I want God of War Ragnarok’s skill tree in every action game
Not every part of God of War Ragnarok is a step up from its 2018 predecessor, but there’s one area where there’s an undeniable improvement: action. Like his last adventure, Kratos uses his heavy Leviathan ax to chop up enemies and the Blades of Chaos to rain down hellfire. Both tools feel similar in the sequel, but have been changed with the addition of elemental abilities that provide an additional set of moves and decisions to combat.
What stands out to me the most about the game’s evolved combat is something a little less flashy. God of War Ragnarok has a handful of skill trees that allow players to unlock more combos. It’s a bit of a bummer, as it’s become a staple of Sony’s first-party exclusives in recent years. But, Ragnarokits skill tree goes one step further than most games with a new customization system that encourages players to actually use those skills once they’ve been unlocked. The feature is so effective that I hope every character-based action game takes notes from it from here on out.
Use your skills
The skill comes in God of War Ragnarok works much the same as any game that includes them. Kratos earns experience points when he kills monsters, and these points can be used to unlock new skills. Both Leviathan Ax and Blades of Chaos have their own three-part skill tree, as does Atreus. Each time Kratos levels up a weapon using resources, more skills become available for purchase. By the end of the game, players have access to a fairly wide range of moves that will have them holding down buttons, combining moves together, and more.
However, there is an extra layer on top of that, and it’s there Ragnarok is unique. Every move can actually be customized in the skill tree. For each move, there are three levels that Kratos can reach by using them enough times. When that move hits the gold level, players are given the option to expand their attack with one of three options. It can be as simple as giving a heavy slash more attack power or as nuanced as increasing the amount of burn a Blades of Chaos combo inflicts on an enemy. It’s actually a skill tree hidden under the skill tree.
The psychological effects of it were immediately apparent when I uncovered the system. Early on I didn’t think much about my movements. Every time I unlocked a new one, I skimmed over the description and realized I just stumbled into it by accident in the end. My fighting style was more basic, relying only on standard heavy and light attacks. Once I discovered the system, it changed radically. Soon I saw the level goals as mini progression hooks, giving me a set of checklists to strive towards. I started using move skills more often as I tried to grind them to gold level. By the time I got there, they had become a more important part of my arsenal, making the choice to expand them feel like a tangible reward for my experiment.
It solves a problem that character-based action games tend to face. Toe Bayonetta 3, for example. That game has more unlockable skills than I can count across the amount of weapons. I unlocked what felt like 100 skills during the playthrough and just couldn’t keep all of those combos. Instead, I largely plodded through the adventure, figuring I’d stumble into these skills along the way. To PlatinumGames’ credit, it’s largely the experience in Bayonetta, as the fluid combat system makes it easy to organically chain together attacks. But I’d be lying if I told you that I often made active decisions in each match instead of bashing my controller and watching the results with glee.
Had Bayonetta 3 encouraged me to learn and use my attacks on the road God of War Ragnarok did, I imagine I would have had a much firmer sense of control by the end. Not only would I have learned how to perform each one, but I would have a better sense of its function in a match – especially if I had direct control over what that move did.
Natural, Ragnarokits approach to skills is not a one-size-fits-all solution. However, there is much to be gained from Santa Monica Studios’ ingenious approach to combat customization here. A great action game makes the player feel like a mastermind who can hack their way out of even the toughest situations thanks to their weapon mastery. At the end of God of War RagnarokI felt like an unstoppable machine that ran more on brain power than muscle memory.
God of War Ragnarok is out now on PS4 and PS5.
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