“God of War” just picked up another upgrade.
Released on Nov. 9, “God of War Ragnarök” matches the superb quality of its 2018 predecessor, “God of War,” by crafting an intricate and satisfying narrative for its characters while expanding on the already-diverse world modeled after Norse mythology. “Ragnarök” once more successfully melds its hack-and-slash gameplay style with a stimulating, character-driven plot, resulting in a game that lives up to the high expectations of its studio and award-winning predecessor.
Set near the end of Fimbulwinter, the three-year winter preceding Ragnarök, the game hits the ground running as protagonists Kratos and Atreus attempt to return home and escape the enraged Vanir goddess Freya, who is still displeased about her son Baldur’s death. The fight quickly establishes the game’s setting, as the Nine Realms have been augmented by Fimbulwinter, which manifests itself into a snow and ice-covered Midgard.
Much like the first installment in the revamped series, “Ragnarök” focuses on Kratos and Atreus’ story. Changed by the events of “God of War,” Kratos struggles to find a balance between being a hardened war general and an attentive father to Atreus, creating a compelling internal struggle that the player can sink themselves into. Atreus, on the other hand, is still contemplating his destiny and how he fits into the prophesied Ragnarök, providing a similar yet distinct conflict from his father that is equally well-written and performed. By the end of the game, the journey the two have completed is interesting, heartfelt and rewarding.
Whereas 2018’s installment focused on Kratos and Atreus together, “Ragnarök” adds a dynamic new element to the pair by separating them, allowing for the exploration of their individual identities and internal conflicts. To accomplish this, “Ragnarök” makes Atreus a playable character at certain points, providing him with the opportunity to go on his own adventures across the realms and gain some independence from his father.
It is in these times away from each other that the story’s writing shines, adding more perspective to the characters’ motivations and feelings towards each other – something that isn’t as evident when they are together. With exceptional voice performances from both the main and supporting cast, interactions between characters new and old only add to the already strong writing.
However, making Atreus playable is just the tip of the iceberg for the refreshing combat enhancements in “Ragnarök.” With Kratos and Atreus making their own individual journeys, a variety of new companions become accessible, each with their own skills and synergy with the two protagonists. Familiar faces like the dwarven brothers Brok and Sindri join the fray, as do new personalities like the Giant Angrboda. Collectively, the new combinations diversify combat and keep “Ragnarök” from feeling too similar to “God of War.”
That said, “Ragnarök’s” combat augments would be incomplete without adjustments to Kratos’ iconic weapons. With novel ways to take advantage of the elemental powers of the frosty Leviathan Axe and fiery Blades of Chaos, Kratos’ attacks are just as satisfying as 2018’s entry while being different enough to not feel stale. The titular god of war also receives upgrades to his Spartan Rage, adding two new rage types that can replace the Hulk-esque punching machine of games past. With new characters, skill trees and moves, “Ragnarök’s” combat is fresh and appeals to a wide variety of playstyles.
In conjunction with diversified fighting mechanics, “Ragnarök” revitalizes the old-Norse setting, maintaining familiarity from the first game without being redundant. Fimbulwinter’s effect on Midgard is the most prominent, but the Alfheim of “Ragnarök” is a far cry from the one players visited in 2018. The realms’ brighter aesthetic is just one example of how the game keeps things new despite revisiting set pieces.
“Ragnarök” also adds Asgard, Vanaheim and Svartalfheim as playable worlds, rounding out the catalog and making the Nine Realms fully accessible. Extravagant set pieces ranging from high peaks to primordial coalescences litter the story, giving the player ample time to pause and take it all in.
Despite possessing strong writing, combat and level design, “Ragnarök” is not without faults. There are moments where the main story lulls, occasionally sending the player on a seemingly meaningless mission or overfilling the path with too many monsters, turning satisfying fights into tedious combat trials with little to no difference from each other. However, these flaws are minimal and are heavily outweighed by the game’s intricacies and its compelling storyline.
And with this sequel, the “God of War” franchise is poised to take home Game of the Year once more.