God of WOW. Santa Monica Studio may never top their latest title, God of War Ragnarok – such is the detail in every aspect of the most highly anticipated game in recent memory. If God of War (2018) was a soft reboot using a ‘The Last of Us’ style approach to gameplay and narrative to appeal to a wider range of gamers, Ragnarok is the sequel that improves on it in every way. Kratos is now PlayStation’s mascot for the next generation, an advertisement for the potential of gaming. This review will not spoil the story, for it may be the greatest storytelling we’ve ever seen in a video game. It will provide enough information for you to buy this game (if you haven’t already) and acknowledge this as the benchmark for the future of the PlayStation 5.
God of War (2018) ended with a series of key plot points and big reveals that was really just a set-up for this game. Ragnarok begins a few years following the events of its predecessor, with Kratos and his now-teen son Atreus/Loki training through Fimbulwinter in preparation for a world-ending war. Freya is hunting them because of the death of her son, Baldur, and the opening moments show the growth of Atreus – no longer just a “BOY” and much more complex in his approach. That’s all I can reveal story-wise without spoiling the fun, as the first hour is jam-packed with Norse mythology and a call to action that will see our heroes traverse the nine realms – and you actually get to visit all nine this time. But is this a movie disguised as a game?
Short answer? No. The combat is deeply satisfying and rewarding, using either the Leviathan axe or the blades of chaos to cut through a huge roster of enemies and bosses. A complaint from God of War (2018) was the repetition in enemies, but there is more variety in the first few hours of Ragnarok than the previous entry. By the end of the game, there are enough creatures to rival a Pokemon trek. Each requires a different strategy and an understanding of your own skillset – the axe is ice, the blades are fire, the shield can be customised, and Spartan rage is back for when you’re pushed into a corner. Armour is varied and everything can be upgraded – the menus can take a while to master, but visiting your dwarf friends reveals an excellent system to play your way. No, this is not a movie. This is the next step.
Graphically, most PlayStation first-party games are outstanding. Despite this game releasing on the PS5 and PS4, which can sometimes see a release not utilise its full potential on the next-gen consoles, Ragnarok looks spectacular. After moving through the wintery forests early in the game, the next locale shows off the graphical capabilities and only keeps improving with each change. Standing on a mountain and looking down at blue rivers and green islands, it’s worth seeing how realistic settings can become with the right developers – even in Norse worlds. Animations have also improved, with Kratos ripping his foes apart in every way possible. From the footprints in the snow to the wrinkles on the back of our hero’s bald head, it’s a treat to look around.
Ragnarok is not technically an open world game in the style of a release such as Elden Ring. There are large areas to explore (best demonstrated early in the game when islands open up as you paddle away) but it’s really up to you how this is tackled. Everything can be returned to later if the narrative is your focus, but you’ll be missing some powerful gear if only taking the beaten path. The game is not overly difficult, with five difficulty options. I played on Give Me Balance (medium) and only really felt challenged in some boss fights. Give Me Mercy (hard) may be the best for seasoned gamers, but it really depends on how focused you are on gameplay vs story. Santa Monica Studios don’t really want you stuck. Their aim is a fluid, moving experience that flows with story.
Music – Bear McCreary is a God himself with the heavy Nordic tunes that blast through your speakers. The soundtrack is more balanced than God of War (2018) as it shines in the new locales. Both the heavy and the light are weaved into a masterpiece that Hollywood films would envy. Appearing as a character in the game, Bear clearly loves his role with this IP and it shines from beginning to end (and the track Svartalfheim is a banger). This is one that you’ll be playing long after the game is completed and challenges Horizon Forbidden West for its emphasis.
God of War Ragnarok is Game of the Year in all measurements. It will be thrust upon Elden Ring – which is different in almost every way when it comes to a comparison – but this is a generation-defining release that is created with such care and passion that it is hard not to get emotional when leading our heroes into battle. The way the team has re-created overused characters such as Thor, Freya and Odin for their narrative is refreshing and exciting, and never has Kratos been more powerful as a lead. With a runtime of up to 40 hours, this experience is everything gaming should be.
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