PlayStation 59.30
Overall 9.30
Ragnarok is one of those sequel that’s technically better than the last game but too similar so it doesn’t have the impact the last one had. Wait didn’t I say this already this year… oh yeah Horizon. So here we are again, a Sony game with impeccable production value which is a sequel to an impressive game that set new groundwork for a franchise; and just like Horizon this sequel improves on points that needed addressing but doesn’t push the formula to new levels. God of War Ragnarok is still an impressive action adventure game that I thoroughly enjoyed from start to finish, but the formula fatigue is beginning to set in.

Back in previous generations it usually took three games to get to the point of fatigue and I feel that was because the games were so much shorter and came out faster. When you wait five years and you get a 60 hour game of mostly the same gameplay and structure it feels like it’s missing an opportunity to really be different. The core basis of the new God of War formula is still great, at least to me, I love action adventure games and this game gives me every element I cherish. You got the beefy combat, the ability to explore open areas and do well designed side quests. There are puzzles scattered all over the lead to various rewards that upgrade your gear. Plenty of enemy variety and unlike the last game this one has much more boss battles (though still not as varied or well done as GoW of old). I love this kind of game, I appreciate that Sony studios are giving me these gigantic games that fit my sensibilities.

That said I’ve read others who are not enamored with the so called “Sony formula” and I think I am understanding why. These games in general aren’t that mechanically deep nor do they allow for player creativity. These are mostly very curated experiences that lightly touch on various game tropes so the game feels fleshed out and varied. For instance the puzzles in this game are better than the last one, there were a few that actually caused me to pause and think a while but the majority can be classified as a “time waster”. I appreciate the attempt at puzzles and love them even if it’s easy, for some it’s an annoyance when they are just there to create a simple obstacle. This game never takes the extra step to create a multi tiered puzzle dungeon for instance, everything is just at that shallow end just enough to be good but never memorable. For players that don’t really care for a straightforward action adventure romp that is by the book and doesn’t have deep gameplay mechanics this can be a bit boring. Those who never cared for the last game and especially those that don’t care for the “Sony formula” there isn’t anything here that will excite you.

Being an iterative sequel,  God of War Ragnarok builds on the last’s foundation and addresses a few of the areas that needed some touch up. The most universal complaint of the last game was the lack of enemy variety and boss battles, this was taken to heart with a hefty amount of new enemy types, some which bring back memories of enemies past. It’s important in action games that the different enemies create situations that require varied strategies, and there are quite a few new enemies that require some different strategies. One is a little gremlin type creature that buffs every enemy making them basically invincible until said gremlin is killed. There is a type of wraith that needs to be stunned with the partner arrow attacks before it can take damage. There are certain enemies that spawn smaller ones, making taking those out a priority. To top it off there are the usual groups of standard fodder and the heavy brutes that require more damage. I feel this game does a much better job than the last one in providing a better stream of unique combat scenarios with better enemy types and environments that are more open and have more interactive elements. That said it still lacks some of the pizzaz of the older GoW game where they would do some wild combat encounters like the Pandora’s box segment in GoW3.

For a game this big I was really digging every encounter, it goes to show how well done the combat system is. It builds on the last one by starting the game with both the Leviathan Axe and the Blades of Chaos. Now it does the Metroid thing of you lose all your abilities from the last game, this time with the worst in game reasoning why, so you must earn exp and open up all the skills on the skill tree once again just to do most of the same moves you learned in the last game. There is a new elemental status system that serves as the big new mechanic and changes the focus on how I approached combat. Each weapon can be charged to apply a status on an enemy, obviously the axe is ice and the blades are fire. Different skills can be unlocked which change the speed of the status buildup as well as a meter each weapon has that when charges super charges that weapon into an elemental state creating fast status build up on enemies. An enemy afflicted with one status is vulnerable and takes extra damage from the other element, this becomes the focus of doing the most damage.

I like the idea of the new mechanics but I found the execution to be frustrating at times. To cause build up of the status change certain moves that you designate as  elemental have to be used, many of these aren’t the standard combos, it’s harder to pull off mid fight. The best way to build up status is to charge the weapon which is done by holding triangle for a set time, this allows the next few hits to be elementally charged. The problem is how vulnerable Kratos is while holding triangle, in boss battles where needing a status change is key, finding time to charge the weapon is difficult. Bosses have many attack patterns that require constant blocking or dodging, this could last 10 seconds or so and by then the status buildup will dissipate if you don’t attack to keep it going. As a final reward in the move skill tree there is an ability that supposedly instant charges the weapon if you press triangle after an attack, sounds perfect, if you can get it to work. I cannot figure out the timing for this, I try and try and it never works.

Too many of the advanced battles I find myself just trying to repeat moves that build up status. One of the best way is to use runic attacks which return from the last game. These are on cooldowns and can cause a nice amount of buildup if you choose the right ones. During normal combat I think the entire combat system works rather well with its balance between regular attacks, status attacks, ranged attacks, using your NPC partners attack to stun enemies and managing your rage meter (which has two new options for further customization). During bosses I find myself quickly cycling through the runic attacks and hoping they cool down quickly while I desperately try to build up the status, I then use rage as an emergency “heal me please” attack.

The gear system is basically identical to the last game meaning you can level up gear to increase stats but more importantly different perks. Some good gear combinations could be had which increase the speed or damage status effects do. One set can drastically change the cooldown of runic attacks allowing Kratos to do many more, it’s very effective but devolves the combat to just spamming super attacks. At least there is reason to hunt gear and it’s leveling up materials as you can change how you approach combat. There is a new mod belt that lets you slot in a combination of 9 different perks to further allow more customization. For most of the regular mobs you can defeat them just using any combination of gear but for the end game extra bosses having a good set becomes key, that hasn’t changed from the last game it’s nice to see it expanded a bit. One note, the gear menu itself is a cluttered mess and the UI is not pleasing to use.

Ragnarok expands Kratos’ arsenal from two weapons to a whopping three weapons! So not exactly the biggest jump in weapon variety but the new spear is unique enough to a valuable addition. This spear can replicate itself allowing Kratos to throw multiple spears at enemies and then detonate them to stun them. It has a wind element which I hardly ever used, maybe I missed something but I mostly stuck with fire and ice. As with most aspects of the combat, the different attacks the spear has works great for the regular mobs. This spear is excellent at air juggling enemies and even better than the axe at range attacks. With bosses I just find it to be another two runic attacks I rotate as bosses don’t get air juggled or stunned.

Ultimately the combat system in this sequel doesn’t really address any of the concerns of the last game and adds a few new ones while giving some extra depth. With the addition of the third weapon, the unarmed melee attacks have been pushed aside, it doesn’t have a skill tree and is no longer the focus to get a stun state. The weapon switching is done with the dpad, try to move your finger there during a tough fight, it requires leaving the left stick. It would be great if switching happens on a buffer system so if you switch during an animation it will take note that you pressed the button and perform it when the animation is done, but that doesn’t happen, your button press just goes unnoticed. You must wait for an animation to finish then press the button then the weapon changes, this is cumbersome and ended up with me getting hit when I shouldn’t. Most any action game has quicker weapon changing, often times it’s a cancel move replacing any current animation, that allows for a nice flow while changing. To activate the unarmed stance you have to double press down which is the option for the new spear, good luck trying to get what you want during a hectic battle. Using runics is inherently dangerous as it will lock Kratos into an animation that cannot be canceled, many times I would do a runic attack and a boss would dodge at the last moment meaning Kratos is just swinging at air and is completely defenseless to the attack coming from behind.

Defense isn’t the best either with this game relying heavily on blocks and parries. Enemy attacks are color coded, some can be blocked normally, some have to be dodged, and some need to be parried or you get stunned. It mostly works as it should, fast reflexes and learning patterns is a must as it is for any great action game. I did run into some annoyances with some of the harder bosses, one in particular has this AoE attack in front of them and I always feel like I could dodge around or get back in time and so many times it would still hit me even though it looks like I was out of the area. Many fights tend to have enemies surrounding Kratos, you still get the color prompts from off screen showing that an attack is coming in a form of arrows but I found it hard to manage large groups. The grunts aren’t a problem because any damage you take can be healed easily, but in the bigger challenging bosses, any time they would throw two or even three at you it became a nightmare trying to manage blocks and dodges. Just trying to stay focused on one enemy while another was running around is tough as the auto lock on camera loves to target the closest one to you. None of this is game breaking, I think it serves to illustrate that the combat system while great still has many flaws which keep it out of the top of the action class conversation.

Some spoilers ahead, skip the paragraph if you want to be totally spoiler free, Atreus is a playable character as well and serves as a nice change of pace to the action. The core moves are basically the same, all the buttons do relatively the same actions as Kratos the difference being his weapon is a bow and arrow so he deals in ranger attacks. It’s a slightly more defensive combat system with more strike and retreat tactics being the best way to approach enemies. Both charcters get different AI partners throughout the game, with Atreus in particular those partners could be the heavy hitters while you stand back and hit from afar. In total maybe you play 5-7 hours as Atreus, I was never angry that the game switched to him, to me it’s nice variety to have.

As just an action game this game is still really good but not that top level. It’s a real shame that there isn’t even a scoring system, even if it comes as a bonus mode after finishing the game. I always love action games that push the player to play better, not just survive. Where Ragnarok and the entire GoW series earns its place as a top tier action adventure game is with the level design, setpieces, and bosses.  The previous GoW gave the player a large open space to explore where there were side quests and many things to find, a nice bit of freedom between the more linear story sections. Ragnarok doubles down on this having about four of those large open areas, with way more side quests, puzzles and optional bosses to find. This game could have easily become a slog if the content was repetitive or bland but much credit to Santa Monica, they really pushed to have every side quest and optional area be unique.

The best parts for me came when I was just exploring this incredible game world. Side quests were well designed with some great story moments for our characters. An early memorable one involves freeing a gigantic whale like creature from its bonds in the middle of a lake. You must climb on top of it and solve puzzles to break the chains, all while learning about Mimir’s past life and the regrets he has.  Every weapon has multiple uses to navigate the world and to solve puzzles with. There is a new arrow that your partner can fire which explodes when hit with an element, these arrows stick to a wall and creates a small bubble of effect. You can then chain up to three of these bubbles to create a chain of explosions to reach a far off torch that needs to be lit. Many puzzles involve this new mechanic, the best had some multiple steps involving using other weapons to move certain objects in place needed to create the chain to activate the switch. I’m going to say it… it’s almost Zelda like, I loved it. I do wish they would go full dungeon and have large interconnected levels, a few areas almost feel like that but it’s still linear. This game absolutely gives me that exploration, puzzle and action combination I love so much and it does it at a very high level.

Pacing is hugely important in story driven games, especially action games and while I found there were some sections that were a slog (you know the one!) this game somehow always paid it off with a big moment, be it a massive boss battle or a brand new location with loads of great side quests. Because I am a completionist I would ignore the main story for hours and hours at a time, many times forgetting what I was supposed to be doing. Normally that is a sign of bad pacing but gameplay wise I was always very entertained. So many games with open worlds pad the length with boring busy work, I loved the extra stuff, whether it be hunting dragons, fighting challenging optional bosses, or solving some puzzles, it was all entertaining. I always think there could still be more variety to the puzzles and side activities but in general there was enough quality activities to make it all worthwhile.

What blew me away the most is that toward the end of this massive game, like 40 hours in, I reach this new big open area that is by far the best designed location of the entire game. This location had it all, amazing boss battles, it was fun to navigate, plenty of places to explore and it had a day night cycle which could be controlled which manipulates the environment. If the entire game was of this quality this would be my favorite GoW and maybe an all time favorite of mine. This felt like a reward for sticking to the game, it’s shocking that it’s basically all optional. Frankly the final hours of the game was a letdown because of how good this area was.

The final hours are a mostly linear affair with some big story moments mostly happening around the character not involving the character. I really miss the epic setpieces from the older GoW games, in those you didn’t just see stuff happen in the background, you would take part in some screen filling gigantic battles. For a game about ragnarok I expected a bigger spectacle. This game has some really great setpieces but they are so far apart and not as impactful as the older games, I wish that would have been a focus of this game.

One of the best aspects of this new Vikings God of War is the more mature narrative about a dad and his son. I think I am in the minority on this one but I enjoyed the story about the same as the last one. Atreus is older, he is now going through his rebellious teenage phase so of course he buts head with his dad and doesn’t listen. This game is a coming of age story for Atreus while being an exploration of the effects of guilt and regret. Kratos grows tremendously in this game, Christopher Judge is given more to do than grunt “boy” all game and he shines with some big emotional moments. The rest of the cast is hit and miss.

A lot of new charcters feel like they have come right out of a marvel movie, filled with lighthearted quips and dialogue that feels more present day earth than ancient Viking times. Thor is a standout, every scene with him feels dangerous, he commands the moment. On the flip side Odin is a very odd casting choice, once you see who he is played by you will recognize him from many shows and movies. He didn’t feel threatening at all, and the plot that pushes the narrative forward is filled with pointless macguffins that are never explored. The character drama is great, the rest is standard summer movie slop.

Graphically it’s still a beautiful game but it is very noticeable that the PS4 is holding back what could be. All the models look nearly the same. There is more variety to the environments, beautiful locations with incredible art design. The amount of small spaces that Kratos needs to crawl through to mask load times becomes annoying, last gen holding things back. Musically it’s the same as the last game, the score fits the game well but there isn’t anything I strongly remember.

God of War Ragnarok is another excellent Sony first party action adventure game. I don’t think this game will win over anyone that didn’t care for the last one as it plays it safe. In nearly every way Ragnarok is better than the 2018 entry, better gameplay, more enemies, more weapons, deeper combat, better exploration and side quests. BUT there is always that feeling of familiarity that dampens the wow factor, a wow factor I felt the last game had. So I will score this under the last one even though it’s technically the better game, still easily one of the best games of the year.
Posted by Dvader Wed, 21 Dec 2022 22:02:45
Fri, 21 Apr 2023 09:38:07
Good review. It is funny, I am so out of it I thought this game had not yet been released! (as of April 2023).

When I do finally get a PS5 I'll certainly play it. So far...still yet to see a PS5 in Australia.
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