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Some things are inevitable. Death, taxes, and, if prophecy is to be believed, Ragnarok. After the roaring return to form God of War back in 2018, coupled with Sony’s continued push to produce bespoke single-player narrative adventures, it was almost guaranteed that Kratos and his boy Atreus would be back for another violent, action-packed adventure, and as the GOTY awards draw ever closer, God of War: Ragnarok sneaks in the backdoor to potentially steal the spotlight. This game will have to battle against titans in the form of Horizon: Forbidden West, Stray, Xenoblade Chronicles, A Plague Tale: Requiem, and Elden Ring. However, based on what we have seen, we think it has every chance of scooping the big prize.
2018’s outing left us with a lot of unanswered questions. Like, what happened to the giants, what secrets was Faye hiding, how would Freya take the death of her son Baldur, and how does Loki begin and Atreus end? These are all fair questions, and thankfully, a lot of them are answered in Sony’s latest greek-mythology-laden epic. The game offers brand-new features, new realms to explore, varied gameplay, and lots of end-game content, all the while not straying too far from the tried and tested formula that revived Kratos and reformed GOW’s general hack-and-slash gameplay.
However, you may be wondering if this game is truly GOTY material. Whether this game delivers an experience that is bigger and better than what 2018’s iteration could offer, and whether this game can neatly wrap up the compelling story that unraveled last time out. Well, that’s what I’m here for. Today we will get into the nitty-gritty and establish whether God of War Ragnarok is one of the best of all time, one to forget, or somewhere in between. Without further ado, here is our God of War Ragnarok Review!
A Fantasy Feast For The Eyes
Beginning with visuals and overall presentation. So to be real with you, the opening ten minutes in Midgar really worried me regarding the fidelity and refinement this game had to offer. There was just something about that opening section that looked a little underwhelming. With the power of hindsight, I now know that this view was fuelled by the blanket of snow that covered Midgard, making every area feel very plain and nondescript, and the reliance on a blue-tint filter, and if you have ever seen Twilight without its blue tint you will know, that it can do a lot of the heavy lifting. However, by the time I arrived in Shvartalheim, I was already sold, and, quite frankly, blown away with the step up in quality from 2018 until now.
Every realm and pocket of each realm feels so alive, and that is down to the abundance of little details that form the bigger picture. Whether it is the wildlife that populates the forests and wetlands, the architecture and infrastructure of the built-up areas, or the set-dressing of the lush interiors. It all bands together to make you feel like you are a part of something much bigger than just your chosen path. There is a world that goes on around you, and as you stand in place and take it all in, that’s when you really appreciate the world design of this title.
Each realm feels distinct, with its own quirks and oddities, its own flora and fauna, and a tangible vibe that sets it apart from the next destination on your grand quest, and the set pieces are as outlandish and beautifully pieced together as a Russo Brothers Marvel film. However, what also has to be praised is the fact that even in high-fidelity mode, this game still runs as smooth as butter, comfortably at 60FPS with next to no lag, frame drops, or issues. Something that cannot be said of another game recently praised for its visuals, A Plague Tale: Requiem. You can’t have one without the other for a complete experience, and this game strikes a fine balance.
Do I Smell an Oscar?
It’s rare that I am blown away by a vocal/mocap performance from a cast of characters within a game. Mostly because the standard of voice acting within the industry is exceptionally high. However, I have to take a moment to give credit to the actors involved in this epic tale, as each and every actor pulls their weight and gives emotive performances with depth and levels. As expected, Christopher Judge nails Kratos, albeit because he’s a pretty one-note character. If you can portray anger and pull off disgruntled, you’ve unlocked the necessary range of emotions needed. However, the real stars of the show come in the form of the supporting cast.
Richard Schiff was the standout for me as Odin, giving a James Woods as Hades vibe in his delivery, which I loved. Sunny Suljic gave a tremendous performance as the coming-of-age Atreus, Lana Hayes was a perfect fit for the role of Agreboda, and in the fleeting occurrences you heard him, Troy Baker managed to stand out in his puny role as Ratatosyr’s Bitter Apparition. The writing is only as good as those bringing it to life, and these folks lifted it off the script and turned this concept into a compelling, gripping, enthralling masterpiece of storytelling, and I reiterate, it’s rare that I ever give props for this sort of thing, so kudos to the cast!
A Cinematic Blockbuster
Speaking of the story, let’s get into this monumental narrative, while attempting to spoil nothing for all those on the fence about purchasing this title. The central premise of this story is that Kratos and Atreus are still weathering the shockwaves of the events of the last game. They are constantly being pursued by Freya, hungry for revenge, and they await an inevitable appearance from Odin. All the while, Atreus is keen to learn of his role in the Giant’s hidden prophecy, and understand just how he comes to be Loki, champion of the giants. Well, before you are even a half hour in, the situation reaches boiling point, and Kratos is forced to act, following Atreus as he searches for the answers that he seeks, and from there, it all begins to take shape. Vague enough for you?
I hear you asking, though, is the story good? Well, to that, I will answer with a question. Have Sony, in this modern era, ever let you down with regard to narrative? The game bursts into life right from the word go, which was a little much, in my opinion, but from there, it settles into a nice rhythm, bouncing from realm to realm, never overstaying your welcome unless you opt to explore more of your own volition. New and old characters are introduced periodically to keep things fresh and exciting, there is an ebb and flow to the action, which makes the high-octane moments all the more intense, and the camerawork is sublime, allowing for seamless cutscenes that, thanks to games like GOW, are now the industry standard.
What I will say is that there are some sections that feel a little long-winded, almost like padding at times, which the game really doesn’t need to do. Sections like Ironwood and Hrimthur’s Wall feel slightly puffed out, and if they were a little tighter, the game would probably have benefited as a result. However, these are ultimately small criticisms of a narrative that offers cinematic quality, unforgettable moments, and plenty of twists and turns to keep you guessing. What will be your fate come Ragnarok? Well, you’ll have to play for yourself, I’m afraid.
A Conscious Evolution
There are a lot of games that will see that they have a winning formula, and then rest on their laurels, assuming that players will flock back to their title for more of the same. Now, for the most part, that is true, but that’s not how you maintain a legacy as one of the best gaming series of all time, and Santa Monica Studios weren’t about to phone this one in. What has to be commended is that the developers know exactly when to stick to the script and when to go rogue, offering new and exciting gameplay mechanics. For example, the game still relies on puzzles to challenge players, and while there are some aspects of the game that remain the same, like runic chests, or turning contraptions you need to manipulate with your Leviathan Axe, there are some new features that add more depth.
These are clear to see through things like Freya’s arrows which can help create a chain of reaction to reach new areas, Atreus Sonic arrows that can open up new areas, and so on. However, for the most part, the game does keep things familiar and recognizable, allowing returning fans to jump right back in without missing a beat, while still taking the time to onboard the newcomers. Yet the game is pretty self-aware, often having the player return to areas that Kratos and Atreus have been before, with chests lying bare from past adventures, and will make nods to defeating the Valkarie Queen, or beating the trials of Muspelheim. The game knows it’s using a lot of the same mechanics, but the thing is, they were brilliant, and thanks to a little refinement, new puzzles to solve, and new areas to explore, they are just as good now as they were then.
A Clash With Hack and Slash
That much cannot be said for God of War 2018’s combat, as it was definitely the area of the game which faltered under examination. It seemed like the developers wanted to marry the methodical parry, block, and strike mechanics of games like Arkham Asylum and Assassin’s Creed with the Hack and Slash mechanics of the older catalog of GOW outings. However, what was created as a bit of a hodgepodge of ideas that only really worked when enemies came in small numbers. The blocking always felt a little underdeveloped and clunky; the light and heavy attacks were hard to chain together, especially when an enemy was just out of reach with no way to pull them close, and there was a distinct lack of AoE attacks. So what does Ragnarok do to fix this?
Well, on the plus side, this title has vastly improved the blocking mechanics, with the ability to change out shields that fit your preference, and an added shield bash attack which allows you to break guards and interrupt heavy attacks. The parry feature also feels much more reliable, and the signs on the screen, like the double-blue circles, indicate when to break guard perfectly for those that need added assistance. Then as for combat variety, the game offers a lot more, and that is largely due to the ability to play as both Kratos and Atreus, as well as teaming up with companions like Freya, Sindri, Brok, and Ingrid.
Atreus is a much more fun character to play as, at least in my opinion, compared to the big Spartan brute. He feels much more versatile and agile. With the ability to use a variety of ranged attacks, deal decent damage with a melee weapon, and also has better perks that allow for much more comfortable crowd control. Most notably, the ability to use Atreus’ grappling hook to pull enemies in for a beatdown. Then as for the companions, they have the ability to use their unique attacks to further control the onslaught of enemies.
Then to keep the praise coming, the addition of Runic attacks was a welcome one that gives players an out when things get a little overwhelming and enemies to get on top of you. These attacks vary, but in general, they are powerful, rechargeable attacks that allow you to push back enemies that have closed the gap, keeping them at bay, and giving you a chance to regroup. All in all, the developers clearly pinpointed combat as the main weakness of the series, and they have done a lot of work to fix this issue.
Is it completely fixed, though? I would have no say no. As the game still doesn’t give the player enough tools to deal with large amounts of enemies. There are little to no AoE attacks which would do a lot to quash this issue, and while the game has improved its block, parry, and strike mechanics, it still can feel quite finicky and inconsistent. Not to mention that the camera doesn’t do a lot to warn the player of oncoming attacks. It makes you aware of the enemy’s position and that they are about to attack, but you have to be looking right at them to tell what their intention is. Plus, the evade feature isn’t all that useful, as the movement is often too small to get out of the way of most attacks, not to mention it’s pretty slow, even with my subpar reactions taken into account.
Overall, the combat has improved, but it still has a lot of underlying issues. It wants to be a deep, nuanced, and fluid system, but often feels like a simplistic hack-and-slash title. Which, don’t get me wrong, feels epic when the situation accommodates it, but when it doesn’t, the player feels kind of helpless. I would compare these issues to Star Wars: Jedi Fallen Order in a lot of ways, which was a game that tried to do the same thing, albeit with more of a Soulslike feel to it. However, that game never felt fluid or satisfying in combat, and I would argue that GOW: Ragnarok, while definitely better, is guilty of this too.
The UI Is As Busy As Brok’s Forge
As someone that is prone to open-world fatigue and openly groans at the sight of a perk tree, I can be a little harsher than most when it comes to UI. However, of all the industry titans out there, Sony’s band of developers has always been better than most at keeping things light and breezy in this regard. However, I have to say that GOW: Ragnarok’s menuing and upgrade system is a lot. I want to give credit where it is due; every upgrade, skill, and item equipped feels like it benefits the player, and is, therefore, worthwhile, but there are a lot of moving parts here, and it can be a headache at times.
As the game progresses, the game gradually introduces you to new assets, and this gradual introduction does ensure that no one will just give up there and then, but by the end of proceedings, you’ll have to manage skill trees for multiple weapons, multiple characters and multiple skills, which you can also add separate upgrade tokens to, you will have armor to manage, relics to manage, runic attacks to manage, amulets to manage, and that’s not even a comprehensive list. As I said, it’s worthwhile, and you will come to grips with it as time goes on, but it’s a daunting task at times, and it won’t be to everyone’s liking.
Violence for Everyone
I won’t go into great detail about this, mostly because I am a champion and an advocate for accessibility, but far from an expert, but GOW; Ragnarok nails accessibility, as so many Sony AAA smash hits have done before, pathing the way for all gamers to enjoy the biggest and best titles on the market. The standout feature for me was the simple presets that allowed those who need said features to jump into the game quickly without the need to tinker with lots of options. However, if you want a full rundown of how this game absolutely sets the standard for accessibility in gaming, then check out this neat little video!
Tiny Bumps In The Road
Then before we wrap things up, I need to air some grievances regarding the smaller issues I had with the game, which, while teeny-tiny in the grand scale of things, felt like giants of Jotunheim at the time. Firstly, the game is not completely absent of bugs, at least during my playthrough, as in sure patches will have rolled out by the time this hits print. There are plenty of occurrences when characters would elastic band their way across the scene to be at their designated marker, and there were some moments where I fell off a ledge and got stuck in place for quite some time. However, for a game of this magnitude, it’s very polished outside of a few hiccups.
Second, the first game’s boating sections were some of the most cathartic I’ve experienced in gaming, as were those in this game. In contrast, the sledding sections and sections where you rode on the back of a huge animal were far from compatible. They felt clunky, hard to control, and aesthetically you could even see that things didn’t look right with all the sharp turns you were forced to make. Not quite tank controls, but a lot closer to the old ways than I would like.
Then lastly, can we talk about the bloody Ravens you have to collect. I mean, come on! I don’t know if my timing is shot or something, but it felt like some of the flying ravens were damn near impossible to hit. I felt like I read their flight paths perfectly, marked out where I would strike them with precision, and yet, I would be standing there for the best part of ten minutes before I got one. It’s such a mundane task, and to have to spend so long to get it done really infuriated me. Okay, rant over; I’ll wipe this spartan war paint off now.
If you liked what was on offer in God of War: Ragnarok and don’t want the party to end just yet, then you can try out the assortment of closest alternatives that I have prepared down below and continue to enjoy plenty of riveting RPG action-adventures. Check it out:
- The Last of Us Part One/Two
- God of War 2018
- Star Wars: Jedi Fallen Order
- A Plague’s Tale: Requiem
- Horizon Forbidden West
- Marvel’s Spiderman
- Uncharted: A Thieves End
- Ghosts of Tsushima
Overall, God of War is another single-player triumph from Sony and Santa Monica Studios, and beautifully wraps up this two-part saga, while leaving the door open for future projects if the notion takes them. The game is a perfect blend of familiarity and evolution, with lots of fan-favorite aspects lovingly recreated and enhanced for the new hardware, while adding plenty of new and interesting gameplay mechanics and considerations for the player. Then as for the presentation, it’s damn near faultless, from the picturesque realms, to the incredible performances given by the colorful cast of characters. The game never funnels the player through the story like games such as The Last of Us and consistently gives players autonomy over their actions, and their time spent in-game, and as a fan of emergent gameplay, even in narrative-driven games of this nature, I feel they strike a balance perfectly.
The game isn’t a perfect ten, however, as I still feel that the game’s combat, much like the first outing, still leaves a lot to be desired, especially when playing as Kratos. The UI is also very busy within the game, making it a chore to upgrade gear and armor, there are some bugs that were encountered during my playthrough, and I also had personal gripes with things like the Odin’s Ravens collectibles and the controls for the sledding sections. However, looking at this title holistically, it’s a seminal single-player adventure that will be remembered fondly for years to come. Is it a better game than its closest competitor this year, Elden Ring? For me, no, not quite, but it’s pretty damn close. A perfect sendoff for the most revered Spartan around.
- A story that keeps you guessing and keeps you enthralled from start to end
- Visuals that are straight out of the top drawer
- Incredible performances from the entire cast
- A perfect blend of old and new mechanics
- Plenty of end-game content
- Some collectibles and puzzles are more frustrating than they need be
- Combat is better, but it still serves as the weakest aspect of this game
- Sledding and animal sections are clunky
Callum played for a grand total of 25 hours before conducting this review, and in that time, he completed the main campaign, stopping to smell the roses and grab plenty of loot and collectibles as he went. He will almost certainly continue to explore the nine realms and uncover all the secrets that will grant him the coveted platinum trophy that he so desires.
Question: Is God of War: Ragnarok The Final GOW Game?
Answer: According to Santa Monica Studios, GOW: Ragnarok signals the end of the GOW story, at least as we know it. This band of characters and the story formed by this developer will end here, and there are no plans to turn this into a trilogy like the GOW titles that came before. Who knows, maybe there will be new stories to be told in this universe, but for Kratos and Atreus, this is where it concludes.
Question: Who Plays Kratos in GOW?
Answer: Kratos is played by Christopher Judge, a man who is probably best known for playing Teal’c in the Stargate SG-1 series, but also has quite a sizable filmography with roles in movies such as The Dark Knight Rises and Sharknado 3. Quite a contrast, I know.
Question: Can You Go To Asgard In GOW: Ragnarok?
Answer: Yes, during the game, you will eventually get to visit Asgard and see the whole Aesir gang, including Thor, Thrud, Heimdall, Sif, and big man Odin himself. Provided you can get past Hrimthur’s Wall.