If Corly Barlog’s God of War was about the building of a relationship between father and son, then Ragnarök is about doing everything possible to preserve it.
So much happened in the last God of War that it set up a sequence of events that intricately involve the cast of characters you’ve already met and many you haven’t. All of it building to Norse Mythology’s most destructive, all-encompassing event.
And yet, despite the inevitable doom and gloom that awaits, there’s some of the most tender, heartwarming events I’ve had the pleasure of playing through. One sequence, in particular, gave me this cleansing aura all over. My breathing slowed, my eyes got a bit heavy. I felt relaxed and made sure to take my time, relishing it to the full. It was beautiful.
But that’s the beauty of what Sony Santa Monica have crafted here. In one moment, you feel so connected to these characters on a level most games never achieve. In the next, you’re lopping off heads again, involved in brutal, bloody conflict that is as fast-paced and fluid as the very best in the genre.
Even when the characters are alone, they reveal pieces of themselves to the player. Like when Atreus is mocking his father’s voice and this eventually turns into a mini monologue with himself, envisaging what his father would be saying to him in a moment. It’s humorous and at the same time, a very powerful piece of storytelling, telling you everything you need to know about the state of their relationship at that point.
I guess that might explain my point above. Unlike the 2016 God of War, this time there are multiple characters you can play with and alongside. Ragnarök is a significant event that affects a lot of people in the realms and Kratos will need all the help he can get to stand up to Odin. Even if not everybody is on the same page at all times in the story.
So you will get to play as Atreus from time to time, but also fight alongside Brok. There’s characters you’ve never met before and even some unexpected allies. And it’s not just bit-parts, either, as they all have different abilities and some even have their own skill trees.
What’s quite impressive, though, is how differently they play. As you can imagine, Atreus is very much a pro archer and so rather than Kratos going around and smashing things, Atreus has to be a bit smarter. There’s a very humorous part when Atreus goes to smash open a chest just like his dad for the first time and ends up hurting his hands. This is a very self-aware game and one that doesn’t try to insult your intelligence.
And just wait until you see how they’ve handled Atreus’ version of Spartan Rage. It was the first of many ‘wow’ moments for me.
Halfway through the game, I am still learning about abilities. How things work, ways you can improve your prowess in combat and going back to locations that were blocked off to me before. While often times the story takes you down a linear path, you can revisit previous areas and they will gradually open up to be larger and more fulfilling as the game progresses.
It’s all very cleverly designed and many of the favours and side quests dovetail beautifully with the pacing of the story. You don’t feel overwhelmed by things to do like in an Assassin’s Creed. It all feels manageable, and approachable but also clearly optional. Even if some of the best content in the game is actually off the beaten track.
Not just in the storytelling department either, but in the locations you visit. It should be no surprise to anyone that this game is stunning in every sense of the word. The cover art may delude you into thinking you’re only faced with winter, but you’ll get to visit rainforests and underground caverns. You’ll fight through sandstorms, yet still have time to take in stunning mountain and sunset views.
When people say the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X lack next-gen quality games to fill out their library, I can think of many memorable moments and most have come from first party PlayStation 5 titles. Ratchet and Clank took my breath away. Miles Morales made me gasp. The Last of Us totally took me by surprise.
But God of War Ragnarök is something else entirely. The scale of the battles, the far off distance of its scenery. The detail of the character models and the facial expressions during cinematics. The game uses its color palette expertly, but it also manages to keep its frame rate locked and stable during intensive combat sequences. This is a very special game that is full of stunning moments you’ll want to savor every second of.
As for Bear McCreary’s music, it’s exceptional. Some absolutely stunning compositions that suit every scene. Bear understands the pacing, the movement between scenes, how to slow things down just as quickly as speed them up. You’ll be humming some pieces as you play along and long after you put the controller down, but you’ll also get swept up in the moment, at the time, and feel every note as it accompanies what happens on screen. Just beautiful.
Speaking of, the thing that really impressed me about God of War Ragnarök is its pacing. For Kratos, a character that was mostly mute in earlier games, Sony Santa Monica have still managed to give him plenty to say and do and yet keep him authentically Kratos. The additional cast and their role in the story also helps a great deal with that, not to mention Mimir who’s head is still dangling from Kratos’ belt, imparting wisdom and telling stories.
All of the cast have their part to play. All have their own intriguing storylines building up and all of them are written beautifully. Even when you’re getting a bit impatient in some sections, ready to move the story along, the game does enough to keep your interest invested and you never really feel like anything is padded and all of the events taking place are relevant.
I don’t want to deep dive into the story here. This is one best left going into completely cold and unaware, but for me, it’s some of the best storytelling in a first-party PlayStation game, certainly among the best PS5 titles, and one that will go down as one of the greats this entire generation.
I did really enjoy building up my weapons and gradually unlocking my skill trees, though. I suppose to some it might be controversial that you don’t know what path you’re investing points into from the very beginning as you’re only seeing the bare bones of your abilities. If you think of games like Mass Effect or Dragon Age, the entire tree is opened up from the beginning so you can decide how to invest in yourself.
Hours in and you’re still unlocking the potential of your weapon, learning what you can do with it and how to pull off certain abilities. You’ll get additions to your arsenal like amulets and equippable sockets. And some of it requires XP and some requires Hacksilver or certain crafting items you discover on your journey.
It’s a very bold approach but it’s one that I quite enjoyed. I never felt I was disadvantaged by not having certain abilities but also felt the game’s combat scaled nicely enough so I was never too overpowered nor was I getting beaten to a pulp with no chance of success. I suppose in some ways that could be a detriment, in that you do tend to go back to the same moves you were using right at the start and can still feel completely in control of every combat situation.
Even from an Accessibility Point of View. God of War Ragnarök is setting the benchmark and laying the gauntlet down to its peers and contemporaries. Outside of Elden Ring, this is the biggest game of the year and it’s been designed in a way that almost everyone can at least try and experience it. The raft of options isn’t just impressive, it should be made an essential part of every game in development. It’s so clear that Sony Santa Monica baked it in early to make sure as many people as possible could experience Ragnarök and it shows. You can read more about them here.
Everything is carefully balanced and that’s what makes God of War Ragnarök so very special. Nothing feels out of place, it all comes together seamlessly. There’s moments that will send you into floods of tears and sections that will make you question why you’re killing the legions of enemies on your screen. Considering the amount of blood, guts, stabbing and evisceration happening all around you, this is a surprisingly philosophical, thought-provoking game at times, with incredible acting performances that will challenge the player as much as it challenges its compelling cast.
It should be no surprise to anyone that this has shot up straight to the top of my Game of the Year list. God of War Ragnarök is a masterpiece in every sense of the word. It’s visually enchanting, has world-class acting, is complete with a scintillating musical score, and pacing that puts it head and shoulders above everything else in the AAA space. This isn’t just the best God of War game ever made, it’s a generation-defining title that makes the best of PlayStation 5 and leads the line in terms of accessibility, care, attention to detail and quality. If you’ve been waiting for the game to justify your journey into the next generation, this is it!
+ World-class acting performances drive a well-paced story
+ Absolutely stunning visuals and epic-scale battles
+ Musical score that sends chills to the bone
+ Accessibility is the best you’ll find in any game
+ Smartly designed, gradual opening up of the game, combat and its mechanics to keep things fresh
– You often go back to what you know in the combat and don’t really need all the later unlocked abilities.
God of War is now available on PlayStation 4 and PlayStation 5
Played on PlayStation 5
Code Kindly Provided by Sony