If that post-credits scene from God of War was any indication, things are about to kick off in the Nine Realms. After all, God of War Ragnarok wouldn’t be living up to its subtitle without some bloodshed now, would it? Despite his best efforts to create a new life and stay out of trouble, Kratos is now in the centre of a bitter feud with who else but the All-Father himself, Odin, and his hammer-wielding son, Thor.
Mild spoiler warning for if you haven’t played God of War 2018, and God of War Ragnarok’s opening.
For our first impressions of God of War Ragnarök we were able to play through a meaty opening section spanning a good few hours. We won’t delve into any major spoilers here, though it doesn’t take long for the sequel to pick up the narrative threads left dangling when we last saw Kratos and Atreus.
Suffice it to say Norse gods sure know how to hold a grudge, with Freya, Thor, and Odin all wanting a piece of the father-son duo, following the deaths of their beloved Baldur, Magni, and Modi. However, when the All-Father comes to bargain, things go predictably awry, ending in a duel between Kratos and the big-bellied Thor.
In many ways, the opening mirrors that first leg of 2018’s God of War, a slice-of-life segment of gameplay followed by an unwelcome intrusion, punctuated by a seismic boss encounter. As the dust settles, it’s clear that we’re now on the road to all-out war.
In the player’s absence between the two games, Fimbulwinter has arrived. This prelude to the world-ending Ragnarök that sees Midgard descend into sub-zero temperatures as familiar landmarks are lost beneath a blanket of snow. As we soon find out, Fimbulwinter affects each of the Nine Realms differently with our first stop being Svartalfheim, home of the ingenious Dwarves. Instead of icy tundras, players step into a gaseous bog that has a surprising amount of colour and vibrance, inhabited by the kin of Brok and Sindri, as well as Draugr and other twisted enemies.
It’s here that God of War Ragnarök first sets you free. As in the original game, this sequel adopts an open-linear structure, presenting huge areas to explore, but with a discernible path highlighted by the current story objective. This approach works just as well here, satisfying those who want to blitz through the game as well as those who prefer to soak in their surroundings, tackle side quests, and scoop up some collectibles along the way.
Predictably, much of what made God of War such a breakout hit still exists, there’s just more of it. Sony Santa Monica distanced itself from the original trilogy in more ways than one, axing its frantically fun combat system for something more precise and deliberate. Instead of flooding the screen with enemies, they individually pose a threat, forcing players into a back-and-forth, reading when to block, parry, or evade, before following up with a punishing counter-offensive.
If you are coming straight from God of War then the combat may feel a little pared back to begin with. No doubt wanting to cater for newcomers, Kratos doesn’t have his full suite of combos or powers. He hasn’t developed a convenient case of amnesia, though players will still need to fill out his skill tree, which comes tagged with some new and augmented powers. You’ll have to craft new gear for him and Atreus, as well as upgrades. Amusingly, when Sindri asks what happened to the old armour, Kratos bluntly tells him he used it all. Classic Kratos.
Whether fighting with the Leviathan Axe or the Blades of Chaos, combat feels punchy if a little limited when starting out. Thankfully, it doesn’t take long to learn new moves and there’s definitely a sense that Ragnarök will introduce some interesting new battle mechanics as players journey through the Nine Realms.
While not as integral, puzzles still make up a big part of Sony Santa Monica’s rebooted formula for the series. Locations in God of War Ragnarök are peppered with environmental puzzles as you guide Kratos and Atreus to their next destination. In Svartalfheim, you’ll freeze and thaw water to trigger the Dwarven realm’s machines and mining apparatus. The solutions to these puzzles find a nice balance between head-scratching and blindingly obvious, with plenty of optional treasure chests encouraging players to stop and think about their surroundings.
God of War Ragnarök leaves a solid, hammer-shaped impression. While we’ve yet to see anything that completely blows us away, it’s still everything we’d ask from a sequel – and that’s without commenting on just how incredible the game looks on PS5. Let’s just hope the pace picks up and that we don’t have to wait too long for Kratos to unlock some new toys to play with.