‘God of War Ragnarok’ review: the Boy is back in town

Angry dad returns, somehow angrier and daddier

In God of War Ragnarok, Kratos is still a very sad dad. But four years after Sony Santa Monica’s 2018 God of War reboot, his own misguided attempts at nurture aren’t as important: his son Atreus – a young and inexperienced liability in the first game – is now a gangly teenager and more of a seasoned fighter, though still with the same naive charm.

Kratos still gruffly commands Atreus around, but it’s the boy who is the driving force of the story, with the original game’s sad dad narrative now shifting to how Kratos can take a step back and allow Atreus to make his own decisions, leading to the father and son dynamic shifting to more of a partnership. Also returning is Mimir – Norse god of knowledge and wisdom and also a disembodied head – riding along on Kratos’ belt and providing context, a handy indicator that enemies are behind you (because he’s strapped to the back of your belt), and a small amount of pathos.

Later you’ll even control Atreus for a bit – although it doesn’t feel meaningfully different – with a different companion. However, the chat between Kratos, Atreus and Mimir is a highlight that carries a lot of the game’s quieter moments. Kratos is funny in the same way that Guardians of the Galaxy’s Drax is funny, with humour wrung out of his earnestness while everyone around him is playing up to it. I cracked a smile a few times playing, and Christopher Judge (Kratos), Sunny Suljic (Atreus) and Alastair Duncan (Mimir) deserve props for making even mundane chatter as you wander from objective to objective engaging. Several times I dawdled before getting to an objective to let conversations play out and reader, I hate dawdling.

God Of War Ragnarok
God Of War Ragnarok. Credit: Sony Santa Monica

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My tardiness at showing up to whatever heroic act was next on Kratos’ list was helped by the visuals. You start in the snowy wastes of Midgar, wracked by an apocalyptic winter. It’s stunning snow, but it’s just snow. Soon though, you’re venturing throughout the different worlds, visiting Svartalfheim and seeing beautiful vistas and some incredible water and raytracing effects.

It’s impressive in a couple of ways. The fidelity is excellent, something I’ve come to expect from the PS5 at this point, but also because the art direction is excellent. The fantastical locations you’re exploring are phenomenal though, and help you forget you’re essentially exploring a series of small areas, convincing you instead that you’re exploring a wide world.

The same is true of the monsters you’re facing off against. In the very early stages in Midgar you’re thrown against raiders and they’re vaguely humanoid and vaguely disinterested. Besides a fight with cheery villain Thor you’re mostly just being a bully and upending a bunch of people into the snow with your giant angry fists. As soon as you start moving on though, your enemies get increasingly weird and wonderful.

God Of War: Ragnarok. Credit: Santa Monica Studio
God Of War: Ragnarok. Credit: Santa Monica Studio

Not that it mattered to me, I was just there to batter them with an axe. Combat is compulsive because there’s a real heft to fighting in God of War Ragnarok’s scrapping. Kratos hurls himself around with ferocity, but there’s still a weight to every swing of the Leviathan Axe, and you feel a slight resistance as he cuts loose with his signature Blades of Chaos.

Kratos is a big lad, and his combat style is all power and fury, eschewing speed and finesse, and it offers a unique experience every time you tussle with the game’s multitude of different threats. Unleashing Kratos’ rage still feels formidable, as he moves like an amped-up version of himself, powering around arenas to beat people down with his bare hands.

Elsewhere, the weapons have the same feeling of power as they did in the 2018 reboot, but with a few additional perks. You can now charge up your weapons to give them a little elemental frisson before belting some enemies, and the game’s skill trees include some interesting abilities for you to work into combat.

God Of War Ragnarok
God Of War Ragnarok. Credit: Sony Santa Monica

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Factor in the fact that Atreus will now get stuck in on your behalf to distract or manhandle enemies, in addition to bouncing into the fight occasionally to deck someone with his bow, and you’ve got a combat system that builds on God of War’s elegantly.

The only disappointing thing about God of War Ragnarok is that from a mechanical point of view it doesn’t do a whole lot to innovate. Compared to the last game, you’ll still do a lot of fighting, grumping and solving puzzles. A pet peeve in game development is breaking a rope to make things fall, and you’ll be doing that in Ragnarok more than you could possibly imagine. See also pulling things out of the way, and shuffling around on ledges. It’s the sort of thing that is the bread and butter of a movement-based adventure game like Uncharted but here I kind of just wish I could be using that time to take my very specific set of skills (wanton murder, god killer, being bald and angry) and just wade into more fights.

It doesn’t mean you won’t have a good time: God of War Ragnarok is a blast. It’s just that after 2018’s reboot reshaped Kratos and the franchise into a more mature setting, I was hoping for some bolder choices.

God of War Ragnarok launches on November 9 for PS4 and PS5. We played on PS5. 

Verdict

God of War Ragnarok is a good game but never particularly surprising. Shifting the focus onto Atreus’ story feels like a smart move and the universe painted here is as beautiful narratively as it is graphically, but some players may feel like they have ridden this ride before.

Pros

  • Combat feels crunchy
  • Stunning visuals
  • Great writing

Cons

  • Feels too similar to GoW
  • Very combat-light
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