God of War, and Kratos have been permanently solidified in gaming for a while now, but I think these last two God of War games have really elevated the series into something more than just a cool hack and slash franchise. Taking the series in a new direction with the self-titled 2018 release and showcasing a much more serious tone set the game apart but also crammed it into a weird stereotype formula that Sony has been pushing with their main games for a while now. God of War: Ragnarok continues and ultimately leaves the series open to continue on… yet again.
I fell in love with the original God of War from the first moment I played it. I was one of the few who didn’t know about it until the sequel was just a couple days from release. I ended up playing through the original game and immediately going out and purchasing the sequel for the PS2. Seeing Kratos completely manhandle the pantheon of Greek mythology and beat them to a bloody pulp was pure joy personified. Once the third game came out, it seemed like the series was completely wrapped up. Even with the final stinger ending, it seemed like God of War was a great gaming trilogy, but not going to return.
Unfortunately, Sony tried milking the series a bit more, before finally letting it lay dormant for a bit. Then in 2018, the game just called God of War was released on the PS4 and by the marketing and everything else about the game, it seemed like it was more of a reboot. Which I thought was very disappointing, but also kinda was ok with it once I got into the game. Seeing Kratos be very similar but ultimately different from the PS2/3 Trilogy’s version of the character, it was interesting to say the least. But halfway through, they drop the curtain and reveal it is the same character and the game is a continuation with a new set of mythological characters to murder. And when the game finally ends, the cliffhanger stinger reveals there will be another game in a few years, which turned out to be Ragnarok.
Ok, so I’m now done with the preamble and can talk about the actual game. Ragnarok does pick up after the events of the 2018 game, but not exactly right after. It seems like a couple years have passed (but it actually might be more like the larger part of a year. I’m not sure as the game never goes into specifics on the timing). But Freya, the previous game’s ally, has now turned her anger to Kratos and his son Atreus because they killed her son, Baulder. Any parent would be reasonably upset to watch someone kill their child, even if their kid was ultimately a terrible person.
The game’s real focus is on Odin, the “All-father” and main god ruler of all the nine realms. Kratos and Atreus have to settle the score and with the help of many others, they will bring about a prophecy about the end of the world called Ragnarok. Which brings me to a large issue I actually have with the game.
All the characters keep saying how they don’t want to bring about Ragnarok, and they don’t want to follow prophecy, but end up just doing it anyway. The whole game Kratos is adamant about going against the prophecy of starting Ragnarok and in the end, just just does it anyways. It just seems like the game could have been around 35 hours shorter just by simply going “Ok, we have to kill Odin, so lets start Ragnarok” and then proceeding to do it. Instead, it’s dozens of hours of fighting against the foretold events and then accepting that it’s the way it is.
Along the way, Atreus, who is also called Loki splits off a handful of times to have his own adventure, away from his grumbly dad. While I did enjoy the notion of seeing how Atreus is without his father bearing down on him 24/7, it seemed like an ultimately pointless outing half of the time. Atreus manages to dream his way to a new land and meet a girl named Angrboda and spends around two hours helping her pick fruit, fight invading armies and then go free animals whose souls are sucked away by her giant (and I do mean Giant) Grandmother. Never to be seen again. It’s such a one off, out of the way excursion that it just makes no sense to why it’s there. In fact, it’s so different in tone from the rest of the game, it feels like it was made by a different writer than the rest of the game.
While the rest of the game switches back and forth between Kratos and his son several times, it never feels like it's too long before they are reunited. And with the game being as long as it is, with it taking me a little over 42 hours to get most sidequest stuff and the main story out of the way, there is still more to do after the credits roll too. It’s a massive game, and if it came out a few months earlier, I probably would have 100%’ed the game. But with the amount there still is to do, along with all the other games I want to finish before the end of the year, I might not. I never did all the valkyries or found the ravens in the 2018 game, and there is even more than that here in Ragnarok.
But to speak to the game’s strengths, this game is such a solid storytelling game with a fantastic focus on portraying a character that most see as one dimensional, and really change how he is viewed. Kratos goes through some amazing character development over the course of the two modern games, and the introduction of Atreus as a snot-nosed brat, to a over-confident kid with the powers of a god, to a young man who takes his old man’s advice to heart while imparting knowledge of his own as well.. Well, it’s just a really solid arch for all the characters involved. I don’t have a kid and even I think this would be an emotionally charged game with some tear swelling moments for a parent. Kids will play this game and learn something, parents will play this game and learn something too. Bonding over the story of a dad and his son doing something together. It’s a beautiful game.
I have some major gripes with the game, but none of them are so glaring that I would bad mouth it. I think the pacing here and there could have been tightened up or cut and used as DLC, the aforementioned Grandma fight easily could have and should have been DLC. Some of the areas that unlock late into the game, and the Combat challenge arenas also could have been held off or skipped entirely. I feel like I spent more time just checking things off a list for the sake of doing it while not getting much in the way of story or worth of loot. The game is just a bit too big for it’s own good. Which seems like a pretty crazy thing for me to say, but it’s true. I guess this was supposed to be a trilogy, and it seems instead of splitting it into three games, the sequel crammed two games worth of content into one, which the story suffers for.
Long sections of the game feel like padding, with traveling back and forth between realms just for a single item. Again, with the unlockable extra “New game plus” type stuff… I just can’t seem myself booting up the game and dumping another 10 hours or so just to knock more stuff off a virtual to do list.
The combat is supremely enjoyable, and I actually ended up digging fairly deep into the skill tree and taking and evening to practice and build up the skills to unlock perks and buffs for the learned skills. It was pretty cool, since I never end up caring about that type of stuff in games. With most, and even here too, just being pretty consistent with button presses and keeping on top of enemies while knowing when to counter, parry and the use of one or two special moves is really all you need. But I did enjoy it. But, when it came to the upgrade system of all the weapons, and armor and crafting, that’s when I lost steam and my eyes glazed over. It’s a very intuitive system that is so much more about the min-maxing of buffs and de-buffs that I just end up skipping over it entirely. The only thing I really ended up doing is donning and maxing out the poison armor that drastically brings the difficulty of most enemy encounters down to a hearty “Why do the even bother” setting.
Ragnarok is a game that excels at it’s story, and it’s gameplay, while being a bit over-complicated with it’s deep upgrading system when it doesn’t need to be. For what the game is, it’s a phenomenal game and worth every moment I spent with it. Even knowing there are a couple extra missions I can go back and knock out in a session or two, makes me want to boot the game right back up. I don’t know what they’ll do with the franchise now, but I would put money down that there will be another God of War sooner rather than later.