Following up on greatness is never easy. Santa Monica had the element of surprise when they revived God of War in 2018, so when the world got to experience this epic return of Kratos it became a hit of Godlike proportions. Selling millions of copies, snatching up awards like Kratos grabbing Hacksilver, and becoming one of the most beloved Playstation games in history, it was no wonder that expectations were sky high for God of War: Ragnarock. However, our result couldn’t have been any more different than God of War: Ragnarock since we knew what to expect from Santa Monica after four years. So did Santa Monica deliver?
Let’s start by setting some realistic expectations. Do you think the Lord of the Rings trilogy is one series? Personally, I think it’s three separated parts, not one movie and two sequels. It might not seem important to most, but God of War: Ragnarock felt exactly the same. It’s less of a sequel than it is part 2 of 2018’s God of War, the game where Kratos came back and became a father. The experience is just a continuation from its predecessor; an epic action-adventure game with brutality and adventure. If you didn’t enjoy the character relationships in 2018, then it likely won’t impact your decision on this game either. All in all, if you liked God of War in 2018, then there’s no reason for you to abandon ship now
Kratos and Atreus are two years into their journey. They’re dealing with a harsh winter called Fimbulwinter, which is just before Ragnarock, the end of the world. The conditions in Midgard (Earth) and the other realms are all very difficult because Freya’s mourning her son, Baldur. Kratos has softened somewhat due to his relationship with Atreus and is now a better father. This bond has caused him to have more empathy for others, like when he placed a loving hand on Atreus’ shoulder without second thought. You can see a budding personality in Atreus as he begins to grow into himself and identify with who he really is after grappling with Loki.
Playstation 4 and 5 are supported
Playstation 5 reviewed
Santa Monica Studios developed this game
There’s never any peace for the God of War – in the same way that trouble arrived in 2018, Thor comes knocking on their door. A huge, looming figure whose mere presence screams violence. Instead of seeking revenge for the death of his sons, he instead asks Kratos to sit down. He says he’s only here to prepare them for the arrival of the game’s true villain: Odin, the All-Father…Compared to Thor he’s a small man, grandfatherly in his stature and looks. Actor Richard Schiff delivers an incredible performance as Odin, a charismatic God who is a master manipulator, abuser and seemingly many steps ahead of everyone else. He comes preaching peace but his real goal is to acquire Loki’s (the brother of Thor) help in seeking knowledge about other Gods’.
To discuss the full plot of the story would be to share a major spoiler, so I won’t delve into any other details. Santa Monica Studios has done a fantastic job of taking all of the Norse mythology and re-writing it into an original story with twists and turns that give you all types of emotions. The writing is sharp, the plot is interesting but occasionally confusing, and just like in Viking 2018, there’s an absurd level of production value that keeps pulling you in.
In God of War: Ragnarock, Kratos awaits the return of Atreus
Ragnarock is an incredibly rich story that manages to touch on many topics, including the desire to be a better person and parent. Our protagonist Thor’s vulnerability is interesting in that he doesn’t have the same attitude as Marvel’s character. He has a softer center which you see in Ryan Hurst’s portrayal of this divine warrior and ruler of Asgard. Odin also gives us insight into how Thor might have turned out had he been raised by a different father; Kratos is his equal and even defeats him in battle. However, I believe it was Ryan Hurst’s performance and depiction of Thor that was most interesting to me in this game.
Kratos had always been stoic, but he really opens up as a character in this game. He can reveal more of himself to others, and share more stories from the past. In many ways, he’s transformed over the years–but he still makes few words, keeps to himself often, and is tetchy at best. Along with all those changes, his relationships with others have also improved. His son has grown up and wants to help people–which is why Kratos learned how to let him go out into the world by himself. But Kratos does have trouble letting go sometimes; being a single dad doesn’t come naturally for him. Nonetheless, it shows that Kratos has grown as a person. Throughout the game, father and son are able to reconcile with each other both when they’re together and when they’re apart–and Christopher Judge again turns in an amazing performance where every movement of his face sent new signals you could read on his face.
The story of Atreus is extremely powerful, especially when he is able to take the reigns. In the times where we control him, it’s clear that he’s a skilled warrior even though he has different strengths than Kratos. When Kratos has to switch back to being the main character, it can be a bit jarring, but it makes perfect sense given what we now know about their relationship. It’s unfortunate that his focus on ranged combat doesn’t translate into as much satisfaction or excitement for players and it can feel more like an afterthought when you’re playing with blades and heavy weapons in melee combat. Still, Atreus is a great protagonist who brings new optimism and feels like a nice change from Kratos’ dour outlook on the world.
Even so, I do think Atreus’ teenage behavior will make more than a few people throw their hands up. Despite the fact that many people describe him as infuriating, I thought the Santa Monica writers did a good job of portraying him as a teenager facing a difficult decision with all the bad decisions and foibles that come with age.
In God of War: Ragnarock, Kratos and Atreus speak to Brok
New characters are introduced in the game, some of them playable but most of them not. The driving force behind the new characters is to more closely reflect Norse mythology and the Marvel comics’ Thor. Some people will be happy with the additions, and some people might miss the old heroes from the first game. One of my favourites is Thor – his inclusion brings a balance between humans, gods and monsters that make him much more interesting than in previous games.
When it was over, I wanted to hug Santa Monica and ask them where they had been hiding all this time. It’s an eclectic game with a bit too much plot as McGuffins at times that can leave you scratching your head, but its driving force is always the characters that are brought to life through excellent performances, fantastic music and the same one-shot camera style of 2018’s Jockenhyphenstein. It’s heavily cinematic, absorbing players into its world, although that sometimes means spending too much time not actually playing the game. Maybe I’m just old-fashioned or something, but as much as I enjoy Grumpy Old Man of War and his mad quest for apocalyptic revenge, I would have liked some more butt-kicking skirmishes and none of these cutscenes! And no, I’m not making up any of this stuff.
While I do have to admit, it really blasts through the end of Ragnarock in a short amount of time for a game that spends its entire time building toward that inevitable event. It feels strange to say this about an adventure which spans dozens of hours, but the finale feels rushed and actually seems to forget about a couple of big things that don’t impact the story, but which will leave you wondering, “wait, what happened to…”.
The combat of the 2018 remake is as brutally satisfying as the original. The Blades of Chaos make a triumphant return alongside your favorite axe, so having both makes for a fulfilling combo. When you swat an enemy’s face with the Leviathan and summon it back to your hand, there’s nothing better than hearing that satisfying sound. In fact, it’s even more rewarding when you unleash waves of enemies with the Blades and then find that not only have all your enemies been defeated, but your health has stayed intact. The core tenets of attacking, dodging and blocking are executed expertly and smoothly, making you feel like a badass without fail.
God of War: Ragnarock features Kratos facing a massive Dreki with the Leviathan axe.
As a result of feedback suggesting that enemy variety was a little thin, Santa Monica has attempted to remedy it by adding all sorts of new victims to slice and dice. You can learn about a variety of enemies, fight them, and destroy them by using savage finishing moves. From tiny bugs to big bastards.
There are a few new tricks to keep things from being too same-old same-old. In the combat, the triangle button doesn’t just recall the axe anymore. Now when you press it, you’re activating your weapon’s Signature Move and infusing it with its corresponding element. For Blades, that means whipping them around by tapping the triangle button quickly before swinging them in an arc of fire; for the Axe, however, it freezes over. Both of these will deal devastating damage – but first you have to build up Momentum by dealing out more damage without getting hit. These new moves tie into just a few unlockable skills in one returning skill tree since Kratos is a videogame character and we all know you can’t carry anything over between games with his type!
There are also special moves your character can perform with the new enhancements for air combat. Plus, Kratos is a little more agile, thanks to grappling points that let him move around like Tarzan. There’s even aerial maneuverability when he jumps off of these points or when he sprints off of the platform. These new changes make the combat much smoother and give you something else to do while waiting for your special Runic attacks to recharge.
Although it comes a little late in the game, Kratos acquires a new weapon which I won’t spoil here. This brings his total up to three weapons that he can switch between with the press of a button. The tough, satisfying and brutal combat remains exactly as good as before with this third tool, adding some much-needed variety to the mix of fighting styles Kratos has mastered. When combined with all of the other new tricks Kratos has learned, the whole experience is more robust than ever and is phenomenal to play. If you played last year’s game, you already know just how good the intense combat feels – and it’s even better now!
Atreus and Kratos explore a Dwarven city in God of War: Ragnarock
For a game about an awesome god who fights for justice and glory, the puzzles are still pretty easy. And that’s not just my opinion, either – come on, stabbing eyeballs with your blades? How easy is that? Puzzles mostly involve finding objects or pressing buttons and solving some painfully obvious clues. The only challenging thing about this game is figuring out how Legolas moves! Seriously. Come up with some new challenges.
But as for squeezing through spaces, slowly climbing sections of cliffs, or even using fast travel, all of these feel like direct results of Ragnarock having to run on the aging PS4. Many developers have pointed out that such moments are not just due to hardware limitations but other design choices as well. However, given the sheer amount of slow moments where Kratos crawls through a space, climbs a wall (especially when another wall lets him zip straight up using the Blades) or pushes himself through a narrow gap I feel confident saying at least some of these are to allow the PS4 to get everything loaded and ready to go. You really notice it when fast-traveling through the World Tree because you still have to amble along (or just stand still) while you wait for the magic door to appear. The PS5 speeds up this process so that if there’s no dialog going on the doorway appears reasonably quickly — but it’s still a little annoying seeing Kratos being held back especially when other games have such speedy traveling like Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart.
While I was harsh in my comments, I believe Sony and Santa Monica made the right decision by putting Ragnarock on both consoles. While I can’t wait to see what Santa Monica are able to do when unchained from the older PS4 hardware, the God of War saga began on the PS4, and it would be a shame that millions of people would miss out on part 2 of this amazing saga because the PS5 is still too expensive or because they can’t find one in stock.
In terms of performance, visuals and other things like combat and the menu system, there are two graphical options on the Playstation 5: the first one will offer all the graphic upgrades while still hitting a solid 30FPS. Personally, I opted for the performance mode which only includes some of the graphic features in order to maintain a consistent 60fps that makes combat feel more satisfying. Even though I encountered a single bug that made a chest unreachable until I restarted the game, both modes are almost perfect in terms of performance.
After the events of God of War in 2018, Freya seeks revenge against Kratos
And make no mistake, the game looks fantastic. While there’s not been a huge graphical improvement from God of War in 2018, there have been plenty of subtle improvements that have taken an already great-looking game and made it even better. But for me, what sold everything was the mix of animation and motion capture. The opening moments are a prime example when Kratos sits by a fire reflecting on his life. The tiny emotions across his face do so much to humanize a character who has destroyed pantheons of gods and it’s all thanks to the animation and actor Christopher Judge.
One of the key areas in Nine Realms, Lakeside, is a large hub that gradually changes to unlock new sections. It was an ingenious piece of design and something I really liked. But many people wanted more sense of variety and Santa Monica has responded in the best way possible. Ragnarock offers nine worlds, each with their own outstanding side missions. Vanaheim, which comes with its own extensible area, is easily the largest world among them- it even has an extraordinary optional content that you can miss if you didn’t complete a certain side quest. Most games have a noticeable drop in production values between the main quests and the side-content due to budget constraints, development time, and all that. But Ragnarock proves there’s not a huge gap: all side quests feel like they’ve had as much time and attention lavished on them as any other part of the game-they contain amazing set-pieces and story beats. There are also some awesome extras for long-playing players who finish the story campaign; however, so far no New Game+. That won’t stop developers from providing updates later on.
As you explore new realms, heave open chests and defeat hidden bosses, resources necessary to craft and upgrade armor sets will be acquired. I’ve read some criticisms that the loot system in God of War doesn’t work, but I personally love acquiring new armor sets and being able to tweak the stats to match my preferences. My only issue is the number of different resources is excessive and unnecessarily confusing. And I will say, there are a few too many identical armor sets that simply reskin each other.
Every sequel to a well-loved series creates unanswered questions–questions that developers will usually attempt to answer with bigger and better gameplay. As the gaming community, we expect the sequel to be even better than the original. But can Santa Monica handle it? It’s hard to say whether Ragnarock is a better game than its predecessor because it seems like just part 2 of the story. Trying to choose between the Lord of the Rings films is not an easy task–both are equally amazing in their own right.
Given KRATOS’s absolutely fucking stunning, a triumph in every way, which is fitting for the end of his story – if Santa Monica chooses to end it there. It has been incredible journey turning one of the most basic ‘angry dude’ characters into one of the most fascinating ones.
KRATOS is more human than he has ever been and more relatable and likeable; yet he is just as much of a badass, making him an icon in our hobby. This game has clearly been a long, hard labour of love for Santa Monica and for everyone that was involved in its creation. Combat is vicious and rewarding, exploration is fun-filled, this game’s story – filled with both cool moments and memorable characters – along with protagonist KRATOS’ emotional well-told tale.