‘God of War Ragnarok’ Review: Better than the Gods

'God of War Ragnarok' is here, and it's a towering achievement. It improves upon its predecessor in surprising ways, and offers new insights into the psyches of its fascinating cast.
Author
Article Tags
Share
Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin
Share on reddit
Share on pinterest
The Latest
Tonic Topics
Join the Convo on Facebook!

The God of War series has always been about going beyond your limits. In the original iteration of the games, the action was limited to Greek mythology–protagonist Kratos needed to learn how to best the God of War himself, Ares. His epic adventure morphed into a battle against most of Olympus, and, eventually, Kratos became mighty enough to slay his own father, Zeus.

God of War Ragnarok Featured
Sony Interactive Entertainment

The 2018 soft reboot, simply titled God of War, went beyond the limitations of the series that preceded it. It still depicted Kratos as a hot-heated god-slayer who once made blood spill across Greece, but he had decided to settle down. He was just a dad. After the death of his wife, though, circumstances forced him and his son Atreus to go on a dangerous trek across Midgar, the legendary land of Norse mythology.

That game’s sequel, God of War Ragnarok is finally here. It’s the most anticipated game of 2022, the PlayStation 5’s only notable exclusive this year, and one of the best video games ever made. Once again, God of War has gone beyond its limits. And, once again, the journey has become an unforgettable part of modern gaming. 

The Story

The storyline of God of War Ragnarok might be the main draw for many returning players. The 2018 game ended on a serious cliffhanger: Thor, the famous Norse god of thunder, was going to make Kratos pay for killing his sons, Modi and Magni. Players learned that Atreus is this world’s incarnation of Loki, which mythology buffs know means that he’ll have a major role to play in the events of Ragnorok.

Not literally this game, titled Ragnarok, the legendary event that literally means “the Twilight of the Gods”. In Norse mythology, prophecy and circular timelines are everything. The gods know how they’ll die–prophets have already told them. Loki will inevitably betray the gods and bring about the end of the world. Still, they keep him around in the ancient stories. They’re beholden to perform precisely according to the legends, after all.

God of War isn’t a faithful retelling of the Prose Edda, but it does draw deeply from this mythical source material. Fans of ancient myths will find plenty of familiar faces and fun twists throughout this sprawling game. Thor and Odin make their first full God of War appearances in this one, and they each steal the show in their own right. But the beating heart and living soul of this game is, as always, Kratos. Christopher Judge has delivered another all-time-great performance, and he’s the main attraction here from a narrative standpoint.

Kratos, the God-Slayer

Kratos was a pretty one-note guy back in the original PS2-era God of War games. He was an angry Spartan warrior who wanted revenge on the gods for a tragedy that befell him and took the lives of his wife and children. Pretty classic Greek mythology stuff! Back then, Christopher Judge did exactly what he needed to do to make the character work for the kind of fun, straightforward narrative that those games called for. He was arrogant, gruff, and often shouted obscenities at legendary creatures. The Aughts were a different time.

When they brought Judge back to reprise his role in the 2018 reboot, he suddenly had a chance to really flex his voice acting skills. His performance as Kratos in God of War and Ragnarok is a masterclass on how a character can evolve over time. A man who was once almost comically focused on warfare and bloodshed now has responsibilities as a father. All the fury in the world isn’t enough to keep Atreus safe if Kratos can’t impart life lessons to his talented young son.

Judge’s thunderous, booming voice carries the same steely edge it did in the original series, but now he gets tender moments of introspection with his son and with their allies. Some of Ragnarok’s best scenes involve Kratos simply eating dinner with some friends before all hell breaks loose. Seeing him as a man first, and a god second, is refreshing, and it continues from the excellent groundwork laid by the 2018 entry.

White-Knuckle Combat

While God of War (2018) introduced a new type of combat to the series, Ragnarok seems like something of a middle ground between that game’s more methodical hacking and pummelling and the lighter, more arcadey feel of the original series. You have the Blades of Chaos from the get-go here–that’s the iconic pair of chain-mounted swords Kratos swings around with wild abandon. These flame-charged, sweeping weapons have nostalgic gameplay patterns that focus on crowd control and area-of-effect damage.

Likewise, the iconic rune axe from the 2018 game is back, complete with its rune of returning. This means you can hurl the axe at distant enemies, embedding it within them and freezing them, before calling it back to your hand magically with the press of a button. This is just as satisfying this time around as it was in the original, and Ragnarok even introduces some new tricks in Kratos’s arsenal.

Atreus, once again, is at your side throughout most of the game. He has a variety of different arrows you can ask him to use to mix things up in combat. Some enemies require specific arrows before you can damage them, while others might get too distracted fighting Kratos, leaving them open to attack from Atreus. And, as awesome as fighting low-level enemies can be, it’s nothing compared to the spectacle of Ragnarok’s boss fights.

Larger than Life

Ragnarok opens with a boss fight so electrifying, so destructive, that it makes other games look like they’re playing catch-up. Kratos fights with such ferocity in these cinematic set-piece battles that you’re suddenly reminded he is no mere mortal: this is the god who slew everyone on Olympus. The game’s title isn’t a reference to someone else: Kratos is the god of war, and there is no other. 

There are countless daunting boss fights in the game. Many of them have huge narrative stakes and represent massive challenges for Kratos and Atreus to overcome. Others, however, are just side-quests. These are still great fun, and they offer a refreshing change of pace during some rather dour portions of the game. The storyline is great, by all means, but sometimes it can go to some dark places, and finding a narrative-free side mission with a big mean boss at the end can be a welcome mix-up.

Speaking of mixing things up, the game has also learned from its predecessor and addressed one specific issue some people had with the 2018 entry. There are now numerous enemy subtypes that populate each level, and the boss fights are similarly varied. This gives Kratos plenty of unique challenges, and each enemy requires unique strategies to defeat. Mixing things up in this way goes a long way to make each fight feel fresh and unique.

Under the Hood

God of War Ragnarok
Sony

God of War Ragnarok has simplified some of the RPG-style elements from the prior game. While you won’t be spending hours in menus min-maxing Kratos’s stats, you will have a few options as you unlock new pieces of armor and new upgrades for your weapons. Rather than having armor slots like the Final Fantasy VII Materia system or the 2018 game, though, Ragnarok has a dedicated section for runic enchantments. This makes it easier to see how your gear is affecting your build and what you need to remove if you want to add a new ability.

These little changes aren’t just good for your stats, either. New armor pieces and weapon attachments are fully-rendered in-game, showing how your choices affect Kratos’s actual gear. This is a fun visual detail that worked great in the previous God of War, and they look even better here on the PS5.

And, mentioning the PS5, let’s talk about the elephant in the room. Yes, God of War Ragnarok is a cross-generational title on the PS4 and PS5. Its PS5 version still looks incredible. The 2018 game pushed the PS4 to its limits to achieve some stunning imagery, and Ragnarok is no different. While it looks fine on the previous-generation hardware, you should really try to get this game on PS5 so you can enjoy everything it has to offer.

Bottom Line

Ragnarok is one of those “once-in-a-generation” games. It’s a sequel to a masterpiece that not only manages to stand on its own as a great game but also functions as a seamless expansion of everything from the original. When playing God of War on the PS4, I figured it was going to be tough for the developers to top it and create a worthy successor.I am very pleased to have been so wrong.

The game improves upon its predecessor in nearly every way, bringing the story forward in a narratively satisfying way, expanding on the already-excellent combat, and giving me more time with this awesome cast of characters. Ragnarok is a must-play experience, one of the best games for the PlayStation 5, and easily one of the best games ever made.