After 2018’s God of War reboot received substantial critical and fan acclaim, it was inevitable that a sequel would appear. With the $69.99 God of War Ragnarok, the five-year wait comes to an end. Everything we loved about the previous title returns in Ragnarok, including expertly tuned combat, satisfying puzzles, and a highly cinematic story. Developer Santa Monica Studio builds upon that excellent foundation with a new Kratos Norse adventure that’s a truly epic journey, and an action-adventure game that ranks as one of the PlayStation 5’s best releases, as well as a PCMag Editors’ Choice winner.
(Credit: Santa Monica Studio)
We Come From the Land of the Ice and Snow
Ragnarok picks up not too long after God of War’s conclusion. Series protagonist Kratos and his son, Atreus, are surviving a harsh winter—Fimbulwinter, to be exact. It hasn’t stopped snowing since Baldur’s death in the last game, and the pair are laying low due to Odin, Freya, and Thor being miffed at Kratos for killing their relatives.
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The long-prophesied Ragnarok (aka the end of the Norse world) is closer than ever, with Fimbulwinter its prelude. Kratos and Atreus are prophesied to be at the center of it all, and the gods are at each other’s throats. More importantly, everyone is attempting to avoid their fates.
Atreus, who was revealed last game to be Loki, is still young, though he looks, sounds, and behaves more like a teenager. The defiant side we saw toward God of War’s end remains, and he’s determined to learn more about what it means to be Loki. Atreus’ maturation is reflected in the gameplay. You no longer need to carry him up ledges; he climbs himself, ahead of Kratos.
Hammer of the Gods
The game deftly introduces you to the controls without making it seem as though you’re playing an unrelated or slow-moving tutorial. It also eases you into more advanced fighting at an appropriate pace. As it goes on, the combat intensity and the puzzles get trickier at a rate that feels challenging, but in a fun, natural way.
The fast, accessible combat remains about the same as the 2018 title, though with some notable changes. For example, Ragnarok has upgradeable skills that offer new attack types. Despite the new skills, you aren’t forced to memorize dozens of new button patterns; they’re mostly intuitive upgrades to familiar attacks. To get them, you simply access the skills menu and use earned experience points to buy new abilities. One of the new skills lets Kratos hit an enemy with his ax, then swing the foe across the battlefield into other enemies in the distance. It feels good.
(Credit: Santa Monica Studio)
You start the game with the powerful Blades of Chaos, an apt choice on Sony Santa Monica Studio’s part. After all, acquiring them was a major part of the previous game’s story, and they didn’t see much action. Switching between the ax and the blades is often necessary to overcome various challenges, and a worthwhile gameplay addition. The chains’ fire properties and the ax’s ice properties each work better against specific enemies, and they’re also used for solving puzzles. This makes combat and the puzzles more layered and complex compared with the previous game. The blades are also coolly used in non-combat scenarios, letting you swing across gaps or climb walls like Spider-Man.
The major boss fights are well-structured and cinematic. You’re not just thrown into a battle with an enemy that’s a more powerful version of the mooks you’ve encountered. The massive fights are interspersed with seamless cutscenes that show Kratos and monstrous enemies getting launched through the air after powerful attacks, bursting through massive rock pillars, and displaying godlike strength and abilities. In one encounter, you start punching mid-cutscene to escape a powerful enemy’s grip, and the Hollywood-style camera placement grants a close-up of the brutal action.
The boss battles are fun, intense, and sometimes unexpected. There are a couple within the game’s first few hours that give you a good idea of what to expect as you move forward. For example, there’s an early battle with Thor that’s challenging, and a great introduction to the brash character. You’ll also encounter mini-boss fights while wandering around, which is a fun addition to the action.
There are objects you can grab and throw at nearby enemies, which adds more options when taking on swarths of foes at once or others that are far in the distance. The game offers a new blocking feature, too, for specific enemy special attacks. Instead of using the same block for every attack as you did in God of War 2018, now you must choose the block type based on the incoming attack. If you miss these heavy attacks, you’ll be out of commission for a few seconds, and at the enemy’s mercy. The game does a good job of signaling which type of attack is coming via different colored rings, so you have a second to react and know whether it’s an attack you can block, special block, or run away from to regroup. The new defensive option makes the combat feel more advanced than in the previous game.
(Credit: Santa Monica Studio)
Your Fields So Green
Given that the 2018 God of War reboot came out on the PlayStation 4, this game’s release would seemingly demand a graphics leap. However, there isn’t a huge visual difference between the two games. In fact, Ragnarok is a cross-generation title that’s also available on the PS4, so don’t expect it to look noticeably different from the last-gen version. Sadly, Ragnarok carries a $10 premium over its PS4 counterpart.
Still, Ragnarok is beautiful. Each realm’s lush colors and expansive environments are thoughtfully crafted. Whether it’s the foliage, distant mountains, or little creatures that scamper offscreen, nothing exists without purpose. Even better, they take full advantage of the PS5’s HDR capabilities.
After booting Ragnarok, you’re asked if you want to favor Performance or Resolution (you can change this option at any point during your playthrough). The game runs at 60 frames per second in Performance mode, with a dynamic resolution upscaled to 4K. In Resolution mode, the game runs at 30fps at a native 4K resolution. Ragnarok on the PS4 targets a 30fps frame rate, so it performs similarly to the 2018 original.
Like its predecessor, God of War Ragnarok is presented as one continuous take. You’ll never know when new environments are loading in the background, because you never face a loading screen while playing. It’s amazing, and it gives the game a highly cinematic quality.
However, it’s not just the lack of loading screens that makes the one-shot approach incredibly impressive. The tech is used in new and refreshing ways, with unexpected transitions and perspectives. Each scene moves smoothly from one to the next, even while you’re controlling Kratos during a cutscene. God of War Ragnarok elevates video game storytelling to a new level.
Fight the Horde
Upgrading skills, armor, and weapons is a major part of the game. Unfortunately, this is Ragnarok’s most tedious aspect. It can be hard to discern which weapons or pieces of armor are ready for upgrades, or even which ones Kratos is wearing. I found myself upgrading things I had no intention of wearing again before I got the hang of the menu. The previous game had the same issue, but it’s even more complicated this time around.
Stopping at Brok and Sindri’s shops is well worth your time. They’ll use the items you’ve collected to make your weapons stronger and armor more resilient. Also as important, they offer valuable items to purchase. They pop up everywhere throughout the adventure, and their roles have expanded beyond being simple comedic relief. Even if you forgot to grab items after major battles, the pair will be waiting for you in shops. It’s a nice addition that certainly helps if you’re quickly moving forward after a big fight.
(Credit: Santa Monica Studio)
Drive Our Ships to New Lands
One of the best parts of God of War (2018) was watching the emotional story unfold, along with its related twists. Ragnarok doesn’t forget the importance of this—its story is just as important and impactful. You’ll likely find yourself shocked a time or two around the game’s midpoint due to the many revelations.
If the cutscenes don’t provide enough Norse mythology for you, there are other ways to dive into the lore. By exploring, you’ll find hidden items that let you read about the past and how it impacts the current story. The game’s codex offers key character information for each NPC you meet, and gives insight into how they connect to Kratos, Atreus, and the overall mythology.
There are also many moments of peaceful canoe-riding through rivers, streams, and lakes. In those moments, talking head Mimir eagerly answers Atreus’ many questions regarding Odin, Thor, and Kratos’ interactions with other gods in the past. Atreus’ curiosity is so refreshing, and the canoeing is so relaxing, that I sometimes wished I didn’t have to dock.
Valhalla, I Am Coming
God of War Ragnarok lives up to its high expectations with a moving story and gameplay that more than delivers on the previous set by the previous entry. It offers improvements that I didn’t know were missing, the character development is thoughtful and impactful, and the combat and puzzles are fresh. If you own a PS5 and crave a top-tier action game, God of War Ragnarok should be an immediate purchase and earn our Editors’ Choice award.
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God of War Ragnarok (for PlayStation 5)
The Bottom Line
God of War Ragnarok builds upon everything the 2018 reboot established to deliver a greater gameplay experience that’s filled with emotion and hard-hitting combat.
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