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God of War Ragnarök is a Legendary Addition to the PlayStation Pantheon

A near-perfect sequel, God of War Ragnarök refines what came before to tell a powerful story with compelling gameplay



God of War Ragnarök Review

Developer: Santa Monica Studio | Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment |
Genre: Action Adventure | Platform: PlayStation 4 / PlayStation 5

“The nature of a thing’s more important than the form of a thing.”

Early on in God of War Ragnarök, the Dwarven blacksmith Brok offers this to protagonist Kratos, inviting him to think beyond the surface of an idea and consider what lies beneath. It is a valuable notion, despite its profane source; at first glance, Ragnarök may seem strikingly similar to 2018’s God of War, Sony’s successful attempt at a canonical sequel that functioned as a reboot to the testosterone-fueled early entries that dominated the early aughts.

But the nature of Ragnarök is what sets it apart not only from its first few titles, but from the 2018 version as well. God of War Ragnarök is perhaps the purest sequel ever produced in recent times, a stunning refinement of everything that made God of War memorable. The form may feel familiar, but Ragnarök‘s self-assured storytelling and breathtaking worldbuilding combined with its pitch-perfect gameplay make for an essential PlayStation exclusive.

God of War Ragnarök Review for PlayStation 4 and PlayStation 5 - Sony Santa Monica game
god of war vs. god of thunder (Image: Sony Interactive Entertainment)

A New New Beginning

At its core, God of War Ragnarök is a game about recontextualizing what has come before.

Ragnarök picks up a few years after the events of God of War. Fimbulwinter has arrived, affecting every realm in different ways, bringing with it not just unending snow but also the existential threat of the end of the world. Kratos, having fulfilled his late wife Faye’s final wish to scatter her ashes from the highest peak in Jötunheim, is doing his best to keep a low profile and escape the notice of Odin, king of the Aesir gods. Atreus, Kratos’ son, is fully aware that he is at the heart of prophecies surrounding the mysterious cataclysm known as Ragnarök and is eager to learn more about his heritage as a giant. The father/ son duo have been training hard for anything that may happen next. They spend their days hunting, avoiding the vengeance of the Vanir goddess Freya, and doing everything they can to prepare. After an explosive visit from thunder god Thor and all-father Odin, Kratos and Atreus once again set off to explore the nine realms to find the Norse god of war Týr and attempt to avert the coming calamity.

The plot is dense, but a helpful “God of War Recap” available in the main menu does a great job of catching players up to speed. There’s an extensive cast of characters, but fortunately, the in-game codex sketches out who’s who and what their motivations seem to be. All players really need to know going in is that Kratos is not the man he used to be, and neither is Atreus- the trials and tribulations they endured previously have helped them grow. Atreus is no longer berated as “boy” by his father, and Kratos is much less reluctant to show his son that he cares for him. He may be forever branded as a god of war, but Kratos has internalized that that this fact need not define him.

Over the course of the game’s lengthy narrative, Kratos, Atreus, and many others grapple with themes of fate, forgiveness, and whether or not one’s past dictates their present. These themes may ring a bell but placing them in a new context completely changes how they land. Characters who were given short shrift before have a chance to shine, and Kratos himself is further expanded into a more fully-realized person. Because Ragnarök treats every game in the God of War franchise as canon (shoutouts to Ghost of Sparta), there is almost no stone left unturned in terms of Kratos’ backstory. In a nod to Kratos’ growth, he will occasionally share tales from his past with a companion, instead of everyone’s favorite talking head Mimir doing all the storytelling.

Though the ambitious plot is a highlight, the real meat of Ragnarök is its third-person action gameplay, a defining characteristic of the Sony house style. After a high-octane intro that mirrors that of its predecessor and a quick re-introduction to the Huldra brothers, Brok and Sindri, players are pointed in a direction and essentially told to see what there is to see. Mainlining the critical path is always an option, but at every turn, God of War Ragnarök entices players to explore. One of God of War‘s strengths was reimagining what the over-the-top action could look like from an over-the-shoulder perspective, and Ragnarök continues in this vein. But some smart changes right out of the gate indicate that the developers at Sony Santa Monica are always striving to improve, even on something seemingly bulletproof.

Image: Sony Interactive Entertainment

Streamlining While Maintaining

The shift from a zoomed-out perspective of the original God of War to the closeup action in the 2018 version was a huge change, but one that worked. Ragnarök keeps a good thing going with action that feels exciting, tense, and even personal. Changes made in Ragnarök to gear and upgrades make combat not only more approachable but more enjoyable as well. Add in a dash more enemy variety, and Ragnarök proves that when it comes to satisfying combat systems, the game is in a class of its own.

Those who spent time mastering the Muspelheim combat challenges or playing through “Give Me God of War” mode from the previous entry will feel right at home, but even those stepping into Kratos’ sandals here can appreciate what Ragnarök has to offer. Kratos has access to two weapons right from the start: the mighty Leviathan Axe, which can be thrown and recalled at will, and the fiery Blades of Chaos, great for crowd control and quick strikes. The Blades were a late-game unlock in God of War, but not so here; having come to terms with what the Blades symbolize, Kratos can harness their destructive power for his own purposes.

Unarmed combat also returns, as does the shield. Pummeling enemies with fists and shield sweeps rapidly builds up the stun meter, allowing Kratos to execute a stun grab (sure to be a finishing move on weaker foes, and also a chance to showcase some of Kratos’ trademark ferocity). Every weapon feels great to use and has its strengths and weaknesses, and a new perk system gives players more incentive to master specific combos and techniques.

Importantly, there is much greater enemy variety in Ragnarök than its predecessor. Gone are the days of fighting different-colored trolls who behaved identically; instead, say hello to Midgardian Raiders, Einherjar, Wisps, Nokken, and Grim. Draugr, Dark Elves, Viken, and shield-bearing Travelers return, but the new enemy types and mini bosses are a welcome change and encourage players to develop new strategies to handle every threat.

God of War Ragnarök Review for PlayStation 4 and PlayStation 5 - Sony Santa Monica game
Raider didn’t know what hit him Image: Sony Interactive Entertainment

Perhaps most notable is the overhaul given to armor and amulets. The loot-driven upgrade system returns, but it feels much more focused in Ragnarök. Kratos can equip a chest piece, a wristguard, and waist armor, and each piece of gear can be upgraded up to nine times. Even pieces found early on are viable in the endgame if the player continues to upgrade them, and since every piece of armor has its own special perks and boons, players are incentivized to find gear that works for them. Stats can still feel overwhelming to manage, but there is an auto-equip feature for those who just want the game to figure out the highest numbers possible without fiddling around. The retooled amulet system is significantly easier to navigate as well: instead of every piece of armor having amulet slots, amulets have their own separate screen. Customizing Kratos feels much easier and navigable than before.

Atreus has also come into his own. He feels more useful as a battle companion, hitting harder and casting more powerful summons. His arrows can apply stun and other status effects to foes, and his runic summons are a useful force. Companion combat in Ragnarök serves the purpose of forging a bond on the battlefield between Kratos and his partner, and Atreus has become a worthy ally.

Few things are as evergreen as plinking an enemy projectile off the shield, following up with a parry, hacking into a foe with the axe, and polishing off any weak remaining monsters with a flurry of runic arrows from Atreus. The core formula is a marvel, and a testament to what can be achieved when a system is fine-tuned to its limit. As far as third-person action goes, Ragnarök is as good as it gets. And while every combat instance manages to feel exhilarating, the cinematic boss battles are where Ragnarök really flexes its muscles. These multi-phase encounters are frequently jaw-dropping, serving double duty as nerve-fraying fights and storytelling beats. Combat is a language in Ragnarök, and every boss speaks it fluently.

Image: Sony Interactive Entertainment

A Feat in Storytelling

As strong as its combat mechanics are, Ragnarök‘s storytelling is stronger. Always compelling, frequently funny, and surprisingly subtle, the writing and performances showcased here raise the bar. Gods can be humanized, and are made relatable by their flaws. What God of War Ragnarök achieves in its quieter moments is nothing short of remarkable.

*****Mild Plot Details To Follow (Skip 5 Paragraphs)*****

It is impossible to discuss the entire ensemble cast without extensive spoilers, but know that nearly every character feels fleshed out and fully characterized. Thor (played with quiet, calculated menace by Ryan Hurst) is more than just Odin’s muscle; he’s a parent with a complicated home life, dealing with the grief that accompanies the murder of his sons at the hands of Kratos and Atreus. Odin himself (a sly, dry Richard Schiff) plays everything close to the vest, a slippery enigma who preys on Atreus’ desire to subvert prophecy. Both performances are towering, in different ways; though each character only appears a handful of times over dozens of hours, they are equally memorable. Portraying the Asgardians as an oppressive force who exploit the labor and resources of the realms they are supposedly protecting is an inspired choice, fully supported by the mythology the script draws from.

It is Kratos himself who carries God of War Ragnarök. Instead of offering monosyllabic grunts or clipped responses, Kratos here is, if not exactly warm, at least partially thawed. The years of his life leading up to his time in Midgard are felt most potently in the brief, fleeting flashbacks to conversations he has with his late wife, Faye (a strong, compelling Deborah Ann Woll, unfortunately given a smidge too little screen time here). In their talks, players can finally see the mother Atreus lost, and the wife Kratos loved. Both characters are cagey about their respective past lives, but through the marvelous performance of Christopher Judge, Kratos conveys anxiety about raising another child, fear about losing the woman he loves, and anger at an uncaring fate–all in just a few lines of dialogue.

God of War Ragnarök Review for PlayStation 4 and PlayStation 5 - Sony Santa Monica game
Image: Sony Interactive Entertainment

All of these characters (and many, many more) are in service to a narrative that isn’t afraid to ask big questions, and occasionally even answers them: is fate predetermined? Can we really change our nature? Is that nature predetermined by our heritage, or can circumstances influence the outcome?

Through mirroring, comparison, and revelation, nearly every relationship in Ragnarök is placed in a new context that challenges player assumptions. How does it look when the god of war in the Greek pantheon is juxtaposed with the god of war of the Norse? How do expectations of one reflect the reality of the other? What actions does Kratos take when confronted with a toxic parent/ child relationship that he could potentially have a huge impact on? When given the opportunity to admit fault, apologize, and repair a burned bridge, what comes next? What does one do when they feel all used up? When they are broken, dying, or unable or unwilling to change? The answers in Ragnarök are often surprising, even for a story that audiences know is supposedly fated to end one way.

For a game that deals with larger-than-life personalities, there are frequent small, touching moments. There are dozens of completely optional interactions, conversations that are easily skipped past or missed entirely if the player doesn’t have Kratos linger near a doorway or stay on a boat for a few extra seconds. Mimir may offer to tell a riddle; Atreus may express astonishment at some beautiful art in an unexpected location. These interactions feel truly special, like they were curated for players who want to take their time.

*****End of Mild Plot Details*****

God of War Ragnarök Review for PlayStation 4 and PlayStation 5 - Sony Santa Monica game
Image: Sony Interactive Entertainment

A Complete Package

It should come as no surprise that one of Sony’s flagship franchises is artistically striking, technically impressive, and mechanically satisfying. What is surprising is that God of War Ragnarök is often more than that. This is a game with things to say, about masculinity, about families, about carrying the weight of the past around. It is a game unafraid to acknowledge the imperfections of its protagonists, and to make them fallible. Its heroes are flawed; its morals are messy. It is also unabashedly a video game, with all the baggage that entails; as often as Ragnarök immerses its players in a beautiful world, it pulls them right back out of that immersion with a stray comment from an NPC lampshading what is happening onscreen at that moment. Who knows how some of these things will age, but in the meantime, they are a delight to behold.

For those fortunate enough to experience Ragnarök on the PlayStation 5, there is some wizardry at play. 3D audio is especially well-used, with the player able to determine where NPCs are speaking from purely by shifting where the camera is pointing. There are often areas where players find themselves hearing multiple overlapping conversations at once, but they can easily determine how close or how far away those conversations are, and who is speaking.

The DualSense also puts in work- chopping down a stubborn stump with the Leviathan Axe using the right trigger has a satisfying crunch while traversing over packed snow in a wolf-drawn sledge tingles pleasingly over the palms. Best use of the DualSense will inevitably fall to Sony first-party developers, and Santa Monica Studios has picked up the torch. These small touches add a layer of immersion to the proceedings that make even the simple act of climbing a cliffside feel unique.

Players will likely come away from Ragnarök raving about a handful of set-piece moments, or comparing one stat build of Kratos to another. But what makes this game truly memorable are hundreds of details, easily missed, that add up to a vibrant and fully realized world. Things like a tiny, anthropomorphized mushroom scampering away from Atreus as he wanders through the lush jungles of Vanaheim. The way Ratatoskr will groom his ears as he greets Kratos on the branches of the World Tree. Kratos’ palpable weariness as he arrives home after another narrow escape from Freya, determined to exact vengeance at any cost. How the codex is no longer written from Atreus’ perspective, and how that colors certain descriptions.

God of War Ragnarök is the story of a handful of gods. We know their form; they are depicted as arrogant, boastful, and competent in everything. But Ragnarök proves that the nature of this kind of game can be something other than what the player expects. Even though the form is that of the third-person action RPG, the nature of Ragnarök is simply that of a well-told bedtime story: one that sparks imagination, feelings, and genuine wonder.

Cameron Daxon is a video game evangelist and enthusiastic reader. He lives in Los Angeles, California and once nearly collided with Shigeru Miyamoto during E3. His favorite game is Bloodborne, but only when he’s not revisiting Super Mario World. He’s also in the writer’s room for YouTube personality The Completionist and other places on the internet.