Warning: This review contains spoilers for God of War: Ragnarök. There are very few sequels that have the ability to live up to their predecessors. Francis Ford Coppola’s masterpiece The Godfather Part II did in 1974, and Chris Nolan’s The Dark Knight from 2008 it did too. If you really think I’m comparing a video game to these cinema icons, you’re right. God of War: Ragnarök is a masterpiece of storytelling.
It could be even better than the installment that came before it – the critically acclaimed 2018 game god of war reboot, for which this is a direct sequel. There are those who will ignorantly dismiss video games as childish pursuits, but the adventures of Kratos and his son Atreus are proof that games can be mature, emotional and deeply nuanced. And before you ask, yes, I cried for the first five minutes.
IN god of war, the father-son duo fulfills his wife Faye’s wish by spreading her ashes on the highest peak in the Nine Realms. In doing so, they defeat many enemies along the way and uncover a family secret, mainly that Atreus is otherwise known as Loki, the trickster god according to the prophecies. Baldur, son of Odin and Freya, is the main antagonist. He hunts Kratos and Atreus as his father believes them to be the bringers of Ragnarök, the cataclysmic end of Norse mythology.
We pick up the story three years after the events of god of war. After Baldur’s defeat, the world has been plunged into a long, unforgiving winter known as Fimbulwinter – the precursor to Ragnarök. Odin and Thor, Baldur’s brother and who is portrayed most unfavorably, are now on a mission to get revenge on Kratos for killing a member of their family, as is Freya for the murder of her son.
The best parts in god of war wasn’t the matches, although the flow of matches in the previous game was close to perfection, it was the moments between matches that were most affecting. Conversations between a stoic (at times harmful) father facing life as a single parent and his pre-teen son, who is still learning to navigate a treacherous world. “Don’t mistake my silence for a lack of grief,” he tells Atreus regarding Faye’s death. “Grieve in your own way, leave me to mine.” Beautiful dialogue like this continues to be at the heart of Kratos and Atreus’ story, but in RagnarökThe father-son dynamic is different.
Atreus is 14, a formative and confusing age made even more complicated by the knowledge that he is a deity. A teenager with a literal god complex. This development in their relationship is the “key” to Ragnarök, as game director Eric Williams explained to Games Radar. “That’s the key to this game. In the last game, Atreus was always told what to do by adults. Anybody asks a question and they never give him an answer,” he said, “but we wanted to be a lot more gray. Now we start that Atreus is like, ‘Well, I don’t think it’s like that’ and [Kratos is] like, ‘Are you rude? Or should we actually have a proper conversation about this?’ As you continue to play, you’ll probably see it start to bloom a lot more.”
Where god of war had Kratos front and center, this follow-up has the two sharing the spotlight. Actual, Ragnarök feels more like Atreus’ story than his father’s, and playing as him is a brilliant revelation, offering new combat mechanics that mix up your approach to enemies. Where the fun of playing as Kratos is found in devastating, up close and personal combat, Atreus offers agility, speed and ranged attacks. It’s not quite as satisfying as the father’s visceral rage, but from a narrative perspective it makes a lot of sense. We get to experience the trials and discoveries of this father-son duo from both perspectives now, and we begin to understand that while Atreus can be a dick at times, he’s really trying to do right by his father and vice versa. This also opens up the possibility of new player-companion pairings, which tell a more complete story.
From an enemy standpoint, the problems of the first game feel solved. The few complaints were the lack of enemy diversity, and the writers at Santa Monica Studio have taken this feedback on board. While the undead draugers are still the bread and butter of the game, the boss fights are varied and frequent enough to keep players interested, while enemy swarms offer new opportunities for death and destruction.
When you’re not hacking enemies to pieces, there are plenty of stunning, screenshot-worthy environments to explore and Ragnarök is truly an amazing interactive adventure. Like the previous game, there are plenty of puzzles to solve with new and old mechanics to contend with. There is a lot of assumed knowledge here, it goes without saying that you should play the previous game first.
All in all, there aren’t really many significant changes. Sequels don’t have to be innovative and groundbreaking, Ragnarök is not it. That’s a good thing. It is superior to its predecessor because of the small tweaks to improve the overall experience, none of that god of war the essence has been lost. Whether god of war franchise takes out the Game of the Year award once again – it’s up against tough competition in FromSoftware’s Fire Ring– is really unimportant. God of War: Ragnarök is a game for the ages and you should play it immediately.
God of War: Ragnarok is out now for PlayStation 4 and PlayStation 5.
The adventures of Kratos and Atreus continue in God of War: Ragnarökthe follow-up to 2018’s Game of the Year winner, god of war. Explore more of the nine realms of Norse mythology, encounter enemies new and old, and navigate a world on the precipice of total annihilation. Ragnarok is coming, are you ready?
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