It’s never easy to follow up on something great. Santa Monica brought back God of War, and the surprise element was there. When the world saw Kratos’ epic return, it sold millions of copies and won awards, including Hacksilver, and became one of the best-loved Playstation games ever. God of War Ragnarock, however, lacks the surprise element. We know exactly what we can expect from Santa Monica’s Ghost of Sparta. Has God of War Ragnarock, after four years’ wait, delivered on the epic conclusion we all hoped for?
Let’s first set expectations. Are you of the opinion that the Lord of the Rings trilogy is a series of three films, or if it’s one epic film? Personal, I’m in the second group, seeing them as three parts of a single story, rather than two movies. God of War Ragnarock may not be important but it feels the same. The game is less of a follow-up, even though there have been improvements, but it’s more of part two of the 2018 God of War reboot. This was the game which brought back and transformed the angriest father in the world. Ragnarock looks and feels a lot like its predecessor, a cinematic adventure game with epic moments. The game doesn’t shake the boat too much (or, in this case sled). The series isn’t reinvented completely. If the stories of Kratos’s son and Kratos didn’t capture your attention in 2018, it’s unlikely that they will do so now.
Two years later, Kratos, Atreus, and the rest of the crew are still surviving Fimbulwinter – the brutal winter which precedes Ragnarock – the end of world. Midgard is covered in deep snow, and all the realms suffer as well. Freya, who is still grieving the loss of Baldur to Kratos’ hands, attacks the father-son duo almost constantly. The relationship between Atreus and Kratos has grown despite all the hardships. He is now able to place his loving hand upon Atreus shoulders with no second thoughts. Atreus has grown into a capable fighter and is more confident in himself. He is developing a personality, as he discovers his identity.
The God of War will never have a peaceful life. Thor, the imposing, huge figure who screams violence by his mere presence, comes knocking at their door. Kratos is asked to sit down instead of taking revenge on his father for their deaths. It’s just to get them ready for the true antagonist of the game: Odin the Allfather. He’s small compared to Thor, and has a grandfatherly look. Richard Schiff gives a fantastic performance as Odin. He is charismatic God, who manipulates, abuses, and seems to be many steps ahead. His real purpose is to get Loki’s help in acquiring incredible knowledge.
By revealing more about the story, I would risk a major spoiler. So let’s keep it vague. Santa Monica Studios has done an amazing job of transforming the vast, confusing Norse Mythology into a story that is original and full of twists and surprises. A couple of them even managed to make my emotions feel real. It’s a great game. The plot, while a bit muddled, is intriguing. And, just as in 2018, the production values are almost ridiculous, making it easy to get absorbed into the action.
God of War Ragnarock: Kratos waits for Atreus’ return
Ragnarock has a wide range of themes that are woven into the storylines, but it is primarily a reflection on parenting, how parents’ failures affect future generations, and what happens when they fail. Odin’s son Thor is a perfect example of this. A powerful being who was reduced by his father to an alcoholic sot, and who struggles to not pass on the mistakes he made to his daughter. He is a very interesting character. He looks nothing like Chris Hemsworth’s Thor. He has a large belly, loves booze and is a formidable presence. He wields Mjolnir without hesitation. It’s his kind of God that can go toe-to -toe against Kratos, and still win. Odin makes a great foil but I believe Thor is my favorite character. The writing of Ryan Hurst and his portrayal as the God of Thunder were both fantastic.
Kratos is more open and human now than ever before, sharing stories from his past with others. He’s still gruff and has few words but, by his own standard, he is bursting with emotion. Even with all his progress, Kratos still struggles to deal with a young son that wants to help others. Kratos is still prone to slipping back into his old ways, particularly when someone threatens the life of his son. Under the surface of this game, you can still find the rampaging God Of War ready to unleash Hell. Father and son both get touching, solid storylines throughout the game, as they learn to live together and apart. Christopher Judge is at it again with his masterclass in acting. He imbues the brooding God’s voice and facial expressions, adding depth to this character.
We get to control the boy several times, while staying true to the main themes that Atreus is becoming his own individual with goals, ideals and beliefs of his own. Even if it’s just for a short time, the narrative makes sense to move away from Kratos with his superb combat skills. Atreus, like his father, is a skilled warrior, able to use his bow and also engage in melee combat. He uses a much more agile, fast and fluid style. Unfortunately, Atreus’s focus on close-range combat isn’t as fun and satisfying as Kratos with his Leviathan Axe or Blades of Chaos. The bow swipes he makes at close range are also not very impactful. It’s nice to have Atreus, whose more positive outlook on the world contrasts well with Kratos.
Atreus’ teenage behavior might make more than one person throw up their hands. Many people have described him as being infuriating. However, I think the Santa Monica writers did an excellent job portraying Atreus as a teenage boy facing a tough decision with the foibles and bad decisions that go with his age.
Brok is the first person Kratos, Atreus and Brok speak with in God of War Ragnarock.
Character arcs aren’t just for father-son duos. Ragnarock expands the scope of the game by giving the secondary cast from the previous year’s title more screentime. Brok and Sindri are the two bickering dwarfs who open up their house to you as well as accompanying on quests. Both the brothers and Goddess Freya get great stories. There are also a bunch of other characters, but they suffer from the same fate, which is that they have a fairly simple characterization, as did the original cast. It’s great that we can spend more time with Thor and Odin, as well as the Asgardians. The writers did a good job because Odin’s goals and motivations are very compelling. They also found a way to let you know more about him while still sticking with their principle of one long camera shot.
Santa Monica’s story was amazing. Santa Monica is a game that can be a little heavy on plot McGuffins, which leaves you wondering what’s going on. But its main attraction is the character, who is brought to life by a variety of great performances, amazing music, and a one-shot style camera similar to the 2018. The game is very cinematic and draws players in, but this can lead to a lot of time spent not playing. Even though I love Grumpy Old Man of War, I prefer to play the game. I don’t care about cutscenes. I just want to kick some asses. No, that’s not a lie.
It’s strange to say this about an adventure that spans dozens of hours, but the finale feels rushed and actually seems to forget a couple of big things. The ending of this adventure, which took dozens of hour, feels rushed. It also seems to have forgotten a few important things, that may not affect the plot, but will make you wonder, “what happened to …”?”
Kratos’s Leviathan and Blades of Chaos are both present from the start. The ability to throw that Leviathan axe in an opponent’s direction and have it return to you at the touch of a single button is still incredibly satisfying. Kratos’s raw power and anger are addictive, as is sweeping the Blades of Chaos across a group of enemies. When you master the core principles of blocking, dodging, and attacking you will feel as if you are the most badass person since Chuck Norris won an asskicking competition wearing steel toe boots.
Kratos fights a Dreki with his Leviathan Axe in God of War Ragnarock.
Santa Monica has listened to the feedback that said the variety of enemies was lacking and have added a bunch of new ones to slice and dice. There are a variety of enemies, from tiny bugs to big bastards. You can learn more about them, and then fight or destroy them using the savage ending moves.
The combat has some fresh new moves to keep things interesting. Now, the triangle button is used to trigger your weapon’s signature move, which infuses it with its element, allowing you to unleash destruction. The Blades can be whipped around quickly by pressing triangle before arcing in a flaming arc. Meanwhile, the Axe freezes, ready to deliver some cold-blooded damage. To build Momentum, you must first deal damage to enemies without being hit. The new moves are tied to a number of skills that can be unlocked in the Returning Skill Trees. This is because Kratos, a character from a videogame, cannot remember things between games.
Kratos’ agility has improved thanks to the grappling points, which let him move around like an angry Tarzan. You can even perform special aerial maneuvers when coming off those grappling point or when running straight from a platform. The combat will flow better with these changes, and you’ll have more to do while waiting for your special Runic attack to recharge.
Kratos’ arsenal now includes three weapons that can be switched instantly on the D pad. This third weapon adds even more variety to the combat, which is already brutal, satisfying and fun. The fighting feels more powerful than ever, and Kratos’s new skills make it even better. It’s hard to explain how satisfying it feels to tap out heavy and light attack combos, but you will already know how great it is if you have played the 2018 version.
In God of War Ragnarock, Kratos and Atreus explore a Dwarven town.
There are many moments in a game that you can play as God of War. You may even feel like you’re the God who solves puzzles or is the God for squeezing through small spaces. Both things have returned in what seems like greater quantities. The majority of puzzles are immediately familiar. For example, you can smash runes in order to unlock chests or spin cranes to reveal grapple points. New mechanics, such as bouncing the axes of crystals that look like aliens, have been introduced. It’s the use of special Runic Arrows that transfers elemental effects to objects, such as fire, from Blades of Chaos. The idea is great on paper, but it was a tedious process of trying and failing because it never worked. Puzzles still rely on less brainpower than they used to and are more about playing games like find the item or rotating stuff.
Ragnarock’s older PS4 version has caused Ragnarock to have to be run in tight spaces. You may also find yourself having to climb cliffs slowly or use the World Tree fast travel. It’s true that many developers claim that these sections aren’t only due to hardware limitations, but also for other reasons. The sheer number of times Kratos has to crawl through space or climb up walls (especially since other walls allow him to zip up straight using his Blades), or force himself through narrow gaps, makes me confident that at least some are there to let the PS4 get ready for the game. When you use the World Tree to fast travel, you have to wait to see the magic doors spawn. This is sped up on the PS5 so that if you don’t have any exposition, then it appears fairly quickly. However, Ragnarock still has to wait, which can be annoying, since other games like Ratchet & Clank Rift Apart allow for such fast travel.
Ragnarock is a great game, and I think Sony, Santa Monica, and both of their consoles were right to include it. Santa Monica’s ability to create new games when freed of the PS4 hardware is something I am eager to witness. However, the God of War story began with the PS4 so it would be a travesty for millions of players to miss the second part of the saga simply because of the PS5 being too expensive or not having one available.
This brings me onto the performance of the game, its visuals, and all other little bits. There are two options for the Playstation 5: The first option offers the Ray-Tracing, visual improvements and runs at 30FPS. The performance mode is what I chose, as it allows me to achieve a smooth 60fps, which makes combat even more enjoyable. The performance of the game is excellent, regardless of the mode that you choose. I encountered only one bug which made it impossible to reach a chest until I restarted.
After the events of God of War, Freya seeks revenge on Kratos.
We can’t forget to mention how beautiful this game is. There hasn’t really been any major changes in the graphics department since God of War was released in 2018. However, there are many small upgrades that make an already beautiful game even more so. For me, the combination of full mocap with the animations is what sells everything. Kratos’ opening moment is a perfect example, as he sits in front of a fireplace and contemplates his life. It’s thanks to Christopher Judge and full motion capture that the tiny expressions on his face humanize this character, who has destroyed pantheons.
First, the game revolved around Lake of Nine. This giant hub would change over time to reveal new areas. Santa Monico responded to the demand for more variety. It was an excellent design, which I loved. Ragnarock takes you through nine different realms. Several of these have their own hubs with tons of side missions. Vanaheim has the biggest area, especially because it contains a huge extra area you could miss if you do not complete certain side missions. It’s not uncommon for games to have significant drops in quality between their main content and side quests. This is understandable because of budget restrictions, time constraints and other factors. Ragnarock is different: the optional content has been given the same amount of time and care as the main quests, and includes some awesome story beats and set pieces. After you finish the main story there are some fun extras to play, but New Game+ is not yet available. This will probably be added later.
As before, as you progress through the worlds, open up chests, and take down hidden bosses to gain resources, and new armours sets, the materials needed to upgrade and craft them, will also be obtained. Some people have said that God of War’s loot system doesn’t work. However, I love the ability to customize stats and build a brand new set of armour. The number of resources available is too many and confusing. There are too many armor sets which are just re-skins.
When it comes to a sequel that is based on a popular and critically acclaimed game, there are always questions about how developers could top their previous work. In the gaming world, it’s common to think that sequels should always be better and bigger. But that may not be fair. How can Santa Monica make a game as great as God of War even better? Ragnarock feels so similar to its predecessor that it’s hard to tell if the game is better. The same thing as trying to pick the best of the Lord of the Rings movies. The problem is not that the task cannot be accomplished, but rather it should be avoided.
Ragnarock, the final chapter in Kratos’ story, is absolutely stunning. It has been a true triumph, and a perfect ending for Kratos if Santa Monica decides to go that route. The journey has been impressive, turning a character that was once regarded as a simple ‘angry guy’ into arguably one of the best in gaming. Kratos has become more likeable and relatable than ever before, while still being a badass. He is an instant icon for our industry. Santa Monica, and everyone involved in the game’s creation have clearly put a lot of effort into this project. It’s a game that is both rewarding and brutal. The exploration and story are filled with memorable moments, cool characters and cool scenes.