God of War Ragnarok Review
God of War Ragnarok is the latest in a long line of contemporary myths from Sony’s elite stable of first-party studios. The team at Santa Monica Studio has a lofty task ahead of them as they try to emulate the success of the masterpiece that was God of War 2018.
If our preview was any indication, the first few hours of the game were comparable to lightning striking twice—high praise for the long-awaited and highly anticipated follow-up, and nothing less for this premiere IP.
While we can’t wait to tell you everything that excites us about this title, bear in mind that we will do our best to be as spoiler-free as possible, as the majesty of God of War Ragnarok shines brightest when experienced with the freshest of eyes. This means no story beats, no big plot reveals, and no surprise screenshots. We want the same surprise to capture you as it did us.
Can God of War Ragnarok blow our collective minds even further than it already has? Let’s take a ride through the Bifrost, so hang on and don’t let go!
A Tour Through The Nine Realms
In the previous game, we were only privy to a fraction of the Nine Realms, with a few interesting ones locked from further exploration. One immediate change that God of War Ragnarok employs is to take you on a crazy road trip throughout each one—from the majestic plains of Asgard to the woodlands of Vanaheim, no realm truly gets left behind in this fateful journey.
In the main campaign, aptly named “The Path,” father and son traverse through uncharted territory, with each realm possessing a unique identity and environmental property that looks absolutely stunning. The snow-capped mountains of Midgard are more treacherous than ever, while the cavernous expanse of Svartalfheim hides secrets deep within its rocky exterior. Each realm is a visual showcase, with expansive vistas and breathtaking sights.
The realms are further highlighted by their level design, which incorporates a sense of verticality that is felt not only through traversal, but also feeds into the combat variety (more on this later). Areas feel dense with objects and packed with particle effects that bring the environment to life, ensuring that while the realms feel uniform, each location in God of War Ragnarok still stands out on its own.
I didn’t particularly look forward to returning to Alfheim to face off against the Elves, but there’s a newfound beauty in it as we get to see new areas open up after the events of the first game. Apart from exploring a new location, it also introduces a new element in reflective surfaces that can be used to bounce the Leviathan Axe as a means of solving puzzles but also to fend off enemies.
Players will recognize many familiar elements such as completing favors, backtracking through previously locked areas, and collecting artifacts. These are a completionist’s dream, but some of the more tedious ones return as well, like Odin’s Ravens and those tricky Nornir Chests.
The world of God of War Ragnarok is vast, with each realm holding stories and tales that add to the overall worldbuilding, something that the developers have done to great success.
The Gods Must Be Crazy
God of War Ragnarok‘s Norse version of mythology is just as creative as their Hellenic counterparts. The first game introduced many personalities, but this time around, we get to see bigger and more familiar ones such as Odin and Thor being represented in a different manner from more recent pop culture renditions.
A common thread shared by all characters is how superbly written they are. Matched by fantastic portrayals from their voice actors, every scene and sequence is fully realized, with standout performances from Ryan Hurst’s Thor and Richard Schiff’s subtle portrayal of Odin that dares to match Christopher Judge’s iconic rendition of Kratos. Paired with a masterful musical score by Bear McCreary, drama and tension soar to new heights.
Tying these performances together is God of War Ragnarok‘s iconic use of the one-shot camera, the same one from 2018. While it is something that players might not notice unless pointed out, this unique take adds a level of immersion rarely seen and felt in modern titles, showing emotions as they happen and elevating the whole cinematic experience that flows beautifully.
From one shining star to another, combat remains a highlight. Familiar armaments such as the Leviathan Axe and the Blades of Chaos make a return, and rather than introduce sweeping changes, Santa Monica Studio opted to further improve the already superb combat mechanics to make them much more involved and satisfying.
Kratos can now imbue both of his weapons with frost or flame as their signature moves, complemented further by various skills that take advantage of these status effects. There’s much more synergy here, with these effects going all the way down to gear, incentivizing players to go for unique builds. Use a skill enough times and you can even unlock another layer customization in the form of upgrades to increase its potency.
One of the cooler additions in God of War Ragnarok is the Sigil Arrows, which allow players to enhance Kratos’ frost and flame effects to unlock chests, uncover new areas, and solve more complex puzzles. Not only are these useful during exploration but also during combat, enhancing elemental effects and opening up new gameplay possibilities.
Spartan Rage now has a number of forms to switch between, prioritizing damage or restorative properties depending on what the situation calls for. Shields have also been given added relevance through their various properties, allowing the player to change things up and customize Kratos to how they want to play him.
The level design also enhances combat, featuring open areas that sport elevated platforms, giving Kratos multiple opportunities to get a literal jump on his foes. It is in each of these small components that they all come together to provide a much-improved combat experience, with the end result being a veritable treasure trove of highlight reels.
Within the first few hours alone, God of War Ragnarok also fully dismisses the concern of enemy variety, with more beasts and creatures to slay this time around that are not just simple pallete swaps. A lot of these, including the newly introduced Einherjars, play around with the in-game mechanics to full effect, challenging you to switch between your weapons to find the best way to combine damage, runic, and stun attacks to give you an edge in combat.
God of War Ragnarok‘s 35 to 40-hour epic plays out in silky-smooth 60 FPS thanks to its performance mode, which offers the best balance of visual fidelity and satisfying gameplay that’s enhanced by the effective use of haptics and minimal loading times, putting the PS5 hardware to good use. The game is also technically sound, with no glaring bugs or quibbles during our playthrough, but of course, mileage may vary.
A Father’s Burden
More than just a game, God of War Ragnarok is also a character study between Father and Son. Atreus is as much of a protagonist as Kratos is this time around, and it feels like a good portion of the game is Atreus’ story of self-discovery, reminding us of another highly decorated title in the form of The Last of Us.
Throughout the journey, we see Atreus mature into a more thoughtful teenager, much more capable and aware of the events that have befallen them. The interplay of Atreus’ search for his destiny and his quest for an identity versus Kratos’ parental duty of keeping Atreus safe is what embodies the heart of God of War Ragnarok.
On the other hand, God of War Ragnarok also takes Kratos on his own personal journey, which completes his arc not only from the consequences of the previous game but also transcends his revenge quest from the first trilogy. As a character, he is given the opportunity not only to redeem himself but to truly discover what it is to be a parent—something that’s been unceremoniously robbed from him by the gods in previous encounters.
God of War Ragnarok‘s main campaign is paced well, escalating brilliantly from story to story until a well-earned climax that raises the stakes, ties loose ends, and offers a glimpse of what lies ahead. From its opening credits to the final curtain call, the gameplay and narrative work in perfect synergy to tell a tale of epic proportions.
With the danger of always overdoing something, Santa Monica Studio has found a delicate balance between being a fully narrative piece and a video game. There’s enough of each aspect of the game to satisfy: the music is not overscored, the dialogue is not overwritten, and the cinematics aren’t overwhelming.
God of War Ragnarok is familiar in all the right aspects, but it also offers enough meaningful improvements to elevate itself as a worthy sequel that deserves a spot as one of the best games in recent memory.
What We Liked:
- A godly effort with majestic set pieces and epic boss battles.
- Perfect synergy and balance between narrative and gameplay.
- Improved combat mechanics allow the player to play the game on their own terms.
- Superb performances from the cast elevated by a masterful musical score.
- Impressive suite of accessibility options.
- Addresses all concerns from the 2018 game in elegant fashion.
What We Didn’t Like:
- Some of the more tedious activities from the 2018 game make a return.
- Negligible adaptive trigger usage.
Verdict: Buy It!
From the outside looking in, God of War Ragnarok will look and feel like a simple continuation of the 2018 game. However, given enough time to walk the path of Kratos and Atreus, the game is an epic journey that spans realms and changes the destinies of entire populations through the story of a father and a son locked in a relationship that transcends language, time, and culture.
The developers have created a myth of epic proportions through a divine marriage of storytelling and gameplay, revitalizing the franchise with a tale of hope that ties itself up well enough to offer a satisfying and exhilarating conclusion, fully realizing an effort that exceeds the first game in all aspects.
God of War Ragnarok is Santa Monica Studio’s way of raising the bar, creating a new challenge for themselves on how they will manage to top this one in their next outing. It is easily one of the best games of 2022 and quite possibly one of the best franchise sequels of all time, taking its rightful place alongside the gallery of legendary titles that came before it.
*God of War Ragnarok was reviewed on a PS5 with a review code provided by the publisher.