God of War: Ragnarok isn’t much of a departure from the structure of 2018’s game. It’s still mostly linear, maybe even more so, and has moments of freedom sprinkled throughout the story.
I remember thinking how special the combat felt in the first game - throwing and recalling the Leviathan Axe being one of the most satisfying attacks in any game. For Sony Santa Monica to improve the combat and story so dramatically for the sequel is incredible. Ragnarok isn’t just a prettier continuation or an incremental step forward, it’s better across the board to a degree I never expected. It’s a special game I didn’t want to end.
One night this week, I stopped playing to save the last couple of hours of the journey so I could really savour them the following day. I can’t remember the last time I did that, and it confirmed just how connected I felt to Kratos and Atreus’ second adventure.
Yes, Ragnarok is a God of War sequel. But really, it’s all about Atreus. He’s the driving force of the story, emotionally and physically. Picking up a few years after the first game, Atreus is ambitious and driven, wanting to know everything he can about his path and his ancestry. How can he affect it? Is he even ready to? The struggle between him and Kratos about what’s right and how they fit into the story of the nine realms is at the centre of Ragnarok’s plot.
What unfolds however is one of the most beautifully told stories I’ve played in years, far beyond that of the first game. Not once does Kratos shout “BOY!” in Ragnarok; his relationship with his son has changed. They’re able to be far more open with each other, allowing them to grow as a father and a young man.
Thanks to the phenomenal writing, Kratos and Atreus’ relationship is so believable. They’re close, but not quite where either of them would want to be. They both want the best for each other, but have ideas and opinions that clash. Kratos wants nothing more than Atreus to be safe, but his son wants to test himself and live up to his prophecy. It’s essentially a story of a naughty teenager disobeying his Dad, both of them making mistakes, and learning from the consequences.
Moments of intimacy arrive quite unexpectedly and they’re often touching. One particular moment between Kratos, Atreus, and Mimir, after a side quest involving a giant sky jellyfish, stuck in my mind. It’s just a few lines of passing conversation about why they decided to do what they’ve just done, but it adds so much to how you view the central pair’s relationship. It’s the superb writing and perfect placement of dramatic moments that make them so effective, slowly portraying their developing connection.
Wonderful supporting cast
The large supporting cast of characters, which is played wonderfully across the board, serves to compliment the central relationship predominantly too. Odin, who is introduced early on, is a fascinating interpretation of the character.
He’s essentially a charismatic and personable, yet clearly untrustworthy, mob-boss kind of character. Charming but with a nasty side. His role is to attract Atreus with exciting new things that aren’t just deer hunting in Midgard and he plays a great role in how the game develops.
The other new and returning characters are vital to the story too as companions, people for Kratos and Atreus to look to for advice, and friends. Ragnarok’s altered structure, which is best left as a surprise, also makes the most of the varied cast, allowing you to get to know every single one, even through the many twists and turns.
Also, the story captivated me through its presentation and unrivalled world-building. Again, the 25 hours it takes to beat the story all plays out in a single unbroken shot, the camera weaving between people and doorways really makes you feel like you’re part of the conversations and set pieces.
The intimate moments are also paired with scenes of immense scale. While the action often takes place in small arenas and pathways, Ragnarok doesn’t shy away from showcasing the nine realms in all their glory.
Ragnarok is also one of the most polished games I’ve played. From the most intense combat moments to the dramatic set-pieces and slower cutscenes, the animation is flawless. It never lags behind the speed of the action and every realm is beautiful. Vanaheim is the standout though, simply down to how gorgeous and detailed it is.
It all culminates in a beautiful ending too that perfectly wraps up this singular story while opening up the series for various possibilities.
Combat is significantly more varied
Even with a wonderful story, God of War Ragnarok wouldn’t be much if the action wasn’t a step up. The quality of the first game’s basics always meant Ragnarok would be fun, but I wasn’t prepared for quite how much Sony Santa Monica would improve the combat.
The developers have done everything they can to address the few issues some people had with the first game. Combat variety, both in terms of enemies you fight and options at hand, has been increased multiple times over. I think I fought more enemy types in the first few hours of the game than in the whole of the first game.
I also tried to work out how many different attacks and abilities you have at your disposal at any one time in Ragnarok and it’s comfortably over 20, and that’s without taking into account how the game gives companions significantly expanded roles.
Again, I don’t want to spoil how combat in Ragnarok develops, as it keeps things fresh in a really obvious but ingenious way that’s best left to be discovered. Just understand that variety has clearly been at the forefront of the studio’s mind, which makes for some fascinating progression.
The Blade of Chaos and Leviathan Axe are still the core weapons, but they’re just a part of your arsenal now. New weapons, secret things I don’t want to spoil, runic attacks, and an expanded parry system gives you so many different options in combat.
Enemies have different abilities you need to be aware of too. Poison, fire, ice, and bifrost all affect you in different ways and need to be countered in certain ways. Combining attacks to defeat enemies quickly is often the aim. Using one attack to weaken an enemy before going in for the kill is so satisfying.
Unlike a lot of similar action games, I never found myself using one attack or ability as a crutch in Ragnarok. In fact, the game not only uses enemy variety and puzzle solving to ensure you’re using everything at your disposal, but switching back and forth is just a lot of fun. I’d mix things up from fight to fight simply because I enjoyed using every weapon and ability.
Spectacular boss fights
One result of that increased combat variety is that God of War Ragnarok is a lot easier than the first game, at least on the standard difficulty. Some moments towards the end are a little challenging, but generous checkpointing (often multiple times during boss fights) keeps frustration at bay. There are tough bosses you can seek out, but Ragnarok’s focus is on enjoying the combat and experimenting with what you can do, not annoying you with difficulty.
Talking of boss fights, they’re all spectacular. Much like the first game, Ragnarok opens strong, but it’s the boss fights towards the end that blew me away. They’re intense, varied, challenging enough, and full of surprises.
Puzzles and platforming still play an important part in progression too. Since Ragnarok is mostly linear, a lot of your time is spent climbing and solving puzzles that are mostly simple. It suffers from a similar issue as Horizon Forbidden West did earlier in 2022. Mimir, Sindri, Brock, or anyone else who’s along for the ride, will often point you towards puzzle solutions, shout if you’re going the wrong way, or say something like “we’ll have to come back later to deal with that, brother” when a particular ability needed for a puzzle in the open world hasn’t been unlocked yet.
There’s a lot of squeezing through gaps and under rocks too, but getting around the nine realms feels great. Kratos is somehow as agile as he is powerful, which makes exploration one of Ragnarok’s highlights.
Sony Santa Monica has created something special. To take one of the best action games of the last decade and improve it to such a degree, in every single way, is mindblowing.
It tells an epic yet intimate story about connection, trust, and ambition while letting you tag along for the ride with combat that is flawlessly varied, fluid, and so much fun. God of War: Ragnarok is the perfect sequel.
God of War: Ragnarok was reviewed on PlayStation 5 with code provided by the publisher.