In 2018, God of War made a triumphant return as we caught up with Kratos years after he left his homeland. Now, he resides in Midgard and has fully embedded himself into the world of Norse mythology. For those of you who took that journey to Jotunheim with the former God of War and his young son Atreus, you’ve undoubtedly been awaiting the release of the latest game in the series, God of War Ragnarok.
It serves as a direct sequel to 2018’s God of War, which concluded with a rather foreboding prophecy that depicts the death of Kratos – a fact that he keeps from Atreus. This detail is all too clear as you join the father-and-son duo once more, this time on an adventure that goes the extra mile when it comes to tugging at your heartstrings.
Some time has passed between the events of the previous title and God of War Ragnarok, as Fimbulwinter shrouds Midgard, acting as a chilly backdrop as you embark on this cold journey of fate, love, prophecy, and hardship. You join Kratos and a now teenage Atreus as they make their way home, only to have their peaceful sleigh ride ruined by a vengeful Freya.
Yes, Baldur’s mother still feels the loss. She wants revenge, and she’s willing to do anything that can lessen the heavy burden on her heart. It should come as no surprise that the Vanir goddess features heavily throughout the story in Ragnarok. However, I intend to keep this review as spoiler-free as possible and will do my utmost to avoid revealing essential plot points.
From a narrative perspective, God of War Ragnarok is nothing short of a triumph, as it takes everything that makes the previous game so impactful and cranks it all the way up to 11. Family, friends, choices, prophecy, and a dangerous world full of manipulative gods all come together to create an intricate story you honestly can’t foresee.
Throughout my time with Kratos and Atreus in the latest game, I felt a constant string of fear. I saw those paintings on the wall in Jotunheim four years ago – I know that the giants have prophesied Kratos’ death. Despite this, I also couldn’t help but live with the hope that we are all in control of our own destiny.
As you journey through the nine Norse realms that branch from the world tree – Svartalfheim, Alfheim, Helheim, Vanaheim, Midgard, Asgard, Musphelheim, Jotunheim, and Niflheim – you come across an assortment of famous faces from Norse mythology, such as Thor, Freyr, Tyr, and Odin (the latter of which is the main antagonist), as well as a few from your previous adventures in Midgard, including Brock, Sindri, Mimir, and Freya.
While I mostly have nothing but praise to lavish upon Santa Monica for God of War Ragnarok’s story, I can’t help but feel there’s one part of the narrative that lets the side down.
Without giving too much away, there’s one storyline that is simply too long, leading you to feel fatigued before the curtains have had time to close on it. Had it been more concise and featured less chore-like tasks (such as collecting items you have no use for) that have little impact on the overarching story, the game flow could have been improved. During this section, my interest waned in a way that left me caring less and less with each passing minute until, finally, the game had mercy upon my soul, allowing me to go and continue the rest of my journey.
I also missed out on a key cutscene in the final third of the game thanks to an unfortunate bug, which rendered my characters voiceless. It was like the cast had agreed to play charades – mouthing only their lines – masking the subtitles as they performed. I wouldn’t have minded so much, but this scene involves Atreus, Thor, Odin, Sif, and two valkyries in Helheim, which, without giving too many spoilers away, should tell you how important the scene is. It’s worth noting that this pesky bug has been fixed in a pre-launch patch, though.
Besides a lengthy plot point that has you feeling like a child in the back of a car saying ‘are we there yet?’, the rest of Ragnarok’s narrative is very, very impressive. Better still, the development of God of War Ragnarok’s characters is second to none. Father and son both grow and mature, and as time goes on, Kratos learns to trust his child, while Atreus grapples with prophecies and their meaning or truth.
Your life is in your hands, and this is a sentiment that’s at the heart of Ragnarok’s story. Forgiveness is also a key theme as not only must Atreus and Kratos move past mistakes on both sides, but so must Freya as she turns her attention to the person that has truly wronged her – the man that trapped her in Midgard, Odin.
Then, of course, there are the loveable dwarves, though it breaks my heart to watch the subplot surrounding Sindri and Brock unfold. These dwarven brothers have been through so much, and while they provide much-needed laughs during your time in Midgard, it’s not an easy ride.
Aside from the storytelling, God of War Ragnarok also shines in a couple of other departments too, such as accessibility. Games are for everyone, and in Ragnarok, Santa Monica has added options for vision, hearing, motion, and motor functions.
These accessibility options include a large res and high contrast display, large subtitles, speaker names, a reduction in camera shake and sway, and assistance with movement such as traversal and auto sprint. While it might not sound like much to some, for others, it’s little alterations such as this that can enhance their experiences, so kudos to Santa Monica for ensuring as many people as possible can join Kratos and Atreus on their journey.
Another huge positive for the game is its combat, which builds upon the first game and then some. Quite a few of the criticisms in the early previews were based on Raganrok’s lack of innovation, and while Santa Monica was always going to struggle to top the jump from the Greek era to the Norse one, the combat system does feel refreshingly different. This is largely down to the fact that Kratos’ companions are far more on par with him than in the 2018 game, with Atreus and others who join him across the nine realms being able to hold their own in combat much better.
Having said that, you still get to do and see a lot as and with Atreus, as he tries to protect his father and find a way to prevent Ragnarok; nobody wants a war, after all.
However, despite the strides made by Santa Moncia in the combat department, I have to say I’m a little disappointed with the balancing of various weapons in the game. While most prove as useful as you’d expect, there are times when I can’t help but question the quality of items that should in theory cause significant damage, yet their impact is limited in battle. Nonetheless, it’s mostly as satisfying as you expect it to be, especially when you fling the Blades of Chaos about. However, I’m both surprised and pleased to say that the legendary weapon isn’t my favourite this time around. I can’t say too much without spoiling a major plotline, but be prepared to shake up your fight style as you progress through the campaign.
You’ll also have the chance to use these alternate weapons in one of many God of War Ragnarok side quests that encourage you to explore the luscious worlds that make up the nine realms. If you thought Midgard was stunning, wait until you see the Lake of Nine via wolves and a sledge due to Fimbulwinter. Each realm offers a different environment, presenting its own form of beauty, from the ethereal forests of Vanaheim to the haunting aura in Helheim, and the scorching plains of Svartalfheim.
No matter where you go in the world, you’re guaranteed to come across some tough boss battles. God of War 2018 has valkyries, while Ragnarok features berserkers, which essentially serve as the equivalent of the legendary warriors you free in the previous title. Of course, it’s not just formidable combatants you have to contend with, as God of War Ragnarok features fights for the ages between Kratos and some of the most esteemed figureheads in Norse mythology.
The design of these boss battles is fantastic, as each poses a different kind of threat, encouraging you to put some thought into various weapons and strategies – though I’ll admit that I tend to rely on parries courtesy of my shield and new favourite weapon as soon as I get it. They’re also much bigger spectacles than they were in the first game – and that’s a big plus.
All in all, I have to say that God of War Ragnarok is a clear Game of the Year contender, with a wholesome, heartbreaking, and powerful narrative that’s matched by an equally impressive developmental journey for the characters you already love and care for. To top it off, the combat continues to offer plenty of ferocious fun, the world is stunning, and besides one bug, it performs without a hitch.
In the immortal words of Kratos’ wife Faye, “to have grieved deeply is to have loved fully,” and Santa Monica truly hammers this message home with this exceptional sequel.
God of War Ragnarok (PS5)
God of War Ragnarok is a clear GOTY contender, as the deserved sequel features an action-packed narrative, satisfying combat, a luscious Norse world, and some fantastic character development