God of War Ragnarök
The biggest question nobody wants the answer to about God of War Ragnarök yet is what happens next? God of War (2018) established a new fascinating direction for the series while fully acknowledging everything that had already happened in Kratos’ story. The narrative offered a new perspective on Kratos’ difficult life and his attempt to build a new one, and it somehow managed to end with a satisfying conclusion while also leaving plenty of hanging threads for fans to debate and theorize over for four years. I have played the opening five hours of Ragnarök and can already answer a surprising amount of those questions. I don’t want to ruin that story experience (and I won’t), but I am happy to share if I think you should be excited for the next chapter or not.
The short answer is yes, you absolutely should be excited. Ragnarök picks up almost literally where the last game left off and in a tradition established as far back as the very first God of War game in 2005, the adventure starts strong. The opening quickly showcases huge production values from expert animators and artists with multiple sequences that remind me why it takes years to craft these epic experiences. Characters both new and old appear, and the performances continue to be some of the best video games have to offer.
The single-shot camera also returns and proves its value right away. In the previous game, it excelled in making the player feel like they were experiencing the adventure in real-time in one fully realized location. That continues to be true here and even pulls new tricks to deliver the story in unique and meaningful ways.
The combat of the first five hours feels mostly familiar to the previous experience, which is not a complaint. God of War’s story may be the element you take away and think about long after seeing the credits, but the combat is what keeps you engaged in the moment. Unlike the 2018 game, Kratos does start with a larger arsenal, and it feels great to throw and retrieve the Leviathan Axe again.
One of the few common complaints from the first game was a lack of enemy variety, and the team at developer Santa Monica Studio clearly took that criticism to heart for the follow-up. Even having only played five hours, I believe I have killed more enemy types and fought more mini-bosses with unique defeat qualifiers and designs than I did the entirety of the first game. Not every new enemy is exciting – I killed a lot of single-hit scurrying lizards – but I am grateful for the variety, especially with the larger enemies.
I also encountered a few new mechanics where Kratos can grab pieces of the environment, like rocks and small trees, and use them to deliver big damage quickly. The addition of these environmental weapons is a small touch, but it turns out that ripping a tree from its roots and using it as a baseball bat is fun.
As I hope I have made clear, I won’t spoil anything about the story, but one unexpected highlight for me so far has been the dialogue. Mimir joins you from the beginning this time, as opposed to partway through the previous game. The relationship between the three men (Atreus is “Boy” no more) feels something like a stern father, a talented but overzealous kid, and a smart-aleck uncle who offers good advice. The familiarity of the ongoing professional friendship is just more locked in this time around. The result of these three overlapping personalities is often unexpectedly hilarious. Kratos is the ultimate straight man with zero tolerance for joy, and Mimir is a head designed to tell stories and jokes. I hung on to every word spoken, even more so than I did in the previous game.
This surprising humor also extends to a journal where Kratos keeps notes about the journey and offers details about characters you might have forgotten about. In one entry, for example, Kratos talks about Brok. He won’t admit he likes him, but he is willing to write, “I find him acceptable company.”
So far, God of War Ragnarök is living up to the unfair expectations we’ve layed atop its imposing, pale shoulders. The first five hours of the game are impressive, but it also manages to feel like the surface has barely been scratched. I have my feet under me now. I remember the returning cast, I am getting familiar with the newcomers, and I’ve gotten the hang of parrying with my shield again. I am now ready to see the rest of the journey, and I can’t wait to see what happens next.