Few could have expected that when the God of War franchise revived itself in 2018 following a five year lull that Sony Santa Monica would not only would the developer take the series in an entirely new direction but it would become one of the best games ever released for the PlayStation 4. Now comes the far more difficult challenge, trying to create a sequel to this critically acclaimed game that offers a new and interesting story while capitalizing on all of the elements that made the first game so great. So now, four years after the release of the first game, God of War Ragnarök has arrived and more than lives up to the original release, in fact surpassing it in many ways.
Those who have yet to play through the events of the 2018 God of War, or might need a refresher of how certain events played out, the developers have included an informative recap of events so players can jump into God of War Ragnarök without feeling lost. This is for the best as three years have passed since the end of the original game and Fimbulwinter has struck the nine realms incredibly hard. Kratos and Atreus have been surviving the deadly winter by mostly remaining within their protected home as any time they venture outside not only are the wilds growing ever more dangerous but enemies from their past adventures are continuing are eager to take Kratos’ life.
After an unusual development that puts Atreus in danger, the pair find that their homestead is no longer a safe haven as both Thor and Odin have come to pay them a visit. Rather than seeking bloodshed however, they offer a truce should the pair choose to continue to live out their days without trying to fight against them or uncover more secrets surrounding Ragnarök. Of course, with Kratos denying their offer and the group coming to blows, Atreus and Kratos begin to search for more answers about the prophecy that surrounds the upcoming Ragnarök and the part that they may play in it. With their journey taking them through the realms and making allies with both new and old mythological beings and facing down other mythical creatures, God of War Ragnarök is expansive and sprawling both narratively and as an adventure game.
While we won’t go into further details about the numerous revelations, characters that make appearances and the roles that they play, or the many astounding events that play out through the story, it must be said that while the first game was an impressive tale God of War Ragnarök is a step above it in almost every regard and part of this is thanks to how well developed the core cast of characters are, their interactions with one another on a minute to minute basis as players explore each location, and the developments that they undergo throughout the story. While Kratos had previously shut himself off emotionally, God of War Ragnarök begins with a far more open Kratos, at least compared to before. While still a stoic and as straightforward as they come, his interactions with Atreus and Mimir, who joins players from the start, reveal a man capable of listening to others and accepting what they have to say as well as being a bit open emotionally.
This is especially true when it comes to his interactions with Atreus, who he no longer calls “Boy,” as the group ventures forth on their journey. Atreus has learned much in his time surviving Fimbulwinter and the experiences have made him far more humble and understanding of the world around him. Of course, he isn’t without a rebellious streak as players will find him venturing forth on his own in possession of newfound confidence in himself as well as keeping secrets from his father. Combine these two with Mimir whose purpose throughout the story remains both a source of exposition and comedy and players will be in for quite a time wherever they happen to be exploring, learning more about the world through near constant banter all while advancing towards their goals.
These goals are on a far grander scale than what was previously sought after in the original release as players will find the story constantly delivering new twists and turns as they progress through the game. Between prophecy, destiny, and free will every character, both old and new, is explored and given proper respect to their developments whether they happen during a bombastic confrontation or a more tender moment of conversation in the surprisingly many moments of respite. Characters both new and old see themselves undergoing impactful developments that reveal the hardships that have shaped them and give way to new revelations that see them grow as a character or expose just what is driving them so far. In fact, many side-quests play heavily into exploring unseen sides of characters and feel like actual rewards rather than simple padding. As such no introduction feels like a waste as every character players meet plays a role in the story, even if they happen to be a more humorous role compared to others these moments of levity only serve to balance the tone of this incredibly told adventure.
In many ways God of War Ragnarök will feel quite familiar to those who have played the 2018 release as Sony Santa Monica has taken the more refined approach towards combat and exploration by simply adding on to what already worked so well in the first place. This means that while they may not have changed things up too much, combat in God of War was already a visceral feeling experience and has been made all the better this time around. Players will find that the Leviathan axe will feel mostly the same and also control the same with players being able to mix light and heavy attacks while also being able to throw it around at enemies and the environment and being able to recall it at the press of a button. Kratos will also immediately start with his signature Blades of Chaos and these have seen some reworking as they now can be used as a more mobile combat option as players will eventually be able to unlock abilities that can either draw enemies to Kratos and allow for easier enemy juggling as a result.
There have been some additions to these weapons however as the triangle button that previously was only used to recall the axe has now been given new life. Now players can use the triangle button, while already holding the axe, to imbue it with ice and unleash a powerful freezing attack or spin the Blades of Chaos in an arc creating a blazing wheel of carnage. In fact, freezing an enemy in place and then attacking them with fire can deal even more damage rewarding players for mixing things up in a fight. Runic abilities also see a return for both weapon types and while they aren’t quite as common as before players can use them to unleash powerful cooldown attacks to really devastate an enemy. Of course, players can also simply take to their enemies using Kratos’ fists (his key weapon when players trigger his Rage state) to deal damage and rack up the stun meter that can in turn be used to perform brutal takedowns that can instantly kill most enemies or deal massive damage to bosses and heftier foes.
Kratos’ shield also has seen some changes as players can now make use of a few different types. This includes tower style shields that are built to block an attack and send an enemy recoiling as well as a smaller high risk high reward buckler style that can be used to parry attacks and leave enemies wide open for attack. These shields can also be used as interrupt attacks for certain blue-ringed strikes from enemies that can really hurt if they land properly. Players will need to think on their feet in these fights as even on the normal difficulty setting enemies will be coming in fast and unrelenting. Layered arena designs mean foes can take shots from a distance and players will need to grapple to them or take them out with an axe throw or Atreus’ arrows but this faster style of combat also allows Kratos to leap from ledges to unleash powerful attacks both upon landing and even after climbing up a ledge.
Many combat arenas now also feature objects in the environment that can be used as powerful tools. These include chunks of rock that can be whipped around using the Blades of Chaos or even a tree trunk/pillar that can be ripped out of the ground and swung like a bat to take down foes, rewarding situational awareness. That isn’t to say that combat is flawless. The fast paced nature of combat can be a bit of a detriment at times as later areas of the game can occasionally begin to throw quite a few enemies at Kratos’ group and the the finesse of the combat mechanics can begin to go out the window a bit in these encounters and turn into a hectic battle where Kratos can be stunlocked far too easily. It is nice to note however that some combat issues with enemies attacking from all sides are alleviated a bit by either Mimir or Atreus chiming up when enemies are attacking from certain directions and a yellow and red directional warning of where pressure is coming from.
As players travel and fight through the realms they will gather plenty of materials from environmental puzzles that make use of Kratos’ wide array of tools to solve. These range simply from using the Leviathan axe to freeze items, to using a reflective surface to angle specific bounces, and more as the group’s tool kit expands in expected and surprising ways that we won’t spoil here. Players are encouraged to revisit old areas from time to time as certain areas will remain locked off without the correct tool and both Atreus and Mimir will often remark as such when players try them early as well as provide hints about a puzzle that might be stumping players though occasionally these hints can come a little fast. These materials can in turn be used to enhance Kratos’ weapon attachments and armor to help improve his various stats. Along these same lines XP gained from encounters can be used to learn new moves for both Kratos and Atreus with these moves then being leveled up further through actual use in combat before they can be given special traits as a final bonus such as having Kratos’ axe throw deal additional freezing damage.
One must also give praise to just how impressive the boss and mini-boss encounters are in God of War Ragnarök and while we won’t say exactly who and what players will fight against it must be said that the quality and even the quantity of these battles are far more impressive than the original game. These encounters are often true tests of how well they’ve managed to learn Kratos’ combat styles and often will push players to the edge. Thankfully these fights do feature some solid checkpoints so players won’t find themselves too annoyed should they fall in combat without a resurrection stone. Battles such as these can really drive home just how impressive God of War Ragnarök can feel at times, especially once players begin to face off against end-game and some of the post-game battles that truly take things to the next level.
Visuals & Audio
The attention to detail in God of War Ragnarök is astounding. Everything from the details on the weapons that Kratos uses and the armor he wears have been lovingly designed with intricate details to provide a level of polish that few games have ever seen. The realms that players travel through as well are just as impressive as before with each of them now bearing unique scars from the long Fimbulwinter that have changed their layouts and designs remarkably. Thankfully the variety of these locations remains high due to these changes and players will never find themselves wanting when traveling to a new realm and seeing just how different it is from another. The character models of Kratos and every other character are handled impressively with well-animated facial structures helping drive home the emotional impact of scenes. The same level of detail is carried over to the monster designs as there are way more enemy types than what was found in the previous game and these creatures range from being simple slugs or flying eyeballs to monstrous beasts that would be more at home in a certain monster hunting game. Combine this with the fluid nature of combat and the visceral nature that sees executed enemies fly apart and any fight can turn into a glorious looking display of action and violence.
The cast of characters in God of War Ragnarök have all seen their impressive voice actors return to reprise their roles with new characters being given just as much attention to their roles as the old. Kratos’ voice actor continues to nail the direct tone of the character while also offering a softer edge to the dialogue while Atreus’ newfound confidence is exhibited perfectly through his voice actor’s portrayal. The soundtrack also continues to be as impressive as ever with a slew of orchestral tracks that remain some of the best around, especially when it comes to the intense fight scenes that accompany them. The wide range of tracks fits perfectly for the series as lighter tracks fit for exploration and moments of downtime but pick right up the second Kratos draws his axe.
Surpassing or even living up to the expectations that God of War 2018 set was a tall order and Sony Santa Monica has managed to meet them. God of War Ragnarök is a first-class example of how to take an already impressive series and showcase just how much it still has to offer. With a gorgeous presentation, meaty combat heightened by the haptic feedback from the controller, and a compelling emotional story steeped in its own take on Norse mythology, God of War Ragnarök cements itself as another must play of the generation.
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