God of War Ragnarok the most anticipated PlayStation game of the year and, where the 2018 God of War cautiously looked to reinvent one of Sony’s most popular gaming characters, this game confidently strides back into this freshly-forged world of Norse mythology. Fimbulwinter is here and the end of the world comes with it, but this is one cataclysm that you won’t want to sit out.
When the God of Thunder comes knocking at your cabin door, chances are, he’s not popping round for a cup of tea and a chat. Especially not if you’ve just been offing his direct family members. With blood on their hands, Kratos and Atreus have been waiting on Thor to enact his revenge. We get to see sparks fly between the hulking red-haired brute and the Ghost of Sparta, but this skirmish is merely a warmup.
As the concluding game for this narrative arc, you can expect to face off against the remaining Norse gods. There’s a different tone and pace compared to the conclusion of Kratos’ last war with a pantheon of gods. God of War III was a maniacal, blood-soaked sprint from A to B, but Ragnarok takes its time. The board has been set, and the pieces are arranged as the realms’ warring factions prepare for an almighty onslaught – Odin’s legions of Asgard against Kratos, Atreus, and whatever rebellious misfits they find scattered throughout the Nine Realms.
With war on the horizon – not to mention the pending apocalypse – Ragnarok’s pacing is strangely pedestrian. Somewhat similar to how Mass Effect’s Commander Shepard freely roams the galaxy as an extinction-level threat looms, there’s an almost distracting lack of urgency. That’s not the only parallel with Bioware’s famed RPG series – there’s a sense that you’re gradually building a crew for the conflict to come. If the prophecies are true after all, it’s a suicide mission.
So, is Ragnarok open world? Not quite. Much like 2018’s God of War, you’ll walk the branches of Yggdrasil, the world tree that connects the Nine Realms, visiting various hub worlds. These vary in size and depth, the largest taking hours to fully explore when you factor in the number of landmarks, collectables and side quests. Sony Santa Monica has clearly put effort into filling out each location with interesting things to see and do, avoiding pointless filler that you might find in a more open world game than this. You’ll still want to revisit these areas though, because in typical action adventure game fashion, some paths will be closed off until you come back with a certain item or ability to unlock the way.
And, in typical action adventure sequel fashion, you won’t start Ragnarok as a super-powered behemoth. Kratos starts the game a little rusty, having forgotten his more advanced combos and abilities. From a developer’s standpoint, it makes sense to dial things back, not wanting to overwhelm new and returning players with too many gameplay options. At the same time, combat fails to feel super dynamic during those first few hours as you effectively relearn the same moves for Kratos’s Leviathan Axe and Blades of Chaos.
Thankfully, the God of War has some new tricks up his sleeve. For example, by holding the triangle button, you can infuse your weapon with ice or fire, following up with new ranged and melee attacks. Sony Santa Monica has also focused on making environments more interactive during combat, as well as more destructible and vertical. Meanwhile, Atreus and other companion characters support Kratos in a way that adds cinematic flare to each skirmish without being too intrusive.
There’s a greater focus on this secondary cast, much more than with any God of War game in the past. During his hack and slash days, Kratos was solitary and his dialogue suitably spartan, saving his precious barbs for brutal boss encounters. He’s by no means a chatterbox here, though he’s definitely more talkative. The growing number of companion characters helping to fill those quiet stretches between action set pieces.
It’s definitely a step further away from the original trilogy, as is the change in tone. There’s more humour here, some of it forced, eering slightly towards the homogenous strain of light comedy found in a modern Marvel blockbuster. It doesn’t quite go full-on Thor: Ragnarok, but it’s definitely no Thor: Dark World, finding an inoffensive middle ground. Some characters will irritate with their banter, wonderfully juxtaposed with Kratos’ blunt delivery, guttural grunts and all.
Something you can’t argue with is just how astounding this game looks when considering that it’s a cross-gen release – we played on PS5, for reference. Not only does God of War Ragnarok boast a level of visual fidelity that will make other AAA studios weep, there’s an enchanting amount of variety and imagination at play. Sony Santa Monica goes well beyond the original game’s Midgard setting, plundering the vast well of Norse mythology for inspiration. Needless to say, if you’ve been nosing around the Prose Edda or similar tomes of Viking legends, there are plenty of name drops here to reward that extra-curricular research.