As always, I hope you’re all doing very well and not drowning in video games. Remember to take a second to stretch, drink water, and go outside before it gets really cold. The last point is optional, but the first two are not.
I’ve been sitting on this post for quite some time now. I completed my playthrough of this game about two weeks ago, and something about posting this has made me extremely nervous. I think it’s because I hoped I would find the right words to describe my experience with this game.
Side note, I am planning to write up one more post before the year concludes.
But anywho, let’s gather around for what we’re really here for: God of War Ragnarök.
Believe it or not, it’s only been four years since we last saw Kratos and his son Atreus embark on a journey of a lifetime. Way back when, I took my young writing talents to talk about this game, and I loved it. I streamed my second playthrough on my Twitch channel, and I decided to reread my impressions (excuse my horrid writing) to see if what I said still holds up.
2018’s God of War is a masterpiece, and the mature version of myself understands that now more than ever. Introducing a layer of Kratos that was a complete opposite of his rage-filled days was a marvelous take, and the gameplay received a fresh take that reinvigorated a series that was primarily linear up until this entry.
That said, here we are four years later, with the end of times upon us, at least, in Ragnarök. The highly-anticipated sequel follows the story of Kratos and Atreus as they look to learn more about Atreus’ true nature while hoping to stop the end of times that come with Ragnarök.
After almost 38 hours of playtime until I reached the epic conclusion, God of War Ragnarök is an even better outing than the previous title with an epic finale to wrap up the superb Norse saga. While Ragnarök is a little familiar in some areas, it’s been refined to feel fresh. The game’s combat is superb, and the game itself is stunningly beautiful as you trek across the nine realms, each boasting its own gorgeous mythical design. It’s all held together by a story told by the gods themself, as the amount of character development and unique takes on familiar faces combines to tell a story of the ages.
God of War Ragnarök pushes the boundary of what video games can achieve if given the proper love and affection, and you should not miss this title at all costs.
Fair warning: SPOILERS MAY BE DISCUSSED.
Do you need to play the other games?
God of War Ragnarök follows the events of 2018’s God of War. Three years after Kratos and Atreus killed Baldur, which started Fimbulwinter and eventually Ragnarök, the father-son duo finds themselves amid the fabled ending of the gods. However, many different stories are at play here; Atreus yearns to discover his true nature as Loki, yet Kratos wants nothing more than to protect his son from becoming overwhelmed by prophecies, fate and from the many that would harm the duo. Odin and the other Aesir gods are up to nefarious deeds, as they work to solve Ragnarök and save themselves from destruction.
Again, I never want to go too deep into detail in this section, but there are a lot of working pieces and backstories explored. To answer this segment’s heading, I’ll say yes and no. God of War 2018 introduced Kratos and Atreus well enough that newcomers could feel welcome to the franchise. However, this game dives even deeper into some of Kratos’ backstory that you should have some knowledge of. I do realize that it’s hard to play these games (cuz Sony and lack of backwards compatibility), so check out a “Story so far” video for a recap.
The coming of Ragnarök is beautiful
I promise I don’t mean that in a literal sense, but holy fuck would I be doing a disservice if I didn’t say this is absolutely one of the best-looking PS5 games to date.
From the lush jungles of Vanaheim to the frozen lakes of Midgard (due to Fimbulwinter), this game features some of the most visually stunning worlds I’ve seen to date. It’s a damn shame there’s no Photo Mode yet (edit: they add it in after my playthrough), as it’s coming in a later patch, but when it comes in, I expect nothing less than excellence from talented artists worldwide.
Outside of the world art, the character models are superb and the combat is gorgeous. Kratos is an old fart at this point (just kidding), but the amount of detail on his character model is astounding. His gray beard hairs, his scar from being stabbed by the Blade of Olympus, and his wrinkles from living many lives are visibly present. Freya’s pain is captured to heights unmatched as you can see her makeup running from her tears and her hands are stained black from all the witchcraft she’s been partaking in. Odin makes me feel uncomfortable because he gives off snobby uncle vibes, Thor is fat and sloppy, with everything I just said meant in the best way possible.
The combat is fierce as the Blades of Chaos strike hot from the fire they were forged in while the Leviathan Axe crackles from the frigid temperature it commands. If I sound cheesy describing this, it’s because I physically can’t find the right words to describe this art in motion. God of War Ragnarök is a masterclass in visual design and a testament to how powerful next-gen consoles are as this game looks and runs superbly with a rock solid variety of frame rates and settings to make it that way. I will say my only “issue” is visible in the photo above. Kratos stands kind of strangely in some videos, almost like a kid who just saw something he shouldn’t have seen. I think it’s funny though as my friends, and I had a good laugh during the above cutscene.
As always, I will drop a ton of leftover pics down below. Trust me when I say it, God of War Ragnarök is a work of art.
A familiar loop, refined
Fair warning, this section might get hairy, as I barely understood what I was doing, so bear with me. First up, combat.
Combat in God of War Ragnarök follows the precedent set in the last entry, with the core remaining intact through the frigid Fimbulwinter. Kratos has access to the Blades of Chaos from the get-go alongside the trusty Leviathan Axe, and Atreus is stronger than he was, having spent time practicing his abilities. Aside from the returning core, Kratos’ repertoire has expanded significantly, with both weapons having the ability to charge up their respective elements. Awaken the cold in the Leviathan Axe to freeze your foes on the spot, or raise the heat with the Blades of Chaos spitting fire so hot Ghost Rider would find himself sweating. Alongside that, a new addition is the “Death from Above” mechanic, similar to Assassin’s Creed, which let you drop down on a foe with earth-shattering force. There are also set pieces of the environment you can interact with, such as hurling a molten rock piece at a foe or casting a large AOE (area of effect) freeze wave by smashing a tree.
Aside from those features, the core combat largely works the same. Switch between both weapons on the fly as different foes approach you, channel Kratos’ rage in Spartan Rage mode, build up enough stun, and you can dismantle your foes with meaty finishers. It’s very familiar, yet it works, and it feels even better this time around. A neat little switch up in gameplay are the parts where you control Atreus. Atreus’s play style shifts to a more survivor-type scenario, yet he proves to be very capable with a wide range of archery, magic, and unique abilities I won’t spoil.
Runic abilities return, yet the sheer number has reduced significantly compared to the first game. You’ll see plenty of favorites return, with new ones challenging the ones you previously liked. Some of my favorites belonged to the Blades of Chaos as they drew from the previous entries’ move set, and sure enough, this entry brings a few oldies back. 2018’s title introduced a massive curveball with RPG elements joining the fray, and Ragnarök follows the trend, although it sees a bit of tidying up in some areas.
Kratos’ armor can be customized and crafted to your liking, with each piece offering unique traits and a matching set offering max benefits. Atreus’s armor set is cosmetic only now, although you can still upgrade his bow and slot items to amplify his abilities. Speaking of, Kratos can do the same with Relics replacing the Talismans offering rechargeable abilities that can help you out in a pinch, as well as an Amulet that can hold nine smaller medallions for a greater overall effect. Combat and world exploration grants you experience points for yourself and Atreus that can be invested into a rather deep skill tree for use, and continuously using an ability will allow you to improve its overall stats through a new “Labor” system. Heck, even Kratos’ shield got some love; he can change his shield throughout the game and amplify it with unique perks.
You’ll need to learn and master everything that I’ve mentioned because this game can be very challenging, at least in the higher difficulties. My experience is coming from Give Me No Mercy (second highest difficulty), and I found myself in a pickle, often. Foes are relentless and have no problem cutting you down, with familiar elemental baddies reappearing through the realms, such as the frozen Hel-Walkers, the poisonous Revenants, and even a new foe bearing an element I don’t want to spoil. It gets fast and hectic very quickly so make sure you prepare yourself for the coming battle.
Outside of the combat, you’ll find yourself partaking in similar activities as the first game. Across the nine explorable realms, Kratos and Atreus will discover plenty of worldly activities to do, such as clearing impossible bosses, collecting artifacts, and righting many wrongs. The realms are large, boasting plenty of beautiful sights to see. Thankfully, some maps offer faster methods of travel like Midgard offers the sled ride, and the iconic boat from the previous game is back in full force.
This section was a bit hairy, as it’s pretty difficult to explain every single detail in writing, and I hope you can forgive me for that. I did keep a few elements a secret just in case anybody who reads this is just starting.
After the mega-hit God of War, Santa Monica Studio found itself in a daunting position of how to innovate what was already well done. This game doesn’t do anything overly new, as it chooses to refine what was already established, and to me, that’s okay. The refinements work, as combat feels the most versatile it’s ever been while being very accessible, while world exploration is out of this world (excuse the phrase). I have zero issues with the team’s approach, and it pays off well.
This might be a random point to mention, but I thoroughly appreciated the increased usage of the Blades of Chaos. Despite their tragic backstory, I felt the previous game’s never used them to their full potential in actual gameplay, albeit in QTEs and set pieces. The gameplay loop surrounding them is much improved, as you fly around the map like a Greek version of Spider-Man or use the hellfire to clear out blockages. Again, I know it sounds weird, but I enjoyed seeing something that initially was a curse flip the script to serve a greater purpose.
Time to take it home.
Lighting strikes twice
SPOILERS ACROSS ALL TITLES WILL BE DISCUSSED
Over the past few years, I’ve gotten progressively worse at completing games in a timely manner, leading to me forgetting what’s taking place in the story. Contrary to the 38 hours of playtime, God of War Ragnarök is the quickest I’ve completed a game in awhile, and I did it on stream with zero spoilers which is incredibly lucky. Before I close us out, let’s talk the story and my take on the final chapter of the Norse sage.
I may sound like a broken record, but God of War 2018 was an incredible package, with plenty of praise being thrown onto the transformation of Kratos. We saw a man who was vulnerable and protective of his son, after years of watching his infinite rage demolish an entire pantheon of gods. Despite Kratos and Atreus’ journey ending with Baldur’s death, the game plentifully showcased his growth through dialogue and his actions, as Kratos wanted to avoid raising Atreus the way he was raised while showing him how to handle godhood.
I could talk about the last game quite a bit, but it’s really important to set the table here due to the stakes being infinitely raised in Ragnarök. The end of the gods is approaching, and with the last journey foreshadowing the death of many, each character boasts a palpable sense of tension as they look for solutions to the impending end.
This time around, Kratos and Atreus’ bond is tested like never before, as both father and son discover how much they can trust one another while they hide secrets and search for clues to guarantee each other’s survival. Across the board, the re-evolution of the relationship they start with versus the one they end with when the credits roll is marvelous to experience, with Kratos and Atreus forming a brand new level of understanding and trust between each other. My hat goes off to Christopher Judge and Sunny Suljic for being instrumental in that growth with their performances creating characters that are so real and believable.
Judge would go on to win the “Best Performance” award for Kratos at this years The Game Awards, and much of his speech was a reflection of how much he’s grown alongside Kratos while working with Sunny.
Speaking of Kratos, I want to focus on him. I grew up with Kratos being a rage-fueled mortal turned to god and watched his path of destruction consume the Greek pantheon of gods. Outside of the very first God of War game, not much exposition was given similarly in scale to the discovery that Kratos was tricked into murdering his wife and daughter. The TikTok trend that has been popular of late captures the essence of early day Kratos, as he’s literally yelling “ZEUS” for nearly six games.
Okay, I’m sort of kidding.
I was okay with the lack of story because the gameplay was superb and something about his antihero path was very compelling. Maybe it was because Kratos was a man, turned into a god, and then exposed the gods for who they were. These gods weren’t the Disney iteration you see in those movies who are helpful beings and hear your prayers. They were selfish evil-doers who would use their power to their advantage. Kratos was a direct cause of the gods’ actions, and while his end goal was to murder every one, his journey revolved around themes as defying fate and the age-old “David vs. Goliath”adage.
Ragnarök puts all of that exposition on full display and clearly reflects it on Kratos’ being, as this is the most human version of the character we’ve seen to date. Whether it be his moments of conversing about his fallen brother Deimos or his previous wife and daughter, this version of Kratos is insanely human and a reflection of his suffering. Yet he’s mastered it, and it’s reflected in every action, if you don’t count the countless killing you do in-game. This Kratos is wiser and seeks to protect instead of actively seek out war. You could argue this version was present in the last game, and that’s because it was. However, Ragnarök takes it even further and creates the most mortal iteration of his character.
I could go on all day about his character arc, but the conclusion is so beautiful and powerful I almost cried. That’s my GOAT (greatest of all time) man, and I really cannot stress enough that this is probably the best character development I might’ve ever seen in modern gaming.
Is that heavy recency bias? Sure, but I’ve been here from the beginning so it doesn’t feel make me feel that bad.
Aside of Kratos, God of War Ragnarök is strong in the stories it tells through and about its characters as well as how masterfully woven together it all is with Raganrök and Norse mythology. Much like I mentioned before, the previous games did a great job at taking a different approach to the gods by making them evil as they served to maintain their power. This game follows in its similar stride, and as you reach the end, you start to see how Kratos’ struggles weren’t just his alone. The Norse pantheon crumbles under the weight of Ragnarök, character revelations and the actions of those who would seek to prevent it. Each of the major character has their moment to shine with their respective voice actors breathing incredible life into the Norse legends of old.
Side note, I can’t omit Mimir has some great moments that made me like his character more than I did before as he tags along with one quest in particular serving as a showcase of his tragic backstory and of the growth he and Kratos have experienced. Despite being gods and higher beings, these gods are human in their beliefs, with their actions being a reflection of that. It all ends in an epic conclusion that completely caught me off guard. The ending is powerful, especially if you’ve been on this ride since the beginning.
I could go on forever about this game, particularly Kratos, but I’ll stop for now. God of War Ragnarök left me speechless, and if this is the real conclusion of Kratos’ story, it will have been the greatest ending possible. I highly recommend… damn, I mean you better play God of War Ragnarök.
Photo dump below, and if you made it this far, thank you. I really appreciate it a ton, and be sure to let me know your thoughts on the game if you played it!