"God of War: Ragnarok" Review

I can't imagine the pressure of having to follow up what's widely considered a "Masterpiece". Specially following up something as widely celebrated as 2018's reimagining of "God of War".

For me it was even extra pressure. "God of War" is the reason I'm still gaming to this day. During a period of time where I had hit a massive malaise in my life, and no game was hitting the spot where I thought I would just quit gaming outright, "God of War (2018)" absolutely hit me like a wrecking ball. The way Sony Santa Monica reimagined what used to be a character action game into an "over the shoulder" third person action/adventure extravaganza with a story so simple in premise but so rich in character, reminded me of the power of the medium, and stood tall as my absolute favorite game not only of the PlayStation 4, but the entire generation. So, obviously, no small shoes for the sequel, "God of War: Ragnarok", to fill.

I will go ahead and say leading up to this game's release, it was easy to be a little skeptical about how "God of War: Ragnarok" would stack up to the legendary legacy of its predecessor. I know I was, but not because of the new game's fault. It's happened many times where sequels to legendary games just don't match up to the legendary status of its prior entries. It happened to me with Uncharted 3 coming from Uncharted 2. It happened with Mass Effect 3 coming from Mass Effect 2. And so on and so forth. Obviously those sequels were not bad by any stretch, but they came up short from their absolutely superlative predecessors. Which is why I'm so happy to report that "God of War: Ragnarok" transcended my own skepticism of how it could possibly live up to the legacy of the 2018 game. Even though it carried a few of the flaws that plagued the original release, it more than makes up for it by improving on everything the first game already did well, delivering by far one of the best gaming experiences I had in 2022. 

Fimbulwinter has arrived in Midgard, and with it, the inevitable sense that the end of all things is coming with the advent of Ragnarok. Since the end of the first game, Kratos and Atreus have been training non-stop for three years, preparing for the "end of all things" without knowing exactly what's supposed to happen. Well, at least one of them knows, or thinks he knows. Kratos has been secretly haunted by his prophesized death from the mural of Jotunheim, and has more or less resigned to his fate and is preparing Atreus for a potential life without him (without Atreus knowing this specific reason). From this initial premise, the game takes us through a realm spanning epic as Kratos and Atreus go through the nine realms, where the potential of stopping Ragnarok and the idea of defying prophesy permeates the entire game to deliver one of 2022's most epic and emotionally rich stories. 

Simply put, if you thought the story of the first game was strong, you ain't seen nothing yet. "God of War: Ragnarok" manages to both expand the scope of the 2018 game by including so many new characters, while still maintaining a very rich, intimate character focus when it can. Fan favorites like the dwarves Brok and Sindri and the goddess Freya have  expanded roles that give the story a bigger heart and soul. The introduction of more of the Norse pantheon like Odin, Thor, Tyr, Lady Sif, Heimdall and so many more enrich the Norse saga of the "God of War" mythos to deliver an even more complete story than before. 

If there is one small drawback to the expanded scope, is that some side characters introduced do feel slightly shortchanged when you consider this game is the conclusion to the "Norse" Saga. You can easily imagine how a potential third game could have fleshed them out if Sony Santa Monica decided to have gone the trilogy route instead of the duology we got. And due to the expanded scope of the game, you can make the argument there may be a few moments of the game that last a bit longer than they probably need to (specially a place called the IronWoods close to the midpoint of the game), which can create some pacing issues. The overall quality of the story and character moments kept me engrossed throughout even during moments some may find ponderous. I'll take some of those moments of quiet when the game's epic feel and emotion lands as strong as they do, making the entire trek worth it. And fot all I may fret about the things that may have gotten a little shortchanged, it allowed the game to sidestep the needs of cliffhangers in order to land the ship with aplomb. The epic final moments and the understated ending stayed with me long after the credits rolled, and enough kernels have been left open where I can see how the series can still continue and develop what was left wide open even with the Norse saga done. 

Following the same ethos as the previous times Sony Santa Monica has done sequels, "God of War: Ragnarok" definitely follows the "if it ain't broke, don't fix it, just make it better" ethos. The game once again puts you in control of Kratos with most of the same moveset from 2018 returning with some added depth to both feel familiar and improved.  If you enjoyed the way the 2018 game framed its action and flowed from moment to moment, "God of War: Ragnarok" maintains the same standard while upping the intensity of its encounters, increasing the amount of enemies you face at a moments notice, and give you even more options for combat to make everything feel so good to play. 

However, that's not all, as the game follows on the footsteps of many notable sequels and gives you control of a secondary character in the form of Atreus. Over the span of around 5-6 lengthy chapters, you will play as Atreus who has his own character kit and movesets to differentiate from Kratos' more brutish moveset. Playing as Atreus always felt fresh, as he controls so different that made the combat flow feel completely different to what I was used to. However, even though he is an archer, the strengths of his character kit rely on a healthy balance of melee, rune attacks and bow/arrow shooting. If you neglect his entire kit, it can make killing some enemies take more blows than you may want. Considering how fast he is to move, I absolutely enjoyed every chance the game had a change of pace, specially with some of Atreus' more pivotal story developments happening in his sections.

Similar to the way 2018 was structured, the game is divided between its main path and its side quests/favors. While doing sidequests were some nice ways to add extra depth to Kratos & Atreus' journey in 2018 (specially with its initial "stranger in a strange land" vibe), a lot of pivotal story and character development happens in the favors this time around. I'm kinda terrified about the idea of someone just mainlining the game and bouncing afterwards. Not that there is anything wrong about just mainlining, as the main story provides some great frills and thrills on its own. But there is just something that's of equal quality to the main story told, including some powerful emotional moments, that I strongly suggest being able to engage on the side content this time around. It is that good. 

If there is one area "God of War: Ragnarok" is unequivocally better than the 2018 game, is in bringing back the spectacle and massive sense of scale that defined the Greek entries back in the day. The 2018 game worked well in the confines of a more intimate tale while giving you a few moments that harkened back to the series' heyday (like the fight with the dragon and the big reanimated dead giant preceding over the final battle). "God of War: Ragnarok" decides to more fully embrace the "grander than life" approach of the old games, with many moments of sheer spectacle and grandeur in both the main tale and the sidequests. It absolutely feels like Sony Santa Monica wanted to merge the best of both worlds with this approach.

It's all aided by the tried and true, state of the art visual quality Sony Santa Monica is known for. The studio has always found a knack of pushing graphical quality and performance to great heights, mixing in well its grounded yet fantastical artstyle that sets it apart from the other high quality first party Sony studios like Naughty Dog and Guerrilla Games' more heightened realism. As the studio's first official PlayStation 5 release, Sony Santa Monica takes full advantage of the fact the game was designed to work on the PlayStation 4 to use the PS5 version to just augment everything to the upmost quality. The game's different graphical modes are very impressive, specially if you have a TV which allows for 120fps. From what I gathered, it's crazy to think a game of this caliber can look and run this good in that mode. When paired with Bear McReary's incredible soundtrack and some incredible voice performances, "God of War: Ragnarok" is a visual and aural beast. 

With all the praise I've thrown at it, it sounds like an absolute perfect game right? Well, not quite. While a lot of what "God of War: Ragnarok" does best can be considered "industry best", there are some flaws that are holdovers from the 2018 game that are a little harder to ignore this time around. The last game had a bit of a problem when it came to a readable user interface, which looked pretty at a glance but was a little cluttered in its menu navigation; in the case of its map, it was barely functional (which was more a reference point than an actual utility for navigation). Also, before they patched in adjustable font, the text was borderline tiny. With "Ragnarok", Sony Santa Monica decided to swing a bit the other direction. The map this time around is a little more functional and more accurately points where you are in your location, but it's downright uglier. The text this time now is big by default, but makes everything feel crammed when you are in the menu. Not to mention the compass, which worked relatively well last time out, is way finickier now and is at its absolute worst if you are doing a 100% Platinum Trophy run. Prepare to have some frustrating navigation issues outside of following a main path, which is fairly obvious as you go.

There are also some other issues worth mentioning. While this is a clearly masterful technical and artistic achievement, its origins as a PlayStation 4 game first do come to bear many times, specially with how incredibly often navigation is stopped for you to shimmy and crawl through small spaces, which can be seen as design language for "loading". This was also in the last game, but considering "God of War: Ragnarok" is a way bigger and longer game where at times it can offer you some incredibly wide open spaces like a traditional open world game (beyond the game's "open hub" structure), the shimmying may start grating on you after a while. All this is specially felt when its tied to the more ponderous story moments from the game (parts I did find riveting from a narrative perspective, but can imagine I'll feel them in a future replay). These are all nitpicks in the grand scheme of how great "God of War: Ragnarok" is, but they are worth mentioning amidst all the universal praise it is getting.

Frankly, most of that universal praise is warranted. "God of War: Ragnarok" is one of the most impressive third person action games available today, where every skepticisim the game would only be glorified DLC of the last game got swept up ten fold with such an epic, powerful yarn. The level of emotional catharsis delivered, and the incredibly tight gameplay accompanying it, is what reminds me why the last game was one of the strongest game releases to come out of PlayStation's first party offerings. I laughed, I cheered, I cried. Even with its flaws, "God of War: Ragnarok" will stick with me longer than most games released in 2022. 





Written by Alejandro Segovia

Reviewed on PlayStation 5

Scoring rubric:

★ : 1 point  ☆ : 0.5 points

★★★★★: Essential. Basically excellent. Close to flawless. Transcends any minor flaws it may have. 

   ★★★★: Great/Highly recommended. Basically close to greatness. Some flaws worth mentioning, but nothing to worry about.

      ★★★: Okay/Recommended. Basically in the range of good. Contains things worth watching & experiencing, but flaws can hinder the experience.

         ★★: Caution/Questionable. Basically Mediocre. The flaws start to significantly hinder anything good about it.

             ★: Avoid/Awful. Basically bad territory (some enjoyment as "so bad its good"). Preferably don't waste your time.


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