God of War Ragnarok is a highly anticipated action-adventure title developed by Santa Monica Studio, and the most important question we can ask is, “Does the game disappoint?” The short answer is “Absolutely not”. With this being an “early impression” piece, I am only going to talk about the first few hours of the game and avoid any major spoilers in the storyline.
I will try not to let anything slip that may make or break the story experience for any reader. However, I can say that I love the story and it’s been incredibly hard to stop playing the game now that I've taken a break to write this. This is, without a doubt, Kratos’ most incredible adventure to date.
God of War Ragnarok features an excellent beginning
I do want to clarify that when I was younger, I was never a big Kratos fan. He just seemed far too edgy and angry without many stories that would interest me. Then came God of War 2018. Now that Kratos is even older and wiser in God of War Ragnarok, it seems like his goals have changed. He wants to be a good father and does not want to repeat his mistakes.
He has grown as a character, and understands that murder and war aren’t the only ways to solve a problem. While that might sound boring to hardcore fans, if the situation calls for it, he never hesitates to pull out the Leviathan Axe or the Blades of Chaos to slaughter anything that gets in his way.
As the story opens, we’re deep within the grip of Fimbulwinter, the event that is the precursor to the infamous Ragnarok. The early moments of the game are pretty relaxed, where you re-learn how to play the game and kill off a few raiders, chopping them into grisly, gruesome bits. All in all, the combat system feels amazing and crisp.
In the early game, you only have access to the Leviathan Axe, but the Blades of Chaos will come soon enough. Personally, I believe this is a good idea, so that newcomers to the franchise can get used to one facet of combat at a time.
The combat in God of War Ragnarok felt excellent, with a decent emphasis on both aggressive actions as well as defensive measures such as blocking, dodging, and parrying. Plenty of foes in-game lunge at you from behind, making Mimir an indispensable ally. Like before, he will warn you when foes are closing in from behind, for which this writer is infinitely grateful.
Eventually, you will encounter what will be the first challenging fight of the game: Bjorn the bear. Although Bjorn slapped me around quite a few times, I really enjoyed figuring out what to do and what not to do. While the God of War Ragnarok bosses in this early part of the game are all challenging, they’re not unfairly strong.
While it is a relatively simple fight when it comes to mechanics, it’s still brutal and challenging. The Yellow and Red block circles have returned, and while some might consider a block/parry system to be something that slows down combat, I’m a big fan of it.
While I cannot disclose the details around it, the Thor battle you get locked into is incredible. It's a cinematically beautiful and intense fight, and it really shows off how brutal other battles will undoubtedly be later on in the game.
Atreus has developed and grown quite a lot since the previous game. He is depicted rather well as a teenager in God of War Ragnarok. He seeks his father’s approval, but is also rebellious and wants to prove his worth. For this, and many other reasons, we find ourselves heading to Svartalfheim. The destination? Find Tyr, if he’s even there. Or alive.
A change of scenery in Svartalfheim
Svartalfheim is where we start seeing some of the more challenging aspects of God of War Ragnarok, the puzzles. As fans may have already seen in early footage of the game, Kratos can enchant his Leviathan Axe with Frost and Blades of Chaos with Fire. This feature has more applications than just combat.
While crossing the realm of the Dwarves, players will have to solve a variety of puzzles to get through to the next series of battles. In particular, you will learn that the Frost-enhanced Leviathan Axe can freeze waterspouts, as well as other bodies of flowing water.
This mechanic can be used to create a path to walk across or transport gear, watermills, and things of that nature, to move further in the storyline. Admittedly, some of these did make me feel incredibly foolish with how easy they were, once I looked at them carefully.
There are many puzzles in Svartalfheim though, so be ready to think a little. I certainly appreciated this after the fact. Nevertheless, one or two of them were incredibly frustrating for me until I figured out the trick to them.
However, my least favorite part of the game so far was definitely in Svartalfheim, poison. Quite a few enemies can jump and cling onto walls or ceilings, spitting poison at you from a distance. While you can throw your weapons to knock them down, I don’t feel it’s quite as intuitive as melee combat is.
Especially not when there are other enemies burping up poison globs at you. Each foe feels like it has its own tactics and strategies to deal with, and that’s still a positive. In Svartalfheim, I learned that I could kill many enemies faster if I simply hurled them into the water. Take advantage of your surroundings and learn what Kratos’ various skills can do. Some fights can be made easier by doing this.
The mines of Svartalfheim are certainly maze-like, but it’s an enjoyable trip regardless. Players also have access to at least one Favor here, which are Side Quests, and the realm felt like its own large, open world.
Combat and combat skills are incredibly important
This is probably one of the major questions that fans have. What are the game's skills and equipment like? As Kratos gains experience points, he can unlock a number of skills on both his weapons. He can learn quite a few attacks and methods to demolish his foes more creatively. Perhaps my favorite one is the Leviathan Axe ability that crunches into a foe, spins them, and throws them. When they land, they deal Frost damage to all nearby enemies.
As mentioned before, I used that ability in God of War Ragnarok to throw enemies to their deaths, making fights far shorter. How do you improve skills? By just using them! As you use these new attacks, you’ll unlock higher tiers of these abilities.
Kratos is, therefore, rewarded for using his entire kit instead of just sticking to basic light/heavy attacks. Some of these abilities felt rather clunky to me to use at first, but that’s possibly because I haven’t played too much God of War. Other gamers will likely feel differently.
How is the aesthetic of God of War Ragnarok?
The two realms in God of War Ragnarok’s early game (Midgard and Svartalfheim) look starkly different, and I was quite glad to see that. Midgard is locked in what feels like an endless winter: cold, white, and foreboding.
In contrast, Svartalfheim is set in a sunny region. Since the Dwarves do a great deal of mining, there are plenty of mines, rocky outcroppings, and locations of that nature. The characters here complain about the stink frequently, which is likely a result of all the sulfur in the air. While it does make sense, it struck me as particularly funny. It’s not something that players can smell, but we can definitely imagine it after hearing the characters talk about it.
The mines you explore in God of War Ragnarok look and feel deep underground, with flowing water, and deep, infinitely dark chasms. The world-building is excellent in the game, with each realm feeling unique with strikingly different visuals.
Overall, God of War Ragnarok is off to an incredible start
Frankly, I’ve had a hard time stopping the game to work on this review. It’s an incredible game, and even if I die in a fight five or six times, I always want to come back and give it another go. Some of the puzzles are admittedly quite frustrating, but I’m starting to get the hang of those as well.
Kratos’ current adventure tells a very interesting tale, and I have some theories that I cannot discuss right now. Both Kratos and Atreus have grown, and I’ve genuinely become emotionally invested in what happens next. The combat feels incredible, the puzzle-solving makes sense, and the skill system is a solid one.
God of War Ragnarok builds excellently upon the previous entry, while very much being its own adventure. It’s certainly going to be a must-play experience.