Santa Monica Studio has the difficult and unenviable task of trying to capture lightning in a bottle once again with God of War Ragnarok. God of War (2018) was a masterpiece on every front, managing to take the broken anti-hero that is Kratos and turning him into a more nuanced man in a state of journeying, all while attempting to connect to his son, Atreus.
God of War Ragnarok continues directly where the first game left off as the father and son start to deal with the consequences of their actions. Throughout their treacherous journey, they have slain various beings related to some of the most powerful deities in the Nine Realms. Now, as Kratos prepares Atreus for the difficult road ahead, he also has to contend with his son’s limitless potential and what that would mean for their world at hand.
“Hyped” was strangely not how I would describe my feelings as God of War Ragnarok slowly approached its release date. Before I sat down to play the game, I had a lot of doubts – Will it match its predecessor? Is it just another sequel? With remakes and remasters left and right, pardon my cynicism while waiting patiently for that one big game to break the stagnant AAA landscape.
Having played enough of it to offer my impressions, “absolutely f***ing hyped” seems much more appropriate.
As a long time fan of the Yakuza series, I love how I can keep coming back to Kamurocho to always find something new despite experiencing the same setting across previous games. Playing God of War Ragnarok brings about the same sensation, as we return to Midgard wiser and older.
It’s hard to put a finger on what it is that rekindled my interest, but realizing that I’ve been through these areas from years ago was a big reason. There’s a mixed feeling of joy and anxiousness amidst the early proceedings, and it all plays out at a breakneck pace that gets players right in the thick of things, offering some of the most action-packed and revelatory opening hours in any game I can think of.
God of War Ragnarok‘s prologue parallels that of the first game, starting out with a somber and contemplative mood that offered calculated moments of allowing us to look into Kratos’ person – not only a God but now also a father that has grown into the role.
The tempo quickly shifts into a furious quick time event-laden sled ride, offering a glimpse of the upcoming situation that awaits Kratos and Atreus. The actions of their past have come back to haunt them, and it’s become time to decide on whether to stand down or forge their own path. The overarching narrative opens up with a bang, laying the groundwork for the journey ahead.
God of War Ragnarok will feel familiar through the first few hours, where Kratos is once again reacquainted with his Leviathan Axe and Blades of Chaos. Combat is as fluid as ever, but this time more involved and cerebral, as switching between each weapon provides a much more functional benefit over just racking up style points.
Each weapon now has new tricks, imbuing themselves with their respective elements to unleash an elemental attack that chains into certain skills that can take advantage of this effect. High level combat maneuvers in the first game required a certain level of dexterity, and that’s definitely something that makes a return in God of War Ragnarok.
Battle sequences are noticeably more vertical this time around, giving players more ways to skin a cat over just tapping R1 repeatedly. The combat mechanics are designed in such a way that it rewards players that involve themselves with it, but doesn’t punish players that choose to play differently.
Ragnarok is Here
Due to events in God of War Ragnarok, one of the new realms we’re given access to is Svartalfheim, which is the first world you’ll visit outside of Midgard and is the domain of the Dwarves.
We’ve all seen Svartalfheim from previous coverage, but actually being there is a different experience. God of War Ragnarok continues to play with parellels from the first game, heightened by the contrast between the snowy landscapes of Midgard and the damp and arid looking landscape of this new realm.
Unlike Brok and Sindri, the new Dwarves you’ll meet are wary of your presence, and even distrusting. You are the Ghost of Sparta after all.
Speaking of Sindri and Brok, the beloved Dwarves will open up crafting early into the game, allowing Kratos to create various instruments of war. Crafting is straightforward and simple thanks to its no-frills user interface, and its effects are immediately felt through the equipment you’ll be creating.
Crafting equipment in God of War Ragnarok puts a premium on choice, with stats eventually dictating how players will utilize the many abilities of Kratos that affect his playstyle.
Fancy yourself a parry master? Or do you prefer to defend yourself with a mighty bulwark? Different shields will encourage players to mix up their combat approach thanks to their innate abilities, and this is especially important now as your foes liberally use status effects such as shock, poison, and bifrost damage.
God of War Ragnarok also ups the enemy variety this time around since it was a big complaint from the first game that stuck out like a sore thumb. In the first few hours alone, we get to meet the so-called Raiders and even Einherjars, another headache that grows to be a problem once you are swarmed.
Thankfully, Atreus’ support attacks have improved from the first game. The differences are subtle but his contributions during battle are significant, and with age also comes some maturity and better combat support. What’s cool is you can combo attack with him when it comes to larger enemies as he participates in the unique deathblow cut scenes that come along.
I also found traversal puzzles to be more organically placed in God of War Ragnarok. They’re deceptively woven into the fabric of the level design that you don’t necessarily think they’re puzzles but just ways for you to traverse through the level.
As much as we’d like to talk more about our ongoing playthrough of God of War Ragnarok, that will have to wait until our final review. Have Santa Monica Studios done it? It’s too early to say, but indications show that lightning does indeed strike twice.
What really stands out is how these subtle changes make such a huge impact in maintaining a balance between familiarity and freshness. There’s an improvement not just visually, but functionally as well, and It’s a rare experience that has been executed beautifully and with great care.
The magic of God of War Ragnarok, based from its first few hours, is nothing short of magnificent. The game latches its hooks on you within the first hour and hardly ever lets go. With its blend of cinematic experience and powerful dialogue woven into a rich world brought to life by a masterful musical score, the following hours promises to be one for the books.
*God of War Ragnarok was previewed on a PS5 with a review code provided by the publisher.