God of War Ragnarok PS5 review - Blood, butchery, and tugged heartstrings mark Kratos' return
God of War Ragnarok has finally dropped, and Santa Monica Studios did not disappoint with this one. While I haven't been a lifelong God of War fan like many who will pick up the title, my opinions have changed over the last couple of years. I wasn't big on the angry kill machine that the younger Kratos was.
However, with God of War 2018, Kratos became something I closely identified with. A tired man who wanted to be left alone. He finally had the life he wanted - a wife, a son, and a peaceful home out of the way. Once again, that was shattered, and he was forced to fight and kill.
Kratos is older and wiser now. He knows the answer to every problem isn't to ram the Blades of Chaos through it and wiggle it around like a marionette. But he's pretty capable of doing so.
Ragnarok draws near in the world of the Norse gods, and Odin makes moves to stop it. To do that, he began to entreat Kratos and Atreus, whom fans now know as Loki.
This review of God of War will cover some minor plot points but will not reveal any significant plot events.
God of War Ragnarok excels at tension, even in the earliest moments
God of War Ragnarok is about stopping Ragnarok from occurring, no matter what it takes. Time has moved on a bit, and Atreus - or Loki, as he's now known - appears to be in his teens. Like any teenager, this makes him an impulsive know-it-all.
This story spoke to me, and as I went through it, many moments genuinely stuck out to me as realistic. Problems could have been avoided if stubborn people had talked to each other.
Despite being a fantasy setting, this story felt very real. We, as gamers, are familiar with the story of Norse Mythology's Ragnarok. Loki, in mythology, was a massive part of Ragnarok, so revealing that Atreus is Loki went a long way in the previous game to set up tension in God of War Ragnarok.
While I won't say where, how, or why, players can also look forward to controlling Atreus throughout the game. He spends most of the game faithfully aiding Kratos in combat, but that's not always going to be the case. Sometimes, he has to set out independently and figure things out.
Kratos and Atreus will journey across the Nine Realms, but they won't do it alone. Quite a few other Norse gods will make appearances, some with us and some decidedly against us. All of the god depictions are pretty interesting, too.
Odin is described as a manipulative sociopath, lying and deceiving everyone with a golden tongue and a mouth full of deceit. The way Odin has set events up in Ragnarok is fascinating, but I won't spoil that. It's not a spoiler to highlight Odin as the main villain since he's the king of the mountain in the Norse mythos.
Gamers typically don't expect hack-and-slash games to have quality stories. They want the violence. However, a masterful story has been created in God of War Ragnarok. Kratos wishes to avoid making the same mistakes he did in the past, but it's not easy to break the chains of the past.
The combat of God of War Ragnarok feels incredibly satisfying and offers plenty of violence
Combat felt a bit slow to me in God of War 2018. It was okay, but it wasn't quite what I was expecting. I enjoyed 2018's storytelling, but the combat lacked the impact that the series was frankly best known for.
This has improved significantly in God of War Ragnarok. The ability to charge your weapons with an element was just one of the many great things about combat. Kratos was fast, fluid, and could easily swap between weapons to perform deadly combos. It was so satisfying to use Kratos' attacks and throw enemies to their deaths, which made some fights much more accessible.
Kratos has five weapons, technically, by the end of the game. It's straightforward to swap between them and use the various skills he unlocks throughout the game.
- Leviathan Axe (Frost Elemental)
- Blades of Chaos (Fire Elemental)
- Draupnir Spear (Wind Elemental)
- Fists (Fist elemental)
As players murder enemies, they can look through the skill trees of Kratos and Atreus to unlock new attacks with their weapons. Here's where things get interesting, though. After unlocking a new attack for the Leviathan Axe, you can strengthen it. Above a skill's description, you'll see "Skill Labor: Used X/X times."
Bronze, Silver, and Gold tiers are available for each active ability Kratos can use. Upon reaching Gold, you can enhance the skill in question. You can either add more damage, more stun to it, or protection.
It's inexpensive, and you can change it anytime as your needs change. While there were skills I certainly should have used more, I loved the system. It can sometimes feel a bit overwhelming, trying to remember everything I had access to.
Atreus was far more helpful, too. One of his bow styles helped build stun, so you can quickly crunch through foes by pressing R3. Kratos' kills are just as violent as I hoped they would be. My favorite is probably the Wolvar, where he grabs the monster's lower jaw and pulls it, tearing it off and most of the fiend's torso with it.
Speaking of the boy, he does far more in this game than in 2018. There are a few moments where you have prolonged control of Atreus as he explores the world on his own. I was worried he would feel weak and make the game too difficult.
Atreus is also a god, and his archery skills are exceptional. Playing as him was great fun and offered a different playstyle from Kratos. It was a solid way to mix up the game up and tell a different narrative. This particular story is not just about what Kratos wants, needs, and does. His son is just as crucial to the overall story.
On the subject of combat, I also want to take a moment to highlight just how happy I am about the enemy variety. The first few hours of the game have a greater enemy variety than most of the previous game. There are eight categories of foes, and each category has many of its varieties.
Take heart, fans. There will be a nice, wide variety of bodies for you to mutilate as Kratos and Atreus. It's also incredibly satisfying to fight Thor and the other gods Kratos must contend with.
God of War Ragnarok's equipment situation
Like God of War 2018, there is armor that you can purchase and upgrade with crafting materials and hack silver. However, it's more than just essential equipment (Chest, Wrist, Waist). Eventually, you will also receive a powerful Amulet that can house rune combinations that offer many stat buffs.
There are plenty of unlockable pieces of armor you can have crafted throughout God of War Ragnarok, some of which are only available from dwarven merchants, and others that come as rewards from Favours (side quests) or crucial battles.
Kratos' weapons also received a buff in the game. Elemental charging attacks offer a ton of new combat possibilities. In addition to being able to upgrade your weapons with rare crafting materials, they also have three slots. Kratos' weapons can feature an Attachment, a Light Runic, and a Heavy Runic attack. Attacks come through the game, as do some of the attachments.
Attachments are new and can affect several combat values for Kratos. My favorite ones add Health Burst or Rage Burst in certain conditions. I was also glad to see the amount of hacksilver I gained through the game increase because, boy, do those costs get high.
What are the Nine Realms like in God of War Ragnarok?
You travel through all of the Nine Realms throughout the game, some far more than others. There's plenty to do in these realms, too. Each feels like its own world, with its flora, fauna, and storyline. Each realm has its problems, thanks to Odin.
The smallest of the realms in God of War Ragnarok is Niflheim. It's primarily an optional realm and home to several treasures. Players will see a series of green, glowing Ravens across the other realms. Killing these begins an optional quest. The more Ravens you defeat, the more these treasure chests will open.
Each realm is different, though, and I appreciate the effort that went into them. Players will find plenty of challenging puzzles, and if you feel stumped, your allies will give you vague hints after a while.
However, I do want to point out how sick I am of "crawl through here," "lift this," and "squeeze through this crevice." I get the purpose of it. It's a reliable way to block off combat areas and force the player to do all encounters and puzzles.
But I feel there has to be a better way, and it's so tedious to see constantly. The "why" makes sense, but I can't help but be frustrated after 30-50 hours of gameplay. If you're worried about things to do, there are plenty of optional objectives to complete (Labours), quests to undertake (Favours), treasure maps to complete, and so much more.
Once you complete the game, there is more to do as well. Things will still be left undone across the Nine Realms, and any objectives you did not complete can still be done. It's a vast, open world at that point, and you can travel it at your leisure.
Visually impressive, but held back by the game engine
I would say God of War Ragnarok is a gorgeous game. All of the characters look amazing, and the world is breathtaking. Even Helheim's cold, grim emptiness has a certain beauty. However, I cannot help but feel like the game is being held back by its game engine.
Perhaps it's time for something to be updated after God of War Ragnarok. I also wonder if the game could have been more visually impressive if it weren't on the PlayStation 4. In some ways, it looks like a PS4 game, even on a PS5, where I reviewed the game. The load times were excellent, and I was happy with how the characters were presented to me.
The music of God of War Ragnarok was incredible, but there were also times of silence that fit the theme of the game quite well. While the presentation was good, I couldn’t help but feel like the game got in the way of itself.
God of War Ragnarok is a masterpiece. While I did not go into this game as a franchise fan, I certainly left as one. As a kid, I loved mythology, and even as an adult. For whatever reason, I never got into this game series. The tale told across the land of the Norse gods tugged at my heartstrings repeatedly.
It was a story that felt real. I'm a sucker for a good tragedy, and God of War Ragnarok did not disappoint. The ending was genuinely satisfying, and the gameplay was enjoyable. I appreciate that there are accessibility options, such as not having to mash buttons and having five difficulty levels.
The battles were satisfyingly violent and fast-paced, and most boss battles had impactful consequences. There were moments when I felt intense sadness and times when I laughed and laughed at character interactions. Everything in God of War Ragnarok felt like it mattered.
It's hard to say if Kratos' story is over yet, but I have other thoughts on that. If there is more to come, I will be on board to see what happens next. A solid case could be made for this being Game of the Year for 2022. Though I did not start 2022 as a God of War fan, I ended the year as one, and I think this will be an experience that will stick with gamers for years to come.
God of War Ragnarok
Reviewed on: PlayStation 5 (code provided by Sony Interactive Entertainment).
Platforms: PlayStation 4 and 5.
Developer: Santa Monica Studios.
Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment.
Release Date: November 8, 2022.