God of War: Ragnarök Review: The Father, The Son and the Whole Nine Realms

Written by Lance

November 4, 2022

One can make the argument that no other icon in gaming has successfully adapted to the times and reinvented itself to such an astounding degree as the God of War franchise. and, subsequently, its rugged and complex protagonist, Kratos. From its humble beginnings in the PlayStation 2, it has gone on to sell millions of copies throughout various installments, making its presence felt in consecutive console generations. By the end of God of War: Ascension, they could have just ridden off into the sunset and let Kratos’ story end right then and there, fully cementing his legacy as one of gaming’s all-time icons and a beloved figure by millions of fans worldwide.

But out of nowhere, 2018’s God of War came crashing like Kratos roaring through a horde of beasts minding their own business, all with a fresh coat of paint. Not resting on the laurels of its previous successes, this new title went through a complete transformation in every possible aspect. Central to this slew of transformation is the relationship between Kratos and his son, Atreus, and an entirely revamped exploration and combat system. Few games would ever dare attempt such a confluence between a remake and a sequel and actually achieve critical and financial success. But this game pulled it off in such a way that not only did it become the best God of War title to date, but it also became a masterclass on how to revitalize an entire franchise while remaining true to what made the title and its titular protagonist what it is today.

It took almost four and a half years, but the much-anticipated sequel, Ragnarök, has finally arrived. With nowhere else to go but up, does this game live up to the hype and elevate the foundation set by its predecessor? The short answer: categorically and so much more. But you’re not here for the short answer, no?

 

The Story

Taking place three years after the conclusion of the 2018 reboot, Fimbulwinter, the great winter that takes place for three summers and heralds the end of days, Ragnarök, is coming to a close. Having inadvertently sped up the process of Ragnarök following the events of the last game, Kratos and his now-older son, Atreus, embark on a journey across the Nine Realms to discover how to prevent the end of days from happening and avoid the fate that awaits them, all while contending with new foes such as Odin, the All-Father, and Thor, God of Thunder and holder of Mjölnir. Along the way, they discover more about the Nine Realms, Atreus’ origins as Loki, and the consequences of their actions such as the death of Baldur earning them Freya’s wrath, among others.

Content (5/5)

One thing that stood out to me during my hours of completing the main scenario was that it felt like both the 2018 game and Ragnarök make up two significant chapters of a grandiose tale. Whereas the first game was meant to build up its Norse-inspired surroundings, the new chapter of Kratos’ life, and his relationship with Atreus, Ragnarök felt like the culmination of a long, winding adventure that represented the growth of the series as a whole, and for all the characters involved.

A sign of a great story has always been keen attention to long-term storytelling, letting moments breathe, and allowing moments to pay off when it matters most. Seeing the small bits and pieces of the story converging into significant payoffs remains nothing short of spectacular, even more, if you paid attention to these details from the beginning. Those who played the first game expecting the same narrative excellence in the sequel will not be disappointed, and in many ways, Ragnarök serves as the proper climax to everything that came before it, rewarding fans of the series who started with Kratos’ revenge-fueled tale in 2005, to even those who probably first knew of him through the 2018 game.

But for how great the narrative may be, the most important element of Ragnarök, and the glue that keeps it together, is the complex yet endearing relationship between Kratos and Atreus. Seeing Atreus’ growth from a boy that needed guidance to an independent warrior who found his true purpose in life really shines through in the story. Likewise, you can feel for Kratos’ internal struggles as a father wanting the best for his son at any cost, tugging on the heartstrings when it matters most. There were moments in the story where, despite their being in a mystical Norse setting, felt too real, which is quite a surprise despite my personal expectations before playing the game. I would even daresay, this is a game that if fathers and sons would play, they will pick up a thing or two coming out of the adventure.

On that note, there is a lot to celebrate in the game, but nailing the story right is something worth celebrating the most, something of a hallmark in this era of God of War. It is unfortunate that the spoiler leaks happened the way they did because I personally felt that it robbed some fans of the impact that the story would deliver, but I personally find comfort in the fact that even if the spoilers somehow found their way to you, it would still find a way to impress when you get to play the game because of how the story is told. After all, nothing can ever replicate seeing the experience with your own eyes.

The protagonists may have multiple moments to shine, but you have to give some love to the many side characters and how well-written they are. Mimir remains the central voice and humor that keeps the different personalities together despite his disposition as a talking head, whereas Brok and Sindri’s brotherly interactions make for an interesting dynamic that distinguishes well from Kratos and Atreus’ father and son relationship. I personally felt for Freya, who had to deal with the direct consequences of the death of her son, Baldur, in the last game.

Even the new characters had moments to shine, including the new antagonists, Odin and Thor, who both bring such surprising depth in their own way, and newcomer Angrboda, who would have a significant impact on the character development of one of the characters. If there was a way to describe why these characters are so captivating, the most apropos word is probably “flawed”, that despite their being mystical and godly in nature, they seem to relate so much to people in real life who may be dealing with the same challenges in the modern setting. And somehow, despite the “God” in the title, I honestly never expected this much humanity in the story, and that much depth in the characters in a time when people hold great storytelling in high regard should be applauded.

In my estimated 30+ hours of progressing through the main story at the default difficulty setting, while dealing with some side quests along the way, exploring all of the Nine Realms felt satisfying. The realms may have changed in some form due to Fimbulwinter, but every realm you can explore has so much to offer, to the point that it’s easy to get lost for many hours in the exploration alone. From its plentiful side quests to hunting for various collectibles and beating optional bosses per area, you can make the argument that in terms of scale and based on my personal experience with its predecessor, it may very well be bigger and more brimming with content than the last game. Some side quests even involve major characters and add more to their personal history, a fun touch that further rewards players who opt to go off the beaten path. It is so easy to get lost in the shuffle of things when the realms are sights to behold. If there was an estimate to provide for trying to complete every single thing this game offers, including the challenges, side quests, and collectible hunting, it may very well be a minimum of 50+ hours, which is quite the bang for the buck for a game that costs $69 for the PlayStation 5 version.

Production (5/5)

God of War: Ragnarök was reviewed on the PlayStation 5 version, which feels like the definitive way to experience the game if you are lucky enough to snag a unit. I went through 60 FPS Performance Mode (vs. the 30 FPS 4K Resolution Mode) throughout my playthrough, which is personally for the best when it comes to both navigation and combat. However, it should be noted that if you have a television or monitor that can support HMDI 2.1, there is a High Frame Rate mode that can hit 40 FPS on Resolution, and a whopping 120 FPS for Performance. But even then, 60 FPS is already buttery smooth as is, especially in comparison to its 2018 prequel. Considering all the talk about games strictly running on 30 FPS in certain next-gen-exclusive titles nowadays, it’s good to know that at the least, Ragnarök can hang even with the tremendous scale of the game. As a side note, in my experience of playing the game, I haven’t encountered any major game-breaking issues that would deter my personal enjoyment.

Speaking of tremendous scale, you’ll either want to free up your storage or invest in higher capacity storage, with around 84+GB of storage needed to run the game on the PS5, not counting potential patches in the future. But even then, once you go through Kratos and Atreus’ sophomore journey, you will appreciate how all of that 84+GB of content is utilized to the maximum.

One thing I absolutely appreciate in modern-day PS5 games is the “seamless transitions” found in certain PS5 exclusives such as Returnal. In an interesting twist, the 2018 God of War helped introduce the concept of seamless transitions where it never has a sort of loading screen to move from one scene to another. In Ragnarök, this concept remains true and feels more seamless than before, making for an uninterrupted gaming experience.

This is the part where I would make a comment on how Santa Monica Studios probably had a missed opportunity on being able to maximize the full potential of the PlayStation 5 due to its not being exclusive to the said console, and there is a degree of truth to this. After all, we have seen how certain Sony-exclusive titles managed to pull off impressive performance and graphical feats when making use of the next-gen console’s infrastructure. But in this case, it is a great compromise as it stands, especially if it is able to deliver a great performance on PlayStation 4 consoles and given the ongoing PlayStation 5 shortage. And for the best, everyone deserves to experience the game regardless of the console version. Nonetheless, you can’t help but wonder what would have happened if it was a next-gen exclusive.

Mechanics (5/5)

As the old saying goes, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”.

Granted, it has been a long 5 years since my last foray into God of War, with a life-changing pandemic in between, but when I had my controller in my hands for Ragnarök, my muscle memory returned like I never left Midgard.

Combat mechanics have been retained from the previous game, carrying over the strategic risk and reward style that defined the Norse era of God of War. Combos continue to feel satisfying, parrying continues to be as rewarding as all hell, and executing finisher moves (with new animations depending on the weapon) will always feel like a dose of dopamine. This time around, Kratos begins with both the ice-based Leviathan Axe and the fire-based Kratos trademark, the Blades of Chaos (with the Guardian Shield as your defensive option). These open up some early-game combat options, especially when dealing with enemy barriers that require you to use the opposite of the element used.

Further, using the Triangle button this time around now has some extra added effects depending on the weapon used, and not just limited to getting back the axe when thrown. For example, holing Triangle while using the Leviathan Axe enhances the freezing properties of the weapon, allowing you to chill the enemy faster while dealing extra damage. Alternately, holding the Triangle button while using the Blades of Chaos allows you to vertically spin around the weapon, allowing you to deal with multiple hits, inflict the burn status effect, and finish off enemies in different ways. You can also pull off new skills in the mix, including a new smash attack from above the ledge, and even make use of new separate add-ons that you encounter later in the game that allow either supportive or damage utilities. These allow for additional means to dispatch enemies while keeping your options open in case things go south.

At regular difficulty, it manages to balance out the ease of dealing with various enemies, consisting of returning favorites and some new enemy types, while providing a more appropriate challenge to certain bosses, which can get pretty punishing if you are not prepared. In the best-case scenario, you’ll be able to put all your combat experience to good use and likely finish off tough bosses in one go. In the worst case, you’ll probably learn from your mistakes in dealing with really tough enemies and make use of offensive and defensive options. It’s sort of like a Soulslike approach where you learn through muscle memory, and once you get the hang of pulling off more advanced maneuvers, you’ll be able to deal with the harder challenges. And when they get harder, they really get harder. Thankfully, leveling up in the game comes naturally as you steadily progress through the main scenario while hitting up different side quests and content as you go along, so power creep issues aren’t an issue at all.

Atreus has also expanded his repertoire to include new skills and, in my humble opinion, a more responsive AI that works independently enough to not be a non-factor. Manually activating his skills, however, remain the best option when it comes to dealing sufficient damage and crowd control. Not only that, even his skill tree from the first game gets way more expanded to include more combat options, a symbolism of his growth as a character if there ever was one.

There is actually another thing in the expanded gameplay that really surprised me while playing the game that I absolutely want to talk about, but even I have to admit that it would be a spoiler to mention this, and fans should not be robbed of this revelation. All I will say is that when you reach it, you will know it, and highly likely, you may end up appreciating it.

The staple puzzles of God of War make a return, with mental challenges that made me feel stumped a bit until after some trial and error. Puzzles have been a bit of a mixed bag in different games over the years. Some games can have really frustrating puzzles that can take away overall enjoyment, while others struck a respectable balance in regards to difficulty with the right number of rewards, which, for an action game like Ragnarök, manages to hit that sweet spot. Now, there is an option to make puzzles a bit more manageable under settings, but where is the fun in that?

Features (5/5)

With the DualSense, you can appreciate the haptics while navigating in certain areas, and during key story moments, and adaptive triggers were implemented well when the need arises. But perhaps the best peripheral to complement playing the game is a proper 3D audio headset that would work on the PS5. In my case, and at the risk of pulling off a shameless plug, the Pulse 3D headset I used works absolutely wonders, improving the in-game immersion by far. It also helps that having a 3D headset helps gameplay-wise, helping detect enemies by virtue of its 3D audio detection.

Accessibility options should be a standard for major titles in this day and age, and it’s good to know Ragnarök joins the coveted list, including new options such as audio cues, combat customization, and UI adjustments. However, at the time of this review, I was not able to encounter anything that constitutes a Photo Mode, which is unfortunate because this game is ripe for some very dynamic screenshots. Hopefully, a future patch would include this function in some form because moments in this game deserve to be taken in all their glory. Nonetheless, it doesn’t deter much in terms of overall enjoyment.

 

Final Thoughts

At the conclusion of my playthrough and reaching the end of the main story, I had to put my controller down and give myself a moment of introspection. Not a lot of games can do that, but somehow, in some way, this game did. There were high expectations in pulling off a successful sequel to one of the best games of 2018 and a legitimate Game of the Year contender, but with an engaging story that tugs on more heartstrings than anyone may have expected, already solid combat gameplay made even more solid, improvements in performance and accessibility, and an expanded world that is something to behold, God of War: Ragnarök is the best God of War to date, full stop. Just when we thought God of War 2018 was peak God of War, the sequel built up an even higher peak, a benchmark for future games to try and strive for when it comes to excellence.

We talk about how Elden Ring is in leading contention for Game of the Year in 2022, but if there was a game that would easily contend Elden Ring’s dominance, this game could be it. With that said, it is with great pride that we give God of War: Ragnarök a well-deserved 5/5.

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