REVIEW – When God of War was resurrected in 2018, I had my concerns. But in the end, what we got was one of the best games of the last generation. Four years later, the sequel finally arrived, and there was a lot of hype and anticipation around it. After 30 hours of play, I can say that God of War Ragnarök is a rollercoaster ride in many ways, with extraordinary positives and negatives. I could definitely feel the limitations of the previous generation, while also recognizing the great new ideas that the developers have implemented here. When Ragnarök strikes, it strikes hard, but at times I felt restrained. There’s a lot to write about here…
The story takes place shortly after the events of the previous game. Kratos and Atreus are still struggling with the effects of their actions. Even for the first game, I’m not going to dive too deep into spoiler territory in my analysis of the story, as some players may be fresh in or may even have yet to finish the original game. A decent summary is available in the main menu to refresh players’ memories of the highlights of the original game. It should be added that it could be a little more detailed, as it omits several characters who appear in Ragnarök.
The story is still first-class – with minor flaws
Ragnarök continues the high-quality storytelling. Kratos, the gruff, middle-aged Spartan warrior we met at the beginning of the previous episode (and for old bikers, back in the PS2 era), continues to grow as a character. At the same time, his son Atreus struggles with his own destiny and its challenges. The supporting characters are also generally impressive, with the two master smith dwarves Brok and Sindri, for example, providing just the right amount of humour. However, they can sometimes seem a little forced, while Mimir, hanging like a severed head from Kratos’ waist, is almost constantly extremely witty. Freya is back – I don’t want to spoil her role here, but it’s clear from the trailers that she’s still very angry about what happened in the previous episode. I liked Freya a lot, in fact I probably liked her even more than in the previous game.
There are a lot of new characters in this part as well, I wouldn’t really go into detail about them, just that most of the main characters are all some kind of Norse god or their relatives or children. Speaking of the latter, there are also many child gods in the game, with whom Atreus comes into contact in one way or another, and I was not always impressed by these scenes. Atreus is a bit of a “Candide” type, a naive, adolescent character who relates to all the other characters in this way – including his father, the other adults, elders and child gods. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, it’s just that this element of the story is so emphasized and we’re with Atreus in some way so many times that it’s too far removed from the God of War concept for me, or what I expect from a God of War.
On the other hand, this politically endless, almost constantly correct and often still whining Atreus is a bit irritating in itself, especially when he’s without Kratos, and there’s too much of him in this game for me. I wasn’t particularly struck by the child gods either – I felt a bit like I was watching a youth Netflix fantasy series during these episodes. Make no mistake: the overall story is still excellent, but not as overwhelming as in the previous episode. As for Kratos: he’s a great character and in this story he’s more “matched” to the Greek Spartan warrior god of the earlier episodes – in a way that he talks about his old adventures while adventuring.
Impressive visuals, but the limitations of the previous generation are showing
The graphics in God of War Ragnarök are once again top-notch, and yes, in many ways, it surpasses the previous installment. Still, the differences are not so spectacular, only in how certain locations or characters are developed. Overall, I was very pleased with the resolution and detail of the textures, as well as the variety of landscapes (summer/autumn lush forest areas, snowy landscapes, etc.).
I did feel a few things were awkward, which may have been due to the previous generation. The game was basically built for PS4, and unfortunately, it shows. For example, there are various hidden loading screens, such as sections of the map where characters stop to slide through crevices and small tunnels. There are a strikingly large number of these, and after a while, they become distracting.
While the game often feels like a really exciting, epic adventure, other times, these technical shortcomings come to the fore a little more. The aforementioned lead-ins and loading screens can really drag down the pace of God of War Ragnarök at times, and the game also loads up relatively long and heavy for a PS4-optimised title that’s also coming to PS5.
But there are also some big positive changes compared to the previous episode. For example, I liked that, a bit like Mass Effect, you get new characters over time, and you can do side missions and just hang out and chat with them. I like this new way of doing things because it gave me time to dive deeper into the story and get to know the characters I like or the game’s universe.
This also means that the characters mentioned above will join in as “comrades in arms”, so it won’t just be Atreus who’ll be shooting arrows alongside us, which is a huge plus, as it’ll add a lot of variety to the game.
The other side of the coin is that some of the locations and the interactive activities that take place there are more boring. I don’t want to spoil too much, but in one place, we are just introduced to some new realm and lots of characters at great length, and I was quite bored with that part of the game, especially as they also worked out the environmental elements or the clothes a bit cheesy. Yes, the visuals of one or two locations got a bit gaudy; I don’t think it’s fitting for such a dark, mythological game.
Action, RPG, adventure: almost everything on every level?
Just like the previous installment, God of War Ragnarök is more of an action RPG than an action adventure, with lots of skills, abilities, spells, weapons, armor and magic items to learn. The action part has not changed much from the previous part, except that there is “more” of everything: more weapons, skills, attacks, spells, etc.
The fight is also dynamic, exciting and really bloody – perhaps even more so. Overall, Kratos’ combat simulation is first-rate: he fights, scythed and moved in exactly the way you would expect from such an older but still professional Spartan warrior and war god.
Unfortunately, there is one strong negative, which makes this experience quite a bit worse. Specifically, the camera tracking and lock-on system is a notch weaker in this game. In the heat of battle, the camera is often in the wrong place, you can’t follow where the enemy is and switching between enemies is much more cumbersome. This is particularly annoying on harder levels and with certain mini-bosses, such as those who can attack from the air, and the camera cannot follow you even with the lock on. I should note here that you also have to have the correct lock-on turned on somewhere in the menu to keep it on the target; otherwise, you lose it, which is then even more annoying with the wrong camera. Overall, both the in-combat camera and the lock-on system are among the major negatives of the game.
As for the discovery, it’s still great in general. There are many extremely varied locations to explore, and you often have to use your logical thinking to get on. It was most enjoyable, with one or two neck-breaking puzzle sections to get further were just tedious.
The various crate-puzzle sections were much more tiresome, which I didn’t like so much in the previous part, but now there are even more of them. They get in the way of the game’s rhythm and one or two of them are really tedious until you figure out the solution or solve the triple rune lock of the chest quickly enough.
Is this theatre divine now?
God of War Ragnarök is extremely long, substantial, and has a lot of enjoyable elements, but it also has its ups and downs. Many elements of the story were better, or at least better developed, while other times the idle pacing or the many, many little ‘god children’ with their dialogue, typical of a Netflix series for young people, were tiresome. In a way, Rangarök reminds me of what Goldfinger was like after Goldfinger in the James Bond movies: it was also extremely long and they wanted to add a little something extra; there were better elements, but overall it was all too many, the real classic was the tighter Goldfinger. I could make similar comparisons between God of War 2018 and Ragnarök. And one thing is for sure: this God of War is very much not the God of War released in 2006. How much of that is seen as positive or negative is up to you.
+ Massive, complex God of War action-adventure experience
+ Exciting, great, fast-paced fights
+ Overall a well-developed story with interesting new characters
– The camera management and the lock-on system have pretty big mistakes
– Empty passages in the story, Atreus sometimes, and the children of the gods are often irritating
– The shackles of the previous generation and certain game design elements (chests) sometimes break the rhythm
Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment
Developer: SIE Santa Monica Studio
Release: November 9, 2022.