Some people think every new installment of a thing should be a reinvention, or at least add a lot of new stuff to the mix. It’s why there will undoubtedly be people who’ll criticize God Of War: Ragnarok (PlayStation 5, PlayStation 4) for not being as innovative as the previous God Of War, which rebuilt this long-running, third-person, hack & slash action / adventure game series from the ground up. And while yeah, it’s not as huge of a leap forward, this sequel is still so epic, exciting, and effortlessly engaging that you probably won’t notice.
Set three years after God Of War,
God Of War: Ragnarok has Kratos and his son Atreus dealing with the fallout from what they did in the previous game — y’know, killing Thor’s sons, thus pissing off the God Of Thunder and his dead ol’ dad, Odin — while also trying to figure out why Atreus’ mom and the giants referred to the kid as “Loki.” I mean, seriously? He looks way more like Tom Holland than Tom Hiddleston (though given that God Of War is a Sony franchise, and so is Spidey…). But I digress.
As with the previous game, and the ones that preceded it, God Of War: Ragnarok is a third-person hack & slash action / adventure game, albeit one that’s more like a gritty version of Devil May Cry than Diablo III (or, if you also own an Xbox, it’s like Gears 5 if Kait and the Swarm weren’t such gun nuts). Though it’s also, at times, a bit like Shadow Of The Tomb Raider, Horizon Forbidden West, and The Last Of Us Part I in how you do a fair bit of jumping and climbing, while other parts recall Resident Evil Village in how you have to solve tricky puzzles if you want to get cool prizes.
Not surprisingly, God Of War: Ragnarok employs the same fluid controls, over-the-shoulder perspective, and deep combo-based attack system as the previous game, with the latter boasting a nice mix of light and heavy attacks, special moves, and even such ranged attacks as when you throw the Leviathan Axe across the room at some poor guy’s head, only to have it come back when you call it like Thor using Stormbreaker in Avengers: Endgame.
God Of War: Ragnarok also mirrors the previous installment…
by taking place in a largely open world made of connected open areas; think Wolfenstein: Youngblood or Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands, as opposed to Ghost Of Tsushima or Spider-man: Miles Morales. Though this has more of these areas, including a lake and a river, both of which have private beaches you can explore.
All of which works seamlessly to tell a rather epic and cinematic story. And no, I don’t mean “cinematic” like Thor: Ragnarok, either. Think more The Lord Of The Rings or the old Excalibur.
But as similar as God Of War: Ragnarok may be to God Of War, it’s not a rehash or a clone or whatever word you want to use to indicate that the two games are the same. For starters, Ragnarok boasts an all-new adventure, one that takes Kratos and the kid to different realms, and has them having to figure out different ways to get around, while also solving puzzles that unlock large treasure chests. Sure, you’re still flinging your axe at bells and breakable targets like you did before, but you’re doing it in new ways and in new places, which make these problems, well, just as clever as they were in the prior game.
Combat in God Of War: Ragnarok has also evolved. In part because Kratos has the Blades Of Chaos from the beginning, as opposed to getting them towards the end like he did in God Of War, and in part because it and his Leviathan Axe can now be augmented in interesting ways.
Kratos’ weapons are now augmented with elemental aspects. His Leviathan Axe can get super cold, while his Blades Of Chaos can burst into flame. These augmentations are even used to solve puzzles or to get around, such as when you use the Axe to freeze a geyser blocking your way, or you use the Blades to burn some stubborn shrubbery.
You’re also able to swap parts of these weapons for better ones, or just ones that have different effects, kind of like how you can change the barrel of your gun in The Division 2. And there’s even more enhancements courtesy of the new skills menu, where you can, say, chose to add a frosty explosion to the Leviathan Axe.
Atreus also gets some new combat options in God Of War: Ragnarok. Like in the previous game, the kid will hit your enemies with arrows when you tell him to. Except now he has his own neat tricks; such as arrows that vibrate when they strike. These are not only good for stunning enemies, but they can also be used to destroy certain obstructions as well.
There are even new options when it comes to Kratos’ choice of shield, and his and Atreus’ armor, though these are, obviously, more defensive than offensive.
The places when you get to test your combat skills…
are also somewhat different than before. While God Of War made the world larger and more open than the earlier God games, with more passages in which to hide secrets, Ragnarok goes even further, adding layers and verticality. Which not only means you can sometimes be attacked from above and below, but you can do the same as well.
What’s interesting is that while so much in God Of War: Ragnarok builds upon what was done in God Of War, it seems to pull from other games as well (though whether this was deliberate or coincidental is a question for the developers…and their lawyers). Not only is there a part (which I won’t spoil) that recalls one of the best moments in The Last Of Us Part I, but there’s even a section reminiscent of something from Gears 5. Which might seem incongruous, but they’re integrated so seamlessly, and so organically, that they work really well in context. Sure, you might furrow your brow when the Us-ish stuff first happens, but you’ll quickly realize it’s not the waste of time you might expect it to be.
It’s that seamless feel…
that makes God Of War: Ragnarok as exciting and effortless as the previous God. You never feel like the story is only there to set up the action, or that the action is repeated again and again because this is an action game, and we must have action, action, ACTION! Instead, the story drives the action, giving Kratos and Atreus a reason to do what they’re doing. It really is an impressive game, even if it is impressive in much the same way as the previous God Of War.
Having said all that, though, I do have a couple minor quibbles with God Of War: Ragnarok. First, the lack of an on-screen mini-map makes it easy to get lost or lose track of which areas you’ve already explored, especially when you get to some of the larger and more intricate realms.
Also, by the end, Kratos’ Great Santini-esque parenting starts to wear thin. Seriously, dude, be nice to the kid. He’s going through some shit.
And, well, that’s about it.
Because ultimately, God Of War: Ragnarok is an exceptional action game on par with, yeah, 2018’s God Of War. (And Gears 5, and Horizon Forbidden West, and…). That it isn’t as innovative might bother some, but for the rest of us, we’ll be too busy flinging axes at enemies and, uh, bells to notice.