“We have to get better,” an older, more contemplative Kratos told his son Atreyus several times throughout 2018. god of warand it’s a refrain that Santa Monica Studio embraced with this franchise. god of war began as a hack-and-slash series that confused having adult themes to be an adult game, as Kratos murdered his way through the thousands that got in his way, occasionally stopping for a triangle mini-game in his quest for revenge .
Still with 2018 god of war, Kratos underwent one of the most incredible transformations for a character in video game history, as Kratos went from a bloodthirsty revenge machine, to a father who is just trying to do his best and struggles with the sins of his past. Spilling a sea of blood might have been fun at the time, but the weight of those decisions still hangs heavy over our once-furious Kratos. Just as Kratos wanted Atreyus to reach his full potential, Santa Monica Studio took their iconic character and made him even better by embracing the possibilities of telling a deeper, more intricate story.
Four years after this amazing transformation, Kratos and Atreyus return for God of War Ragnarök, and Kratos’ development is still remarkable. With the original god of war in 2005, we first met Kratos surrounded by flames, covered in blood, and with seething eyes staring straight through the player. But even before you press play on Ragnarök, we see a bearded Kratos sitting in a cave, his face full of uncertainty, pain and – perhaps for the first time – fear. Throughout the original series, we saw what happens when Kratos lost his wife and child and the absolute devastation he could wreak after being torn away from what matters most, but after the events of 2018 god of warKratos now sees how easy it would be for him to lose the only family he has left in Atreyus.
Ragnarök sees Kratos and Atreyus three years deep into a Fimbul Winter, prophesied to come just before the cataclysmic battle known as Ragnarök. Since we last saw these two, Atreyus has traveled the realms trying to find out why he was called Loki in a prophecy, while Kratos has been preparing his son for the coming battle. But after their latest adventure, Kratos and Atreyus have gained new enemies, including their former companion Freya, and now both Thor and Odin are coming around and threatening the father and son. As Kratos helps Atreyus in his quest to learn about who he is, Kratos must once again reckon with his past choices, making sure his son learns everything he can to avoid making the same mistakes Kratos once made.
God of War Ragnarök It’s understandably not the same huge leap we saw with 2018 god of war. Combat, gameplay, and the upgrade system remain relatively similar to the previous game, albeit with minor tweaks. Although Ragnarök feels much bigger than 2018 god of war, Ragnarök also seems much more linear, as Kratos and Atreyus explore the different realms one by one. The player can explore these worlds at their own leisure, but unlike the previous game, Ragnarök don’t rely too much on its open world aspects. There’s a very straightforward story to tell here, and while you’re free to explore to your heart’s content, the real meat of the story comes in that telling.
But this more linear approach is a benefit to this story and to these captivating worlds. Each realm unlocked must be explored multiple times to discover all its secrets, with each new area opening up even more depending on the weapons and tools acquired. While god of war has many additional side missions scattered throughout the world, these additional missions are more refined and tie into the overall story in a much more natural way, as these worlds reveal themselves in new ways and allow the player to spend time with this expansive supporting cast of characters. Ragnarök maybe Kratos and Atreyus aren’t boating through an open world as much (most of the water is frozen thanks to Fimbulwinter anyway), but still, the more structured approach to Ragnarök makes this feel even more grandiose and expansive in its possibilities than previous games.
Especially for those who have been waiting Ragnarök In the last four years, one of the biggest disappointments here may be Ragnarök still feels like a PlayStation 4 game. Since the game was developed for both PlayStation 4 and PlayStation 5, both consoles need to be able to deliver this story effectively, which is a bit of a shame for those who want to see Kratos’ long-awaited story told through next-gen technology. Even back on PlayStation 2, god of war felt massive in its ambitions and scope, and while Ragnarök certainly still feels gigantic throughout, it’s a little disappointing that we don’t get to see how far Santa Monica Studio can push this technology. Ragnarök still has some nice extra touches when played on the PlayStation 5, like extra pressure added to the shoulder buttons in particularly tense moments, but it would be great to see what this studio could do if they harnessed the full power of this new console.
But no matter what Ragnarök changes or staying the same from a gameplay perspective is largely irrelevant, as the true power of this game comes in this massive story. As Kratos and Atreyus search for answers, they are both asked to question the power of fate and destiny in their lives, if there is something that defines who they are, or if it is all bullshit. For Atreyus, he is the son of an honorable warrior trying to find his own way, but trying to make his father proud. Meanwhile, Kratos reckons with the idea of his own mortality. Early in the game, there are several reminders that there is still so much to do and so little time to do it, and we can see Kratos trying to make the most of whatever time he has left.
The absolute brilliance of god of war in these latest games is how despite Kratos being largely silent about his past, we see the scars on his body, we see the pain that killing now causes him, and his painful past never leaves him. For those of us who have played the previous games, we know the trials that Kratos has gone through and where those scars come from, and we can sympathize with the weight that continues to hold him down, but for those who are unaware of Kratos’ past , the little bits of himself that he reveals throughout the game feel like huge revelations that bring us closer to the former God of War.
But beyond the world-wiped stakes, kingdoms in need of help and massive battles, Ragnarök is simply a game about a father and son and all that entails. With this story, Santa Monica Studio has created one of the most compelling and emotional narratives in modern gaming, an often dizzying and powerful story that thrives in its quieter moments. Kratos is often a silent protagonist, but nevertheless through Ragnarök, we can feel this warrior’s every emotion in the way he looks at his son, the way he rests for the night, or when he lets the fear of what could potentially come wash over him. This is a remarkable performance that says so much while saying so little, as our compassion grows for this man who just wants to make the most of his second chance at life. In the past, Kratos’ adventures found victory in obliterating a towering monster or slaying a god, but in these latest games, a hug from his son or a kind word shared between the two is where the true excitement comes from. Here comes one of the most powerful moments in this entire franchise when Kratos sees his son as he sleeps, a moment as touching as anything I’ve seen in a video game in years.
Ragnarök is certainly not the huge leap that 2018 is god of war was, and it may not be the next generation god of war game that people were hoping for on PlayStation 5, but when they explore these nine kingdoms and this loving bond between father and son, those minor concerns wash away for one of the best stories in modern gaming. Santa Monica Studio has pushed the story of Kratos in a fascinating direction, and this compassionate, caring and concerned version makes Kratos a far more complete character than ever seemed possible. With these last two god of war game, Santa Monica Studio has proven that they can make this character and world even better, a rich character study that makes this the best game in god of war franchise so far.
God of War Ragnarök coming to PlayStation 4 and PlayStation 5 on November 9.