When God of War III was released, Kratos’ journey of vengeance seemed complete. Years later, God of War (2018) asked what happens after someone’s ending. Under direction of Cory Barlog, Kratos had his edges softened in favor of his emotions being sharpened. God of War Ragnarok picks up with this redefined character to ask now what happens when that man must confront a new threat and pantheon, how will he be different? In this conclusive chapter to the duology of Kratos’ new journey, we’re given a capstone to everything that has come before (even the PSP games), demonstrated in a game that is a powerhouse of the PlayStation 5’s capability, culminating in a story which has taken even bigger steps to change Kratos and his son Atreus even more.
Ragnarok opens with Kratos and Atreus surviving Fimbulwinter while actively being hunted by Freya. After an explosive encounter, they return home to one of their wolves, Fenrir, on the verge of death, forcing players to slow down and contemplate the game’s performances. Kratos, ever stoic, attempts to console Atreus in this difficult moment, but the angst filled Atreus is unable to contain his pain. The tutorial continues along until an imposing Thor arrives at their door swiftly followed by Odin. These two powerful figures of the Nordic realm intend to put an end to Atreus’ secret quest to find their God of War, Tyr.
The Sins of the Fathers
This portrayal of Odin is squirrely, deceitful and lecherous, and foils perfectly to not only his massive son the Mighty Thor, but also Kratos. Odin’s influence on the world’s level design is entangled with this portrayal and a lot of it is thanks to the performance by Richard Sciff (The West Wing). When Atreus refuses to give up his search for Tyr and to prevent Ragnarok, the game puts players in control of Kratos in the most destructive bout of fisticufs against Thor, who mocks him for his softness in old age, coaxing players to prove him wrong and see how these two mighty figures match up. After declining Odin’s invitation to Asgard, Kratos and Atreus realize they are no longer safe in Midgard, and quickly seek out familiar characters in Brok and Sindri, the master craftsman dwarves who provide passage through the iconic bifrost.
What makes this game so special is the carefully detailed character work that allows players to be a parent through Kraots’ eyes. He wants nothing more than to protect Atreus from harm while teaching him how to survive. However, as these stories tend to go, Atreus wants nothing more than to be treated like an adult so he can keep Kratos safe from a fate he isn’t fully aware of. This is explained both in the story and in the gameplay as you can control both Kratos and Atreus throughout this game. This creates a singular and welcome experience for the player as they’re able to follow one story that would often split off in two very different directions with two different playstyles.
The story itself had some of the most emotional and gripping writing I have experienced in a video game. From the nuanced moments like Fenrir’s death, or the massive scope of epic fight sequences, the game had the ability to completely captivate me. The returning characters felt much more well rounded while the new characters like Odin and Thor had perfect casting choices in Ryan Hurst and Richard Schiff. The true voice acting achievements in this game had to be Christopher Judge and Sunny Suljic. It was impossible to not feel their chemistry and the power behind their familial arguments.
Into the wild
Kratos retains most of the same move sets as he had in the previous game, but with the addition of a new weapon (which is one of my favorites in the series so far) and some new abilities that utilize your rage meter. Atreus is the true standout in new gameplay. Instead of just being a supporting asset for Kratos to utilize in battle, Atreus is his own fighter now with the ability to shoot his bow with various arrows, melee combat with his bow and other weapons, and use his personal version of the rage meter to transform into various animals. Not dissimilarly from the character perspective change in The Last of Us Part II, it gives this sequel that would otherwise have very similar combat a refreshing new angle for combat and traversal in addition to its necessary story elements.
God of War Ragnarok continues 2018’s foundational exploration between realms, but this time around there is far backtracking and links between them, and the attention to detail that ties them all together has been greatly improved. When we return to locations from the previous game, the environment bears scars from Kratos’ last visit there, while new locations like Asgard and Helheim are some of the most gorgeous digitally rendered environments I’ve ever seen in a game. The other big improvement comes in the form of the side missions. While in the first game they felt more like quick errands or insanely difficult boss battles that you chose to seek out, this game has a more balanced and drawn out approach. Each mission feels different and has just the right amount of challenge to make it appealing to the player. The massive number of armor sets and weapon upgrades available this time make you want to complete every single mission you can find, allowing people who usually aren’t completionists to feel like they can reasonably reach that goal with a little elbow grease.
Combined with the writing and the animation team’s work on the character’s designs and facial features, these performances keep a father/son pair of dangerous gods grounded and recognizable as family. As far as the visuals go, the power of the PS5 is utilized well in this game and the gameplay feels much more fluid and smoother compared to 2018. The PlayStation 5 version keeps up at 60 frames per second, and the new particle effects are well used as snow, dirt, thunder and blood have increased tenfold. The faster load times keep that expansive world you explore from feeling as segmented as the last game as well. Even if there are some sequences where you have to do a QTE through tunnels and buildings, the game keeps itself visually interesting and building aspects of the world while it does so.
God of War Ragnarok is the sequel fans were hoping for when it was announced. It does a fantastic job of continuing Kraots’ story in a meaningful way, while introducing new locations and characters that enrich the experience. The plot itself is gripping, emotional, and will keep you wanting more. While we don’t know what’s next in the series, here’s hoping for more games that allow us to play as multiple characters and expand the story even further than we were expecting.