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God Of War Ragnarök Review

Parenting advice has never been so extreme

As I was taking my kids to school one morning, my five-year-old son asked me out of the blue whether I would be dead when he was older. After my initial shock at such a morbid question so early in the morning, I composed myself and replied, “I’ll be here as long as you need me.” The universally loved God of War reboot of 2018 captured a unique father-son dynamic that gave professional angry man Kratos a depth the series had never even thought of bestowing upon him, a depth that truly resonated with me. Now we have the continuation of the story, with Atreus continuing to grow (as children do), and a persistent sense that it’s time for him to step into his own destiny and become more than the mere Son of Kratos (although in my opinion that’s a brag-worthy place to start). With the end of the world upon them, what will our father and son duo do to forestall the seemingly inevitable? Is it possible to avoid fate while running headlong into it?

That’s no moon…

Following the events of the first game, Fimbulwinter has set in across the Nine Realms. In Kratos’ and Atreus’ home realm of Midgard this equates to a rather ferocious and permanent winter. Elsewhere other effects are felt, but universally it sees the weakening of magical forces, and inter-realm travel is also on the fritz. Most importantly, Fimbulwinter also signifies the movement towards the titular Ragnarök, the fabled end of days for all the realms. Atreus is hell-bent on defying prophecy and finding a way to win Ragnarök, while Kratos appears at least partially resigned, and willing to savour whatever time he has left with his son. Their escapade up the mountain and the serial deicide it regrettably called for has landed them in hot water with quite a few Norse deities, but with the world about to end, the time for grudges may be past.

The original reboot was always going to be a hard act to follow in terms of narrative. Despite it having no paucity of action, at its heart it was a tale of a grieving son and father fulfilling the wishes of the woman at the centre of their lives. It really anchored proceedings and gave it focus, a focus that Ragnarök’s story can’t always match. The pacing and motivation in parts is a little muddled, but when viewed in its entirety the overarching tale is still decidedly epic and manages several genuine moments of emotion. It’s still such an amazing feat that Kratos, the very definition of gruff (if you look gruff up in the dictionary the entry is just a picture of Kratos staring angrily back at you), is capable of both inspiring and expressing such depth of emotion. Even if he has a voice so gravelly that you could grate a concrete block of cheese with it, every word and every grunt (of which there are many) he utters has a considered weight. Atreus too, with his deepening voice and several scars, is clearly coming of age. The childishness that characterised him previously is slowly giving way to a certain level of world-weariness, but he’s still got that cheeky bastard streak a mile long that makes him extremely endearing. It’s notable the shift in roles compared to the first game – in the original I felt like I needed to take care of Atreus, while here we are watching him quickly become a force of nature.

Giving this Wyvern a big hug to let it know I care

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Even if he has a voice so gravelly that you could grate a concrete block of cheese with it, every word and every grunt (of which there are many) he utters has a considered weight

The game features several new and returning faces both friendly and (very) hostile, and for the most part they add to and enrich the tapestry of events. Several subplots revolve around the supporting cast, and while most of them are threads worth pulling on, there are a couple of tonal inconsistencies with one of the key female protagonists, and a bit of a heavy-handed preachiness in the approach to one of the more well-known male Gods and his vices. It was pointed out to me that God of War’s depiction of women hasn’t always been favourable – and one could say this is true to the mythology that inspires it – but if you were expecting Ragnarök to change its tune in this regard then you might be left wanting. No one is truly safe from the tragedy and woe that seems to permeate the land, largely due to the oft fickle and cruel nature of Odin and his progeny, but women certainly bear the fair brunt of the suffering.

Gameplay-wise, Ragnarök shares its DNA with the original, with a few notable mutations to elevate it. The same tight over-the-shoulder camera is back, keeping you front and centre as you stylishly maim all manner of fantastical foe at axe and blade-point. The action is just as visceral and challenging as ever, requiring a blistering combination of straight melee combos, ranged throws and special abilities. Starting off again with the basics (damn that Fimbulwinter), you’ll slowly regain the arsenal you became familiar with as the game progresses, and it doesn’t take long to settle back into the rhythm of unleashing multi-weapon, multi-ability combos to utterly decimate enemies of all shapes and sizes for fun and profit. For those who consider themselves veterans of the genre I’d recommend playing on the game’s equivalent of Hard (Give Me No Mercy), as it really highlights the expert crafting of the combat, forcing you to be mindful of your attack timing, the environment, parry opportunities and punish windows. It should come as no surprise that there are some absolutely massive boss encounters and epic set pieces, and the quality of the combat and interesting and varied enemy mechanics made me relish every single opportunity to throw down.

Kratos still the YoHo Diablo champion

Possibly the greatest departure from the original is the ability to take direct control of Atreus on many occasions where Dad and Boy are split up. Emblematic of his establishment of his own identity separate from his father’s, Atreus lacks the brute strength of Kratos but is adept at the art of stunning the enemy through fast ranged and melee attacks, opening them up for the coup de grâce. Both he and Kratos have their own separate skill trees which unlock new abilities and strengthen existing ones, and when they’re apart they also have an interesting supporting cast who will aid them in battle. I don’t intend to spoil it here, but whoever comes along on the combat journey is a more than essential addition to what you do.

The combat and associated RPG progression is still an absolute masterclass – virtually in a league of its own – but despite a few extra bells and whistles, it really is very similar to the original. Some may be happy to simply roll with this, as the base combat is still phenomenal, but it’s perhaps cutting it a bit fine. Many of Kratos’ Runic attacks for instance, like my favourite Wrath of the Furies (not to be confused with the equally deadly Wrath of the Furries), have the same animations and basic function as their counterpart in the original. It’s good that Atreus is playable, as it serves as a palette cleanser for combat that by now is beginning to feel very familiar.

The other essential ingredient in this violent epic is quieter moments of exploration, and again, any experience in the 2018 reboot will serve you well here. Virtually in identical fashion to the reboot, the game continues the established tradition of providing large semi-open hub environments which house smaller contained sections. These contained sections are largely linear, with a few branching paths presenting themselves en route to your goal, and these are most certainly worth traipsing down in search of all-important loot. Legendary chests containing new gear and abilities, Nornir chests containing health and rage upgrades, and garden-variety chests containing valuable resources for upgrading your equipment at a blacksmith are essential if you want to compete with the game’s challenge. Reaching the chests (and actually opening them if they are Nornir chests) often requires some light environmental puzzle solving, and it cannot be understated the addictive nature of finding all of these in a given realm. In fact, there is an absolute wealth of side content to indulge in, which always yields tangible benefits and deepens the impressive Norse-inspired lore, including stories centred on the personal trials and tribulations of your companions.

Peace was never an option

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There is a mind-boggling level of detail in every painstakingly crafted environment that displays such a depth of technical wizardry and true imagination that it stretched my sense of disbelief to breaking point

Speaking of side content, I’m not sure that I was overly enthused about hurling my axe at Odin’s ravens again (although there are some neat rewards for doing so), but in general the side content deftly avoids feeling like the type of meaningless open-world faff that has become endemic in the action-RPG space. All side missions are worth doing, whether it be merely for the rewards or for the amazing spectacle that feature in many of them. It took me almost 40 hours to roll credits on the main story, and that was with taking plenty of time to smell and decapitate the roses. There is still a veritable tonne of side content I’m determined to jump back into, including some very tough end-game mini-bosses known as Beserkers, which are the equivalent of the original reboot’s Valkyrie battles.

As fun and engaging as it may be, one thing that hunting down all this side content unfortunately has highlighted is the painful inadequacy of the fast travel system, and the compounding frustration of the lack of detail in the local map. Gateways serving as fast travel points are far too sparse in places, and backtracking to areas you’ve already visited can become frustrating because you can’t see how certain areas are connected using the world map. Travelling between gateways is also time consuming, in that you’ll have to chill in the branches of the world tree between realms as you wait for your door to illuminate itself. Not all gateways have blacksmiths next to them either, and the ones that do are only visible on the world map, not from the fast travel map. It’s an oversight that will no doubt stick in the craw of the completionist, but testament to the game’s magnetic pull I’m not going to let it deter me.

Is it possible to overdose on stunning vistas?

Scrolling through this review I hope you’ve had the time to take in a screenshot or two, and I also hope the mobile phone you’re on while on the thunderbox at work does them justice. There is no real way to express how staggeringly beautiful God of War Ragnarök is, perhaps interpretative dance may come close, but I am limited by my medium so words will have to suffice. Basically, a game that looks, feels and runs as well as this one does is so good that it surely must be illegal. There is a mind-boggling level of detail in every painstakingly crafted environment that displays such a depth of technical wizardry and true imagination that it stretched my sense of disbelief to breaking point. My 500 GB PS5 is now basically 90GB worth of the base game install and 410GB of 4K screenshots at this point. The contextualised animations, the particle effects, the lighting, the goddamn texturing, it’s just a sumptuous feast for the eyes that is of such a relentless quality that my flabbers are still ghasted as I write about it. A game with this level of minute detail packed into every square inch deserves to run like a three-legged drunk toddler, but miraculously it all just hums along at a blistering pace. I was amazed at how much the original reboot squeezed out of the PS4, but what this game has managed to do on the PS5 is surely black magic.

Final Thoughts

Playing through Ragnarök, I’ve become convinced that the story of Genesis in the Old Testament left some details out. I don’t think God rested on the seventh day, I think he first gave Santa Monica Studios several pointers on how to craft a near-perfect blockbuster action-RPG. Admittedly, the sequel does stick close to what was laid out in the 2018 title, but few are likely to care given the ludicrous quality that’s on display in all facets of the gameplay and in the technical department. Even when the focus of the narrative wavers at times and some characters have a few wobbly moments, If you loved the father-son dynamic of the original then Ragnarök expands upon it meaningfully and thoughtfully. Our children give us both strength and vulnerability in ways that are hard to express, and Kratos is proof that even if you’ve spent your life seeking bloody revenge and murdering entire pantheons of gods, your kids will always remind you that you can do – and be – better.

Reviewed on PS5 // Review code supplied by publisher

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God Of War Ragnarök Review
Nobel War Prize
Ragnarök chooses iteration over innovation, but continues to operate in a league of its own in terms of its nuanced gameplay and otherworldly technical execution. This is the new posterchild for what the PS5 is capable of, and the passionate product of a development outfit that can seemingly do no wrong.
The Good
An epic tale that develops the relationship of Kratos and Atreus in meaningful ways
Brutal, challenging and refined combat is a delight from the first punch thrown to the last
Atreus combat sections are a good palette cleanser
The sheer technical prowess on display is breathtaking
Side content is fun and always rewarding
The Bad
Narrative doesn't always maintain focus
Some inconsistencies in characterisations and occasionally weak subplots emerge
The fast travel system is cumbersome and local map inadequate, making backtracking a chore
9
bloody ripper
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  • Santa Monica Studio
  • Sony Interactive Entertainment
  • PS5 / PS4
  • November 9, 2022

God Of War Ragnarök Review
Nobel War Prize
Ragnarök chooses iteration over innovation, but continues to operate in a league of its own in terms of its nuanced gameplay and otherworldly technical execution. This is the new posterchild for what the PS5 is capable of, and the passionate product of a development outfit that can seemingly do no wrong.
The Good
An epic tale that develops the relationship of Kratos and Atreus in meaningful ways
Brutal, challenging and refined combat is a delight from the first punch thrown to the last
Atreus combat sections are a good palette cleanser
The sheer technical prowess on display is breathtaking
Side content is fun and always rewarding
The Bad
Narrative doesn’t always maintain focus
Some inconsistencies in characterisations and occasionally weak subplots emerge
The fast travel system is cumbersome and local map inadequate, making backtracking a chore
9
bloody ripper
Written By Kieran Stockton

Kieran is a consummate troll and outspoken detractor of the Uncharted series. He once fought a bear in the Alaskan wilderness while on a spirit quest and has a PhD in organic synthetic chemistry XBL: Shadow0fTheDog PSN: H8_Kill_Destroy

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