Ragnarok is coming.
Atreus and Kratos are in the middle of Fimbulwinter, with snow piling up everywhere and their home being as cold as the average UK citizen’s will be next month. Setting out with their trusty huskies to fetch food, they’re interrupted by an unexpected visitor, and it’s at this point that you know you’re playing a God of War game.
I’ve spent around 5 hours with Ragnarok so far, and already it’s shaping up to be something special. As you’d expect from Santa Monica, the visuals are astonishing, with everything looking remarkably crisp, even in performance mode on the PS5, which stuck like glue to its 60fps target. Of course, this game will be available on the PS4 as well, and we’ll be taking a look at that in our upcoming review, as well as looking at the performance on both the base console and the Pro.
While it’s true to say that things feel familiar with Ragnarok being set in the same world, it also feels fresh. The opening hour or so has an air of the Back to the Future sequels about it, in that it has a distinct method of calling back to the original game, while not feeling like it’s retreading old ground at the same time. In the first game, you started the game teaching Atreus how to hunt, and in Ragnarok, the boy takes the lead. In 2018, you fought “the Stranger” Baldur pretty early on. In Ragnarok, you face another tough enemy in a similar fashion. However, that path quickly dissolves into something new, albeit with recognisable faces at your side as Brok and Sindri make a welcome return shortly after your first boss battle. Of course, the Leviathan makes its triumphant return, as do the Blades of Chaos. Switching between them in combat with a tap of the D-Pad makes it a breeze to change up your attacks, and there are new abilities available for each right off the bat.
The story is what glued 2018’s game together though, and Santa Monica make a strong start here. Atreus is growing into a young man now, to the point where Kratos is calling him by his name, rather than just calling him “boy” all the time. The old man is learning as well, to understand and become a better father. Moments of softness start to appear in the hardened exterior of the Ghost of Sparta, with the returning Mimir giving him advice to help him in this journey as well. Atreus is determined to find out just what is meant by the revelation that he is Loki, and has been secretly trying to gather information so he can understand himself more. Kratos is none too pleased with this reveal, but after a frank discussion with Atreus which seems to suggest they could prevent Ragnarok (the norse apocalypse) from happening, they begin their quest in earnest.
Shortly after, I’m transported to Svartalfheim, the realm of the dwarves, to find information on Tyr, the Norse God of War. Realm travel has been forbidden by Odin, so your dwarven companions come up with a workaround. The level design and art direction that’s on display is simply wonderful. The days of everything being black, brown and red in a God of War game are truly gone, with a fantastic showing of colour across the towns and streets. There are plenty of hidden areas to discover as well, so make sure you take a trip down as many side paths as you can! One sidequest involved using the boat to travel between a number of islands and shutting down some old dwarven smelting towers. Only this time, it was Atreus that was telling us the stories!
The combat in 2018’s game was superb, and this is carried through into Ragnarok. It will keep you on your toes though, with multiple enemies flanking and swarming you, it seems a bit more difficult than I remembered, even on the default, balanced, setting. Alongside the Draugr from that game, there are a new breed of enemy in the form of Grim, a sort of frog-man beast (think the Battletoads, but a few thousand years devolved). They can spit poison, and this will impact Kratos exactly as you’d expect, with status effects taking hold and draining his health. It’s easy to get quickly overwhelmed unless you’re using all of your abilities to their fullest extent, and not keeping on top of your upgrades. Some challenging early fights are there to sharpen your skills, while Mimir and Atreus will helpfully remind you if you’re not using your shield or if there’s an enemy incoming.
There are, of course, plenty of traversal puzzles and exploration to undertake as well. The chests that open with runes are back too, although there was one that suggested I needed some other equipment, which might be hinting at a further weapon in the arsenal? Either way, it’s clear that there will be multiple visits to locations further on in the game.
The final segment of gameplay that we can talk about here was in a huge underground mine in search of Tyr. As well as introducing yet more new enemy types, this was a maze of puzzles, mini combat arenas and hidden loot. Oh, and an extremely tough Draugr pit, which will summon a miniboss which you need to defeat to shut it down. The pacing so far seems great, with enough downtime and moments of silence to counteract the chaos as you plunge your blades into anything with a pulse.
As mentioned above, God of War Ragnarok is shaping up to be something special. A story that’s already getting its hooks in me, level and art design that is second to none, and combat that feels as heavy and violent as the Spartan you’re controlling. Be sure to stay tuned for our review on the 3rd of November, but until then, we’re off back to try and stop the apocalypse. See you soon!