God of War has been a jewel in the PlayStation crown for many years and its sequels have always been highly anticipated releases. None more so than God of War Ragnarok.
The 2018 release of God of War injected some new life into Kratos, as it gave some humanity and depth to his character. While his Greek adventures saw him take down a slew of gods with little consequence, it is the ending of the 2018’s adventure which sets up the plot of God of War Ragnarok. Set a number of years after its predecessor, Kratos and Atreus are back in Midgar, constantly on the move and training for the inevitable showdown with the incoming gods they have angered. It is with the arrival of Odin and Thor to Kratos’ home, that ignites the story of this sequel.
Atreus, hitting his teenage years, has been secretly visiting Giant shrines and discovering secret prophecies hidden within. These secret prophecies are only accessible to Giants, Atreus being one on his mothers side, and expand on the supposed end of the realms, also known as Ragnarok. Atreus believes he can prevent the impending Ragnarok, by finding the Norse god of war Týr. While not believing in faith, Kratos agrees to help Atreus discover more and their journey begins.
Speaking of the adventure in any way, would spoil the story. But, it’s easy to say it is enthralling and gripping for the most part. What I will say, is that you will travel to all 9 realms in search for clues and explore gorgeous landscapes. Seven of the realms were available in the previous title, but many of the regions have been drastically changed. This is due to Fimbulwinter taking over the lands, Fimbulwinter being another indicator that Ragnarok is coming. One such location is Midgar, which is now a snow and icy tundra. The once flourishing Lake of Nine, is now frozen over with blustering blizzards throughout. While Alfheim now has a brighter look, due to the return of the Light Elves. Each of the realms may seem familiar, but now include new flora and fauna or a deadly array of new enemies to battle.
This brings us onto the combat and the new tweaks to its mechanics. Players will have access to the Leviathan axe and Blades of Chaos from the start. Throw the axe long distances or use it up close to chop your enemies to bits with light or heavy attacks. The axe can be upgrade and powered by ice attacks, dealing even more damage or freezing enemies in place. It’s your blades that have become more dramatic in style, with large swooping swings and upward motions adding more of an enemy juggling opportunity. You can charge your weapon, swinging the blade creating a fire attack. Blades feel closer to the over the top motions of the early PlayStation 2 iterations.
The trusty shield has now gained offense capabilities, with a number of variants becoming available. While it is used to parry and block, some shields allow you to charge it from blocking and unleash a powerful attack.
Your companion can be used to send projectiles, mainly a mix of arrow types, or unleash special summons to pin down enemies. Your weapons act similar to the predecessor, though the pace is faster. They feel more visceral, as you crunch, slice and dismember enemies with ease. You will find yourself switching weapons with simple button inputs. The upgrade system has been streamlined to a degree, with weapons and amour having a number of levels to progress and make them stronger. You could essentially find amour sets that suit your style of play and wear it all through the game.
The variation of enemies has vastly improved too, as you will see more than just trolls, dark elves or nightmares this time around. You’ll take on larger numbers of enemies in and ferocious beasts, who now tend to surround you in battle. A new amphibious like creature tends to hang back and spits acid from afar, while some act as group healers, tasking you with removing them before taking on the standard enemies. Another set of enemies channel Bifrost energy, acting as an explosion, attaching to Kratos and takes a chunk of health when hit. Encounters with hulking side bosses or attack absorbing tank-like creatures are more plentiful too.
While many are organically met throughout the main story, completing side missions or wandering off the beaten track will regularly see you take on these tougher enemies. It never feels too hard in battle, but it is more of an understanding of your weapons and their weaknesses that will see you prevail.
Gameplay will consist of some exploration, plenty of combat encounters and story exposition. The mainline story will see you hop from realm to realm, chasing leads and unlocking more back story of your foes. Along the way, you will have the opportunity to do side missions. Tasks will consist of finding lost items, destroying enemy hives or disrupting Odin’s grasp on certain worlds. To succeed in these mission, you will climb and traverse areas, solve puzzles and even unlock returning paths, for when you unlock new skills. They also give some more lore and insight to individual characters.
Puzzles can have clever uses of weapons or companion skills. Use your axe to hit moving targets, use its freeze effect to halt rushing water or freeze geysers to use as platforms. Use the Blades of Chaos to ignite fire pits, destroy twisted briers or hit out of reach items. Sonic arrows smash open doors or break locks. There are even new Twilight stones, which ricochet your axe into smashable objects.
While puzzles aren’t ever too hard, the likes of Atreus or Mímir might indicate solutions slightly earlier than needed. Many of the side mission will give you access to extra crafting items and gear upgrades.
You will traverse the larger worlds by boat or your new wolf sled. You could easily get distracted and hit areas of interest looking for bonus objectives.
Sounds Of Ragnarok
Finally, let’s talk about how God of War Ragnarok sounds. The performance from the returning cast is stellar, with Christopher Judge (Kratos) and Sunny Suljic (Atreus) brilliant in their roles. Judge gives huge range to Kratos, as you feel the emotions of a mighty father, who may fear his predicted future. Preparing Atreus for the future, he tries to share his knowledge and teach the angsty teenager Atreus to be ready for what may come of their actions of the first game. While Sunny’s performance showcases his enthusiasm to prevent Ragnarok, it also shows his naivety of peoples intentions. These views clash and create great moments between the actors.
Performances from returning cast members of Danielle Bisutti (Freya), Robert Craighead (Brok), Adam J. Harrington (Sindri) and Alastair Neil Duncan (Mimir) allow the actors to develop their characters. While some have heartbreaking backstories, others give a bit of comic relief in the quieter times of the adventure.
Ryan Hurst (Thor), Richard Schiff (Odin), Laya DeLeon Hayes (Angrboda) and Ben Prendergast (Týr) join the cast and bring their own twist to their characters. The new cast bring a variety to the game. While I wasn’t sure of some castings, the more you learn of each characters personalty, the performances of each fits well.
You can’t talk about this title without shouting out Bear McCreary’s amazing soundtrack. From the moment you begin the game, the soundtrack is along your side throughout. With booming percussion to haunting choirs, the music intensifies during battle to gently and melodically play along your quiet exploration. The score is littered with Nordic string, horn and woodwind instruments, giving a mystical and enchanting feel to some of the score.
It never once seems out of place and hits the right notes every time, conveying emotion, demanding attention during boss battles and dictating pace when the action gets bigger. It’s beautifully written and is key to build the atmosphere of the game.
So, my final thoughts. I loved returning to the world of God of War. The performances were great throughout, while the refined combat kept the action fluid. It hasn’t broken any new ground, but the one shot aspect and the continuous flow of the game is truly amazing. The team has a well polished game and it was worth the wait. While some beats of the story slow down the pace on rare occasions, you’ll easily get 25-30 hours of story alone. With a host of side missions, collectibles and post-game secrets to find, there will be plenty to keep you occupied.
God of War Ragnarok is now available on PlayStation 4 and PlayStation 5. Go play it, and enjoy it.
Another beautifully crafted title from Santa Monica Studio. With top cast performances, God of War also improves the combat and brilliantly expands the lore of the world. Some story beats can slow the pace, but overall it is engaging throughout.