The most anticipated game of 2022 and winner of multiple game awards, God of War Ragnarök does not disappoint, exempt maybe in the lack of the word boy being used. There is not a massive departure in terms of the gameplay from the previous title, there are few new elements introduced that does change it up ever so slightly that it does not get stale. This time we also get to see all 9 realms in all their glory. Well kind of since most of them have started to become wastelands since the end of the previous game thanks to the start of Fimbulwinter, the prophesied start of the titular Ragnarök.
The game starts 3 years after the end of the previous game, well into the start of the end. Kratos and Atreus are trying their best to survive the harsh winter while being pursued by Freya for the decision Kratos’ made to save her. This is directly followed by the teaser that was at the end of the previous game and while not starting as you expect, it ends that way. This is also the first-time seeing Thor in action and can see the old Kratos’ rage filled attacks coming through when Atreus is threatened. This forces the trio; didn’t think I forgot about Mimir, to flee their house in Midgard and stay at Sindri’s house as soon as he gets special permissions from the landlord of the Yggdrasil tree. This acts as a hub area from where you reconvene after each story mission and can depart to the various realms to complete the optional side quest. The story really picks up from there as you go in search of Tyr, the Æsir God of War, in hopes of getting answers about Atreus’ part as Loki.
The growth of the main characters is what really sets Ragnarök apart from God of War (2018) as there is a shift in the way Kratos acts and treats other people. When Freya attacks, he only ever defends himself rather than the brutal way he normally deals with threats to Atreus and himself. This theme of growth and betterment is held throughout the game and becomes a major character development for Atreus around the end and with some of the other characters that pop up throughout the game. This time the story does more revolve around climbing a mountain and involves Atreus enough to warrant a few sections of the game where you play exclusively as him. This tends to be where his part of the story is told as even though it is related to Kratos’, they do differ and feel like two separate parts and are used to drive the plot forward quite heavily after each time. These parts were kind of out of place for me as it does feel like they are slowing down the story with lots of exposition and adding some extra padding time. The first time it happens, I didn’t mind but after the second time, I would just rush through them to get them done so I could carry on playing as Kratos.
Gameplay is more of the same from the reboot with a bit of refinement and variety of enemies. Back are the collecting of items to level up your weapons and materials to forge and upgrade your armour and weapon handles and grips. The one thing I really liked was that there is an in-game explanation on why all your gear has been reverted to starting items again from the previous game where they were the most powerful and requires to be levelled up again. Fimbulwinter breaks down magic. Mimir makes this comment and is a clever way to force the player to start from scratch and not just a cheap way to drop all the badass upgrades you got from the previous game. Brok and Sindri are back and exactly like the previous game, you get specific items from defeating bosses or completing favours that are then used to upgrade the returning Leviathan Axe and Blades of Chaos. The same goes for the materials used to forge or upgrade armours and weapon items but these you find in abundance unless it is for some of the higher levelled gear which require certain materials you can only find from defeating mini bosses.
Combat is as simple as hit enemies with axe or blades. Enemies with a blue bar over their health bar, you hit with blades. Enemies with red bar over health, hit with axe. Bosses are just normally hit lots more. Rinse and repeat. While maybe not as simplistic as that, most of the common enemies are not much of a challenge and are separated between melee, ranged and leaders which mostly serve as a tank. With the larger variety of enemies, as mentioned before, they can also take on various elements which mean they become immune to certain types of weapon damage and need to be countered like the trip to Helheim in the previous game. Some of the Asgardian forces have their weapons imbued with Bifrost and while not that scary initially, repeated hits can quickly whittle down your health and kill you outright against the boss characters. What it does is infect your health bar with a certain amount, the longer you get hit the more the bar increases and any subsequent hits, after the combo, clear that section of Bifrost instantly.
This can normally be removed after not taking hits for a while or by using one of the new Spartan Rage abilities. A rather rapid departure from any of the previous games, Kratos has more than just pure rage infused attacks as he embraces the Spartan training and gives you an additional 2 abilities that can be used besides for the previously mentioned Fury. Fury acts the same as the previous game’s rage and gives you an attack boost while healing you for each successful hit. Valour can heal you for quite a bit of health, but precise timing can interrupt certain attacks and Wrath charges down an enemy and attacks their weak points for massive damage. While there is a bit more to this as Atreus now has his own Rage abilities that can be used when playing as him or giving the instruction when he is a support character.
Defeating enemies and completing quests rewards you with experience which can be used to learn new moves for weapons, as they are levelled up, and to level up the rage abilities and runes. Even though the start does feel like you are getting very little, as you progress and complete tasks, you will have more than enough to get all the weapon moves and level up every single item that requires them. Speaking of mini bosses, the Valkyries are back. I mean, they are back in the game, and you do fight a few, including an optional secret boss, but they are more relegated to more supporting roles in the story. There is a similar element that involves defeating Berserkers to open another secret boss, a fight with their king, which is the same as the aforementioned Valkyries from the previous game. These enemies don’t feel as epic as the Valkyries nor as difficult but in some instances, you can end up fighting 2 or 3 at a time which forces you to prioritise the strongest or most annoying one and hopefully survive long enough to kill the remaining ones.
Another returning feature is that of the various collectibles you can find throughout the realms that you can sell to the Dwarves for some Hacksilver and completing the full set rewards Kratos with experience points. This time however, if you look at where the forge is, you can see all the items collected in a nice little display. This also applies for one of the side quests in Vanaheim where you need to collect the other half of a specific item to learn more about the area, they are found in. These can all be found outside of the room that Kratos uses. This is a nice little touch that shows how much detail has gone into the game.
While an open world game that can suffer from the always present open world fatigue and this game is no different, there is an aspect that makes it so much more bearable and that is the interaction between the characters as you travel about by boat or sled. These take the place of exposition around the lore of the game like the war between Asgard and Vanaheim or why characters or the realms ended up in the state they are in. These can also be casual conversations between them that can be quite humorous. These tend to make the slog for collectibles or traveling between gates a somewhat more enjoyable distraction as you find yourself listening more to the conversation rather than mindlessly moving from one spot to another.
While there is a lot more involved in the game, I think it’s best for the players to experience the game at their own pace as it will make it a more enjoyable experience. There is plenty to do and see a lot more to experience than what is mentioned but it really is a very good game, as close to a masterpiece as you can get. The story does have its fair share of twists that you don’t see coming but by the end, it feels like a proper conclusion to this series and while there is plenty to use as hints for further games in the series, we will just have to wait and see.