God of War Ragnarök is one of the most highly anticipated games of 2022. Riding on the back of its massively successful predecessor, Ragnarök has a lot to live up to. Thankfully, it indeed lives up to the hype, and then some.
The team at Santa Monica Studios took on a massive undertaking prior to the development of this game. They had to create a sequel to a game that was critically acclaimed, won several Game of the Year awards, and breathed new life into a long-running franchise. When the sequel was finally announced, expectations were immediately high.
Many fans, as much as they loved the 2018 game, knew that it had flaws. Considering that, everyone wanted the sequel to not only be well-made but also to address the flaws of the previous game. Essentially, the sequel had to recreate the magic that was God of War 2018. And then, it had to be better.
In a lot of aspects, God of War Ragnarök IS better. Everything about God of War Ragnarök feels grander than its predecessor. The story and the characters have been expanded and given even more depth. The stakes of their actions are higher. Kratos and Atreus’ circle grows larger, which is a good thing considering their enemies this time are more formidable. Even the gameplay and combat are taken to a higher plane.
On the other hand, the game isn’t entirely flawless. It has pacing issues and a couple of glaring loose ends it leaves untied. However, at the end of it all, what will ultimately matter is whether the game’s strengths outweigh its weaknesses.
A More Expansive Combat and Gameplay Experience
God of War is known for its story and lore, but even more consider its gameplay its most attractive facet. If God of War 2018 changed the core combat the series is known for, Ragnarök embraces that change and solidifies it further.
Those who have played the previous game will find the core combat aspects and controls of the game very familiar. In this sense, it’s almost as if you’re playing the exact same game. Start playing around with the skills and other abilities, however, and you’ll begin to feel a sense of improvement from the familiarity.
Ragnarök is set three years after the events of God of War 2018. While the game shows that with the drastic changes in Midgard’s weather and Atreus’ glaring voice drop, the time jump is emphasized through the game’s combat and gameplay as well.
For example, certain runic attacks from the previous game are now parts of certain regular combos. A handful of attacks that you’ve had to unlock in the previous game are now pre-unlocked from the get-go. Atreus is much more active, intuitive, and independent. These are only a few examples, and you’ll discover more as you play. The changes are subtle, but they’re meaningful.
The game’s combat mechanic is smooth and satisfying. It’s a perfect union of the micro-patience gameplay of Souls-like titles and the unwavering excitement of hack-and-slash games. Every hit packs a punch. You feel as though you’re actually hitting something rather than just flailing your weapons around.
Traversal is another aspect God of War Ragnarök vastly improves upon. For one thing, Kratos now uses the Blades of Chaos as a traversal tool. Not only does this highlight the usefulness of the blades but it also makes reaching higher platforms more engaging and less tedious.
There’s also a feel of verticality in this game, in combat and traveling, that was seldom present in the previous game. You’ll be doing a lot of climbing and jumping back and forth between a higher and a lower platform in and out of combat. This makes the protagonists feel more fluid and agile this time around. This slight change promotes mobility in combat and it makes navigation more fun all in all.
Challenging, but Not Overwhelming, Puzzles
Another recurring gameplay loop in God of War titles is puzzle-solving. The series has always created problems for players to solve before they can advance to the next area. These are abundant in God of War Ragnarök. The difficulty of these puzzles will vary from player to player. Those who have keener eyes when it comes to puzzles will find them easier. However, it’s a far cry to say everybody will just breeze through them on their first run.
A Wider Variety of Enemies
This is an instance where God of War Ragnarök acknowledges one of the previous game’s disadvantages. One of the most common gripes players had with the previous game is the lack of variety when it comes to enemies. God of War Ragnarök takes that criticism to heart.
The nine realms are now plagued by a wider variety of enemies, from standard encounters and environmental hazards to mini-bosses and main bosses. It’s reminiscent of the earlier God of War games where you face a different set of enemies whenever you enter a new territory and face unique mini-bosses whenever you clear certain areas. It gives a feeling of dread and excitement to explore a new realm or section.
Each enemy you encounter feels like they’ve been intricately created. Their attacks and movements are mechanically compatible with your attacks and movements. A lot of these enemies are easy to wipe out but it’s always satisfying to do so. A lot of these enemies, on the other hand, are very tough to beat, but seldom feel unfair.
This doesn’t mean certain enemies don’t recur. You’ll still see the same enemies pop up in various areas time and again, including enemies from the previous game. The recycling of enemies is applied to some mini-boss encounters as well. Some you’ll find are repurposed normal enemies that are simply given a health bar and a higher damage output.
With all of that said, there’s enough variety that it makes the entire experience more fulfilling. From the enemy and encounter variety alone, God of War Ragnarök truly feels like a more realized entry to the franchise. At least, compared to the previous title.
A Story For the Ages
The previous title had a straightforward premise. A bereaved father and son fulfilling the final wishes of a mother who has recently passed away. That journey, however, was marred with obstacles they could never have foreseen. They overcome these obstacles, but not without inciting the unwanted attention of the gods of Asgard. This title deals with the result of that attention.
God of War Ragnarök tells the story of a father and son who get absorbed in a conflict bigger than themselves. The father, Kratos, is a reluctant participant who’s unwilling to take up arms for fear that it might endanger his son. The son, Atreus, is a purposeful young man who knows he’s meant for greater things and is willing to go through highs and lows to save his world and the people he loves. They’re placed in a world full of imminent threats, world-ending prophecies, and powerful figures who will either become their most trusted allies or most dangerous foes.
It’s a story filled with epic battles, larger-than-life characters, and mystical circumstances. However, at its core, God of War Ragnarök is a family drama between a father and a son who will stop at nothing to protect the other. In their efforts to keep each other safe, they walk paths and make certain decisions so fateful that it impacts the fate of the nine realms.
The story of the game is told through a mixture of gameplay and cutscenes. In a lot of games, cutscenes destroy the pacing of the gameplay. It grinds things to a halt and diminishes a player’s hype. In Ragnarök, cutscenes serve both the gameplay and the story. These cutscenes need to happen for the story of the game to properly move forward. They happen in between gameplay without breaking its momentum. In fact, it heightens the experience altogether. It is a cinematic experience that you control and witness.
The story of God of War Ragnarök is a thrill from start to finish. From its first hour, it continues to ascend, weaving and turning along the way, until it settles at one of the most incredible climaxes in video game history. It will be glorified as a narrative masterpiece that proves video games can tell stories just as well as cinema.
A Perfect Ensemble
There are a lot of moving pieces in the story of Ragnarök, but it all returns to Kratos and Atreus. This is their story, after all. However, the other characters that are tied to the main characters are also given more nuance — and herein lies another praiseworthy aspect of God of War Ragnarök: its characters.
Starting with the characters that are at the forefront of God of War Ragnarök, Kratos and Atreus. These two have grown immensely both as father and son and as individuals. They no longer rely on each other as often as they did previously. As an example, Atreus no longer needs his father to traverse certain areas. Kratos no longer needs Atreus to translate certain passages. However, they both still feel the need to fight beside each other because they fight to protect each other.
Atreus is more decisive, for better or for worse. He is a temperamental teenager but he also carries a massive weight of responsibility on his shoulders which explains a lot of his actions. He stands up for himself whenever necessary and softens up when he feels the need to comfort someone else. Whatever Atreus does, it’s always clear that his heart is in the right place.
Atreus is also somewhat more charming this time around. He has the sense of humor, wit, and approach to circumstances befitting of a god known for being a trickster.
Kratos, on the other hand, has undergone massive character development. Kratos has opened himself up to vulnerability and a wider range of emotions. He’s more verbal with his emotions. He isn’t quick to bursts of rage, although this still slips time and again as you’ll see when you play the game.
His relationship with other characters is also somewhat more reciprocal. He is thankful, he acknowledges his relationships, and he expresses pride whenever his son showcases his independence. Ragnarök took a rageful god and gave him the characteristics of a caring mortal that’s capable of empathy, concern, pride, and gratitude.
Mimir, Brok, and Sindri make their return to Ragnarök and are definitely more fleshed out than they were in the previous game. Freya, a former ally turned foe, goes through a character arc deserving of its own story. The Huldra brothers have more time to show their personalities and are given emotionally charged arcs as well. The game also introduces a cast of new and memorable characters, as well.
The main villains of the story, Thor and Odin, both who never appeared in the previous game but loomed over it like a dark cloud, are now placed at the center as major players. Both of these characters are memorable and well-written, but particular praise needs to be directed at the character of Thor.
In the previous game, we’ve heard tales about how terrible Thor is. An ultimate harbinger of death, especially towards the Jotnar. A mindless killing machine. A drunk. A bad father. In Ragnarök, Thor is more than just a terrible god driven by bloodlust. He’s intimidating and terrifying, yes. Evil, even. But there is also a depth to him you always want to see in a good villain. His actions are inexcusable, but you see the drive that motivates him.
Thor is more than just anger incarnate. His powers, motivations, history, and personality make him a worthy adversary to Kratos. A direct image, almost. If there is a character in the series who mirrors Kratos the most, it isn’t the Norse god of war. It’s not even his son. It’s the Norse god of thunder.
Top-notch Writing and Voice Acting
The story is a vehicle and the characters are drivers that move it along. Both of these are rendered useless without fuel. That fuel for the story of Ragnarök is good writing, and it’s filled to the brim with it. Dialogue, item descriptions, artifacts that indicate the lore of the game—everything in this game is masterfully written.
The writers also had to take the story of the original Norse myths and mesh it into this world and, in most cases, they do so quite spectacularly. It acknowledges the myths without making Kratos, arguably an outsider in this story, an unnecessary piece. It retells the original myths while having it make sense to the world built up in the previous game. It’s a treat to both readers of the original myths and to fans of God of War. It’s an even bigger treat to those who are both.
The writers and quest designers didn’t reserve their best works for the main storyline, they also took great care of side quests. The side quests, also known as favors, in God of War Ragnarök are, for the most part, essential to the overall world and lore. They tell stories that make the overall picture a bit clearer. A lot of these side quests are meaningful to the core cast, and it can be cathartic for the player to take the time to explore them.
The incredible writing of the game is elevated to even greater heights with the help of phenomenal acting. Every line of dialogue is acted incredibly by the talented actors who have lent their voices to this game. These performances are what make the emotional beats of the story land. The performances are believable, impactful, and brilliantly executed.
A Feast for the Senses
There are three things that make God of War Ragnarök such a pleasure to look at: performance, the art direction, and the animation.
Many were worried when it was announced that the game would be released on both the PS4 and the PS5 as it would “hold back” the game whether in graphics or performance. In this sense, God of War Ragnarök isn’t a true current-generation title. However, it in no way reduced just how amazing this game looks.
I played this game on a PS5, favoring performance, which had the game running in 1140 – 2160p at 60 frames per second. In this resolution and at this frame rate, every site I turn to looks like, for the lack of a better term, a painting. Whether or not this game looks like a “current-gen” title is surely still up for debate but there is no questioning the fact that this game looks vastly better than its predecessor. If this can’t be attributed to fidelity, it can be to art direction and level design.
Each level, vista, foliage, water surface, slope, and other level detail is crafted in such a way that it perfectly captures the essence of the realm you’re in. Everything looks beautiful and well-placed. Each realm has a visual identity you’ll be able to recognize and appreciate, from the harsh winters of Midgard and the majestic architecture of Alfheim to the industrial structure of Svartalfheim and the richness of flora in Vanaheim.
The game is also animated masterfully, especially in terms of facial animation. The faces the characters make as they convey emotions and thoughts are realistic and readable. Freya’s rage, Kratos’ dilemma, Thor’s sorrow, and Atreus’ desires are shown on their faces very clearly. It’s another aspect that makes this game an immersive experience.
When a game has terrible audio design, it can easily pull you out of an experience. When it’s done well, it elevates your experience and allows you to melt into the game naturally. The shattering of rocks and pottery, how surfaces sound when ran on on foot or sled, the clashing of steel, and how enemies grunt and wail upon each attack, the game sounds as pristine as sound design can be.
The game is also accompanied by a masterful soundtrack. When a scene or encounter is accompanied by a song, it greatly makes the emotion that scene or encounter is conveying more evident. It makes tragic scenes feel even more tragic and epic encounters feel more epic.
Quality of Life Improvements and Accessibility
Those who played the previous game will be glad to know that there is one particular quality of life improvement that’s been implemented in God of War Ragnarök. Kratos no longer automatically climbs down a chain after kicking it down. Enchantment placement is also more cohesive. Instead of placing enchantments on each armor piece, there’s now a dedicated menu for enchantments called Amulets. It’s now completely independent of the armor you wear and functions as its own separate feature.
Ragnarök is also considerate of obstacles that players may have, giving them a wide array of extensive options that they can toggle to make the game more accessible. This includes visual, motor, hearing, and motion accessibility. The game also gives liberty to those who want their games to be challenging and unaided. God of War Ragnarök is a game that’s made with every type if gamer in mind, regardless of skill or impairment.
A Few Things Left Unaddressed
There’s almost no such thing as a perfect product. The best video games in history have flaws one just cannot discredit. God of War Ragnarök is no exception. The game acknowledges some of the imperfections of the previous game and improves upon them. However, it makes a few imperfections of its own.
One of the most glaring flaws of the game is its pacing. As previously mentioned, there are so many things that happen in this game. There are a lot of characters whose arcs need to develop, a lot of storylines that need to move forward, and a lot of loose ends left behind by the previous title that need tying up. So many things happen so fast that you can’t sit and properly absorb a few emotional beats and momentous events.
Between Ragnarök and God of War 2018, this newer title is the one that’s more in need of a DLC. It tries to tie up a lot of loose ends but there are also some it leaves hanging. Given how this game is supposed to be the end of God of War’s Norse sage, these loose ends leave a bitter taste in your mouth and the only thing that will wash it away is a resolution—one you won’t find in this game’s conclusion.
A Masterclass in Video Game Development
Many video games have enjoyable and immersive gameplay but lack a decent story, dialogue, and world-building. A lot of games have incredible and memorable stories but fall short in the gameplay and combat department. God of War Ragnarök tells an amazing story that honors one of the most recognizable characters in video game history, set in a world that’s based on well-known historical myths. All the while, it doesn’t forget the fact that, at the end of the day, it’s a video game. It shouldn’t only entertain with its story but also with its gameplay, and it does so on both fronts.
God of War Ragnarök is a video game development masterclass. It takes into account every ingredient that makes a video game masterpiece. From story and characters to combat and level design, from accessibility and performance to graphics to audio.
A lot of games have been dubbed “one of the best video games of all time,” and it is easy to claim that God of War Ragnarök is among those games. The game takes you on a journey that touches on a vast range of emotions and provides quality entertainment. It titillates with its story and enchants with its engaging gameplay. It’s an impressive continuation of its critically acclaimed predecessor and a worthy addition to this widely beloved franchise. God of War Ragnarök knows it has a fantastic story to tell, so it presents itself in a technically and mechanically impressive gameplay package.