2018s God of War set a gold standard for narrative-driven games, Kratos and Atreus’ long and emotional journey was a far cry from what the franchise had previously seen. Making Kratos a multi-dimensional and layered character who not only had to fight the demons of his past but also had to deal with being a father felt like a natural evolution for the character and one that worked remarkably well in the context of the themes and tones of the game.
The narrative was so perfectly presented in a world so beautifully realized, that it often felt like the studio wouldn’t have anywhere to go but despite this, Santa Monic Studios one-ups itself once again with God of War Ragnarök, taking the player on a poignant story complemented by incredible performances, surprising twists and turns and everything else you’ve come to expect from a God of War game!
God of War Ragnarok Picks Up In The Midst of Fimbulwinter
God of War Ragnarök picks up four years after its predecessor, in the midst of Fimbulwinter, and from the get-go, there is a noticeable tinge of tension and dread in the atmosphere as Ragnarök approaches. Compared to God of War, the sequel, from the on-set presents itself as a story with much higher stakes. While the original concerned itself with Kratos and Atreus’ journey to the highest peak in the realm to spread Faye’s ashes, Ragnarök feels more like a grand adventure as the pair journey the realms to stop Ragnarök and Odin.
You meet Odin and Thor during the initial hours of the game and it really sets the tone for what unfolds over the course of the story, not only for Kratos and Atreus’ relationship and respective character arcs but also for the larger overarching story. Atreus is older now and as such his relationship with Kratos has a marked dynamic shift.
You see the pair of them more at odds as Atreus leans more into his heritage and questions his role in Ragnarök but you also see Kratos being a bit more receptive towards his son’s feelings and emotions while also learning to trust him more as he forges his own path, trying to break free from his father’s shadow. The game does a great job of making Kratos feel more vulnerable this time around, not only as a character but also within the context of the story. At times, to me, it felt very unlike Kratos but over the course of the game, it felt natural for his character development and made sense given impending events.
Prophecy and Destiny are at The Heart Of The Narrative
God of War Ragnarök’s main thematic element is prophecy and destiny. The idea is echoed throughout the course of the story and is another point of contention between Kratos and Atreus. While Atreus believes in a set sequence of events Kratos views it as untrue and their contrasting views on this matter (without going into spoilers) often make for some of the best story moments in the game and is the driving force behind most of the characters.
The game is riddled with twists and turns, revelations and surprises that start from the beginning of the story right up to the end, while I won’t spoil them here suffice to say the game will keep you on your heels throughout its runtime because just when you think you’ve made it to the end of a quest you’re thrust into another with even more exciting possibilities and unlikely character alliances
God of War Ragnarök doesn’t shy away from switching up the character dynamic for long stretches of time by flinging new characters as Kratos and Atreus’ companions, effectively bringing these already established minor characters and putting them under the spotlight, while I won’t spoil what surprising characters end up being companions to Kratos and Atreus while they explore the realms but the bonds they create and the conversations and ideas that are exchanged that would otherwise go unexplored end being some of the best moments in the game.
My favorite part of the exploration was definitely the callback to previous games. References to the previous games were something that was inexplicably missing from God of War 2018 (or were very limited in nature) so to have conversations centered around not only the mainline trilogy but also the lesser-known PSP titles; Chains of Olympus and Ghost of Sparta felt like a real love letter to fans.
God of War Ragnarok Builds Upon the Exploration Aspect of its Predecessor
God of War Ragnarök takes the exploration aspect of its predecessor and dials it up to eleven. Not only are environments more open and detailed than before but this time around you can visit all nine realms. Each realm has its own distinct tone and flavor which helps it stand out. From the lush jungles of Jötunheim to the vast deserts of Álfheim, the variety of environments on display is truly incredible.
What I personally really enjoyed was the fact that not every realm experiences Fimbulwinter the same way. While Midgard is completely covered in Snow, realms like Svartalfheim portray Fimbulwinter as worsening their earthquakes while the desert storms in Álfheim grow more and more strong and dangerous. The differentiation between each realm is further accentuated by Bear McCreary’s incredible score. Like his work on God of War 2018, what he does for the sequel is truly remarkable.
The vastness of the realms is also something that can not be understated. When I completed the main quests in Álfheim and Vanaheim I was taken aback at the grand scale of each world. leading into multiple hidden locations and other areas completely optional but containing just as much lore and action as any of the main areas. I spent about three hours in Vanaheim alone completing side quests and finding chests, when I left it felt like I had barely scratched the surface.
Returning Realms are Presented in a Completely Different Way
Realms you visited in the previous game are presented in a completely different light, not only because of Ragnarök but also because the team has gone in and updated them to show the effects of Kratos and Atreus’ first visits There are subtle differences around Álfheim following Kratos and Atreus’ decision to help the light elves, with new structures, enemies, and gameplay scenarios, this is also true for other returning realms. There’s a sense of familiarity and a sense of uniqueness which I thought was excellently done.
I do want to take this time to address what is probably my only grievance with the game and that is pacing. Some story sequences tend to drag out a bit too much for my liking. The first quest in Jötunheim when you’re playing as Atreus seems to stretch on for a good long while, while I enjoyed the realm and what it brought to the character there were some things that I believe could’ve been cut to allow for tighter storytelling. The pacing issue came up quite a bit during my time with the game but I think given the game’s grand scale and with it being the finale to the Norse saga, this should be expected.
God of War Ragnarok Features Some of the Best Acting in the Medium
God of War 2018 presented some incredible characters based on Norse Mythology and Ragnarök takes it one step ahead by introducing a slew of new characters while also building on the existing ones. Each and every actor does an incredible job of bringing their respective character to life. Christopher Judge’s Kratos is as thunderous and serious as ever, with his heavy voice having a considerable presence in any scene he’s in and Sunny Suljic’s Atreus has grown to be a bit more dominant while also retaining his inquisitiveness while Alastair Duncan’s Mimir remains as charming as ever.
A standout returning character for me was definitely Danielle Nicole Bisutti’s Freya. The hint of sadness coupled with her drive for vengeance over Baldur’s death is expertly acted. You can feel the pain in her voice as she hunts down Kratos and Atreus during the initial hours of the game while also having a sense of fear and dread given how relentless she is.
Her acting also evokes a sense of sympathy for the character and if you’ve played the original God of War games works as an excellent callback to Kratos’ loss of his wife and daughter.
Ryan Hurst turns in a stupendous performance as Thor as does Richard Schiff as Odin, you don’t get to see them as much during the game but when they are on screen, they absolutely steal the show. Being the second major on-screen adaptation of these characters meant that there were going to be obvious comparisons to their MCU counterparts. The good news is they’re acted so distinctly that you would be hard-pressed to draw a comparison because of how well these characters have been crafted in the context of this video game.
Combat Has Been Iterated On and Feels Fresh
Combat has always been at the heart of the God of War series and Ragnarök iterates heavily on the excellent combat system of its predecessor. The added novelty of having Atreus as a playable character breathes new life into the combat.
Both the Leviathan Axe and the Blades of Chaos return with a few new tricks. To my surprise most of the unlockable abilities have been replaced with entirely new move sets so in a way you have to relearn these weapons all over again. The Leviathan Axe feels as great as ever, with hard-hitting and satisfying blows that make striking down each enemy feel amazing while the Blades of Chaos work better at controlling large hordes of enemies.
As someone who loved the original God of War games, I found myself leaning towards the blades a bit more than the axe, being able to have them unlocked from the get-go was a nice touch I felt like God of War 2018 waited a bit too long to let you access them and consequently, your time with the blades felt very limited.
The standard heavy and light runic attacks return. Some are entirely new while some are similar to the ones found in God of War 2018. Skill unlocks work similarly to how they did in the original but now Atreus had his own separate XP gain. Atreus’ move set has been expanded upon greatly. Not only is he more viable but new combat prompts make him an integral piece of your arsenal.
God of War Ragnarok Finally Lets You Play As Someone Other Than Kratos
And For the first time ever a God of War game lets you play as a character other than Kratos. Atreus is quicker on his feet, allowing you to dodge more quickly as well as allowing you to maneuver around the combat field with a lot more haste. While he only wields one weapon (his bow, which acts as both a melee weapon and a ranged weapon) it feels incredibly versatile, capable of quickly repeated blows as well as shorter heavy attacks.
The ranged combat feels even more incredible once you unlock different ammo types. The possibilities of taking down enemies in unique and interesting ways increase and it melds together to form a satisfying combat loop that while a far cry from what we’ve seen from Kratos works extremely well and is genuinely fun!
Atreus’ combat and gameplay really put Kratos’ heft and weightiness into perspective and provides a great counterbalance to Kratos’ comparatively slower combat. Having a break from Kratos every now and then and being able to assume Atreus’ role really helped in keeping the game fresh and exciting throughout its roughly 20-hour-long length.
Shield combat for Kratos has also been expanded upon allowing you to wield lighter and heavier variants according to your playstyle. Some shields also have the ability to hold charges which adds another layer of countermeasure against shielded enemies. Overall, shield combat is a lot more viable now, in the original, it almost felt like an afterthought but in Ragnarök, you can tell there’s some serious work that went into this mechanic. The game also adds a new mechanic through the Amulet of Ygdrassil which lets you equip different buffs that are found throughout the course of the game.
While the armor system has remained pretty much the same, I did appreciate the addition of a transmog system. Any good game that features customization needs to have a good transmog system in place, in my opinion, and God of War Ragnarok thankfully does. Transmog is one of those systems you don’t know you need until you have it in the game. as someone who wants their characters to look a certain way the addition of this feature is a big win in my book.
God of War Ragnarök is Santa Monica Studios’ finest outing to date. The story, characters, soundtrack, and combat all meld together to form a cohesive symphony that’s a blast to play from beginning to end. While the game has some pacing issues, everything else is so masterfully done that it more than makes up for it and is the perfect send-off for this chapter in the God of War series.
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