God of War Ragnarok review
It was always going to be tough following up on one of the best games of last generation. Sony Santa Monica did such a good job with God of War 2018, reimagining the story of Kratos and delivering a hard hitting story with great action. The weight of expectation was almost palpable, and today I’m going to bring you my review of God of War Ragnorok.
It’s worth saying that this review is going to steer clear of major spoliers. There’s so much in this game that is best experienced when you play through the game, rather than it be spoiled. I’d recommend to steer clear of spoilers if you possibly can.
I’d like to start off by saying God of War Ragnorok is fantastic, and has lived up to my high expectations. I played through the original in 2018, then played through it again recently to get ready for Ragnorok. This sequel manages to deliver when it comes to narrative, performance and action. Visually it’s stunning and the audio work is equally good. It’s a big game too, and manages to keep a great pace throughout the game, twisting and turning, taking you from one location to the other rapidly, and mixing up the gameplay like puzzles, exploration, action and boss fights.
While you can come to this game fresh, I would definitely recommend playing through God of War 2018 if you want to get the most out of God of War Ragnorok. There is a catch up video or animation on the start menu, and while it gives you the main story beats, it doesn’t really fill you in on the major detail. Ragnorok picks up the story a few years after the final moments of God of War. Atreus is older, and much more capable. Before he had trouble hunting, and now Atreus is hunting, fully able to look after himself and every now and again even manages to surprise Kratos. He’s no longer a child, and Kratos knows this, and he knows he’s going to have to let him go soon.
The apocalypse is coming in the form of Ragnorok. Fimblewinter has layed a thick blanket of snow and ice across Midgard, although as Mimir comments in the game, Fimlewinter affects all the realms in different ways. Atreus is hungry to learn more about his propehcy, he wants to find out more about his Giant name “Loki” and wants Kratos to trust his judgement. God of War Ragnorok gets you into the action quickly on the back of a sled being pulled along by wolves, followed up by a very touching moment that brought me very close to tears. It’s a great example of the game grabbing you by the scruff of the neck, almost dragging you into the screen and saying “Strap in, you’re going for a ride”.
The scale of God of War Ragnorok is impressive. God of War 2018 was tight in it’s goal and story-telling. The idea was simple, Kratos and Atreus had to climb a mountain to spread the ashes of Kratos’ dead wife, as per her instructions. Along the way you travelled to different realms, but the goal was clear. Here in God of War Ragnorok the scale and scope has been increased. This is a huge game. You travel across multiple realms, and the cast is expanded to an esemble cast rather than just focusing on the father and son relationship between Kratos and Atreus. While the game is big, in set pieces, action, length and scale, manages to take you along for the ride, and there is rarely a dull moment.
God of War Ragnorok is all about prophecy and whether a character’s destiny is set in stone or not. Sony Santa Monica take their time with the characters and dig deep into the themes, giving each character their time to shine. Sometimes this is through the main camapign, and often this is through side quests, which have been expanded in God of War Ragnorok to be much better. The story is great and complements the main campaign, and the rewards are fitting for the time invested in the side quests.
The story is a great way to wrap up Kratos’ Norse Saga. Sony Santa Monica have said they wanted to finish up the Norse story in two parts, otherwise they would be working on the Norse storyline for 15 years in total. The story is fantastic, it introduces plenty of new characters. Odin and Thor have been featured in the trailer for Ragnorok, and both of them deliver superb performances. There’s a dsictinct mafia feel about them both, with Odin pulling the strings and Thor acting as the muscle. The art direction and character design is excellent too. We’re very used to seeing Thor as part of the MCU, and this is a very different depiction of him in Ragnorok.
The cast of actors add so much to this game. Sony Santa Moncia have done a great job in capturing their performance. There’s so much heart in the performance and so much emotion in the delivery. Kratos is truly sullen, his past trauma surfaced in every word he utters. There is still room for brevity in the narrative, and there are loads of moments where you’ll laugh out loud. Christopher Judge takes his performance to the next level as Kratos. Overlooked in 2018, when Arthur Morgan’s voice actor took home the trophy. This year I can’t see past Christoper Judge’s performance for Kratos, it was exceptional. Sunny Suljic does a great job with Atreus. At first you aren’t sure if it’s the same voice actor, but it is and he plays the character very well, portraying a curious teenager, one who wants the trust of his father, but goes about it in interesting ways. Sindri, Brok and Mimir are back and this time their characters get much more time to shine. We learn about their collective back stories, with Mimir formerly serving Odin and all the trouble he used to get up to, plus the eventful back stories of our two favourite blacksmith dwarves. All together they breath more life into this adventure, all adding to the scale of Ragnorok.
The combat is God of War Ragnorok has been upgraded, now with much more emphasis on elemental attacks. Kratos still has access to all his weaponry from the first game, meaning a good combination of fire and ice. The axe still feels great to throw, although I found myself getting much more up close and personal this time round, whereas in 2018 I found I would stand back and pick off enemies from distance. Something has changed about the combat in Ragnorok, it’s not quite Elden Ring levels of combat, but there is more to it. At times the combat does feel button-mashy, although I am only playing it on normal difficulty, I am sure if you crank up the difficulty then it’d be more intricate. Combat still feels great, although the blades don’t quite feel like they have the weight to them this time round, they feel much lighter than the Axe.
God of War Ragnorok is pretty violent too, much like 2018’s God of War, but this seemed to raise it up a notch or two. Kratos will be ripping enemies in two, slicing them in half, hacking off their arms, and all of this takes place as finishing moves. it’s fun the first few times, but after a while does get a little tiring. When I am tearing through loads of enemies in this way, it also takes time for these animations, time where I could be going on the offensive.
The new elemental attacks are a great addition, and it would feel strange going back to the original now without them. By holding down the triangle button with the Axe in hand, it now gets covered in frost, then you can throw it for an ice attack. Similar, but opposite elemental with the blade, where you stand there, whirring the blades around in a circle before throwing them at your enemies for a fire attack. Shields also play more of a role here. Quite early in the game you get to select a shield that’s going to absorb a lot of attacks, or you’ll get one where parrying is rewarded. At first I took the one that would absorb, but I quickly got tired of that and chose the parrying shield and this one felt much better. Runic attacks are back and are a welcome addition to your arsenal.
While it does feel statisfying taking on smaller enemies, there is a sense of going through the motions at times. I don’t know if it’s because I played through God of War 2018, right before playing Ragnorok, but the combat did start to feel samey, and I was wanting to simply get through it and get to the boss fight or the story. Boss fights are grand in scale, impressive set pieces as they were in the first game, although they feel leveled up in Ragnorok. Bosses range from big monsters, to smaller one-on-one fights and all go above and beyond what was in God of War 2018.
Puzzles are fairly often through the campaign, mainly as you navigate the land trying to get from A to B with Atreus. Puzzles tend to be redirecting water, getting across bridges, unlocking doors, that kind of thing. They are entertaining and very different than the combat. I did find they interrupted the flow a lot more, and I found myself completing puzzles more often. The biggest negative about the game is Kratos’ companions don’t leave enough time for you to solve the puzzle by yourself. When you arrive at a puzzle, it’s only a few secondd before Atreus or Mimir tell you how to solve the puzzle. I couldn’t find anything in the settings to turn this off. You can increase the timer to give yourself a few more seconds, but ultimately they will give you the solution. I imagine this is going to be great for some players, but it didn’t work for me. If puzzles are there then I want to solve them myself, otherwise they seem a little pointless.
Kratos and Co travel from realm to realm often in this game, plus we get to see new realms we haven’t seen which was very exciting. The size and scale of these playspaces are impressive, as is the variety in enemies and location design. As you explore each place, Nordic lore is presented in the form of collectables and it’s worth going through the lore at some point, as it’s all very well written and interpreted from Sony Santa Monica. Kratos does return to realms he’s been to before, but they are changed, and there are differing enemies to make it feel updated. It’s great to go back to old locations and recognise the changes, but it’s even better going to the new locations.
Overall, God of War Ragnorok is an excellent sequel. It somehow manages to go above and beyond the original game to give us a great ending to Kratos and Atreus’ Norse adventures. There are so many first class efforts here from Sony Santa Monica including the writing, performances, artwork, character modelling, audio design, combat – the game is a true ten out of ten in every way. I don’t think it’s a perfect video game, it’s similar to 2018’s God of War, albeit turned up to 11. One thing I am certain of is this release is going to cement Sony Santa Monica as one of the best developers in the world, up there with Naughty Dog and the Zelda team from Nintendo. Whatever they do next, sign me up, I’m interested.
Developer: Sony Santa Monica
Publisher: PlayStation Studios
Platforms: Playstation 4/5
Release Date: 9th November 2022