God of War Ragnarök Review – War It Is

Developer – Santa Monica Studio

Publisher – Sony Interactive Entertainment

Platform(s) – PlayStation 5, PlayStation 4

Release Date – November 9, 2022

Disclaimer: Thanks to PR for Providing a Review Copy

Sony Santa Monica had an incredibly difficult feat ahead of them with God of War Ragnarök. Along with games such as Spider-Man Miles Morales and Ghost of Tsushima, God of War (2018) is one of my favorite titles from PlayStation Studios across the past half-decade. Following the quality of God of War (2018), the hype for this successor was at an absolute high ever since its initial announcement in September 2020. Not only did they deliver on the hype in my opinion, but they also went and exceeded their previous work back in 2018.

As with any game before its official release, I can say that I won’t be going in-depth on any key narrative moments. I won’t mention any characters that haven’t already been commented on in some shape or form by Sony Santa Monica. Unfortunately, retailers are breaking street date and selling the game earlier than they should. I know this is one game many won’t want spoiled considering its heavy narrative focus. I will say that no matter what you read, there are a lot more surprises in this God of War Ragnarök than you might think.

The story of God of War (2018) was the combination of the father & son relationship between Kratos and Atreus as well as the journey to spread the ashes of Faye (Kratos’s wife) across the highest peak of the nine realms. God of War Ragnarök picks up a few years after the events of God of War (2018) as Kratos and Atreus are now feeling the ripple effect of their actions all those years ago. One word to describe the persistent sentiment in God of War Ragnarök is War.

Similar to a game such as The Last of Us Part II, God of War Raganrök is a very hard game to talk about in-depth in terms of narrative because of how extensive this aspect is. I loved the narrative of God of War (2018) and God of War Ragnarök’s narrative is no different. The game never fails to keep hitting you with new components consistently. I think it’s just as if not more vigorous than God of War’s (2018) story. I found myself with the same thinking at the end of God of War Ragnarök that I had with its predecessor in 2018, I just played a classic.

The number of new personalities that Kratos and Atreus interact with is plentiful and each one feels significant in some way. In God of War (2018), you had side characters such as Baldur, Freya, Mimir, Brok, and Sindri. In God of War Ragnarök, the side characters are a lot more plentiful with a collection of the ones I previously named and new additions such as Thor, Týr, Angrboda, and many others which I won’t name in this review.

The relationships and connections between every character in this game are done excellently. I was interested to see how the dynamic between Kratos and Atreus would be in this game compared to God of War (2018). There’s always the worry that the dynamic may pale in comparison but I thought both games were at an equal level in this regard. At his current age in God of War Ragnarök, Atreus pushes back a lot more on his father’s intentions. It works because I feel you’re able to look at both sides in any given situation between Kratos and Atreus and understand both points. There’s a specific reason for this in particular but to avoid spoiler territory I won’t divulge further, but I will say it was a smart decision from Sony Santa Monica.

Atreus in particular was a stand-out execution in terms of character development and interaction. His growth in God of War (2018) from a reckless and inexperienced fighter to a confident soldier was done satisfactorily. Atreus in God of War Ragnarök is a lot more knowledgeable but his familiarity with the art of war pales in comparison to his father. His connections with someone like Sindri are prevalent in this game. You’ll see how Atreus leans on others throughout the game to learn and comprehend the situation at hand.

With new additions such as Thor, a new layer of intrigue is added to the game. Before I played, I didn’t expect how extensive Sony Santa Monica would go with the lore in this game. Anything I was curious about, Sony Santa Monica made time for without making the game feel bloated as a result. The decision to cap off the Norse saga with this game was the absolute correct choice and after completion, I suspect many will feel the same way.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t make it a point to go over my favorite new character in this game. Angrboda in God of War: Ragnarok was written and done to perfection. From Laya DeLeon Hayes’s performance, character interactions, and her overall role in the narrative, Angrboda kills it in every scene she’s in.

The side quests in God of War Ragnarök stand out and a select few feel like they could be their own main quest. There’s one I did toward the start of the game I had to unchain a giant animal in a lake that Mimir was the cause of. The quest took longer and was a lot more rigorous task than I expected. The specific discourse between Kratos and Mimir during this quest was intriguing and the payoff felt satisfying yet tragic at the same time.

Sony Santa Monica provided two narrative experiences in the span of a little under 5 years that delivered tenfold. Before God of War (2018), I was not a big God of War player in the slightest. This reboot back in 2018 caused me to go back and look at older games in the franchise that I barely played and I’m glad I did. In terms of beat-by-beat story moments as well as characters and their development & interactions, God of War Ragnarök succeeds and I can’t wait to see what new direction the series takes.

If you loved the combat in God of War (2018), I do not doubt that you’ll love it in this game. Kratos has the Leviathan Axe from 2018’s installment and his traditional Blades of Chaos. As your main AI companion, Atreus has his bow and arrow that you can use whenever you please. The RPG-like combat system while very similar to God of War (2018) still manages to introduce new things to spice it up with new structures such as amulets that give you combat perks. The similarities didn’t bother me since the combat still feels immensely satisfying.

I sense the combat system will be a bit overwhelming to some considering how much there is to learn with the upgrade, armor, and skill system. It’s not confusing or anything but if you haven’t played God of War (2018), I recommend taking time to go through the menu to fully understand the ins and outs.

Along your journey in God of War Ragnarök, you’ll obtain currency known as hacksilver and various items that you’ll find in chests or that enemies will drop that you can use to upgrade your equipment. All your equipment such as weapons and armor have multiple levels that can be upgraded to increase strength, defense, and many other stats. Each time you finish killing off enemies you and your AI companion will receive XP that can be used to acquire new skills for your weapons and upgrade certain abilities such as spartan rage.

One of the biggest complaints from God of War (2018) was the enemy variety and the lack of many boss fights. I can say that both of these complaints have been fixed in God of War Ragnarök. There are over 60 different enemy varieties in this game without counting boss fights. An enemy like a Wretch which is a small filthy snake-like creature that bites has multiple variations. There’s the regular Wretch that bites you with its teeth and then there’s the exploding Wretch that explodes if not killed in time, and this is only scratching the surface.

Big-time boss battles were a huge problem for many in God of War (2018), especially those who played through God of War 1-3. The boss battles in God of War Ragnarök are plentiful enough to where it’s not too much and not too little. Earlier I mentioned surprises in the overall narrative but Sony Santa Monica made their share of wonders with the design of each individual boss fight. I assume many of you reading this have watched the trailers, so you already know about fighting Thor. All I’ll say regarding this is that it lives up to the hype.

My absolute favorite enemy design in God of War Ragnarök is the Phantom enemies. I love their design and I love the method by which you have to take them out in battle. A Phantom is a creature that develops from magic runic springs and can be in either frost or flame form. The phantom has a giant eye-like purple ball as its weak point and you must hit that ball to stun the enemy. Once the phantom is stunned monetarily you’ll have to go and destroy the runic springs it was made from to deal damage to the creature. Whoever had the idea for this enemy should be commended.

The gore and dismemberment are a lot more gruesome and visceral in this game. Not to mention the wide array of finishers that are specific to your Leviathan Axe and Blades of Chaos. A ton of enemies have different animations for when they are killed. It can range from one enemy’s head and shoulder getting cut off with Kratos’s Axe, slicing the throat of a troll with the Blades, or squishing a Wretch with your bare hands.

The semi-open world format lends itself well to this current structure of God of War. From someone who’s only a little familiar with Norse mythology, I love exploring every inch of each realm. A few of these realms were already explored back in God of War (2018). Still, a select few realms were left out of the game and saved for God of War Ragnarök, Svartalfheim and Asgard are two of those realms. Svartalfheim is known as the land of the dwarves and upon my first arrival there, I knew it would be full of intriguing lore. Asgard was by far my most anticipated location to see and without going too in-depth, Asgard as a realm is one of the MVPs of this game.

The approach to level design is extremely well done. There will be the odd time here and there when the level layout can leave you a bit uncertain, but these moments are few and far between. Most of the time I enjoy figuring out a good puzzle and the puzzles in God of War Ragnarök are a bit more complex than in God of War (2018). Your axe can be used to freeze geysers as well as water channels. Atreus’s bow and arrow can put up runic circles than can be chained together with your blades to progress in a specific circumstance. It’s fulfilling to explore not only because of good level design but also because exploring in this game is worth it 99.9% of the time.

If it wasn’t already clear from the multiple in-game trailers since 2021, God of War Ragnarök is an absolutely gorgeous game. Could the game have looked better if it was PlayStation 5 only, yeah probably. At the end of the day, I don’t judge games on what they could’ve done on other hardware. A game should be judged on what it does on the platforms it’s available for and if it does it sufficiently. God of War Ragnarök on PlayStation 5 is colorful, vibrant, and an absolute pleasure in art direction.

The cast does an immensely tremendous job and I can’t think of a single character in any sense that didn’t nail their role. Christopher Judge and Sunny Suljic reprise their roles as Kratos and Atreus and are as excellent as they were in God of War (2018). I already mentioned Angrboda, not to mention Thor and Odin are standouts too. The performances themselves shine through and the work from the mo-cap team doesn’t hurt either. Kratos’s facial expressions in multiple instances show how impressive the animation and mo-cap work is, this aspect kind of reminds me of Guardians of the Galaxy from Eidos-Montréal in 2021.

If you couldn’t tell from the entirety of this glowing review, I think God of War Ragnarök is a masterpiece. Sony Santa Monica has delivered two fantastic games in a 4 year plus span that I’ll be thinking about for years to come. It’s up there with games such as Red Dead Redemption 2 and Undertale that I’ll look back on with nothing but wonderful memories, except when it came to fighting Valkyries of course.

The art direction, level design, characters, narrative, and combat complement each other superbly. I didn’t even mention the soundtrack and how much of a banger each track is. The theme that plays at the start of the end credits was one of my favorites and I need Bear McCreary, Sony Santa Monica, and PlayStation to release it as soon as possible. Is God of War Ragnarök Game of the Year? That’s entirely subjective and completely up to you, but I don’t see how it’s not in the conversation. Simply put, God of War Ragnarök stands on its own as an experience that Sony Santa Monica put their hearts into and it shows in spades.

Rating - 10/10

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