many extraordinary places now that the setting moved over to Norse mythology and the nine realms, and the story was no longer about an ongoing war but rather trying to move on from the past. The new God of War changed for the better. It wasn’t completely flawless and there were still those weird older players who like to nitpick about what it isn’t and how modern game design is, but everything the new game got right was good enough to outweigh the problems. It was a pure masterpiece, one to look back upon hours after rolling the credits. God of War (2018) is special and it’s hard to find other games who can hold a torch to the quality on display. Of course, a sequel was put in the works shortly after this massive success, and the epilogue scene of God of War (2018) hinted that there was more to come. The story of Kratos and Atreus would conclude another time….


That time would be now. During a 2020 PlayStation presentation, the development of the sequel was teased. Ragnarok was coming, as God of War: Ragnarok was set to be a next gen release. The team at Santa Monica stated this would conclude the Norse storyline and be a grander tale. The promises were there, but the trouble they now faced was somehow topping the last game. They received perfect review scores across the board and set the bar extremely high. How do you top what a majority of players practically see as perfect? How do you exceed expectations when they already have been? The answer is that there is none. All you can is look at what made the first game work, stick to it, and hope that any new ideas you add will work and not tarnish it. That’s all they could do, and they didn’t. God of War: Ragnarok was a whole new beast beyond control, and somehow exceeded the expectations the public had. I don’t know how they did it, but Santa Monica managed to improve in almost every aspect and deliver a greater experience. Much like the last game, God of War: Ragnarok came out to glowing reception and positivity all around. The combat was better, the world and universe expanded, the story beats were crazier, there were more characters all of which played an active role, and the story was one of the best to witness. I thoroughly believe God of War: Ragnarok deserves all this praise. Even when the credits rolled I still wished the story went on a little bit longer, because this is a tale I won’t forget five years from now. I won’t go deep into the story, because it’s only been one week since the game came out and not many players are finished with it yet. The story is best enjoyed when you go in blind and know nothing about it, so no spoilers here on out. Let’s explain why I love God of War: Ragnarok and why it deserves your attention.


Story

We’ll just explain the first two hours of Ragnarok’s plot and maybe offer a brief summary of the game. Sounds fair enough. It’s been three years since Kratos and Atreus’ journey to climb the highest peak across the nine realms. Kratos made a promise to his wife Faye that when she dies they’ll burn her body and spread her ashes. However, Odin wasn't happy as Kratos was an outsider and Faye was connected to a race of people he despised, the giants. Baldur, one of Odin’s sons, as well as Thor’s sons Magni and Magni were sent out to stop Kratos and Atreus from completing their journey. Kratos and Atreus make a bunch of friends along the way who are all willing to help. The brother dwarves Brock and Sindri, Mimir a prisoner to Odin that Kratos freed and now adventures alongside them, and Freya, once Odin’s wife and the mother of Baldur. Kratos and Atreus' journey had them venture across the realms and eventually to the giant’s realm where the highest peak lay. Kratos kills Magni, Modi, and eventually Baldur in an epic fight which brings tears to Freya. Kratos and Atreus spread the ashes, return home, and witness a sign of snow. There wasn’t any ordinary snow though. It was the sign of Fimbulwinter, the treacherous winter that would eventually lead to Ragnarok. A battle that would determine the fate of the nine realms. Kratos and Atreus would even receive a vision of the future, as a hooded figure wielding a hammer of lightning stood outside their home. Ever since then they’ve been preparing.


This leads us to the opening hours of Ragnarok. Kratos and Atreus are doing whatever they can to survive Fimbulwinter. Each day they hunt, train, and try to survive as all that’s left in Midgard are monsters and crazy tribes. Freya is still angry at them after three years and every so often they get attacked as she wants to kill the man who killed her son. Mimir lives with Kratos and Atreus now, they have three wolves they take care of, but unfortunately one of the wolves dies from age and sickness. This is enough to break Atreus and get him really emotional. Ask his father why they keep training each day when they could be out there doing something. Possibly prevent Ragnarok from even happening. Kratos tells his son that it’s not about taking action but being prepared for when it’s time to finally take action. Atreus gets more stubborn, and this leads to them resting for the day. During the middle of the night a loud thunder strike awakens them from their sleep. A storm is brewing outside their cabin and when Kratos opens the front door the hooded figure with the lightning hammer appears. Thor, the god of thunder, has appeared and he is not happy. He doesn’t straight out kill them upon first contact though and asks if he could come into their home. Kratos does so and shortly afterwards another figure appears. Odin, the all-father himself. Odin proposes a deal to Kratos and Atreus. He reveals that Atreus has been secretly searching for Tyr, the Norse god of war, behind Kratos’ back and says if Atreus gives up his search, then he’ll leave the family alone. Kratos is a little frustrated at his son but refuses the deal which triggers a massive fight between him and the god of thunder.


Thor is angry at Kratos for killing his sons, Magni and Modi, and says he’ll repay for spilling Asgardian blood. The two clash across all of Midgard until eventually Kratos manages to land a hit that leaves Thor bleeding and impressed. Thor leaves and Kratos journeys home. He lectures Atreus on what had happened and why he pursues Tyr, and Atreus claims it’s part of a prophecy. He leads Kratos to one of the Shrines of Tyr they found in their last adventure, and using magic he had learned opens a magical gateway behind the shrine’s paintings. They enter this skybox which shows what shall happen during Ragnarok. Tyr will return from nowhere and lead an army against Asgard during Ragnarok. He’ll win the fight and free all of the realms from Odin’s control. Atreus claims that they must find Tyr as he is the only way they can prevent total chaos from happening. He begs his father to help him out, and eventually Kratos agrees. However, the Temple of Tyr which they used to travel across the nine realms in their last adventure is no longer usable as the lake it turned around in is frozen. Preventing them from opening gateways and traveling between the realms. Luckily, they receive help as Brock and Sindri appear to grant them a new tool to travel between realms. They also allow them to stay in their home, which is hidden between the realms and unseen from Odin’s eyes. Especially useful since going back to their old cabin is no longer a safe option. This is what leads to the next grand adventure. I’m gonna stop here now as anything beyond this point is basically a spoiler. Kratos and Atreus to places they are and aren’t familiar with, encounter new allies, new enemies, and hopefully stop the colossal Ragnarok from happening. Maybe even learn where fate will take them next.


Gameplay

If you played the last game you should feel right at home with Ragnarok, but there have been a few new additions and improvements that make Ragnarok a better game. Even though the last game was a really good video game. Gameplay ranges from combat, exploration, light puzzle solving, and some of the RPG systems you’ll occasionally want to check up on before heading back out to the world. Let’s start with explaining combat as it’s the easiest thing to understand. Along your journey you’ll be dumped into arena styled rooms where a group of enemies will spawn and you have to deal with them. There’s a more enemy variety this time around as well as new mini-bosses. Each with different traits and ways to overwhelm the player. Combat is less about stringing together combos like in the older God of War titles, and more about standing your ground and playing methodically. Maybe you want to reposition and fight in a more safe area, or maybe you’ll have to consider which enemy to deal with first so they don’t become a problem. It’s all about taking it slow and thinking. A playstyle I always love.


Kratos has quite a few unique weapons to wield wildly, which were all present in the last game. There’s that Leviathan Axe which can be thrown, freeze enemies if enough frost damage is dealt, and be recalled like Thor’s hammer. The Blades of Chaos which have a longer attack distance and hitbox than the axe, can burn enemies if enough fire damage is dealt, and can even be used to pull yourself to enemies and vice versa. There’s another weapon, but I won’t spoil it. Then you have your fist which doesn't do as much damage as these other two weapons, but attacks much faster and can quickly boost the stun gauge of an enemy. Enemies can enter this phase where they are open for a gorey finisher. You perform the finisher and it either instantly kills them or deals massive amounts of damage. To increase the stun gauge you must continuously attack an enemy and keep up the pressure. It’s like how posture worked in Sekiro where an aggressive playstyle can be rewarding. Last tool you have is a shield which can block attacks. However, you can’t block every attack as too much damage will break through your defenses. You’ll notice this when Kratos flings his shield back, and this can be as it opens him to be attacked. You can also parry their attacks by pressing the block button at the right time, and this leads them open to unleash a few easy blows. Parrying in the recent God of War titles is much easier than a lot of other games, because it’s not necessary but it can be very beneficial when you master it.


These are all the tools you have, but there’s some new moves to expand upon the basic hacking and slash you basically do. The Leviathan Axe and Blades of Chaos can be charged up to deal more physical and elemental damage. In the last game, these were runic abilities (which we’ll address shortly) and while they weren’t terrible they felt like abilities that could have been performed more naturally without having to waste a special attack slot. You charge up the Leviathan Axe to coat it in frost, but for the Blades of Chaos you have to swing them around for a short period of time to build up momentum. You need to know when to charge them up before punishing an enemy heading straight towards you. I don’t know if this was in the last game, but there’s a new shield bash move which can be used to disrupt certain enemy attacks and break their defenses. Great for when these shielded blokes are giving you a hard time and disrupting the flow of combat. Might as well explain this before I forget. Yellow means you can either dodge or parry, red means you have to dodge, and blue means you have to shield bash. It’s like the danger icons in Sekiro, but they are at least easier to read.


The combat is just really good and each attack has weight to it, but now we must move onto different aspects of God of War. The exploration and progression through the main story is fairly simple to understand. A majority of the time you’ll be following a linear path, but there are hidden rewards for those who stray off or look in the right places. Treasure chests containing loot, hidden boss fights which give more loot, and side quests which give even more loot. All of the side content is really fun and I’d say it’s more worthwhile in this game. The areas you get dumped into and the massive size of them. They are practically new levels asking you to explore them. The open world aspects have returned from the last game, but if you are thinking of an open world like Horizon Forbidden West or Elden Ring you’d be mistaken. It’s not an open world where everything is a giant field you wander around. No, imagine a small hub world and you choose which path or island you want to explore. A little restrictive, but what is found is really interesting. It's better than just seeing the content being dotted around.


You’ll mainly be walking around the world, climbing on walls, sliding through gaps, or rowing a boat occasionally but there are new traversal methods. You can now use the Blades of Chaos to zip around and reach higher ground easily. Providing a sense of platforming, but not really. I do like it, because it allows certain jumps and navigation to be more satisfying. This isn’t just for the exploration, but this new way of zipping around adds to the combat as well. It allows there to be more verticality to arenas, and they even give you drop down attacks which can be performed by jumping off a ledge and slamming onto anything that lies below. It’s really fun to perform!


Remember that there is loot everywhere. Loot here, loot there, loot coming being farted out of the giant disgusting creature you just killed that hasn’t bathed in months. What do you do with all this random junk you come across? You use it to upgrade your gear. That’s right there’s crafting in these games and they all contribute to the RPG factors. A lot of people enjoy leveling systems and crafting in modern games, but I think God of War does it really well. Kratos has several stats to level up and by tinkering certain categories you can specialize in certain things. Increase strength to increase the amount of damage per hit. Increase defense to boost resistance to enemy attacks. Vitality for maximum health, runic for increased elemental/magic damage, luck for increased loot drop, etc. There are different types of armor sets in the game, and they each affect different stat categories so choose what you want wisely. Upgrading armor will increase their stat bonuses, and higher level upgrades will require rarer materials and hacksilver which is your main currency. You also want to be on the lookout for Frozen Flames and Sparks, because that’s what increases the damage of your weapons. Besides that you also have character EXP, which can be used to unlock skills on a skill tree and upgrade rune abilities. The skill tree gives you new attacks and combos for your weapon, and runic ability are special attacks which can deal massive amounts of damage. Runic attacks have a cooldown time, so knowing when to pull them off during fights is best. It’s all about playing the right move at the right time.


There’s just a lot of things God of War: Ragnarok does right and this isn’t even everything the game has to offer. There’s really cool stuff that happens later in the game, but I don’t want to reveal it as it can technically be viewed as a spoiler to one of the characters. It’s so good, and there wasn’t a point where any of these systems felt annoying. We’ll talk more about why I love this in the next section, but hopefully you can fight on and prevent Ragnarok from happening.


Thoughts


God of War: Ragnarok was an absolute blast from beginning to end. I poured 30 hours into this game and at no point did it ever get stale. It always had something amazing to look forward to and I fell for it. My expectations were set, they were met with positivity all around, and for some reason Ragnarok still managed to exceed my expectations and be a much better game than the last. I was worried it would suffer in the shadow of its predecessor, but luckily it didn’t. I can confidently say this is a perfect sequel, one of the best examples of how to do one, and I barely have any complaints with Ragnarok. I loved it and would even say it’s one of the best Triple A games to come out in the 2020s. Now let’s discuss more on what I liked and how it improved.


The combat as mentioned earlier is really good, but it’s much harder though. Enemies are placed into groups more often, they deal way more damage, gang up on you easily, and you constantly have to be on your toes. This is a significant skill increase than the last game, but I don’t think the skill increase is too much. It’s not like Doom (2016) to Doom Eternal where you are getting your ass handed. No, here it’s modest enough and even when I was dying a lot I wouldn’t say it’s unfair. I wouldn’t go out and yell that the encounter was complete horse crap and tone down the difficulty I was playing on to cheese it. No, I would get through the encounter, persevere, and feel the excitement and having pulled through. Anyways, all the weapons are fun to use and the combos you unlock for them allow any maneuver to be viable. You can get really creative on how you fight and even if you aren’t creative or chaining godly combos like those montage videos online you can still get through the entire game by just using basic starting skills. I enjoyed how the new movement options and being able to zip around with the Blades of Chaos opened new ways for arenas to be set up. Adding verticality and more options to get the drop down on enemies. I like the larger number of enemies and new miniboss types. I didn’t have a problem with the selection of enemies in the last game, but I know there were a couple of players who argued it could have been larger. Well they really expanded and I think what they added allowed there to be more combat scenarios, types, and encounters. The combat is better than it has the rights to be and I’d say the new God of War titles are right up there with Bloodborne for having some of the combat I witnessed in any video game out there.


I think the exploration has improved as well as the level design. There’s more ways to maneuver around, more secrets, and what you can find when going off the main story path is truly unique. Like there is a lot of content on offer and the sheer size of these play spaces are jaw dropping. The last game’s side quests were good, great at times like the Valkyries and the Dragons, but I’d argue it’s one of the weaker aspects of God of War (2018). Here you get dumped into like miniature open world sandboxes, dungeons, and much more. There’s even a side quest connected to the development of one of your companions, which then takes you into a forest shrine that rewards an ancient sword at the end, and I won’t spoil it further. It’s just cool side content you’ll have to discover for yourself. There’s even a realm you can travel to for the ravens you kill while exploring, and each chest offers a new armor piece. In the last game there weren’t any rewards for finding these ravens, but here it’s worthwhile.


The game is beautiful. This shouldn’t be a surprise as PlayStation properties are usually always beautiful and pushing the hardware, but God of War: Ragnarok is an absolute beauty to look at. The environments are highly detailed, sometimes teaming with light, and the advanced lightning just makes it shine like a gem. There were times where I’d stop, look off in the distance, maybe a cinematic moment was happening and the pillar that was there shatters into millions of pieces, and I sit there asking myself “How did they make this.” I ask myself that a lot, but here I just truly wonder how within four years they made a game this expansive and beautiful. One thing I don’t like is that there isn’t a photo mode, which isn’t a huge problem, but I just wanted to take pictures of the world and scenery. This then forced me to go to settings and turn the HUD off and then turn it back on when I’m done. Hopefully they add this feature in a future update.


I should also mention that I was playing this on the PlayStation 4 as Ragnarok was released for both next gen and last gen consoles. At first, I was expecting there to be technical problems, as originally it was supposed to be a PlayStation 5 exclusive due to it utilizing next gen graphics and processing. Trying to bring a game as powerful as that to last gen consoles is hard and will probably disrupt the system a lot as it’s trying to process the sheer size of the game and what is going on. However, that didn’t happen, and the PlayStation 4 version managed to impress me. On day one alone it ran with smooth frame rate, no glitches, and by the miracle of God didn’t blow up my console. I’m not even talking about the PlayStation 4 Pro. I’m playing on the original PlayStation 4 and dear lord that version is old. The only technical problems I can think of are textures failing to load at times, but this only occurred during long play sessions, and it only takes less than five seconds before they all resort back to normal. I love how Santa Monica optimized the PS4 version. They did this because they knew not many gamers are able to obtain a PS5 due to how hard they are to come by, and they wanted both PS5 and PS4 to have an equal experience. You got to thank them for just taking the time and doing that alone. Great last gen port.


The story. Can’t talk much about it, but I will say that it’s amazing. It’s the best story I heard in a very long time, and it left me with many emotions. Happiness, anger, sadness, and relief all at the same time. This story will move you in so many ways, and the characters are all to thank for why this story works so well. The music is great, every scene is shot and directed perfectly, but those character moments and where you get to see them develop is what makes God of War truly special. The story and presentation are Hollywood levels of quality, and I’d even compare the quality of recent Sony releases to that of Marvel films. Where they differ is that Sony stories actually take their themes seriously and do them well. Whereas Marvel films seem to lose focus and try to throw in unnecessary comedy. At least when comedy and lighthearted moments in this game happen, they are actually delivered at the right time, or it’s well done. This game has so many themes. Having trust in loved ones, being able to set up your own path, moving on even when what clasped and tormented you left a permanent mark, letting go after death, and most importantly of all growing up. That last one is weird, but I do think the recent God of War, especially Ragnarok, have handled growing up as well as how they have changed. Passing down the torch and seeing what you nurtured grow into something to be proud of. Everything about this narrative is perfect to me and the ending was the most satisfying conclusion I’ve seen.


God of War: Ragnarok is one of my most favorite games of 2022, and I’d even say it’s standing alongside Elden Ring for being my ultimate Game of The Year. It may even be my ultimate game of the year. I know there’s been an argument that God of War: Ragnarok isn’t really a true video game like Elden Ring and it’s more of a movie. Yeah, I get what they are angry about, but like come on don’t just dismiss it because it's more plot-driven than gameplay focused. I still think this game is really fun. I’d say Elden Ring and God of War: Ragnarok should share the top spot together. This game is just an absolute masterpiece. I am going to give God of War: Ragnarok a 10/10 for just being incredible. Five years from now I’ll look back and remember it fondly.


10/10, Incredible

This critique was written by the single man at Review on. Stay tuned for more content and feel free to check more reviews out over at my site!

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