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God Of War Ragnarök

Platform(s): PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5
Genre: Action/Adventure
Developer: SCEA Santa Monica
Release Date: Nov. 9, 2022


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PS5 Review - 'God of War: Ragnarok'

by Redmond Carolipio on Nov. 3, 2022 @ 11:00 p.m. PDT

Set a few years after the events of the previous God of War, God Of War Ragnarök features Kratos and Atreus journeying to each of the Nine Realms in search of answers as they prepare for the prophesied battle that will end the world.

Buy God of War: Ragnarok

One of the lasting images of God of War: Ragnarok, for me, will be three bears. One of them, the largest, is dead — slashed and mauled, left to lie on a bed of snow soaked in blood. Another bear, much smaller, is alive but unmoving, nestled against the carcass of its mother. The third bear, also a cub, is a few feet in front of its family, pacing back and forth and yelling — bawling — at Kratos and Atreus, the game's two protagonists.

The baby bear is not calling for help. It's yelling at the one responsible for its mother's death — and it's not Kratos, the former Spartan general who became a god, crushed the Olympic pantheon and broke the neck of the Norse god Baldur. This carnage is the work of Atreus, Kratos' now-teenage son who discovered a new transformative power but was unable to harness it. A shocked and saddened Atreus doesn't know he did this; he has to ask his father. As the young bear continues to wail, eyes wide with panic, Kratos speaks to Atreus of consequences. The tone is not scolding. It's somber, matter-of-fact, experienced — a painful lesson about death with an orphaned cub's cries serving as the soundtrack.

Moments like this are the most surprising and powerful element of God of War Ragnarok, a grand odyssey that features all the rage-fueled action you'd expect, but now carries a spirit of adventure rich with depth and heart that I didn't know was still possible with this series and this leading man. Who knew that the fire and passion Kratos used to turn the worlds of gods upside-down could be used to offer comfort during harsh, teachable moments and — occasionally — warm the soul? That sense of humanity is the lifeblood of the whole journey, through each character and each interaction.

The chemistry is apparent at the start, as Kratos and Atreus are in the thick of Fimbulwinter, known in Norse mythology as the trailer to Ragnarok, which is the Norse version of the end of the world. Kratos appears generally content to exist in relative anonymity while trying to evade the notice of Odin and the Aesir gods (since he and Atreus killed some of them) and especially Freya, the mother of Baldur, who is still consumed with grief and rage, taking every chance to attack Kratos and Atreus.

Atreus, on the other hand, is not happy with what he views as "hiding" and has been on his own quiet quest for the truth about every facet of his life, including anything that has to do with his ties to his half-giant genealogy and to the Aesir. Kratos doesn't really know about this … right up until he gets a visit from Thor, the mighty god of thunder, and Odin, at his home. This is the real beginning of the quest, which from a narrative standpoint, I won't unfold for you piece-by-piece.

What I can say is that you're in for a Disney World-style romp through the worlds and legends of Norse mythology, not unlike the last game: Helheim, Alfheim, all the heims. I fell in love with the visual personality of each realm: Midgard (not a heim) is bathed in ice, while the land of the dwarves, Svartalfheim, features plenty of low-ceilinged homes and buildings, covered in sunny humidity and rife with puzzles based on water physics and wheels. Muspelheim is covered in fire and lava, of course, and Vanaheim is a rich, green forest teeming with earthen beauty.

However, this chapter of Kratos and Atreus' story offers even more places to go, which adds to the game's growing sense of magical wonder and exploration. The duo's "headquarters" for most of the game (since Odin and Thor rolled up uninvited to Kratos' actual crib) is the elaborate home of Sindri, one of the two charismatic dwarven blacksmith brothers from the last game. It's located in the ethereal world between realms and serves as a nexus point for many of the game's key plot points.

Many of those points involve the growth of Atreus, who serves as the vessel of the game's deeper exploration into the "human" side of relationships and interpersonal connectivity. It's through Atreus where God of War: Ragnarok becomes as much his game as it is his father's. That's not just in a storytelling sense: There are large pieces of the game where Atreus takes center stage from a gameplay standpoint, and it feels natural and welcome here, not forced and painful, like having to play as Abby in TLOU: Part 2. As the player, you are charged with guiding Atreus into the most fascinating section of his shared journey: Asgard, home to the Aesir.

The game's depiction of the Aesir gods remains my favorite aspect of the God of War: Ragnarok experience. The combination of truly magnetic voice-acting performances, art design and storytelling reshuffles the deck a bit when it comes to the perception of antagonists in this kind of game. While many of the Olympic gods were overbearing, arrogant and shown in desperate need of a thorough ass-kicking, the Aesir come across as a charming but extremely dysfunctional family to Atreus, layered in their flaws but fully formed people who happen to be from another world.

You'd expect Odin (voiced by Richard Schiff), the legendary All-Father of lore, to be like Zeus, flexing his bombastic presence everywhere and talking like someone who has spent most of his existence looking down from a mountaintop. But in this game, he comes across like an eccentric but domineering patriarchal CEO, sort of like Logan Roy from the HBO show "Succession." He's searching for answers and power with the same zest of an ambitious tech billionaire, trying to sell Atreus (aka Loki) on his vision. At his right hand is Thor, played with supreme deftness by Ryan Hurst, who injects a mug full of pained fatigue and disgruntled, feral power into every appearance. Yet still … he's kind of likable, even as he deals with his own troubles. There's Thrud, Thor's daughter, who befriends Atreus and is training to become a Valkyrie. The only real asshole (Atreus says "jerk," but trust me, he's an asshole) is Heimdall, an overly superior narcissist whose gift of foresight makes him unhittable — and unbearable. I probably don't need to tell you that you get a chance to reverse that trend through violent means.

The narrative was enrapturing to the point that the intricate combat almost felt like the connective tissue between story points. But if nothing else, God of War has always been a series of action. While the combat was great in God of War 2018, it could sometimes feel occasionally sticky due to the change in perspective and weaponry from the PS2 and PS3 titles. That's not the case here. You have a wealth of moves for the Leviathan Axe, the Blades of Chaos, and a new weapon discovered later: a spear called Draupnir, which can launch exploding copies of itself and can help with traversal. There's a great moment when Kratos first uses it in battle, when he tells Mimir (the talking head), "It is the first weapon a Spartan learns." The triangle button takes greater importance, as it can be used to freeze up the ax for greater impact, "rev" up and ignite a Blade of Chaos for some extra sizzle, or trigger the detonation of a thrown Draupnir spear. There's a greater expansion of accessories and tools to go along with weapon, armor and move upgrades. I especially enjoyed the availability of different shields that accounted more for pure defense or better parrying capability.

This game also dials up Kratos' killing and finishing power to show some shades of his younger self. He's not quite at God of War 2 in 2007 brutal, but he'll impale a huntress with her own bow, wrap a chain tightly around an undead Norse warrior's neck and pop the head off, hack off quarters and halves from bipedal creatures, break monster necks, tear apart werewolf types with his bare hands and strangle giant hell wolves. There's a finisher where he runs Draupnir through an enemy, grabs both ends of the spear, and with a sudden surge, twists off the creature's torso. This feels like a way to balance the fact that he's becoming more emotionally available. He's still Kratos, ladies and gentlemen. That becomes more evident as he faces more boss-type characters than he did in the last game. He also has different types of "rage" accessible through the pushing of the thumbsticks when his rage meter fills. In addition to the standard "fury" rage, there's also a version that serves to heal him, called Valor. Then there's Wrath, which burns a chunk of the meter for one huge move that offers some healing power once the target is dead.

As for Atreus, he fights with his bow and arrow, using different types of arrows and finishing moves of his own. There's an alchemy behind the use of different arrow types to discover secrets and work through some puzzles. The most prominent of these arrows is Sigil magic, which can actually link the elemental effects of other weapons or make them more powerful and lasting. For example, launching a sigil arrow at something (which creates a purple sphere) and then tossing the ax at it enables the freezing effect to actually hold, so you can call the ax back and freeze something else — voilà, you've frozen two things at once. It's wild and took some getting used to, but it's incredibly engaging once the initial confusion and frustration wore off.

Finally, I enjoyed the game's approach to side missions and exploration, which is carried over from the last game. It's open world-adjacent, meaning that each realm is big enough to explore for secrets, but not so huge that one could get aimlessly lost in wandering. There's purposeful containment here, which feeds into a greater sense of linear progression. Even one of your companion characters will say something to the effect of, "We have some time, if you want to explore. Or, we can do (main story task)."

It's through exploration where some of the best conversations take place, such as Mimir asking Kratos why he hates riddles, or Atreus wondering why his father never really talked to his mom about things she did. This leads to a cute exchange where Atreus mocks Kratos' way of speaking. I'm paraphrasing, but it goes something like, "Did you just tell Mom, 'Woman, guard the house. I will find fish in the river,' and then leave for five days?" Kratos responds with something like, "No … your mother was much better at fishing than I was." The side missions themselves are varying in depth, from helping a wayward spirit find treasure to stumbling upon Odin's new (and nearly unbeatable) Valkyrie queen.

In the end, I can't shake how captivating the chemistry among the characters was in God of War: Ragnarok. I probably laughed and got misty-eyed more times in the first few hours of playing this than I did for the whole first game. Plenty of heavy themes are tackled here other than life and death: alcoholism, abusive relationships, codependency, depression, emotional breakthroughs, true father-and-son bonding, manipulation, etc. You could call this game God of War: Families, Amirite? I've deliberately been vague about many of the key plot points, funny exchanges and gut-punch moments because I think people need to experience them for themselves. I probably already said too much regarding the bears, but they left an impact. The rest of God of War: Ragnarok will make quite an impression as well, and perhaps provide lessons that can outlive us all.

Score: 9.4/10

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