Review – God of War Ragnarök

God of War LandscapeI had the pleasure of being the one to review the last Dad of War game in 2018. As much as I enjoyed the overall experience, I had some issues with the lack of weapon variety and the repetitive nature of the boss fights, the very items the franchise was so well known for. I was happy with our new fatherly Kratos, but felt the gameplay didn’t hold up to its predecessors. While most of my team agreed with me, some others felt that my 8.5 out of 10 score was too low, and it lead to years of jokes where we nicknamed God of War: Ragnarok “8.5 2”. But I’m happy to say that God of War: Ragnarok is an improvement in every way.

God of War Thor

Weapons down, drinks up.

Thanks to the last game’s post-credit scene featuring Thor appearing at Kratos’ home, players expected God of War: Ragnarok to start with an early battle of epic proportions. But right from the beginning Ragnarok subverts player expectations by leaning into Norse mythology and twisting it in unexpected ways, leading Kratos down an unpredictable path. The very first scenes spend time retconning the perceived context in which Thor appears at Kratos’ door. Instead of a raging battle, Thor and Odin appear at the door to have a diplomatic conversation over what I can only presume is mead. While tense conversation isn’t why anyone purchased God of War: Ragnarok, it was for sure a strong way to open and contextualize the expanded world of Norse mythology we were about to embark into. 
God of War combat

Too much tongue.

It’s immediately apparent how much more fluid the movement and combat are as soon as players begin to control Kratos. Movement and combat are strung together with clean animations that makes every combination of maneuvers feel as smooth as you’d want from the current console generation. Control responsiveness has also greatly improved in Ragnarok. Ragnarok is uncontestably a step up  from its predecessor where technical improvements are concerned.
God Of War Kelpie

Straight Outta Lady In The Water.

But it’s really the conclusion of the Norse saga and a deeper dive into the mythologies of the nine realms that saw me through the conclusion. Not long after we published our last GoW review, we followed up with an article about what we were hoping to see from the follow-up and most of it was about all the missed lore opportunities. Unlike Greek mythology, which was recorded in writing at the time of origin, Norse tales were passed down orally, varying with each retelling, creating a wealth of stories Santa Monica could have pulled from. Of all the legendary figures and artifacts, only a small handful, like Baldur, Freya, Mimir, and Brokk (Brok) and Eitri (Sindri)  were present. Ragnarok leans much more into the rich history and introduces more Vanir, Aesir, primordials, and artifacts crafted for the gods.
While most of these moments only appear as part of the narrative rather than gameplay functions, their very presence adds to the spectacle of Ragnarok. It seems like a small addition, but my most vivid memories of the original trilogy were encountering familiar heroes like Hercules, Hermes, Zeus, and Poseidon (and then consequently demolishing them). Likewise, the moments of of Ragnarok that stuck with me the most were the encounters with Heimdall, Nidhogg, Tyr, Angrboda, and Odin. It left me feeling like the first step in the duology was an experiment to see how little source material could be included, only to realize that was an error and cram as many guest stars as possible into the sequel.
I feel the same way about Kratos’ character. We were previously introduced to Dad Kratos, who was a new and experimental direction, but not so experimental as to forgo the stoic character and angry grunts fans had grown so accustomed to. After a successful experiment, Santa Monica had no problem taking it a step farther and introduced a more vocal Sad Dad Kratos.
God of War moment

A softer side.

This version of Kratos is more relatable than he’s been in the past, grounding the character in the role of fatherhood. We see Kratos struggle with the internal conflict of protecting Atreus against the vengeful Vanir and the conspiring Aesir, while trying desperately to avoid the trappings of his violent past. It’s a wonderfully organic progression of a character two decades old, that simultaneously honors his origins and severs him from them. As Atreus becomes eager to go to war with the Aesir, Kratos grows concerned that he’s watching his son follow in his own footsteps, becoming a catalyst for Kratos’ new anti-war stance that begins to create the rift between them.
God of War Angrboda

“Loki and his wife” – Norse legend.

Speaking of Atreus, players will take control of the lad to experience Ragnarok from his perspective for a good number of chapters. Atreus/Loki’s chapters that give us the best behind the scenes look into Asgard and the Aesir; an element I enjoyed quite a bit. However, beyond that, Atreus’ sections dragged on too long.
Even with the addition of some new godly abilities, Atreus’ move set just isn’t as satisfying the play. Many of his most interesting skills are archery based, which I find slows the pace of combat and quickly becomes repetitive. I was happily surprised with the first Atreus section, but they quickly wore out their welcome. Atreus sections were bogged down by repetitious combat and angsty teenage dialogue, a disappointing far cry from the rest of the experience.
God of War Tyr

First dinner, then family game night.

But as much as I disliked the Atreus sections, they did provide the opportunity to go deeper with some of the supporting characters, which ultimately proved to be invaluable. It’s during these sections with Thor, Sindri, Angrboda, and Freya that side dialogue sets the groundwork for the story’s concluding payoffs. The most notable of which is Brok and Sindri. 
Our less-than-humble blacksmith friends who have been in the background through the majority of this journey, play a far more central part by the end of Ragnarok, through which the actors Adam John Harrington (Sindri) and Robert Craighead (Brok) really shine. When everything was said and done and the credits were rolling, I found that it was their story that left the greatest impact on my experience, outshining Kratos and Atreus. My only wish is that their tale was spread out between the two games so players had more time to connect with it, rather than being contained exclusively within Ragnarok.
Their other function of serving as Kratos and Atreus’ personal blacksmiths remains intact in Ragnarok, although I found it to be far less helpful than in God of War 2018. Early in the game, the shield given to Kratos by Laufey is severely damaged and rendered useless. Brok and Sindri do what they can to repair it, but are ultimately unsuccessful in restoring it to its original form. This chain of events grants players the ability to unlock and craft additional shield options like the balanced Guardian shield or the Onslaught shield that allows Kratos to shield bash enemies. But after acquiring the Dauntless shield, I found I no longer had need for most of the crafting functions.
The Dauntless shield improves Kratos’ ability to parry attacks, replacing the need for me to ever upgrade any armor. Perhaps its a result of all my time with the Soulsbourne series, but after gaining the ability to parry attacks so easily and freely, I lost all need for crafting armor. Instead, I simply ensured that my weapon and Dauntless shield stats were as high as they could be and then parried and dodged my way through the Nine Realms, rarely concerned for my health. As much as I enjoyed the added freedom of shifting the combat experience to match my preferred playstyle, I found the Dauntless shield to be too effective and ultimately made the game far less challenging.
God of War Bear

Future Smash Bros. characters.

For a franchise entirely focused on the conflict of Greek and Norse gods, God of War: Ragnarok is a surprisingly human journey. After about eighty hours, Ragnarok ends as beautifully and tragically as you’d expect from any myth that’s lasted through so many centuries. It was a long experience that I don’t see myself returning to again any time soon, now that I know all the surprises. But it would be difficult for me to call the ending anything less than perfect.
As for the future of the God of War franchise, I’m not sure what to expect. Ragnarok leaves a few open threads that provide opportunities for DLC expansions. Kratos found an appropriate and redeeming end that I would hate to see taken away from him to just to continue the series. I’m not confident that Atreus would be the right fit to carry the future of the franchise, at least not without a significant time jump and growth of abilities. But whether or not Santa Monica Studios buts the IP to rest or releases new games will be revealed in time.

Graphics: 10

Excellent visuals and textures, that I often found myself stopping to take in the landscape far more than I expected.

Gameplay: 9.5

Ragnarok steps up its game and improves on the variety and responsiveness of the first game.

Sound: 9.0

Incredible voice work throughout the entire game. The soundtrack was excellent, but now that the game has come to an end, the only part that left a lasting impression was the choral work. 

Fun Factor: 8.5

Nothing about Ragnarok is new or innovating, but it is good, clean, god-slaying fun.

Final Verdict: 9.0

God of War: Ragnarök is available now on PS4 and PS5.

Reviewed on PS5.