God of War Ragnarok Review


You are not ready…

2018’s God of War reinvented the wheel for a series that, by the studio’s own admission, was showing signs of serious fatigue. Changing up the perspective, both in a literal and figurative sense, was a masterstroke, and it showed that there was more to the man mountain in Kratos that ripped apart everything with a pulse on Mount Olympus. He was a father again, his priorities changed, and he made a vow to not only protect his son, but to avoid spilling the blood of any deities on his path. Following the revelation that Atreus was known in the Nordic realms as “Loki” at the end of the game, questions remain in the boy’s head as to what his fate holds. Having spent over 50 hours with the sequel at this point, I can confidently state that God of War Ragnarok iterates on every element of its predecessor with unnerving degrees of confidence, style and emotion to craft one of the most impressive titles I think I’ve ever played.

Fimbulwinter has hit The Nine Realms. Midgard has been plunged into constant snowstorms, and the Lake of Nine has frozen over. According to prophecy, Ragnarok and the destruction of The Nine Realms is coming. Freya is still mourning the loss of Baldur, and naturally holds our two heroes solely responsible for his death. Atreus obsesses over the meaning of his secret name, and Kratos? Well, he just wants to survive and have a quiet life.

Thankfully for us, Kratos doesn’t get his wish. Through a series of events, and a little convincing from Atreus, the journey begins to potentially stop Ragnarok from happening, and saving the lives of thousands. I’m not going to get into the specifics of the story, but this is a true sequel in every sense of the word. The camera, for example, is still sat in the same place, with its continuous one-shot style taking centre stage. Even during some points where it would be easy to have a fade to black, the camera keeps focused on you while everything changes around you. There are still a bunch of collectibles to find, including the ravens, with a plethora of Odin’s neon nobheads to find this time out. Characters return, as do locations from 2018’s game. However, they’ve all been affected by Fimbulwinter in different ways. What follows is a story that builds on the last game in the best ways possible, and ties up every loose thread by its end. It’s such a lazy comparison to make, but If 2018’s game was as seminal as The Godfather, this really is The Godfather Part 2.

Of course, two of the biggest returning heroes are the Leviathan Axe and the Blades of Chaos. Combat is mostly similar, but Santa Monica Studio have built on the excellent foundations and added, tweaked and tightened wherever they could. Parrying and dodging is absolutely crucial if you want to go through the game on anything beyond the “Give me Balance” difficulty, and there are a ton of new abilities to familiarise yourself with if you want to get the best out of your sharpened metal companions. Once things start to open up, you can of course revisit Musphelheim for some more testing challenges and earn yourself some tasty upgrades, but it’s safe to say if you enjoyed the combat in the reboot, you’ll feel right at home here. A massively expanded skill tree allows you and Atreus to learn new abilities, giving you even more of a dynamic plan of attack in battle. What’s new here is the ability to assign additional modifiers after you complete a set number of tasks within the tree, allowing you to put additional damage, elemental or stun bonuses into the mix as well. If you find yourself accidentally triggering some of the skills, you can disable them, allowing you to keep your combo flowing without flinging your axe halfway across the map by mistake. There are plenty of armour sets, as well as trinkets for a broken amulet (that can be repaired), allowing you to truly customise your build to your play style. I tended to go with boosts to vitality and strength, as I prefer to go in to combat hard and soak up some damage, but all styles can be easily catered to. There’s also a much improved variety in enemy types as well here, with foes from all realms offering up different threats at any given moment. One thing that’s definitely been bumped up is the level of violence expressed by Kratos, with finishing kills ranging from decapitation, to full on tearing of jaws until they hang by a flap of skin by your opponent’s crotch.

A very welcome addition to the repertoire, however, is a tweak to the Spartan Rage abilities. In the previous game, your choice was “get angry, hit stuff, repeat”, with each successful punch restoring a little bit of health. Ragnarok introduces two new variations on top of that (rebranded here as Fury), Valour and Wrath. Valour was my preferred option here, as triggering Rage with L3 and R3 gives you a quick, plentiful boost to your health in exchange. Extremely handy in boss battles, that one!

While I’m on the subject of boss battles, they’ve been ramped up here substantially. Both the critical path and optional missions have some truly jaw-dropping moments, with bosses ranging from human sized to utterly enormous. While not quite on the scale of the Titans in God of War 3, they’re hefty enough to warrant some serious thought, and you’ll need to make sure you’ve got a resurrection stone on hand when you go into a few of them. Sure, there’s some you’d expect (or have maybe even seen thanks to some ambitious YouTubers), but there are many more that, as of the time of writing, remain hidden, and I’d advise keeping it that way.

There were some concerns in some quarters around how the game was going to look and feel, given that it’s also launching on the PS4. I think it’s fair to say that these are mostly unfounded, as Ragnarok looks absolutely sensational. I played through the game in performance mode, and only noticed a handful of frame dips and spikes during the late game. However, these have been mentioned in upcoming patch notes, so I feel confident in saying that the game won’t drop below 60fps. What makes it even more exciting if you own an hdmi 2.1 TV, is that the quality mode keeps a native 4k while pushing for 40fps instead. Unfortunately we’re unable to capture this mode, but looking at the on screen display on my TV shows that it does indeed stick to that frame rate like glue. If you really want to push things though, you can enable high frame rate performance mode, which allows you to cleave enemies up with an eye-watering 120fps cap. Whichever way you play the game on PS5 will look ridiculous, and it’ll stick to the performance cap that you set. If you’ve not got your hands on a new console yet, however, you can rest easy with the performance on the last gen machines. The PS4 holds a very steady 30fps with a reduced resolution, while the Pro sticks to 30fps in its quality mode, but with some fluctuations in performance mode which keep it around 55fps. If you do have access to a PS5 though, you’ll definitely notice the haptics in the DualSense. Sensibly, Santa Monica have turned off the adaptive triggers during combat, but there are a few interactive cutscenes that require some input from the R2 trigger where the trigger’s resistance is set strong up to about halfway, at which point it “gives way”, which is a really cool effect. On the rest of the controller, the subtle effects as you make your way through the realms feels great, the weight of the hits in combat resonate through the controller, and even down to the more measured moments in cutscenes, the DualSense extends the screen to your hands. Pushing your hands onto a surface that’s making noise will have the controller rumbling. Breaths from animals feel like the controller in your hand is moving. It’s a great use of the tech, and one that feels natural in context with the game.

Honestly though, the only area that the cross gen nature of the game is evident is in some of the loading tricks that are used. Yes, there are moments that require you to squeeze through a small gap to get to a new place, but the biggest one for me is the Realm between Realms. Genuinely, I think the only bad thing I can say about the game at this point is that you’re still forced to go through the bit of the World Tree and walk until the area has loaded. Of course, this is to allow things to fully load on PS4, and is often masked with narrative, but when you get to the later stages and don’t have that dialogue, you can see just how quickly the areas load with that crazy fast SSD. I would absolutely love to see Kratos just open a door and be greeted with a new realm, similar to how Ratchet and Clank’s tears worked, but it’s not to be with Ragnarok.

With all that being said, and all the talk of the chaos, dismemberment and rage, the thing that’s really stuck with me since finishing the story has been the quiet moments. Ragnarok isn’t just a story about stopping the Nordic Armageddon, but it continues the heartfelt tale of the first game in the best ways possible. Be it Kratos’ understanding that Atreus is becoming his own man, or Atreus’ longing to understand the true meaning of his place in the world, it’s surprisingly emotional for a game that is ostensibly about slicing up a bunch of monsters. It tugs at the heartstrings early on, and isn’t afraid to pluck at them like a harp as you make your way through. On one occasion, a story from Mimir brings the subject of toxic masculinity into sharp focus, but it’s handled with the grace and intricacy that it deserves, instead of being beaten over the head with it. Every plot point is timed to perfection, every sublot weaved into the main tapestry with skill, and it pulls you in without ever letting go.

I feel like I could talk about this game forever. About how each of the realms looks incredible, how the attention to detail in the smallest object is apparent, about how I didn’t find a whole new massive area until the point of no return was looming (seriously, explore everywhere, you’ll be rewarded), but I shan’t. Instead, I’ll start to wrap up by saying that I was a little worried about just how much Santa Monica could improve on a game as revered and impressive as 2018’s God of War is. I needn’t have been. Cory Barlog and his team have not only smashed this out of the park, the ball has gone over the horizon. A game that’s fundamentally about whether you can outrun the fate that’s been given to you, God of War Ragnarok is something special, and you owe it to yourself to play it.


Following up a masterpiece with another masterpiece is a rare thing. But with God of War Ragnarok, Santa Monica Studio have achieved it. An absolute triumph of game design, technical knowhow and storytelling – Ragnarok is here. And it’s destroyed everything in its path.

Editor-In-Chief - NGB. Started writing for NGB in 2013, 3 years later I was running the show. I love what we do here, if you want to get involved, get in touch! PSN/Xbox LIVE/Steam - Winstano


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