God of War Ragnarök Review

Caught between Ragnarök and a daddy's embrace

God of War Ragnarok

By Paul Hunter

Boi, oh boi! God of War Ragnarök from Sony's acclaimed Santa Monica Studio is set to unleash Hel on PS5 and PS4. The follow-up to 2018's record-smashing God of War begins three years after the events of the previous game with the realms now faced with Fimbulwinter, a prolonged winter and precursor to Ragnarök, a.k.a. the prophesized battle that ends the world.

Over the past couple of weeks, I've been busy attempting to stave off the end of times during my full playthrough of the game on PS5. Now that I've seen the credits roll, plus have plunked another 15 hours into the side quests, it's time to explore what the Nine Realms have on offer. Let's dive in, here are five things I liked about the game...and two I didn't.

[Editor's note: Effort was taken to not spoil major plot points, however, some gameplay and environmental elements are discussed in a broad sense. If you want to enjoy the game entirely fresh be warned that this review lightly touches upon some gameplay and environmental specifics.]

Liked: Eye-Watering Graphics

Much has been said about God of War Ragnarök being a game designed first for PS4 and then enhanced for PS5. While it's not a native PS5-developed title, you'd never be able to tell by looking at the graphics, which absolutely sizzle at full 4K resolution (targeting 30fps). If the frame rate is more important to you, there's also a dynamic resolution mode with upscaled 4K at 60fps. There's even a high frame rate mode targeting 120fps if you have a TV or monitor capable of that output.

Ragnarök substantially ramps up the visuals versus its 2018 predecessor, and there are two big reasons for that. The first, and perhaps the most obvious, is on PS5 there's even better lighting, shadows and shadow reflections, plus greatly increased geometric and volumetric details in all the environments. The draw distances are also jaw-dropping—there are many mountainous areas or large structures to climb offering breathtaking views of the realms.

The second reason for the improved visuals comes from the sheer variety of environments. While the previous game teased us with visiting the nine realms, the sequel realizes that dream with all nine locations ready to explore. Each realm has its own mysterious and distinct vibe, from the majestic halls of Alfheim, home of the elves, to the high-tech realm of Svartalfheim, where the inventive dwarves reside, to the stark and dangerous realms like Helheim (the Norse afterlife), Muspelheim (home of the fire giants) and Niflheim (a toxic, dying wasteland).

Each realm has a distinct colour palette, unique structures, a variety of puzzles to solve and secrets to uncover and new enemy types to face, with most having massive bosses or sub-bosses to fight. It's awe-inspiring what Santa Monica Studio has been able to produce visually, especially given the previous game released a mere four years ago.

Liked: Wow, That Story

As someone who has followed Kratos' 17-year journey since his original game on PS2, I'm in complete shock at the astounding, well-told character development this lamentable-yet-lovable anti-hero has undertaken. There were several segments in God of War Ragnarök that got me teary-eyed and emotional, seeing the tragic love and unthinkable losses he's had to overcome.

There are so many thoughtful and gut-wrenching narrative themes explored in this culmination of Kratos and Atreus' Norse adventure, but none hits home more than seeing the struggles of Kratos having to accept his son is growing up. As a father to a young boy, I can totally relate to the challenges of parenting—it's no easy task!—and how every dad has to accept it's a journey that can take you to places that are unknown and terrifying. It's just so beautiful seeing Atreus grow into his older self, and Kratos stumbling along the way. The two share so many impactful father/son moments that punch you right in the heart and will surely be talked about by fans for years to come.

It's not just the Kratos and Atreus storyline that resonates, all main characters from the previous game get their moment to shine. Freya's story arc is believable and very relatable, we learn more about Brok and Sindri with surprising twists that shed new light on these helpful allies, and a certain side quest even digs into Mimir's past that'll make you view the talking head in a whole new light. Heck, even Fenrir, Atreus' beloved wolf, has story developments that were unbelievable to see. That Santa Monica Studio went to such lengths to develop the entire cast is simply divine and proves they're at the top of their craft.

As hinted about in the previous game, much of God of War Ragnarök revolves around Atreus discovering he's Loki and wondering what that means for him and for the nine realms. This plotline takes the boy all around the realms and is full of revelations, some are expected but many are not. I absolutely love the game's central theme of taking fate into your own hands and that's all I'll say about that.

Newcomers like Angrboda and Tyr add even more depth to the game's story, and I especially took to Angrboda's tale of being among the last remaining giants in the realm. Her segments are so touching and the relationship between her and Atreus was equal parts inspiring and sad. Tyr is also fantastic but not at all what I expected, but you'll have to play the game to discover why.

While on the topic of the story, props to Santa Monica Studio for including a two-minute God of War (2018) recap video to help newcomers get caught up on events in the previous game, as well as remind seasoned fans of the rollercoaster they went on years ago. It's an effort like this that shows just how much the studio cares about its audience.

Liked: New, New, New Gameplay Stuff

This is going to be a challenging aspect to write about without spoilers so here's your warning: gameplay elements will be discussed at a very high level. If you don't want to know any gameplay elements whatsoever, feel free to skip this section! And on that note, let's dive in.

From a pure gameplay perspective, God of War Ragnarök is a direct sequel in the truest sense. You begin by controlling Kratos and he has his Leviathan Axe and Blades of Chaos, both of which attack very similar to the earlier game. There is one modest change now though: both weapons have "Signature Moves" that imbue elemental attacks. The axe can charge up and get covered in ice, dealing frost damage to enemies that can freeze them solid. The chains can be imbued with fire and dole out a burning status effect that drains enemies' health. A bigger change, though, is the addition of retractable arm shields that specialize in different 'types' of defence, add another layer to combat. Shields come in two specific varieties: ones that enable you to parry and another used for tanky combat defence. For the parrying type, enemy attacks will flash specific coloured circles, including yellow strikes you can parry and red ones you can't. Having different types of shields available allows you to choose the one that best suits your style.

Even with those two new additions, Kratos' moveset feels very familiar, which is a slight letdown considering how innovative 2018's gameplay was. But like I said, Ragnarök strives to be a straight sequel, and so it makes sense that Kratos doesn't have radically different gameplay.

The real excitement comes a few hours into the story when you assume control of another character, which I'm sure you can likely guess who it is. The character has their own signature weapon, and later weapons, that dramatically change up the gameplay. They have a dedicated skill tree as well, so their moveset will grow and expand over the adventure.

It's important to note that at no point during the adventure can you choose who to play as. Instead, you switch characters whenever it narratively makes sense to do so, and that leads to an exciting feeling of not knowing when you'll be switching next. It also means that playable characters have their individual journeys to undertake, which does wonders for fleshing out their current thoughts and larger motivations.

Another big welcome change is different NPC characters will join you during specific parts of the campaign, and they too have signature moves that come in very handy. One of them even has their own skill tree to make their moves even more varied and useful over time. While part of me did wish we had some control over who we were playing as, and which companions to bring along, narratively I understand why this was restricted.

Without getting into too much detail, at some point in the adventure, Kratos does get a third weapon and damn is it devastating. It's the most versatile weapon too, so I was struggling to find reasons to use the axe and blades after obtaining the shiny new killing device. And I think that's the whole point as narratively there's a reason to gravitate towards the ultra-powerful new weapon. This new weapon can also help your team traverse the environment, giving it a dual purpose and making it even more useful.

Many gameplay elements from the previous God of War also make a return, including the mighty runic attacks that unleash powerful attacks and recharge over time. Kratos also has his Spartan Rage where he can enter a Fury state to destroy enemies while healing himself, plus there's a Valor alternative that straight up heals you and a Wrath move that charges straight through enemies. Another playable character has their own version of Spartan Rage and it's the coolest combat ability in the game, I think. There are also relics that bestow Kratos with new attacks or buffs, and the Amulet of Yggdrasil, which has up to nine slots for equipping stat-boosting amulets.

The most important piece of advice I can give, gameplay-wise, is to not judge it right away. Give the game a few hours to open up and I'm sure you'll be amazed at what Santa Monica Studio has given us. That said, there is one weapon I wished we could add to Kratos' repertoire, but hopefully, it's unlockable either through a specific side quest or as DLC down the road.

Liked: The Aesir Gods

I am totally blown away by how the Aesir gods subverted my expectations. In the original God of War trilogy it was pretty clear: the Greek gods, save for perhaps Athena (but even that's questionable), were evil and deserved to die. But the Aesir gods are a totally different breed and all over the map. Some of them I warmed to, so much so that I was rooting for them to survive. Others were the typical evil type, but some of them still had redeemable qualities. And finally, there are a bunch firmly in the grey zone that I'm still deciding whether they're good, evil or something in between. I thoroughly enjoyed the guessing game of who to trust and who to hate, and several narrative twists made this even harder to do—to the story's overall benefit.

Liked: Massive Content

Another huge plus is the massive amount of content on offer in God of War Ragnarök. The main campaign can be completed in about 25 hours, which is already a hefty number, but I've plunked in another 15 hours into the side quests and still have a ton more to do. It would not surprise me if the final tally was 60-plus hours, so even more than the previous game. The side content has great variety, too, it has everything from Odin's Ravens to legendary chests, to Draugr Holes to seal and Berserkers to battle, to artifacts, lore and Yggdrasil Dew to collect. No matter what type of side content you like best, Ragnarök has you covered.

As if that weren't enough, the game also includes dozens of Labors and Favors to complete. Labors are mostly skill-based challenges that reward you with XP, such as killing X numbers of a specific enemy or killing enemies in specific ways, like shattering them or giving them a signature Spartan kick. On the other hand, Favors are more in-depth side missions from NPCs that typically have multiple steps to complete and even bigger rewards. Some of these quests come from a certain anthropomorphic character that is the second-funniest character in the game, next to, of course, the foul-mouthed Brok. I'm still working to complete a handful of Favors and am excited to see what rewards I'll unlock next!

Didn't Like: Some Pacing Elements

Now don't get me wrong, God of War Ragnarök overall is narratively solid gold, but I will say that a handful of times I felt like the story stalled or worse, underwhelmed. If I compare it to the previous game, the objective was clear, spread Faye's ashes on the highest peak in the realm. Ragnarök, by comparison, is much more nuanced and layered with several intertwining moving pieces. Can Kratos accept that Atreus is growing up? Where does Freya's allegiance lie? How will Kratos and Atreus prevent Ragnarök? What is Atreus/Loki's true nature? Should the Aesir gods be feared or trusted? There's an awful lot going on in this game, which is certainly great because it keeps you guessing, but it can also lead to a few "what is the point of all this?" moments throughout the game.

The end result is that God of War Ragnarök tends to tackle these questions in rotation over the campaign, so a lot of narrative hopping occurs. One moment you might spend an hour discovering more about the role Loki plays in this dramatic affair, and then this plotline gets paused for several hours as you switch over to dealing with an angry Freya and then troublesome developments with the Aesir gods. My point is, some of these narrative threads can take 10 or 20 hours to fully resolve and with so many hops between the impact gets lessened. I was also slightly underwhelmed with how Ragnarök ultimately plays out, but that's all I'll say to avoid spoilers.

Liked: Missing Modes At Launch

God of War Ragnarök offers a plethora of content—certainly enough to justify the cost of admission, and then some—but I still can't help but lament the lack of a photo mode and a new game+ mode at launch. I get it: this is a huge, huge game and both of those features are non-essential value-adds that can come later as post-launch DLC, but still, it's a bummer. Part of me has to wonder though, were these features omitted due to time constraints or was it intentional to sustain interest in the game months down the road. Part of me does think it's the latter. I mean, that's what did with God of War (2018) when the new game+ got rolled out along with a sizeable content update several months after launch.

Thankfully, Santa Monica Studio has already publicly stated that photo mode is in the works and surely new game+ is being readied as well. On the bright side, the wait will give me time to complete all the side missions, but I just hope the modes launch within the next three-to-four-month window. I took 100+ photos so far during my adventure, but I have to wonder how much better those screenshots could have been with a feature-rich photo mode. Sigh!

The Verdict

Sony's latest God of War game is Ragna-rock solid. It outdoes the previous game in every way, from expanded gameplay to exciting new realms to explore to a banger of a story to new characters to meet and play as. Graphically, it's a stone-cold stunner with pristine 4K visuals, plus DualSense integrations that add tremendously to the immersion. With dozens of hours of side content, on top of the lengthy main campaign, this is among the most content-rich games of the entire year. Sony continues to prove why they're on top with best-in-class AAA exclusives like God of War Ragnarök.

Final Score: 9.5/10 - Amazing

God of War Ragnarök details

Platform: PS5, PS4
Developer: Santa Monica Studio
Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment
Genre: Action-Adventure
Modes: Single-player
ESRB Rating: M (Mature)

A key was provided by the publisher.