When God of War released on the PlayStation 4 in early 2018, it immediately had me (and pretty much everyone else) captivated by its action packed gameplay and its engrossing story. Greek mythology was replaced by Norse mythology, and the titular God of War Kratos was far more likeable and relatable than before, mellowing out marginally as he tried to shield his son Atreus from the grim reality of godship.
It’s one of my favourite gaming experiences of all time, which in turn has made the wait for its sequel God of War Ragnarok all the more difficult. Thankfully though, the wait is over and Ragnarok quickly approaches, prompting Kratos, Atreus and co to prepare for its events, making new friends and foes along the way.
When it comes to the narrative, God of War Ragnarok takes place a few years on from the events of the original. For the sake of keeping the narrative experience as fresh for players as I possibly can whilst also reviewing it, I’ll refrain from diving too deeply into the contents of the story, however be warned that the following contents will contain some story spoilers for God of War.
Ragnarok has not yet arrived, but its predecessor Fimbulwinter has well and truly begun, bringing with it heavy snow and weather that serves as a constant reminder of Ragnarok’s impending arrival. Having killed Baldur, Modi and Magni during the events of the first game, Kratos and Atreus need not worry about just Ragnarok, but also Thor (father of Modi and Magni), Odin (father of Thor and Baldur), as well as former friend turned foe Freya (mother of Baldur).
After the vision seen at the end of God of War depicting Thor visiting Kratos and Atreus comes true, the events that transpire ultimately lead the father and son duo on a realm-trotting journey, as they try to defy prophecy and avoid the calamity of Ragnarok, all in the while helping Atreus come to understanding his role as Loki.
The opening hours of God of War Ragnarok maintain the excellent level of storytelling that players grew accustomed to in the previous game, and they work well to help you get invested back into the world and the current issues at hand, while also sprinkling in some a welcome amount of unexpected twists and turns.
Even after the epic first handful of hours, the story remains riveting throughout its sizable 25+ hour core story runtime, as the quickly arriving threat of Ragnarok makes each story moment intriguing. It’s emotional, intense, and stuffed full of grandiose moments that will have you awe-struck and on the edge of your seat.
World building in God of War Ragnarok is particularly impressive, with a plentiful amount of lore for not just the game’s sizable cast of characters, but also for each of the nine realms. Visiting each of the nine realms throughout the adventure (as opposed to six in the original) truly makes the world feel lived in with a strong sense of history.
Beloved characters such as Brok and Sindri, and my personal favourite character the talking head Mimir return, while new characters such as the God of Thunder Thor, and the charming yet sinister Odin enter the fray.
As it was back in 2018’s God of War, the voice acting is again top notch. Atreus, who’s clearly undergone Midgardian puberty in the three year gap between games has a more adult voice to match his teenage appearance, however other than that, the existing cast are portrayed exactly as they were.
Of the new various new characters (which I again won’t go deeply into to keep some mystery for those keen to experience the game themselves) my favourite would probably have to be Odin. Voiced by Richard Schiff, the King of Asgard who is the main antagonist of the Norse era of God of War, manages to somehow be calm and likeable while also being unnervingly suspect and sinister. He speaks calmly when he thinks he’s in control of the situation, but can quickly show his more cruel side when things don’t go his way, which makes him a truly fascinating figure to watch.
Thor is also portrayed brilliantly by Ryan Hurst, and much the same can be said for all the new unnamed-here core characters you encounter across each Realm.
Visually, God of War Ragnarok looks absolutely fantastic on PlayStation 5. I cycled through both throughout the adventure, beginning with the higher resolution mode. It is a beauty to behold, but the 60FPS loving snob I am saw me quickly shift across to performance mode, where things still look fantastic, with the additional benefit of more fluid motion. Fimbulwinter and the coming of Ragnarok may be causing visible chaos across the realms, but they still manage to look great on the eyes.
Midgard for example, is completely blanketed in snow, to the point where the Lake of Nine (a prominent location in the previous game) is frozen and can now be traversed by foot or dog sled instead of boat. Realms are also noticeably distinct from one another, ensuring that you won’t grow sick of the same visual look.
The score is also as great as you’d expect it to be, with composer Bear McCreary reprising his role after producing a killer soundtrack for the previous game. You’ve got your fair share of epic songs consisting of booming sound and vocal chanting, as well as some more calm and emotive pieces. If the soundtrack of God of War 2018 got you up and about, Ragnarok will have you hooked in by its powerful sound.
In the gameplay department, God of War Ragnarok takes the combat of its predecessor, and polishes them even further, resulting in an addictive and rewarding combat loop. Kratos’ beloved Leviathan Axe and series staple Blades of Chaos return, alongside a new weapon that I won’t spoil here.
Sony Santa Monica clearly took the complaints about the lack of enemy variety in the previous game to heart, as there are a far greater array of enemy types this time around. This applies not only to the regular minions that inhabit the Nine Realms, but also the boss fights, which see you take the fight to some truly powerful enemies.
Although ostensibly a hack and slash affair, the constantly frantic and high octane nature of battle does its best at keeping combat fresh and rewarding. Boss Battles are where the act of combat feels at its greatest, as you dodge, parry, and slice up your foe to your heart’s content. The execution animations that can be triggered when an enemy is fully stunned are beautifully brutal and satisfying, and never really grow old despite the fact that you’ll see the same set of animations each time.
The ability to grapple onto particular ledges with the Blades of Chaos adds a welcome level of verticality to combat scenarios, while also making movement overall more fluid.
There are also different types of shields, with your style of play determining the shield best fit for you. If you aim to play a more offensive playstyle, you can pick a shield that is catered more for parrying, whereas if you want to just block enemy attacks and play a more cautious role, then there’s a shield that’ll allow you to do just that. I for one spent the majority of my playthrough parrying as many attacks as I possibly could.
There’s just something so thrilling about landing a frame perfect shield parry, and it’s a testament to the combat design that the act of defence often feels as rewarding as offence.
In moments where Kratos is accompanied by Atreus, he will assist with his bow as he previously had, serving as a reliable companion that assists not only in combat, but also in some puzzles as well. One such example can be seen with soundstone, a type of stone that can only be destroyed by a particular magic that Atreus can imbue his arrows with.
Atreus is also fully playable throughout various portions of the adventure for the very first time, offering a different playstyle to his brute of a father. Serving primarily as an archer, Atreus offers a more ranged combat experience, with various different bow attacks available.
He can even use his bow as a melee weapon, and has his own special Spartan Rage style ability that truly is a sight to behold. He isn’t as fun to play as Kratos, however his segments are still solid fun and serve nicely at changing up the gameplay just a little bit.
As you progress through the game, you’ll gain XP for the duo that can be spent to unlock new combos and abilities for their selection of weapons, which in turn also work to keep the combat fresh.
When not partaking in combat, you’ll be free to explore the realms, with each containing collectibles for you to find. In order to progress throughout the game, you’ll also encounter some puzzles which require you to use the abilities at your disposal. For example, the Leviathan Axe is used in Svartalfheim to freeze waterways in order, whereas the Blades of Chaos can be used to burn things such as branches, which can grant you access to paths that are otherwise inaccessible.
What makes exploration so enjoyable in God of War Ragnarok is the fact that there are plenty of collectibles that will capture your attention and lead you off the beaten path. Tracking down a chest with a health upgrade or important material required to upgrade a weapon or your armour always feels like a welcome reward, as does tracking down a destroying Odin’s Ravens, which can be found throughout the realms.
The act of exploring each meticulously detailed realm is an absolute joy, and succeeds at keeping you entertained in the quieter moments between combat encounters and story cinematics.
God of War Ragnarok is a captivating and engrossing adventure that builds itself up from the sturdy foundations of its predecessor, creating something truly spectacular in the process.
The story is epic, the large cast of characters are well written and voiced, the combat is frantic and more fleshed out than the original, and the Nine Realms are lovingly littered with lore and worthwhile side quests to complete alongside the stellar main quest.
God of War Ragnarok is a damn good video game, and is a must-play for anyone that owns a PS4 or PS5.
Written by: @GrumpyGoron