It’s not often that a game in an established franchise could enthral a person, but 2018’s God of War was that game for me. Yes, it was a reboot, but it was a soft one which meant that Kratos and all his history from the past titles was still a core part. Still, despite never having played the God of War series before, I loved every minute of his new adventure in Norse mythology. I very much was looking forward to playing the sequel — God of War: Ragnarok.
When God of War: Ragnarok finally came, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I’ve avoided any promotional material surrounding the game, save for a few trailers. Would this be on the same level as its predecessor?
Thankfully, after sinking over 50 hours into the game, I’m happy to say it has. God of War: Ragnarok isn’t just a good game but a masterful one. The sequel has retained almost everything good about the original and expanded upon it — the world, characters, combat, and more.
God of War: Ragnarok’s story comes off the heels of the 2018 game and picks up some time from that conclusion. Fimbulwinter has started; Atreus is now a few years older and a few inches taller, while Kratos remains permanently dour-faced.
As the game’s name suggests, Ragnarok is on the agenda, and the Norse gods are on the move to ensure that it doesn’t come to pass. Thor and Odin — hinted about in the previous game — now take centre stage here. The story is much grander in scope compared to the intimate nature of the reboot — if God of War was just a tease of the world, God of War: Ragnarok is the full realisation of it.
The original 2018 title was very much Kratos’ story. The same is true for Ragnarok, exploring vulnerable elements of the former Greek spartan, particularly regarding his relationship with his son and late wife. Christopher Judge, the actor behind Kratos, brings a powerhouse performance that brings more dimension to the redeemed character.
But the sequel’s story involves more than Kratos. Atreus also forms a big part of the narrative. His desire to understand his place in the world is one of the driving forces of the story as you inhabit him through the game. However, it is a shame that the sections focused on him could have been done better. They can drag in certain portions, which hinders the overall flow. Still, the payoff from his arc is satisfying to experience when you get to the final moments of Ragnarok.
Kratos and Atreus may be the main heroes of this tale, but they aren’t the only ones getting character progression. Side characters like Brok and Sindri continue to be a delight but now occupy a more prominent role in the storyline. There’s also a surprising amount of depth illustrated for the antagonists: Thor and Odin; you get to explore every aspect of both characters and why they act the way they are. God of War: Ragnarok goes above and beyond what you expect.
Much of the character progression is done through the main story, but there is an equal amount of depth shown when doing the side quests. While entirely optional, the side activities do an incredible job of developing the various characters in God of War: Ragnarok. Not only do you learn more about the people, but you also come to empathise with them and see them as more than virtual beings.
Everything adds together to bring an exceptionally emotional narrative that lingers after the credits roll. It says a lot about the game that Ragnarok makes you want to complete every aspect so that you can stay with these characters longer and hear more stories.
Travelling the Nine Realms
Similar care is given to the game’s world. Teased in the original, players now get to step into all of the nine realms. Each of them is distinct in its own right. Svartalfheim is a steampunk surrounded by wetlands, while Vanaheim is more lush and tropical, populated by flora and fauna. Previously visited regions have also been expanded with additional areas so that it doesn’t feel rehashed. God of War: Ragnarok has probably rendered the most visually stunning Norse world yet.
But what I’m most surprised about is the scale of the game; it is bigger than you would expect. As you start to get a feel about the game in the early few hours, God of War: Ragnarok throws in more stuff at you and does so a few times throughout your playthrough. A vast open area is unlocked around halfway through, which adds a lot of exploration and many hidden parts are waiting to be found.
If anything, the only gripe is that I cannot explore the world as efficiently as I would like. Fast travel points dot the lands of the Nine Realms, but they are never quite positioned as conveniently as they should be. Particularly in the late game, going back to complete something is sometimes annoying as it requires you to go one big round to reach where you need to go.
There’s also the matter of the geometry of the world. Every fifteen minutes or so, it feels as though your path is almost always blocked off by a tight gap you need to shimmy through slowly or a pillar that requires picking up to proceed. I understand their uses (hiding loading screens, among others), and I’m not adverse to them in general — the first game also had them — but it does seem like they are more prevalent in this game.
God of War: Ragnarok’s combat remains a delightfully visceral affair, but it has notably been improved here. Now starting with the Leviathan Axe and the Blades of Chaos from the off, there are more ways to dispatch enemies skillfully.
The weapons now open up more opportunities to combo into enemies, with the blades having a hook attack that launches them into the air or brings them to you a la Scorpion’s iconic move from Mortal Kombat. Enemies also play a role in encouraging you to mix around your weapons, with some of them sporting fire or ice armour that requires you to attack with the opposite element.
Kratos’ shield is also now more than a tool used for blocking and parrying. Ragnarok has several shield variations with different skills attached to them. One such shield (the Stone Wall Shield) absorbs enemy attacks and charges it, which grants you the ability to do a slam to launch them into the air. Rond attachments additionally add more abilities to shields for combat, like increasing the timing window for parries.
Upgrading the skill trees brings more types of attacks that you can use in combat. But use a skill enough, and you’ll be able to add a mod token to it, enabling bonus stat boosts whenever you use that attack skill.
But there’s more. Besides the weapons, shields, and armour, the game has other mechanics to aid combat. Relics are items that grant special abilities during fights. Some add bonus damage, and others perform special attacks like creating a pool of poison. On the other hand, Amulet enchantments bring stat boosts, and if you can match three of the same type, it adds an additional perk.
The environment is also much more dynamic than before. Interactable elements are scattered within most combat areas in the game, allowing you to hurt enemies in different ways beyond the weapon slate.
Overall, God of War: Ragnarok grants much more flexibility in approaching combat. There’s less reliance on it being a numbers game, with more options than ever in choosing the skills and abilities you want to make your build for Kratos.
Combat may be deeper than ever, but it would only be good if the enemies were fun to fight. One of the biggest criticisms against the first game was that it lacked enemy variety, particularly for boss battles. God of War: Ragnarok does not have this problem.
There are now more enemy types in the game, but they also present unique challenges in dealing with them. Grims are highly agile reptilian beasts that jump around, making them difficult to hit. Meanwhile, Nokkens are tiny creatures that sing and heal groups of enemies till you silence them. Encounters now require more thought than just mindlessly attacking.
Then there are the boss battles. You’ll encounter several different ones as you progress through the main story. They provide some cinematic action and offer an extra challenge that serves as a palette cleanser after fighting regular enemies.
Beyond the story-based bosses, there are also optional ones littered throughout the game’s world, which you can tackle any time you want.
These are much more challenging than the story-based ones and require you to fully utilise all the mechanics that the game has presented to you thus far — offering an exhilarating feeling whenever you best these bosses after several tries.
Playing on the PS5, God of War: Ragnarok offers several graphics modes, but they mainly fall under the Quality and Performance categories. Quality renders the game at 4K, while performance brings a frame rate of 60 fps and above.
I played through nearly the entirety of the game in the performance mode, and it was an incredibly satisfying experience, never dipping noticeably below 60fps. I also never noticed any loading screens bar one occurrence after I’ve completed the story.
God of War: Ragnarok successfully iterates upon the masterpiece that is the 2018 original. It brings a highly emotional story combined with expressive characters that contain a depth not seen in many games. The world of the Nine Realms is also a visual feast, with wonderfully rendered designs that beg you to explore. Combat is also a highlight that raises excitement levels whenever you are thrust upon it.
Every aspect of it has been lovingly polished to the nth degree, and I find myself continually awed by what the game offers every time I play it. I may not be religious, but God of War: Ragnarok makes me pray that I could relive it all over again.
God of War: Ragnarok is available for both the PS4 and PS5 and can be purchased from the PlayStation Store digitally.
Screenshots were taken on a PlayStation 5, with additional visuals courtesy of Sony Interactive Entertainment.