Spoiler Warning: This review contains some mild story and gameplay spoilers.
Much like Atreus following in the footsteps of his father, Ragnarok has big shoes to fill when following up on the 2018 soft reboot of God of War. Ragnarok picks up a few years after the last game. Atreus is a bit older, and Fimbulwinter is in full effect.
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The Norse prophecy of the end times approaches with Kratos and Atreus smack dab in the middle. The father and son duo once again traverse the nine realms battling all manner of creatures. Friends and foes, both familiar and new make an appearance. The game retains its highly cinematic nature with a single unbroken camera shot.
While Ragnarok’s storytelling is top-notch, I expect video game sequels to be more than a continuation of its narrative. In many ways, Ragnarok disappoints me in that regard. It takes a couple of steps forward, and a few small steps backward. Then trips and falls over some baffling design choices that leave me as cold as Fimbulwinter winds.
|Gideon’s Bias||God of War Ragnarok Information|
|Review Copy Used: No||Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment|
|Hours Played: 40+||Type: Full Release|
|Reviewed on: PlayStation 5||Platforms: PS4/PS5|
|Fan of Genre: Yes||Genre: Third-Person Action|
|Mode Played: Give Me No Mercy (Hard)||Price: $69.99|
The storytelling is easily Ragnarok’s strongest point. The game aims to be a cinematic experience, sometimes to its own detriment, it delivers exactly that.
Both Kratos and Atreus have matured since the last game. Atreus further walks the pathway to not only adulthood but godhood. While Kratos further learns to be a father, protector, and friend. The game’s overall narrative is gripping, emotional, and full of character, literally. Every actor brings the cast to life.
Each character brings something to the experience, from the protagonists to Odin, Mimir, the lovable dwarves from the first game, Brok and Sindri. Each character sees time and development that push not only the main plotline forward but the depth of every character involved.
Brok and Sindri are more than just plot devices and NPCs that craft your gear. Mimir is more than a conveniently wise head that Kratos carries around for exposition.
Ragnarok’s dedication to story craft makes you invested in its world and story. You care about more than just Kratos and Atreus, and it accomplishes this in ways that feel oddly real, despite the Norse Mythological setting.
The pain, struggles, triumphs, and joys that various characters go through feel grounded, even in the face of the fantastical backdrop of Gods, magic, and prophecies.
On that note, one of my favorite things about some of the story beats is the subverting of the mythology itself. I’m a mythology buff, and it was super interesting to view God of War’s interpretation of various characters and events.
There were many moments where I was left scratching my head only to have an earth-shattering realization later about what actually occurred that linked the events of the game and its Mythological context together. The way the game’s narrative managed to link the two in satisfying ways is truly incredible.
The story, writing, and acting are simply brilliant, and the excellent musical score supports it every step of the way.
The core combat is largely unchanged from the first game. Kratos is a heavyweight powerhouse, and combat is as much about controlling that power as it is exerting it. The over-the-shoulder viewpoint compels you to do more than just spam buttons, as controlling the flow of the fight is exceptionally important.
Switching between weapons is paramount, as sometimes it’s more effective to leave a foe frozen by throwing your axe while you clear out others with the fiery Blades of Chaos. Only to recall it into your hands just in time for a crushing leap attack.
The combat feels very physical as you can toss and throw enemies around and even slam them into walls for extra stun, or off of cliffsides. Your companion characters such as Atreus hold their own with their own skill trees and prove to be valuable assets in combat.
The combat is satisfying but can wear thin with repetition. While the enemy variety is expanded from the first game, especially when it comes to miniboss fights. You still end up going through the motions quite a bit. At one point Atreus yells out that he is so tired of fighting elves, and I have to say, I felt that.
Part of the issue is due to the poorly paced progression. The progression system is largely scaled down and simplified. On one hand, this means you can upgrade any set of armor to keep throughout the entire game. On the other hand, I pretty much did exactly that. I could hardly feel the difference between the stat changes anyway.
Both games feature powerful runic attacks with your weapons. However, the selection felt slimmer in Ragnarok, not only that, acquiring them is paced very strangely. For example, there are light and heavy runic attacks, you can have one of each equipped at a time. I didn’t find my first heavy runic attack until I was 15 hours into the game
Ragnarok also suffers from the fact that its combat system is no longer novel. While recalling the axe to your hand still feels cool, it doesn’t have the same impact as it did while it was still fresh in the first game. The issue is, Ragnarok really doesn’t do anything to make up for the lack of novelty with new additions or improvements.
The boss fights are fantastic, however. Each one feels incredibly epic and a challenge to overcome. You have to learn certain attack patterns, and they really test how well you have mastered the combat system, at least on higher difficulties.
The Elephant in the Room
You know the elephant was there because the game explicitly told you about it as soon as you entered the room. While the game’s companions are usually lovable, they become annoying backseat gamers doing their best Dora the Explorer impersonation whenever a puzzle is present.
Within 30 seconds of encountering a puzzle, your companions begin blurting out hints to even telling you how to solve the puzzle verbatim. I half expected that if I took a little too long following their instructions that they would do it themselves.
Imagine my shock when at one point, one of them did exactly that as part of the scripted narrative, as if to poke fun at its own ludicrous design decisions. I’d have been amused if I wasn’t mortified.
God of War Ragnarok features an absolute ton of fantastic accessibility options. Not only are there difficulty settings but there’s a mile-long menu of things you can tweak for those who need them. Your companions blurting out puzzle solutions isn’t one of them, it’s not an option you can disable.
I am someone old enough to have watched the casualization of the industry in real time over the span of decades. To watch games be released where you can’t fail at all. Games where if you are reduced to zero HP you pop right back to life, or games where there’s no consequence for dying. I’m horrified at the direction AAA games are headed. Horizon Forbidden West also had Aloy shouting out puzzle solutions, and it’s absolutely insane.
A game should never solve its own challenges for you without your explicit permission to do so. As an accessibility option sure, but by default and with no way to disable it? Never!
Backseat gaming gets people banned from streams. If I were doing a crossword puzzle and someone walked by and gave me the answer every 20s seconds, I would chuck the book at them. Yet, the game itself does this. I can’t wrap my head around it.
Every bit of effort that went into designing those puzzles, the assets, the planning, the programming. It was a waste of time. Because the game just gives you the solution.
The Filler Issue
The biggest problem with God of War Ragnarok, and half the reason the game gives you solutions to its puzzles, is because it’s all filler. The game wants you to follow its cinematic narrative as cleanly as possible. Even the boss fights are super cinematic, and in that regard, it’s great.
But in order to give you something to do between combat encounters and story beats. It places filler content, mostly in the form of puzzles. The thing is, even without your companions spoiling them. They are bland, uninspired, and brain-numbingly simple.
Every moment spent doing them is just going through the motions, followed by some barely interactive climbing where you simply hold the left stick and watch Kratos climb. It all exists purely to pad your time between the things that actually matter. The puzzles suck and the game solves them for you because it largely doesn’t want them to exist at all.
Pacing is important, but your filler content should remain as engaging as the rest of the game. It should not feel like a slog, bothersome, or a waste of time. It feels like all of the above in Ragnarok. This is true of most of the side content as well.
Following the game’s side content pits you against the same dull uninspired puzzles for bland boring loot and the only real highlight is the storylines behind the side content, which provides even more depth to the world and characters. That highlight was enough to make me push through some of it, but not all of it.
The side content wore me down to the point that halfway through I just wanted to give up and play through the main questline. Keep in mind, I’m someone who loves those giant open-world games that no one ever finishes. I’m someone who platinumed Death Stranding and kept playing afterward. And yet, Ragnarok managed to wear me down.
God of War Ragnarok ties up the story in a satisfying way, and the journey it takes you on to get there is memorable. But God of War is also a video game. It’s not a movie, and only some of its game elements hold up.
The combat is great but is largely the same, or even a step back in some ways compared to the previous game. I may have been able to overlook the simplistic puzzles in the first one. But the second time around, I simply can’t, especially when the game gets really pushy about solving them for you.
Ragnarok has a ton of content. I ended my playthrough with 42 hours played, and I still had a ton of side content left. However. A good half of that playtime was spent wasting time moving boring levers in incredibly bland puzzles to get to the next part of the game that I cared about.
It’s frustrating because I have great memories of Ragnarok that will stick with me. Incredible narrative moments, epic cinematics, and awesome boss fights. But so much of it is marred by repetitive filler that I doubt I’ll ever have any desire to relive those moments again, outside of an edited YouTube compilation, and that’s a real shame.
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Pick Up God of War Ragnarok From These Stores.
- Solid and weighty combat
- Companions are helpful in combat
- Great narrative, storytelling, and voice acting
- The game ties together Mythological events with its narrative in great ways
- Epic boss battles
- Difficulty settings present
- Great accessibility Options
- Combat can get repetitive
- Progression is bland and poorly paced
- Puzzles are boring and uninspired filler
- The game blatantly blurts out puzzle solutions far too quickly
- The novelty of some of its systems has worn thin from the first game with nothing to reinvigorate it