It’s rare to have such uncomplicated feelings about a game. Finishing something and thinking, “This is one of the best games I’ve ever played.” But with Ragnarok, it felt obvious. The Sony Santa Monica sequel is a high watermark for the medium and certainly tops all previous first-party games on PS5.
It’s also a very difficult game to talk about because Ragnarok’s greatest strength is his ability to shock. There are big parts of this game and a lot of the things that make it so incredibly special that deserve to be experienced without the slightest hint that they’re going to happen.
“Are you really about to do it? the?” was a constant refrain as the conclusion of the Norse saga building to its crescendo. With an intense final act that ranks among the most memorable in modern gaming, it’s an adventure that trades in epic spectacle in a way rarely attempted.
God of War Ragnarok – Briefing Round
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God of War Ragnarok (PS4)
God of War Ragnarok (PS5)
But it’s not just the blockbuster moments that make God of War Ragnarok so special. If anything, they are enhanced by the moments of peace between the March to Ragnarok, the war ending the realm in which Kratos and Atreus are destined to fight.
Atreus, now older, taller, and fully aware of his status as half-giant, half-god Loki, wrestles with his destiny, a destiny Kratos does not want him to fulfill. What this conflict is manifesting so early on is essentially youthful rebellion. That totally understandable teenage feeling of thinking you know everything and your parents just don’t get it.
The God of War duology’s strength has always been its recasting of gods, relatable characters with emotional depth, and Ragnarok only continues that. Many players will shed a tear within ten minutes, such as the generational leap in performance by Sunny Suljic, an absolute pillar of the game.
Kratos doesn’t want to fight another war. He is determined to leave this life behind, the very reason he came to this shore in the first place, but he also senses that it is inevitable and wrestles with his own mortality, despite his divinity. He tries to protect Atreus, but also feels that in doing so he is suppressing what he loves unconditionally. Boy not anymore, Atreus is a man and Kratos is struggling to come to terms with it.
This is all staged in the shadow of Asgard and its not-too-enthusiastic leader. After Kratos’ brief return to slay the gods in the last game, Thor appears at Kratos’ door accompanied by the Allfather Odin. He wants to secure a peace treaty between Kratos and the Asgardians and is desperately trying to bypass Ragnarok.
Odin, played by Richard Schiff, is part crime boss, part cult leader. He smacks the character of George Carlin and pours venomous abuse into the ears of everyone around him. He’s unlike any villain on the show. The writing strikes the perfect balance between outright suspicion and the potential that this call for peace might be legitimate. His entire Asgardian clan is brilliantly written, far from cartoon villains, the interpersonal drama more closely resembles a Norse-themed episode of Succession.
“But it’s not just the blockbuster moments that make God of War Ragnarok so special. If anything, they are enhanced by the moments of peace between the March to Ragnarok, the war ending the realm Kratos and Atreus are destined to fight in.”
We’re at a point now where we don’t want to delve further into the story because the sheer speed at which things are accelerating needs to be experienced first hand. Even trying to explain all of the story beats in the first seven hours would rob players of some of the best surprises of the year.
Something that comes as no surprise is how awesome God of War Ragnarok feels to play. The combat system, which was a highlight of the first game, has been refined, feels tighter, and has added a catalog of new skills and moves, making combat feel far more varied than the original. This is also backed up by a massive overhaul of enemies. Gone are the days of battling endless draugr; Each realm has multiple classes of unique enemies, each offering an extra challenge and encouraging players to step out of their combat comfort zone.
And it’s important to keep the combat fresh and fun because this is a long game. Not only does the main path last around 20 hours, but you also spend double that on the massive amount of side content, not to mention the post-game, which is considerably more fleshed out and extensive than the first game.
This isn’t generic checkboxed open-world stuff, there’s a large number of sidequests in areas that you’ll go through if you don’t take the time to look around. We’d really recommend completing these before completing the game, as most if not all of the dialogue will explicitly reference what’s going on, and completing these quests after the final events robs them a bit of that connection to the main story. There are puzzles to solve, extremely brutal combat that in some ways surpasses the legendary Valkyrie fights from the first game, and so much history to uncover.
And these realms you explore are absolutely stunning. This isn’t just about making things look realistic (although we wondered how many dozens of people it took to create snow that looks photorealistic as a backdrop for decapitating things), it’s about who epic artistic direction. Everything is bigger and grander. It’s a game just bursting with expense in a way that video games often fail to match. Play it on the biggest possible screen.
The game features a performance mode and a loyalty mode, each of which can be charged at a high frame rate if you’ve got the TV to show off. Whilst the Playback mode is obviously nice and when the sadly absent Photo mode is eventually added it will be great for your digital tourism through the realms which is 70 to 90 FPS which we squeezed out of the Performance mode on a 120Hz screen stunning . Comparing this game to how the original looked and ran when it was first released makes it feel like a generation leap, even if some parts of the game don’t.
“The combat system, which was a highlight of the first game, has been refined, feels tighter, and has added a catalog of new skills and moves, making combat feel a lot more varied than the original.”
God of War Ragnarok is likely Sony’s last major cross-generation game, and while it doesn’t feel like the game has been held back in terms of performance, graphics, or scope, there are a few scars from the PS4 that you might want to check out will notice . Areas aren’t as big as they could be on PS5 and there’s plenty of duck-under-the-wall charges, but that’s pretty much it for what remains of last-gen.
We’d played 10 hours of the game before anyone pointed it out to us, largely because we were distracted by the absolutely ridiculous opening act rather than some admittedly slightly annoying last-gen concessions. Fast travel across the realm between realms is almost instantaneous, only taking longer if a dialogue has to be completed before the mystical door appears.
Of particular note is the incredible Bear McCreary soundtrack. It really sneaks up on you, and when it does so it doesn’t tug at your hearts so much as it latches onto it with a Blade of Chaos and throws it across the room. The soundtrack is understated when it has to be, but when it has an emotional moment to carry it does so spectacularly.
The overwhelming feeling we had as we neared the end of God of War Ragnarok is how amazingly far the series has come. The idea that this game, which is so delicate about the relationship between a parent and their child as the child slowly grows up, is the same one that started on the PS2 when we ripped off Hydras’ heads and parts of the ancient Greek temple on top of them throwing Zeus is incredible.
When Bear McCreary’s epic score heralded the beginning of the end, the chills we experienced were a media rarity. It reminded me of sitting in the cinema watching The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, absolutely in awe that something like this could exist on this scale. There aren’t many moments in gaming where you can honestly say you’ve never seen anything like it before. Ragnarok’s final bow is one of those moments. In fact, it’s full of them.
God of War Ragnarok is a testament to a developer working at the absolute peak of their powers. Not only is it one of the uniquely best-performing games of modern times, it’s a current-gen benchmark that other studios should be within reach of.
The story of Kratos and Atreus will surely be remembered as one of the best in the history of the medium, and Christopher Judge and Sunny Suljic deserve all sorts of applause for the characters they brought to life.
It’s a triumph. While some insignificant elements of its cross-generational status occasionally flare up, they’re completely drowned out by the visual, aural, and emotional symphony that guides the game. A final act that might just be the best in gaming brings an absolutely unbeatable duology to a memorable conclusion.