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God of War Ragnarök’s epic conclusion helps mask last-gen design
The end is very nigh in God of War Ragnarök, and it’s a thing of beauty.
God of War Ragnarök review
I was late to the party with the OG God of War games, which meant I never fully appreciated them. By the time I got around to playing them, fixed-camera action games were frowned upon and, controversially, I’d already played a better God of War-type game: Dante’s Inferno.
All of that’s to say I came to God of War 2018 without any massive attachment to Kratos the Ares-replacing Greek war god. And I was immediately immersed. Not just in 2018, mind you, but also when I replayed the excellent God of War PC port in 2022. God of War 2018’s opening had a patience to its storytelling and confidence in both characters and world-building that was immediately gripping, even if the pace wasn’t typical action game fare.
I labour this backstory to say the initial hours of God of War Ragnarök were a mixed affair for me. The opening is weak and strangely linear, though linearity does become a recurring theme in terms of all other realms outside of Midgard and when Alfheim takes you to an unfamiliar sand-covered place that Anakin would abhor.
Familiar faces and strong writing persist, but the first-touch gameplay is on rails and the opposite of the most empowering moments of God of War 2018’s. Soon, though, that storytelling confidence draws you in and it’s off to the races. As you might’ve guessed from the game name, the impending doom of Ragnarök is on hand, and it’s up to the three Bs to stop it: the brains (Mimir), the brawn (Kratos) and the not-so-young Boy (Atreus).
Atreus is older, stronger and all in on fate, while Kratos is confident that they can all be the masters of their own destiny. It’s a strong through-line thematic tension that builds in such an effective way that it ties beautifully into more wholesome themes like chosen family, loss of love and even forgiveness. Throw in Thor and Odin as powerful antagonists, each with their own character arc, and the setting is suitably epic.
No sooner am I back into the full enemy-annihilating thrust of things—only occasionally distracted by the abundance of PS4-era slowly walking through cramped cracks and between-realms exposition, which smack of masking last-gen loading times—than things start going awry a few hours in. Without spoiling things, like God of War 2018, God of War Ragnarök is at its absolute best when it’s Kratos and Atreus: aka, the heart of the story.
Whenever things veer away from that tried-and-proven formula, cracks start to show. Your enjoyment of these sections will depend wholly on how connected you are to the supporting cast. When that includes returning characters at the top of their game, the cracks are less noticeable. When it’s newer characters who don’t gel or who seemingly damage the characterisation of existing characters to make quips land, your immersion may be tarnished as mine was. It doesn’t help that there’s an almighty McGuffin narrative cheat that drives the plot in one hellish realm.
When immersion was damaged or destroyed for me in these moments, the gameplay cracks loomed largest. Bear in mind I essentially main-pathed God of War Ragnarök to get to the end of the story. But still, the linearity of most of the nine realms looms large. Most of them don’t have the same sense of open exploration as Midgard or a couple of others because they mostly amount to obvious paths.
When the path in these mostly linear sections becomes obvious, you know there’s a chest or off-path mini-boss to battle by veering the other way. That, or you have to come back later with a piece of equipment you’ve yet to unlock. On that point, characters mercifully let you know to stop banging your head against a wall when you don’t have the right gear. Frustratingly, those same characters are a little too quick to offer help during puzzles that you’ve mentally solved but are still going through the motions of finalising.
In fairness, these hint-happy hooligans can be tamed in the settings. There’s also an impressive array of options, including full control remapping—essential for those with dodge baked into the right face button—and a commendable suite of accessibility options. I highly recommend switching quick-time events to hold instead of tap and ‘upgrading’ Spartan Rage activation from R3+L3 to simply pushing your left stick towards a ready-to-rip foe.
You can also activate automatic collection of items on the ground, which can be a literal life-saver for nabbing health during a boss fight (particularly because it stuns nearby enemies on collection). But I reverted that switch because I like being able to manually collect health when I don’t yet need it. Admittedly, leaving this as the default setting did highlight some controller input issues.
Like God of War 2018, God of War Ragnarök stacks control inputs. This is a great feature that deters button mashing and rewards cool heads during frantic fights. Unfortunately, it falls apart when you rely on it so heavily that you accept the game will always do it. Sometimes the otherwise tightly tuned controls fell apart randomly in fights. Other times, I tapped multiple recall buttons for my main-slay Leviathan Axe and was frustrated not to have it returned to my hand.
Sometimes this might be because it was interrupted by an enemy attack, which is fine, but that doesn’t explain the times I wasn’t being attacked. Speaking of interrupts, these don’t consistently work the other way around. There’s a bevvy of new baddies to eviscerate, but some of them look like the smaller ones that can be risk-reward interrupted yet act like mini-bosses that ignore damage during attacks.
I did yearn to fight some of the tougher, better foes more often, and it doesn’t help that some of the enemies aren’t fun to fight. There’s a new worm-like foe that overstays its welcome in the first half of the game, which is only interesting when contextually attacking as part of its host. Plus, Santa Monic Studio thought it’d be a great idea to bring back two of the most frustrating foes: the frustrating Nightmare and the mercifully tweaked (but still annoying) Revenant.
Most of the new enemy types present new combat challenges when, at their best in the better-designed arenas, make for the kind of combat puzzle satisfaction akin to Doom Eternal firing on all cylinders. At their worst, it descends into matching the weapon that kills most efficiently with the foe. Speaking of puzzles, they’re incredibly simplistic this time around despite the addition of more tools to expand them in interesting ways.
There’s an effort to add verticality to combat but it’s not fully cooked. It feels great to launch from a platform and smash a hapless foe below. But riding the Blades of Chaos zipline up to enemies on high is interrupted by having to vault over the ledge. It leads to awkward moments of elevated enemies looking at you, waiting for the vault, while the fluidity of the fight is watered down. If it was a straight leap to foes above in combat encounters, I would have used verticality more.
Worse is the recurring sins of God of War 2018’s too-close camera. It’s fine when there aren’t many enemies. But locking on is borderline essential in boss fights—most of whom move faster than you can track with a controller stick—but, in so doing, you’ve blinkered your combat abilities. It doesn’t help that the explosion of colourful effects and mid-battle visual noise sometimes obscure enemy attack cues. Unlike the Batman: Arkham games, God of War Ragnarök doesn’t let you use the left stick plus attack to fight foes on your peripheral. Instead, you’re reliant on call-outs from your companions and hoping you’ve timed a dodge right when a yellow warning marker turns red.
There are workarounds, but they feel cheap, like how you’re invincible during executions, which is a handy way to reset the camera and focus up on crowd control. Thankfully, if you do die in battle, the checkpoints are very forgiving, albeit strangely not when you’re loading back into the game after manually saving.
Wow, that sure is a lot of complaints for a 4/5 review. Here’s the thing, though: I’m emphasising those negatives as a heads up for those, like me, who had similar issues with the last game. Those have, unfortunately, not been adequately addressed in this sequel. That said, when God of War Ragnarök is firing on all cylinders, like it is the vast majority of the time, you won’t notice these detractors as much.
The combat is as weighty as before, and while it felt like certain favourite attacks have been removed, there are plenty of new ones to replace them. Boss fights tend to be the right side of challenging without being overly frustrating, and tougher battles do incentivise you to dig deeper into the RPG armour and weapon systems for more effective counters (even if min-maxing is still inelegantly presented).
Honestly, the main reason I was excited for God of War Ragnarök wasn’t that I was expecting a massive overhaul of the combat or world exploration. I was in it for the story and the characters. Santa Monica Studio deserves an epic amount of credit for compressing what easily could have been a trilogy into two games. The Hobbit movies this reborn franchise ain’t.
The returning characters are even better than they were in the last game, and outside of some bland intros for new ones, there are some immensely satisfying arcs at play. God of War Ragnarök may disappoint when it comes to putting a new-gen spin on what it started with God of War 2018, but it satisfies where it matters most: an epic and fitting conclusion for a cast of incredible characters.
- Price: From $78 RRP (PS4)
- Release date: 9 November 2022
- Genre: Action
- Platforms: PS4, PS5
- God of War: Ragnarök length: 23 hours(mostly main path)
Where can I find the best price on God of War Ragnarök in Australia?
God of War Ragnarök is part of the new Sony trend towards full-priced first-party titles. This means you can expect to pay up to $109.95 for God of War Ragnarök on PlayStation 4 and up to $124.95 for the PlayStation 5 version. Amazon had the cheapest prices at the time of review: $78 for PS4 and $99 for PS5. There’s absolutely enough value in the game to pay full price, at around 22 or so hours on the main path. Still, get it cheaper if you can.