God of War Ragnarok is a masterpiece. The team at Santa Monica Studio has somehow managed to take what the 2018 game started, lift the story to dizzying new heights, refresh the combat systems, and tie it all off with enough emotional impact that it has left me thinking about the ending for days.
The story of God of War Ragnarok picks up a few years after the events of the first game. The previous actions of Kratos and Atreus have ushered in Fimbulwinter, dramatically altering the climate of the nine realms.
In his tireless drive to be prepared, Kratos has been training Atreus over these past years in anticipation for what comes next, whether it’s Ragnarok or something else. Throughout this time, Atreus has grown from a child into a young man with his sights set on finding answers.
After a brief encounter, and a proposition, Kratos, Atreus, and Mimir set off on their next adventure as the prophecy of Ragnarok looms overhead.
Told through its iconic seamless transitions, the tale of God of War Ragnarok manages to be both grand and awe-inspiring but also genuine and personal. It’s touching to watch Kratos continue to try and guide Atreus along the path he thinks is right, all while Atreus wrestles with the pursuit of independence that every teenager seeks.
The narrative does wonders to expertly sidestep the common trope of moody and unlikable teenagers. Atreus often psyches himself up before a talk by having solo conversations where he plays both sides. He’ll offer up his own wishes and then imagine the retorts his father would make. It’s a genuine moment that reminded me of my own youth, practicing an idea before taking it to my parents.
These emotional and relatable moments are sprinkled all throughout the story. Despite its fantastical setting and its grandiose worldbuilding, the characters, relationships, and themes are all grounded. It’s impossible not to be drawn into Kratos’ single dad struggles, Atreus’ lack of agency and desire to learn who he is, or the myriad of other characters and their plights.
More than once throughout this unforgettable narrative I found myself welling up with emotion. The way the writers continue to develop and grow these characters is commendable. But it wasn’t just tears I was shedding, I was also hooting and hollering with excitement or laughing at the comedic timing.
While the writing is impeccable, what lifts the narrative further are the performances. Christopher Judge as Kratos and Sunny Suljic as Atreus come together to create some of the most emotionally raw scenes in a video game to date. I would stare, misty-eyed, watching the character’s expressions, feeling the weight of the scene and all the emotional undertones being delivered by the actors. In addition to Judge and Suljic, Ryan Hurst as Thor, Richard Schiff as Odin, and Danielle Bisutti as Freya offered some spine-tingling and soul-crushing performances.
To put it plainly, the whole story of God of War Ragnarok feels like an epic. It feels like one of the mighty tales that the characters talk about while you're playing. It’s mythological, grand, and world-changing but it’s also incredibly personal and genuine. It’s a gripping journey from start to finish and an absolute master class in storytelling.
The thrill of the fight
God of War Ragnarok’s excellence flows from its narrative into its gameplay. While the combat remains similar to the first, it’s been expanded with additional options and mechanics for Kratos and Atreus. It’s just different enough to feel refreshing without drifting too far from what was on offer in the first, in fact, it feels like a refinement.
Kratos can still impale his foes with the Blades of Chaos to either pull them to him or send a fiery blast down the chain. These skills now exist as two unique moves attached to different buttons and each boast powerful upgrades. The changes to each weapon’s systems are subtle and overall improve the formula.
Beyond the moves, players will find new Runic attacks to use, additional relics (Ragnarok’s form of the talisman), as well as a retooling of the enchantment system. Armor comes with unique effects and set bonuses, allowing players to really lean into a certain playstyle. I switched between a couple of sets, one that increased my base damage for a short time after using a Runic attack and another that increased the drop chance of health gems.
Weaving these all together allows Kratos and Atreus to feel like a powerhouse throughout the campaign. This is heightened thanks to the soundtrack which is of mythological proportions. As Kratos swings his axe and carves up foes, the music swells and crashes. During intense quick-time cutscenes the orchestral score explodes to the beat of Kratos’ fists. Everything about the combat and music leaves you feeling like the god that you are.
The power fantasiy is so good that I was concerned I wouldn’t have an opportunity to flex my power and test my mettle in difficult boss fights at the end of the story. Thankfully, Ragnarok has its own sort of Valkyrie-like encounters to keep you busy. These are a brutal challenge and exactly what the game needs to keep players tweaking their builds and collecting resources to upgrade their gear.
The world we live in
God of War Ragnarok is not a strictly an open world game. Like the first, there are realms to visit and explore, each with its own unique environments, side quests, collectibles, as well as Nornir chests with their light puzzle mechanics. The puzzles also have their own separate setting in the expansive accessibility menu, giving players more time or slowing down objects to make them more forgiving.
Players will be running, climbing, or using the Blades of Chaos on set points to swing between ledges when exploring the realms. There is a new addition in the form of a sled pulled by two wolves that allows Kratos and Atreus to move around the snow-covered realm of Midgard with ease. In the warmer environments the canoe returns, and although it’s a bit cumbersome to use, it offers an opportunity to hear Mimir’s stories and soak up the gorgeous vistas.
Part of the joy of exploring these realms is who you get to explore them with. Without revealing too much, while Kratos, Atreus, and Mimir are the core trio, there are opportunities to fight alongside other characters in God of War Ragnarok. While their input to the combat is similar to one another, it affords the player a chance to learn more about these characters and see how they all interact outside of cutscenes. Again, it’s a small change from the first game but one that highlights the attention to detail Santa Monica Studio brings to the table, knowing just what to add to make an already stellar experience an exceptional one.
Santa Monica Studio has captured lightning in a bottle for a second time. God of War Ragnarok left me speechless; it’s such a beautiful game both visually and narratively. The team has somehow managed to take what made the original such a wonder and expand upon it, delivering to players a masterpiece, an experience that sits atop the God of War pantheon.
This review is based on a PlayStation 5 code provided by the publisher. God of War Ragnarok is available on November 9, 2022 on PlayStation 5 and PlayStation 4.
God of War Ragnarok
- An incredible story from start to finish
- Meaty and visceral combat
- Gorgeous visuals and soundtrack
- Some of the best performances in a video game
- Plenty to do after the credits roll
- It had to finish at some point
- Canoe can be a bit finicky
Sam Chandler posted a new article, God of War Ragnarok review: Fit for Folkvangr
High praise here about the side quests
The intro bit is on-rails, and then you get to a central hub (you will absolutely know it when you get there) and becomes a self-directed open world with lots to do, and which evolves over the course of the story.
I just finished up my second playthrough (PC version) to prep for Ragnarok, and goddamn it's still a masterpiece.
I guess this one does both if I swap back and forth. Not sure about the disc one though.