Review – God of War: Ragnarök

Overview

Developer Santa Monica Studios
Publisher Sony Interactive Entertainment
Genre Action-adventure, Hack-and-Slash
Platforms PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5 (Reviewed)
Release Date November 9th, 2022

Content Guide

As this is a rated M game, there are themes and content here that would not be appropriate for all Christian audiences. Language can be strong at times, with a few F-bombs and similar expletives being uttered from time to time, though refreshingly is not frequent and not featured in every cutscene. There is a prominent character that struggles with alcoholism, and it is not played for laughs. Of course, there is rampant gratuitous violence as this is a famed hack-and-slash game, although I don’t think this entry is as gory as much as older entries in the series are.

Review

Fans of the long-running God of War series were ecstatic in 2016 when the announcement came that the series would return to follow a brand-new mythology, starring an older and wiser Kratos. It was a delicate balance; a reimagining of the series fans had come to know and love, but also a continuation of Kratos’ story. Players find the former Spartan in Midgard many years after the conclusion of God of War III (2010), where he now has a son named Atreus, with whom he is somewhat distant. They are both reeling after the death of Faye, Kratos’ wife and Atreus’ mother. Despite their loss and their uneasy relationship with one another, Kratos and Atreus travel together to fulfill Faye’s last request: For them to spread her ashes across the highest peak in all the realms. What starts as a straightforward request turns out to be anything but, as new antagonists and revelations cross their paths. Kratos and Atreus are challenged to work together despite their estranged relationship, as Kratos learns to become more vulnerable and open with his son, while Atreus wrestles with learning truths about his family and true nature as a half-god, as well as forming a bond with his father. 

God of War (2018) was a smashing success, winning accolades and high reviews, making it the most successful entry of the God of War series since the very first game released back in 2005. It won over a new generation of fans to the series as well as long-time fans, thanks in part to continuing Kratos’ story by adding nuances and maturity to his growth. Atreus and other brand-new characters were also received well. This new cast of characters that continue to have a role to play in Ragnarök include Mimir, dubbed “The Smartest Man Alive” who serves as a companion and mentor to both Kratos and Atreus. There are also the Dwarven brothers, Brok and Sindri, known together as the Huldra Brothers, who were the creators of the Leviathan Axe that Kratos wields, as well as Thor’s hammer Mjölnir. Another prominent character that is introduced is Freya, mysteriously met as the Witch of the Woods and who is exiled in Midgard when the heroes meet her for the first time. 


Spoilers ahead for the ending of God of War (2018)


God of War (2018) ends with Kratos and Atreus accomplishing their mission of spreading Faye’s ashes, while also discovering that there were secrets she kept from them that involved their respective futures, and her own history before she met Kratos. Kratos and Atreus’ actions in the game, such as killing the invulnerable god Baldur, has caused the imminent arrival of Fimbulwinter, which is the precursor to the climatic event Ragnarök. After the main story is completed, players can return back to Kratos and Atreus’ home where a cutscene plays which foreshadows an intense encounter between them and Thor, the god of thunder and Odin’s son. Players then had to wait four years to witness the consequences of the God of War’s actions, and how the events of Ragnarök would play out for our heroes.

God of War: Ragnarök now opens three years later, with Fimbulwinter in full force, affecting the environments in all the realms with different curses. Atreus has grown into a teenager, and his powers as both a god and a Giant are developing. Kratos has been training Atreus hard during these years of Fimbulwinter, hoping to prepare his son for a possible future where he may no longer be able to protect him during the coming events. They are soon visited at their home by Thor, the Aesir god of thunder, and Odin, the All-Father and ruler of the realm of Asgard. Although they claim they don’t want Ragnarök to occur as much as the protagonists do, Kratos, Atreus, and Mimir have little reason to trust Odin and his intentions. Atreus and Sindri, one of the Huldra brothers, have secretly been searching on their own for the Aesir god of war, Týr, who was known to be respected and opposed to Odin’s actions. The issue is that Týr has been missing for so many years and it was presumed that Odin himself had killed him. Atreus believes that Týr is actually alive, and that Odin imprisoned him in order to silence him and cease his growing power and influence. Kratos, Atreus, and Mimir then set off to discover the truth, if Týr is actually alive, and if so, if he would be willing to lead the charge against Odin once and for all and prevent Ragnarök from occurring. 

However, things rarely go according to plan, and Atreus and Kratos struggle to trust each other as they continue to hide secrets from one another. Kratos is struggling with the inevitability that he will one day no longer be able to protect Atreus from his fate and from the devastation of war, wanting him to remain as innocent as possible in order to prevent him from making the same mistakes he himself made so many years ago. Atreus, for his part, is maturing and wants to be seen as an equal to his father, and a possible savior in the face of Ragnarök.

I appreciated how the game seamlessly opens from the previous game; you can pick up Ragnarök right after completing the first game and it’s amazing how it doesn’t feel like it misses a beat. Part of what makes this possible is the way in which the first game’s ending set up the sequel, leaving the audience with many unanswered questions along with a promise to follow up with them. Indeed, the previous game even foreshadows the meeting Atreus and Kratos will have with Thor and Odin, as well as the battle they are soon to face against them. 

Just as in the previous game, one of the strongest elements Ragnarök has going for it is its strong and colorful cast of characters, as well as the acting. You have your returning characters, of course, who are further fleshed out here and have more of an impact than in 2018’s game. You also have new characters, such as the Aesir gods: Odin, Thor, his daughter Thrúd, Heimdall, and Sif. There are also other characters, such as Freyr, Freya’s fun-loving but estranged brother; Angrboða, a young woman with a mysterious connection to Atreus; and the Norns, who serve as the Fates of this world and who have a deeper understanding of the prophecy behind Ragnarök. There are, of course, many other characters you will come across, both allies and enemies. All of these characters are memorable in their own right, thanks in large part to both the writing quality and the actors’ performances. My own favorite performances in this game came from Freya, Kratos, and Odin, but each of the major characters also sell their performances so well that you can’t help but get sucked into the story.

The variety of landscapes that make up the realms of the worlds that you get to explore are extraordinarily lush, vibrant, and expansive. There is so many places to explore, quests to accomplish, and relics and treasures to find that it would take many additional hours to complete all of these. That’s not to mention that some locations and treasures can’t be found until certain tools and abilities are unlocked, which makes for a very rewarding post-game experience. Speaking of treasures, you continue to find them by solving many creative puzzles that you come across, just like in the previous game. These treasures often pertain to a piece of Norse mythology lore or Easter eggs that players can enjoy reading through. There is also an enemy log that is continuously updated as players find new strategies to defeat adversaries they come across.

The battle system remains eclectic and engaging, as with each battle you gain experience points that you can then use to unlock special abilities and moves. You continue to wield the Leviathan Axe and Blades of Chaos as Kratos, which give you elemental powers that can cripple certain enemies based on which you use. You will also frequently utilize both weapons when solving puzzles, often using both simultaneously to open gates and secret passages. Atreus is back by your side, and you’ll even play as him through part of the game. He comes with his own set of skills and abilities that are different from Kratos, such as using special Runic abilities tied to his bow and arrow. Both characters have unique shield stances that protect them from oncoming enemy attacks, and can be used to strike back when timed just right as well. They can also harness their Spartan Rage, which is the Rage ability that temporarily strengthens their powers. When used effectively, these weapons and abilities will be enough to stun enemies, allowing you to finish them off in devastating final blows.

The score by Bear McCreary remains phenomenal, and it’s no surprise why it won Best Score and Music in this year’s The Game Awards. His contemporary classical style helps flesh out the world of Ragnarök; it’s subtle, yet adds substance and weight to pivotal characters and scenes. Special recognition goes to Faye’s theme, which compliments the God of War theme beautifully, and really highlights Kratos’ stoicism and struggles as a father and widower. If you take the time to stop for a moment during your playthrough, definitely listen carefully to the unique instrumentation that Bear chose that fit the different realms and overall narrative.

The cons I did have with this game were few and far between. In fact, I would have to say that this has been one of the most polished games I’ve had the experience of playing that came come out in 2022. One of the biggest gripes I had while playing was that sometimes the game would handhold you in solving puzzles and completing missions. This was not something I remembered from God of War (2018), and may have been added in response to the difficulties of some of the puzzles in that entry. This handholding includes frequent prompts and dialogue from characters that will often give you the solutions if you’re having trouble on your own. For some who are more impatient to get on with the story, this may be a godsend, but I found it grating that it happened so often during my playthrough.

I also came across some minor bugs; nothing too game-breaking, thank goodness, but these bugs happened during pivotal transitions in the story, such as a cutscene, or a character remaining frozen in place when I needed them to solve a puzzle. It was nothing a quick reload wouldn’t fix, and thankfully the same error never occurred twice. You may have a smooth playthrough without encountering any bugs. Regardless, I found the game remarkably polished overall, and these bugs ended up just being minor nuisances.

The crowning achievement that I fell in love with while playing was the continuing relationship between Kratos and Atreus. As Atreus continues to grow into a young man, it’s clear that he craves independence and respect. He wants to be recognized as a warrior and hero, something that he also struggled with in the previous game. Kratos this time around is more contemplative, as he fears losing Atreus just as he lost his other family members so many centuries ago. It’s this new vulnerability that Kratos exhibits that shows a more human side to the titular God of War, even more so than 2018’s game did. You can tell just from the opening scene how much weight Kratos carries with him now, and Christopher Judge does a stellar job selling this heaviness. The scenes that pulled my heartstrings the most were when Kratos was alone with his thoughts, or with Atreus, and his human side comes out. His lips quiver, his eyes shine, and it’s clear that he is overwhelmed with emotion, yet he never cries; it’s absolutely powerful. Parents playing the game, especially fathers, may come to relate to Kratos’ challenges of parenthood. There are other characters that parallel Kratos and Atreus’ story, such as Odin’s destructive relationship with his own children, specifically Thor. These themes of fatherhood and family bonds are worth discussing and contemplating, as the game masterfully acknowledges how important and healthy having a good father figure is for someone.

All in all, God of War: Ragnarök is a worthy conclusion that is worthy of your time. The maturity of the characters captivated me, and the entertaining battle system and quests can become engrossing for players who are completionists. Even if you’re not, the story is worth the full price alone, with a strong cast of characters and performances taking place withing a set of beautiful landscapes. Once I finished Ragnarök, I felt lost, as if I didn’t really know what game I could choose that could follow this one up. To me, that is a sign of a magnificent game that has great impact and staying power. God of War: Ragnarök is definitely my game of the year for 2022, and I hope you take the time to check it out if you haven’t already. It certainly will be worth your while.

The Bottom Line

 

God of War: Ragnarök is an epic conclusion that honors Kratos' legacy by having him face his ultimate challenge, as he continues to grow as a father and faces the climactic battle against the Aesir gods.

 

10

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Andrea Racoti

When she isn't travelling to far-off fantasy lands in a book or a video game, Andrea Racoti can be found in Central Texas writing out her latest projects and ideas, and teaching as a dyslexia interventionist. She loves games with rich storytelling, compelling characters, and makes people think. A breathtaking soundtrack and beautiful landscapes are icing on the cake for her.

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