Developed By: Santa Monica Studio
Published By: Sony Interactive Entertainment
Platforms: PlayStation 4 & 5
Reviewed On: PlayStation 5
Review Code Provided By: Sony Interactive Entertainment Singapore
I have been a fan of the God of War series going back to the first one and like many other fans just absolutely loved the brutality and the escalation in spectacular set pieces that each game in the series brought. When God of War (2018) was revealed, it truly was a memorable moment that gave me goosebumps because it was just simply perfection. The scene that was set, the music, the atmosphere and finally the Kratos reveal still feel fresh in my mind.
When I finally got my hands on the game and took my journey with it, I couldn’t help but feel in awe at how the series had transitioned from the brutal and bombastic path of destruction to a more subdued, mature and personal experience flawlessly. Witnessing the growth of Kratos from a being of rage and anger to just trying to be a father to Atreus and coping with the loss of his wife and their journey together was one of the most rewarding experiences I have had in recent years. However, once the credits rolled and Thor was teased, the collective hunger and anticipation from fans around the world were palpable at how the next chapter was going to turn out.
Thanks to Sony Interactive Entertainment Singapore, we were granted the opportunity to dive in early for God of War Ragnarök and for the past two weeks I have been playing this game relentlessly. I mean I was nervous as well, can the amazing developers at Santa Monica Studio really pull it off one more time? Was God of War (2018) lightning in a bottle? From the initial first few hours, God of War Ragnarök just seemed like more of what made God of War (2018) great but then it just kept getting bigger and better and when I finally 100% everything there is to do with the game, I just felt incredibly grateful that I was able to play this amazing and wonderful labour of love.
To Grieve Deeply Is To Have Loved Fully
God of War Ragnarök picks up around two winters after the end of God of War (2018) where Fimbulwinter has arrived signalling that Ragnarök is coming. Kratos and Atreus have retreated back to their cabin hoping to ride it out, but since Baldur’s death, Thor and Odin’s attention is firmly focused on them trapping them literally at the centre of the end of the world. God of War Ragnarök will take players for the next 25-30 hours on this epic journey to find out if Ragnarök truly is inevitable and will Kratos, Atreus and the cast of supporting characters survive this inevitability.
What I loved about God of War Ragnarök is how effortless it felt jumping back in. Picking up right where it left off with an obvious jump ahead in time, it didn’t take long just to be reminded why I loved the new direction the series has taken. The characters I knew and loved are still there but over time I also realized how much effort was made in developing every single character in the game (new and old) with deeper nuance and character growth. Since the events of the first game where Kratos learns his fate, there isn’t any hesitation on his part of how focused he is on getting Atreus truly prepared. Atreus is saddled with the weight of knowing he is meant to be Loki but not knowing what his role and responsibility are in the grand design of things. Freya is consumed by grief blaming Kratos for taking her son away from her and is relentless in her pursuit. Even supporting characters like Sindri, Brok, Mimir, Thor and Odin all have their individual motivations and place in the world but there are just so much more layers revealed over time that make them even more impactful. The biggest welcome change is how this is both Kratos and Atreus’s story and they are given equal screentime in exploring each side of their journey.
There are a couple of things I would like to expand upon and just as a warning I might be going into spoiler territory so if you prefer to keep yourself unspoiled do skip over to the next titled paragraph.
There are a few running themes in God of War Ragnarök; the futility of choice on a predetermined set path in life, the weight of parenthood and familial bonds, growing up too fast, the dangers of obsession, and past choices having inescapable consequences.
It has been established in God of War (2018) that the journey that Kratos and Atreus undertook was foretold by the Giants of Jotunheim. What was also prophesized is that at the end of the journey, Kratos will meet his end at the hands of Thor. Even knowing the truth, Kratos has an unshakeable resolve to keep training and preparing Atreus for this inevitable moment. What truly surprised me was how much Kratos has now changed to be the antithesis of the harbinger of doom. The bulk of his journey is him actively trying not to accelerate Ragnarök and he is just focused on keeping Atreus grounded and alive. But what really got to me was how in what I think is for the very first time in the series, we get to see an emotionally vulnerable Kratos. There are quiet poignant moments reminiscing on his time with Laufey and the dynamics of their relationship. There are even moments where Kratos isn’t being Kratos but just a normal father who is capable of being overcome with love and sadness that one day, he may not be there for Atreus anymore. Don’t even get me started on a scene right at the end and his reaction to learning something that really just tugged at the heartstrings. This fully realized character has one of the greatest character arcs in video game history and it was so amazing to witness it.
Atreus and his expanded role in this game also were very expertly made. At certain points in the game, players will be able to play as Atreus (yes with a full move-set) and really develop his character away from Kratos to really delve deep into his journey of exploring who he really is. At some point in growing up, we all have a journey of self-discovery but what is undeniable is the familial bonds that keep us grounded and Atreus’s journey did encapsulate that well. Watching him grow from the kid in God of War (2018) to someone who can hold his own and make his own decisions was very satisfying.
Even supporting characters like Freya have so much more depth to them. Confronting her grief as losing Baldur was not just about someone murdering her child but the sum of a multitude of choices that led to that moment she knowingly played a part in. Sindri and Brok continue their wonderful dynamic including a very important revelation that really threw me for a loop. Everyone including Mimir has moments where pivotal Favors (side quests) deepen the player’s understanding of their characters to the point where every Favor feels essential to complete.
Now every great hero needs a great villain and in God of War Ragnarök, that’s Thor and Odin. I am happy to share that Ryan Hurst as Thor really steals every single scene that he is in. In God of War (2018), it is established that Thor is a rampaging force that basically obliterates everything and everyone he comes in contact with. However, instead of being just another monster that Kratos needs to defeat, Thor is portrayed as a complicated person wrestling with his own demons that make him feel like he is irredeemable. In many ways, his life has a lot of parallels with Kratos and it was very interesting finding out the dynamic that he has with his own family, especially with the All-Father Odin.
Odin played by Richard Schiff is one that is decidedly less conflicting. As constantly told by other characters in the game, Odin is a master manipulator and a downright evil and deplorable god capable of the most unspeakable acts (including the revelation of what the ravens are) but he always brings himself about as a very amenable god threading the line between someone you can but really should not trust. But he hides an obsession which deeper into the game reveals that it is something that has been driving the cutthroat decisions he has been making. And due to fear, nothing can ever stand in the way of Odin. Performance wise I do feel that Richard Schiff was great as Odin and played the role well but there is a small part of me that feels just ever so slightly underwhelmed. However, I do plan to replay once New Game Plus is unlocked to just cement my thoughts on it.
Special mention has to be said about Heimdall because his character is the absolute definition of a fanatical asshole and I absolutely loved hating him.
God of War Ragnarök sets out to complete the Norse mythology journey in a very grand and satisfying way and really does achieve that with so much story and deep character development.
It’s The Nature Of A Thing That Matters, Not It’s Form
A lot of discourse has happened over how God of War Ragnarök is a cross-generation game. I for one initially wished that it was a full-fledged PS5 title but I am very glad to confirm that it really doesn’t matter due to how absolutely gorgeous this game looks. The beautiful art style carries over but has somehow managed to take it to a whole other level. All nine realms are given a distinct identity and even realms previously visited with recognizable locales have been expanded with new areas. Every screenshot shared in this review was taken directly in-game and this is before the addition of Photo Mode so I for one will be looking forward to snaps from the community at large.
What I found to be absolutely fantastic is the multiple graphical modes offered to players. As revealed by Santa Monica Studio, there are the standard Resolution (Native 4K 30fps) and Performance (Dynamic 4K 60fps) modes but takes it a step further with the addition of the High Frame Rate mode. With HFR enabled, Resolution mode takes an fps bump to 40 fps with dynamic 4K scaling and Performance mode goes up to an unlocked 60 fps with a 1440p resolution. With the latest patch that came in recently, it actually feels like Resolution mode with HFR enabled has been improved even further by going well beyond 40 fps with buttery smooth gameplay so players are really in for a treat if you have an HDMI 2.1 capable display. I haven’t even talked about this game having one of if not THE best HDR implementations in a video game. It’s that good. Image quality between modes also feels so close that it really will boil down to what mode players will be most comfortable playing.
The amazingly talented Bear McCreary returns with another amazing soundtrack that brings back recognizable tracks with new arrangements. The main theme for God of War Ragnarök in particular takes the familiar theme and is elevated several notches higher. The sound mixing is stunning as well with battles feeling really loud and furious. 3D Audio in this game is also at its best with pinpoint accuracy and placement and whether you play this with a 3D Audio capable headset or on your home theatre system this game is really going to blow your socks off.
I also appreciated that the Haptic Feedback integration was done very well. It wasn’t scarce enough that it isn’t noticeable but also not too overpowering, kicking in at exactly the right moments during your journey. The Adaptive Triggers were utilized less but I really didn’t feel like it took away from the experience. There are a few caveats however as at the moment there was no fast loading like typical PS5 games where you can jump in within seconds from the PS5’s system menu also transitioning between realms still utilizes the World Tree transition hub but it still served an important point for character banter to happen and the loading was fast. Even so, playing God of War Ragnarök on the PS5 really is the best version to be playing it on.
The Deepest Wounds Form The Strongest Bonds
If you are familiar with the core gameplay in God of War (2018) then you will feel right at home. Kratos and Atreus will be traveling from realm to realm exploring the open world to advance the main plot or pick up Favors along the way. Favors are side quests and there is a TON of them in this game and the quality has improved across the board as well. Favors range from small pocket-sized stories to give a glimpse of the lives of regular folks from each realm but there are big important ones that really flesh out more backstory for characters in the game. Even though a lot of these Favors are completely optional but the importance of the extra bit of information contributing to understanding certain characters better really makes it absolutely essential.
There are also other optional activities in each realm that is a welcome return like finding interesting lore that adds to the world-building or provides hints for hidden enemies, artifacts that can be sold for coin, Nornir and legendary chests that reward materials for upgrading weapons and armor or relics to empower Kratos and Atreus. Draugr battles do make a return as well where players can battle these tough enemies for rewarding loot. In the last game, players could choose to battle Valkyries which were very tough enemies and are now replaced with Berzerker battles activated at their gravestones which are no joke as well. Players looking for a high-level challenge are really in for a treat. It took me around 60 hours to really “100%” every realm but the best part is post-game there are still things to see and do in each realm. The Muspelheim Trials do make a return as well. One of my favourite activities was finding all the Kvasir poems which are nods to other Sony first-party games and figuring out which poem represented which game.
Kratos and Atreus will start the game back with just the basics as the in-game explanation for that being Fimbulwinter has made all the magic and equipment earned in the previous game inaccessible. Players will embark on the same path by completing quests and defeating enemies to gain XP which can be used to improve both Kratos and Atreus by unlocking more skills. What’s great here is that the skills themselves can be mastered to unlock slots for modding. Players can choose to add on more damage, more runic gain (like frosting or immolation) or even provide protection and these can be switched whenever players want to. Equipment wise Kratos will start the game with both the Leviathan Axe and the Blades of Chaos but will gain access to a third weapon later, the Draupnir Spear. Switching back and forth between weapons is easy and a sight to behold especially when skilled players want to toy with their prey. Armor is collected throughout the realms via chests, crafting and defeating enemies and can be upgraded. Another very welcome addition is the amulet with nine unlockable slots than can be fitted with runes. These runes give specific bonuses that players can experiment with and it is surprisingly quite deep how much choice is given to the player when it comes to building Kratos geared towards a specific playstyle.
When it comes to enemy types I found that the game as a whole has a very healthy variety with each realm having a unique enemy variation. During my 60-hour playthrough I never once felt like I was fighting the same enemy too often so I feel like the balance was struck really well there. One change that I felt compared to the previous game was how well-spaced out enemy encounters were. In God of War (2018), it was very possible to encounter enemies way above your current level and just be demolished but here it was paced out accordingly. On the Balanced difficulty, the game didn’t feel like it was too easy or too hard continuing the tradition of leaving hard battles optionally but leaving the main story content very accessible.
Speaking of accessibility, this game has improved massively when it comes to providing accessibility and QoL improvements. One of the very first things I loved was being able to toggle auto pickup and auto traversal which improved my experience massively. There is even an auto-targeting toggle but I found that to not be so great due to when having a lot of enemies in one encounter it tends to work against me so I went back to just the classic targeting. This game really took a lot of lessons from how accessible TLOU Part 2 was and I do hope it continues on with future Sony first-party titles.
If there is one bit of advice I can give players is that do explore everything. When exploring Vanaheim I thought I had completed everything but the completion counter stood at 54% which I thought was a bug. This was a massive area already but advancing the story a bit and just doing a fairly innocent Favor led me to another gigantic area filled with Favors and activities left to complete. God of War Ragnarök really is the gift that keeps giving to the curious.
What I Absolutely Loved
- Story – Epic, sweeping, expansive but still deeply personal and at times heartbreaking. Truly one of the best video game stories for me.
- Soundtrack – Bear McCreary can do no wrong as his soundtrack for the game is still every bit as epic. My favourite has to be the main theme that played during the final level and that track was so damn epic it gave me goosebumps.
- Characters – I love how much the developers love their characters. Everyone has their moment to shine and is given room to grow and that’s truly one of the most important things that I as a player looks for in a great videogame. A reason to care about these characters. I absolutely adore Kratos now.
- Graphics & Detail – So many graphical modes, all looking and playing fantastically and beautifully. The developers really went all out to spoil the players for choice on playing the way they want to play.
- Accessibility & QoL Improvements – A huge list of improvements when it comes to accessibility and quality of life improvements to make the gaming experience as smooth as silk. I really couldn’t have asked for more.
What Was Just A Small Nitpick
- Navigating Realms – It was hard to find something to dislike in this game but this one did wear on me just a little bit. Sometimes just trying to complete an activity in a realm can result in a longer-than-needed trek but an argument can be made there that there are yet new things to discover.
- Minor Bugs – There were moments where characters would repeat dialogues that are not relevant anymore especially when an activity has been completed but I’m sure it’s something that can be patched out.
Fate Only Binds You If You Let It
God of War Ragnarök hits the ground running and never lets up until the final epic conclusion. This game is meant to be the end of the Norse chapter and it really does feel like both the middle and end of what typically is a trilogy. It never feels like it is too long and drawn out but paced almost to perfection slowly building each character, and realm, adding more gameplay systems over the entire journey that keep it fresh and constantly engaging.
I tried to look for something, anything that made me feel like it was less than the sum of its parts but in all honesty, I really couldn’t. The biggest one would be having some reservations about the performance of Richard Scherr as Odin but in the end, it just feels faultless. This game is a huge labour of love by the talented folks over at Santa Monica Studio and there isn’t an inch of these nine realms that was below par.
I thoroughly enjoyed my journey getting to know more of Kratos, Atreus, Mimir, Sindri, Brok and the multitude of other returning and new characters on our way to Ragnarök. We started the year with a very strong GOTY contender with Elden Ring and in my mind, we are ending the year with another. God of War Ragnarök is as close to perfection as you can get.