2 years since the announcement of the PlayStation 5, God of War Ragnarok has been one of the most highly anticipated games in the God of War franchise history. That level of hype was quite well warranted, given that Santa Monica Studio could accomplish God of War (2018), which would go on to solidify its place in history as one of the generation’s most important games, a true PlayStation classic game.
4 years is a relatively, quick turnaround for a game of this scope, and even with Santa Monica Studio at the helm, fans were rightly skeptical of whether this will be able to live up to its predecessor standard and whether it will able to qualify as a full-fledged sequel.
Much of these concerns will be easily laid to rest simply an hour or two in God of War Ragnarok as it is abundantly clear that Santa Monica Studio has made no compromises when it comes to scope, scale, or level of polish.
As a Studio, Santa Monica Studio has accomplished a number of massive things in its run, including not only kicking off massive IP in God of War but also resurrecting after a slump. Now the studio has another snitch notch on its belt as Ragnarok is not just only as good as its masterful predecessor, but it might just be the best sequel in the history of video games.
God of War Ragnarok finds itself in a rather rarified company among the select few sequels that have not only improved upon the original but have set a new bar for the rest of the industry.
The game has learned its lessons from the original game and the result is a much more expansive experience that deepens the combat loop and presents a story that goes far beyond the scope of the original, all the while keeping track of the emotional quotient of the narrative.
Table of Content
God of War Ragnarok Review
God of War (2018) sequel, Everyone was fully prepared for God of War to be slightly more challenging as compared to the original but nothing could quite prepare for the complexity that awaited in this game. Not that the original combat loops, traversal, and exploration weren’t deep stacking it up against God of War Ragnarok makes it look like half the game the sequel is.
This is a theme that is pervasive throughout all systems of the game – from the combat to progression, everything is a lot deeper than the 2018 game, and with it, comes an entirely new level of difficulty in the game.
The game wastes no time in bringing players up to speed with the tools Kratos and Atreus have at their disposal and you begin your journey with Leviathan Axe and Blades of Chaos. The Basic Structure of the combat remains largely the same with RI for Light Attacks and R2 for Heavy Attacks. Combos also remain the same, but with one key move changes things up just a little bit.
Players can now use the ‘Triangle’ button to charge up weapons with Elemental Damage. Once charged, this can be used to unleash a powerful Elemental move. Improvements such as these form the bedrock of Ragnarok’s deeper combat loop which now has an added level of challenge.
While it’s fun to stick to one weapon per combat encounter, God of War Ragnarok switches things up frequently by populating arenas with enemies that all require different styles of different weapons and combat.
God of War Ragnarok incentivizes weapon switching as enemies now take more damage from the Blades of Chaos if the enemy has been affected by Frost from the Leviathan Axe, and vice-versa. Advanced combat techniques such as this are massively effective, especially on higher difficulties as you desperately need an edge.
The enemy variety, here demands players to use all weapons at their disposal – including Kratos’s shield Sparking of shields, is one of the things that best illustrate this deeper combat loop is the variety of Shields available for Kratos. Players can now pick different sorts of Shields, each with its own unique characteristics.
Some combat arenas are not quite larger as compared to the original and have a level of verticality that feels very refreshing. While the lower difficulties can still be fun – in order to fully experience the combat loop and all its systems, you will need to play the game at, least “Give Me Balanced”. Weapon switching, Shield Bashing, and well-timed Counters come into use greatly on higher difficulties and it is truly the most satisfying way to experience the game.
God of War Ragnarok’s combat comes at you first and forces players to move around way more often than they did before. On higher difficulties, you will be much better off retreating to higher ground in the hopes of spacing out enemies so you can take smaller groups of them head-on.
This recurring complaint from even those who love God of War (2018) was the apparent lack of variety in boss fights. Looks like Santa Monica Studio has taken those complaints to heart and if it was a challenge you were looking for, you’re going to find boatloads of it in God of War Ragnarok. The small mini-boss fights spread throughout the game up the challenge level in a massive way, and thankfully, the enemy types aren’t restricted to Trolls and Oregs.
From Wyverns to Stalkers, the variety of boss encounters in the game is absolutely jaw-dropping. The boss fight animations are also plenty, which should satisfy critics of the original game that blasted the game for throwing same-ish enemies at the player time and time again.
The massive boss fights are reserved for God-on-God battles as Kratos and Atreus go up against the Aesir and all manner of mystical creatures. Each boss battle of that scale never fails to illicit a visceral reaction as you can’t help but gawk and chuckle at the sheer level of power and destruction on display. The game one-ups the masterful boss fight with Baldur in the 2018 game almost and only keeps raising the bar with each subsequent throwdown.
Much like the 2018 game, Ragnarok reveals its giant back of tricks in a deliberate manner locking away new equipment for much later in this game. This sets a good pace as there is always something new for players to discover and the game doesn’t truly ‘open up’ until the 3-hour mark, there is no shortage of interesting things to experience during that time. Even when you think you’ve reached the endgame stage of Ragnarok, there is at least a couple of more surprises left.
In terms of traversal and exploration – the boat makes a welcome return as they often make for some of the most interesting opportunities for exploring Lore and learning more about the Norse realms. New to the game is a new sled pulled by two trusty wolves that will help players traverse over Frozen lands and the desert plains of Alfheim.
God of War Ragnarok’s gameplay is incredibly tight and despite the complexity and depth of its mechanics, it never quite feels overwhelming, which is a real credit to how each system was tutorlaized and how new mechanics were introduced to the player.
This could have easily fallen apart under the weight of its own complexity but Santa Monica Studio proves yet again, why they are one of the best AAA studios in the gaming industry.
The game’s length is about 30 hours (including all quests) due to the sheer scale of its narrative and story. God of War Ragnarok is a weirdly-paced game at the start, but it ultimately rewards players for seeing it through to the end with a masterly crafted story conclusion.
The God of War (2018) really pushed the limits in terms of graphics and coaxed power the aging console had to offer. Despite being a coss-gen release, the PS5 version of God of War Ragnarok is visually jaw-dropping. The exploration aspect in God of War Ragnarok helped a lot in the game’s perfectly designed environment that never fails to evoke a sense of awe from the player.
From the mossy lands of Vanaheim to the breathtakingly scenic Svartalfheim, God of War Ragnarok is arguably the best looking on the PS5 right now and a brilliant showcase of the power of the console.
God of War Ragnarok sounds immaculate on headphones with 3D Audio but I would propose that players must try and experience the game on a home theater or really good speaker. The sound design work, here, is some of the best I’ve ever experienced in the game. From the thundering footsteps of gigantic creatures or the destruction of dynamic assets in a combat arena, each sound is presented with great polish and nuance.
Perhaps the most important and effective aspect of the soundscape comes from the epic, roaring score from Bear McRreary, who also happens to make an appearance in the game as Reab, a dwarf in Svartalfheim.
McReary’s scope pulls absolutely no choice as it drives players forward in combat but in the quieter moments in a very John Williams-like fashion.
The PlayStation 5 version of the game runs at a steady frame rate and during the playtime, I experienced zero frame rate drops. However, while playing I experienced some glitches in the game like – when a character’s mouth wouldn’t move in a cutscene.
A couple of times in the game, characters would pop in and out of existence accompanied by weird artifacts on the screen, but thankfully, those instances were very rare. But these instances didn’t spoil the overall experience of God of War Ragnarok.
God of War Ragnarok: Story (Review)
While it is true that a large portion of the appeal of a God of War game comes across from its frantic combat, the payoff only comes if those systems are supported by a well-told story. The original game had a laser-focused story with very clever motivating factors of our beloved character Kratos (God of War) and was largely content being a smaller-scale story with relatively smaller stakes.
The God of War Ragnarok has massively blown up things in terms of scale and evolved into something much larger in scope as compared to the original. The 1st and 2nd acts of the game, while compelling in their own right, meander quite a bit, and players will find it hard to find a clear-cut motivator between Kratos and Atreus. This is precisely what makes the 3rd act all the more compelling as it pays off things from the start of the game, nearly tying up a gargantuan tale.
Even with the gigantic scale of the story and literally world-ending stakes, God of War Ragnarok accomplishes a rare feat in storytelling. Despite the grandiosity of its narrative, the game never loses sight of the emotionally potent nature of the game’s smaller, less showy moments. Contrasting the gigantic god-on-god throwdowns and mythic proclamations of vengeance are smaller moments such as quiet disagreement over dinner at a friend’s place or Mimir’s grand retelling of a seemingly innocuous event.
God of War Ragnarok manages to feel extremely intimate even when things are ramping up at an alarming place, all the while managing to keep the heart of the story – Kratos and Atreus’ relationship intact. However, the best parts of the game, at least for me, come from Freya, a grieving mother on the warpath, seeking vengeance for the murder of her son at the hands of Kratos.
Freya played by Danielle Bisutti, is easily a stand-out character and her emotional journey makes for some of the most potent moments in the game. Danielle Bisutti’s riveting turn as Freya is one of the most iconic performances solidifies Freya’s position as one of the all-time greats in gaming. The pain of her character practically bursts out of the scene and her relationship with Kratos forms one of the most compelling foundations of the game.
Other notable standouts include Ryan Hurst’s Thor, who might just be the best version of the character on the main screen, and Adam J. Harrington’s Sindri, who has one of the most unexpected emotional arcs in the game. The masterfully stoic and menacing Christopher Judge delivers yet another masterful performance, aided by a huge part of Sunny Sulijic’s immaculate portrayal of Atreus.
God of Ragnarok is surprisingly in the best of ways as it adds emotional layers and depth to characters you cannot have seen coming. While it would’ve been easier to move to have the Aesir be presented as one-note villains with an unquenchable bloodthirst, the game challenges players to consider differing viewpoints and see these seemingly villainous characters in a different light.
This complex morality and emotional depth are perhaps best represented by the Lore makers. While reading the Lore as Kratos, the menu lists, “Friends” and “Foes” in two separate sections while Atreus sees the world as complex and ‘Friends and Foe’ are present in the same section. The game asks the player to lend empathy toward these characters that they might not have expected.
God of War Ragnarok subverts players’ pre-existing notions of characters like Odin and Thor, who appear to be rather one-note when considering the lore and first game. This also bears mentioning Richard Schiff’s genius performance as Odin, a paranoid king manipulator taking every available opportunity to obtain power and knowledge.