God of War Ragnarok Review: Superior to the Original in Almost Every Way

No matter how hard you try, you will always be a product of your history. This is a lesson that Kratos, the protagonist of God of War: Ragnarok, strives to impart to his son Atreus. It’s a lesson that applies to games as well as people.

It’s no easy assignment for Ragnarok to follow up on 2018’s God of War, which many consider to be one of the best PS4 games ever made. God of War: Ragnarok is a great sequel.

The story is bigger, the graphics are greater, and the battles are more dynamic. But God of War’s legacy hangs big, and Ragnarok fails to deliver the freshness and intrigue that made its predecessor a once-in-a-generation treat.

For the record, God of War: Ragnarok is an essential purchase. I think it’s fantastic. Please be advised that it may not hold your interest as much as God of War 2018 did. That it so carefully reimagined a beloved series is a part of what made God of War so exceptional.

Since its debut on the PS2 in 2005, the God of War trilogy has been revered for its gruesome violence and graphic bloodshed. The developer, Santa Monica Studio, capitalized on this notoriety by recasting the events of the trilogy as Kratos’ alluring origin narrative, a magnetic force that would always draw him back even if he were transplanted to a new Nordic realm.

That was 2018’s God of War’s special appeal. If the Ghost of Sparta is so venerable, then why is he chopping wood in Midgard woods? How is it possible for him to be a family man? What the heck happened? God of War was more significant than other AAA blockbusters because it gave players a chance to learn the answers to these issues through the eyes of a suddenly serious and protective Kratos as he explored utterly unknown realms.

God of War Ragnarok Review

The technical improvements in God of War: Ragnarok make it the greater game to its forerunner, but it lacks the subversive edge that the forerunner had. Ragnarok is the progression of society, while God of War represented a revolutionary upheaval. God of War was an innovative and bold take on a well-known series. Ragnarok is even more intense than God of War.

On November 9th, God of War: Ragnarok will be released for the PlayStation 4 and PlayStation 5. Ragnarok may have a sluggish start, but it grows into a fantastic game that is well worth your time and money.

The 40 hours it takes to complete the main quest will fly by, but don’t be shocked if you find yourself longing for your first trip through these Nordic lands every now and then.

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God of War: Ragnarok Tells a Thoughtful Story

It all begins with some kind of angry deity, every time. Just like the first game, God of War: Ragnarok begins with a deity dropping by Kratos’ Midgard hideout unannounced. This time it’s Thor, but a less chiseled and more antagonistic version of Thor than Marvel fans are used to seeing.

Due to Kratos and Atreus’ actions in the first game, Thor has little choice but to hurl Mjolnir in Kratos’ general direction for killing his half-brother and his two sons. But before that happens, Thor’s people assure Atreus that the city of Asgard, where Thor was born, holds the keys to his existential concerns.

Atreus, who is now a teenager, is eager to battle in Ragnarok and investigate the worlds for hints about the Giants after learning in the God of War’s climax that he is actually a Giant named Loki. Kratos thinks he’s seen more than enough battle and adventure for one lifetime and would rather the two of them stay put and hone their skills.

He is aware that his time is limited and wishes to make his son as ready as possible for a future without him as a father. And with that, we’ve reached the meat and potatoes of God of War: Ragnarok.

The game has nothing to do with Ragnarok, despite its name. The game isn’t actually about stopping Odin, the father of Thor and the top Norse god, even though he is portrayed as a villainous god who has inflicted genocide, war, and devastation across the nine realms. This is all context for understanding Kratos’s dynamic with his son.

Amazing backstory, but still just that. As challenging as it is to raise any adolescent, it is even more so to raise a god among them. Kratos wants to encourage Atreus’ selflessness in wanting to aid the realms, but he also feels compelled to teach him that no action is without consequence, no matter how well-intentioned the actor.

That persistent, expertly acted tension between a daring kid and a weary parent is palpable. At times, you’ll find yourself agreeing with both sides, and at other times, you’ll realize the absurdity of both.

I can’t say much more without giving away spoilers, but I will say that Ragnarok spins a wonderful tale. Kratos is an all-time great because of his ferocity and laconic demeanor, but his emotional depth is enhanced by his moments of weakness.

He isn’t the only victor here. Ragnarok does an excellent job of keeping its cast of lovable characters small, while many games of this scale have dozens of identical NPCs. Highlights largely involve characters from the original game, while there are some new standouts like the refined squirrel Ratatoskr who tends to the world tree.

Mimir, the talking head attached to Kratos’ belt, constantly refers to Kratos as “brotha,” but the term never seems forced. When he talks to Kratos and Atreus, he treats them like family and their relationship blossoms as a result. The blacksmith dwarves, Sindri and Brok, continue to be lovable.

The villains should get some recognition as well. While Thor’s tremendous savagery is hard to not appreciate, Odin is more interesting as a devious charmer than a world killer. However, not every character works, and the plot could use additional sharpening.

One of the few major characters in Ragnarok that won’t move you very much is Freya, the vengeful mother of a deity you murder in God of War (2018). The more distracting aspect of this narrative is the way it is told.

There isn’t a lot of quick transportation in Ragnarok, thus most of the time spent getting from A to B is taken up by conversation. This can be merely idle chatter at times, or it can flesh out important aspects of the extensive backstory of Ragnarok. This is a common method of conveying crucial plot information.

While this often succeeds, there are a few notable cases where quests drag on longer than necessary so that characters can play catch-up. It’s a warning sign when fictional characters groan about “another locked door.”

Mimir and Atreus do much of the talking in Ragnarok, while Kratos sticks to one-liners. It’s not always clear when Mimir and Atreus are rehashing events from the past for your lore education or whether they’re referencing a plot point from the first game in the series.

There’s a lot of history to untangle, between the original trilogy and the Norse lands. Even those unfamiliar with the series will have a blast, but they may be confused by certain dialogue.

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The Biggest God of War Ever

Though not as massive as Elden Ring, God of War: Ragnarok is still a substantial video game. While doing so, I completed a fair number of optional tasks and was able to defeat the final boss after 40 hours.

Combat trials, superbosses, and possibly even an epilogue quest are just some of the things I’ve heard of that can be found after the main storyline concludes. Completionists will waste 60–70 hours playing Ragnarok, whereas I expect to get another 10 hours out of it.

That’s a lot for any game, but especially so for one without an open world. In contrast to the current AAA tendency of having you play in a massive open world, Ragnarok has you start in Sindri’s House, your HUB, from which you can go to nine distinct Nordic kingdoms. The worlds range from lush jungles to deadly snowstorms to volcanic peaks to icy caverns and more.

There were a couple of “wow” moments for me in these places. The amount of work that must have gone into making this a reality sent my thoughts into a tailspin.

Stunning visuals may seem like a given for a blockbuster game in 2022, but Ragnarok still manages to impress. The character models, from Kratos’s fine beard hair to the scratches that reflect on his Blades of Chaos, are excellent, and they’re only rivaled in visual joy by the game’s frequent vistas.

But the level design is what makes the worlds sparkle even more than they already do. While it would be incorrect to call Ragnarok linear, it is also not an open world game. The majority of the realms you explore are enormous.

When you venture off the usual road, you’ll find numerous delightful surprises waiting for you, as well as previously inaccessible locations that will become accessible after you find the appropriate weapons and equipment.

The nine realms are so well-designed that they evoke the same sense of awe as the best open-world games, making players want to explore every bright object they see. At the very least, by the end of the game, all of those things will have happened. The universe of God of War: Ragnarok doesn’t fully unfold until after you’ve completed a few of the tutorial missions.

Even though this isn’t necessarily terrible, it does hide the improvements that Ragnarok makes to the God of War-level designs. Similarly, the fighting develops during Ragnarok, eventually becoming more nuanced, varied, and stunning than the God of War from 2018.

However, Ragnarok seemed more like God of War 1.5 for the first 10 or so hours when it was more linear and the combat was almost identical to the original.

Ragnarok is Just Like Old Times

I’ve reached the conclusion of this review, but I haven’t talked much about the game’s fighting or puzzles. Because once you’ve played God of War in 2018, there isn’t much to add to the conversation. Who won the game, anyway? That’s basically what this is, only amplified.

When it comes to close-quarters fighting, you can use Kratos’ cold Leviathan ax, his blazing Blades of Chaos, and his shield. Unlocking a wide variety of abilities and weapons adds depth to battle.

The range of both Kratos and Atreus’ arrows increases when they learn to wield Runic magic for assaults and summons. If you want to bring out the Spartan in Kratos, you can activate his Rage mode, which causes him to turn blood red and yell at the top of his lungs.

The camera can be a minor annoyance during action (especially when surrounded by grunts), but overall, it adds to the excitement. It’s still entertaining, though a bit nauseating, to see Kratos and Atreus use ingenuity to defeat devilish enemies.

The problems are also perfectly timed and designed. Some riddles in your travels across the Nordic lands will require some serious thought on your part, but not so much that you’ll be stranded for hours on end.

Final Thoughts

All of it is enjoyable but will seem extremely familiar to anyone who played God of War in 2018. Familiar rune puzzles to increase your health and wrath bars, and the same arsenal of weapons and armor you’re used to.

This feeling of familiarity permeates the game and never truly goes away. Due to Ragnarok’s solid basis, this feeling of familiarity is quite pleasant. God of War: Ragnarok is an amazing experience, even if it doesn’t live up to the original’s excursion to the Nordic realms.

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