God of War: Ragnarök
PlayStation 5 version
A mostly satisfying sequel to one of Sony's finest games
* Combat and exploration feel as great as ever
Lots of inspired new mechanics and gameplay twists to keep things fresh throughout the game
A mostly satisfying conclusion to the Norse era of the series
Visually and aurally excellent across the board
A much more expansive game than the previous one
* Plot can feel rather convoluted at times
The Bottom Line
2018’s God of War reboot remains one of the generation’s greatest games, and one of the PS4’s best-selling titles. 4.5 years and a new console generation later, Sony’s Santa Monica Studio has returned with the conclusion of that story arc with the sequel, God of War Ragnarök. While not a major mechanical leap over its predecessor, Ragnarök nevertheless serves as a vital companion piece, picking up right where the 2018 reboot left off, and concluding the series’ Norse era in suitably grand style. If you enjoyed the 2018 reboot, then Ragnarök is appointment gaming.
Three years after the events of God of War, and the long winter is coming to an end. Meanwhile, Kratos and a now teenaged Atreus are attempting to keep their heads low to avoid the inevitable coming of Ragnarök. However, Atreus, being the curious boy that he’s always been, has been investigating a means of stopping Ragnarök, which also catches the attention of the god Odin, who warns them not to continue. Not wanting his son to do something reckless, Kratos tags along in the investigation, which leads them to banding forces with the dwarf brothers Brok and Sindri and the newly freed god Tyr to find a way to survive the oncoming apocalypse, and perhaps change their fate.
While 2018’s God of War had a relatively straightforward father/son tale, Ragnarök’s story is significantly more complex. There’s a lot more characters to keep track of, and subplots delivered from multiple perspectives that happen in parallel. The main core of the story deals with Kratos and Atreus learning to trust each other: they both have secrets and revelations that they are afraid to let each other know lest it leads to terrible things happening. To be honest, the plot of Ragnarök is far too complicated to easily summarize, and if there’s a complaint, it’s that the story can be a bit too vague and hard-to-follow at times, and in some ways I preferred the more straightforward nature of the previous game. Still, it manages to pull itself together by the end for a satisfying close that’s both rousing and heartbreaking at the same time.
One of the reasons why the plot is so much more complex is that you’ll be visiting all nine realms this time around. Places that you didn’t see in the first game such as Vanaheim, Svartalfheim, and Asgard are now open for exploration, although the reality is that some realms got more love than others. There’s about 5 realms which offer the more open level of exploration found in the first game’s hub zone of Midgard, with Musphelheim reserved for trials again, and the rest confined to brief, mission-specific objectives. Even the realms that are revisited from the last game are significantly changed due to the effects of Fimbulwinter: Midgard’s Lake of Nine is now frozen solid, while Alfheim is ravaged by sandstorms. Some of the areas you’ll eventually explore are absurdly dense with side quests and collectables.
The combat remains more or less identical to the first, but with a few enhancements on top. You’ll start the game with both the Leviathan Axe and Kratos’ Blades of Chaos, and these can be charged using the Triangle button for additional elemental damage. After using them enough times in battle, individual skills can be upgraded with tokens for additional effects. A shield bash move allows Kratos to deal additional stun damage and knock back enemies, and is required to disrupt particular attacks. This can be used in tandem with the new shield types, which complement different play styles, from defensive blocking, to offensive parrying. There are actually quite a few more new mechanics I could mention, but I won’t delve too deeply into them for spoiler reasons.
The previous game was greatly criticized for its lacking enemy variety, however, that is not the case with Ragnarök. While the game does utilize one particular boss fight one too many times, there’s still significantly more enemy types to battle over the journey. Each realm has its own specific enemies that you face, in addition to standard mobs that can be found across the entire game.
Bosses are also generally tougher this time around. There’s less emphasis on the “spectacle” fights of the original that eased back on the difficulty in favor of cool factor, though they are still present in a couple of instances. More often than not, you’ll really have to be on top of your game while playing Ragnarök. I’ve heard some talk that this was easier than 2018, but personally speaking I had a much harder time getting through this one. I put the game on Give Me No Mercy mode thinking it wasn’t going to be so difficult after finishing the last game, but boy was I wrong. It is significantly more challenging than the first, although your mileage will vary depending on your skill level and how well you know the combat mechanics.
One thing that greatly bugged me about the difficulty was the lack of means to restore Kratos’ health after each encounter. You’ll often have long strings of battles to fight through on a single health bar, and the left over health pickups after every battle are hardly enough to refill Kratos’ health. Sometimes, it was easier to die after a combat encounter I was unprepared for so that I could retry it with a full meter rather than try to tough it out with a sliver of health. I pumped a lot of points into Defense and Vitality, and fully upgraded the new Rage ability to refill Kratos’ health, and yet I was dying more often than I should have. It is possible to interact with the game’s realm travel points to refill Kratos’ health, but the game doesn’t tell you this, and by the time I had found that out I was pretty close to being done with the game. Ragnarök could be more than a bit frustrating at times with its difficulty.
The puzzles are fine, but they’re nothing to really write home about. Often, these will come down to just hitting switches with the Leviathan Axe or burning something with the Blades of Chaos. One of the new mechanics you use to solve them was extremely flaky and difficult to consistently work with. Some environments were difficult to read and I would spend a while on a puzzle trying to figure out what exactly the game wanted me to hit despite me knowing I needed to throw or interact with something. Some people on the internet have complained that the game gives you too many hints when solving a puzzle, but if you’re quick enough this is a non-issue at best.
Visually, the game is strong. The realms are incredibly varied, motion and facial capture lets each actor’s performance shine through, and it runs at a virtually flawless 60 FPS on PS5. It’s not as much of a graphical leap over its predecessor in the same way that Horizon Forbidden West was over Zero Dawn, and you can perhaps notice a few places where it’s been held back by the PS4’s hardware, but nobody can honestly call this a bad-looking title by any means. Audio is equally solid, with crunchy effects, stellar voice acting performances from all of the cast and a stirring score from Bear McCreary (who also makes a cameo within the game itself). I did run into one bug during my playthrough where a boss fell through the floor as I fought it, but otherwise Ragnarök was a polished and stable experience.
While I didn’t quite enjoy my time with Ragnarök as much as with the previous game, thanks to some nagging issues with its difficulty and a more confusing, less involving plot, it’s still among the best games to come out in recent memory. In a year where so many significant titles got delayed, it did a lot to prop up a rather limp holiday release schedule. It’s less of a full-blown sequel and more like the back half of a very, very long game, but when it’s built on top of a strong foundation it’s difficult to complain, especially since it rounds out the current era of the series very well.
by krisko6 (813) on January 22nd, 2023