Creating the sequel to one of the greatest video games of all time is a task that must be extremely difficult to undertake, there would be a constant fear that a second dive into a glorious world that people love could fall short of expectations. Thankfully God of War: Ragnorok not only meets the goal of its predecessor but in some ways exceeds them.
As a franchise, it dates back to the original hack-and-slash days as God of War for the PlayStation 2 in 2005, but it was the soft reboot for the PlayStation 4 in 2018 that really set its place in gamers’ hearts. A game that continued the story but vastly upgraded the style and sentiment on offer.
I’ll answer the question you are wondering straight away, “do I need to have played the God of War before I play God of War: Ragnorok?” After all, there is a wonderfully created recap video that tells you the whole story. Let me put it this way, if you haven’t played it, you absolutely should.
Think of it as the first two seasons of Game of Thrones, if you jump in on Season 2 and just catch up with a “previously on” video you will see the death of Ned Stark but you will miss the brilliant character-building and heroes journey that twists the knife and makes it so much more shocking and impactful. It’s what sets the tone for the rest of the series.
That’s why you should play God of War first, to love and understand the character arcs in their entirety before stepping into Ragnorok to get the full impact of the story choices. I’m not saying there’s a major death, I’m also not saying there isn’t. It’s just the understanding of these wonderfully crafted character need to be experienced from the beginning.
This review is completely spoiler-free of the second game, but I will make mention of the first game from time to time for context and thanks to PlayStation who supplied me with an early release of the title so I could review it ahead of its release date.
The story picks up a few years after the conclusion of the first story, so we know Ragnorok is coming and Atreus is at the centre of the apocalyptic tale, this is after all an “alternative Greek Mythology” so parts of the story mirror the old tales and others are more nuanced.
Atreus is growing older and stronger and is no longer the small child we met previously. There’s the discovery of his “other name” and the trust he is seeking to earn with his father is beautiful. He desperately wants to be seen as a man, no longer a child and the game dives straight in with an epic battle, in the beginning, to prove his worth and set the tone and goal of the adventure.
The story twists and turns much like the previous title but moves much quicker when it needs to showing the growth of the creators and the depth of the world-building. New and old characters always add something to the story and much like the protagonists there is always a purpose.
The game introduces Thor and Odin and while the most famous renditions of these characters come from the Marvel Cinematic Universe it’s nice to see a different take on the pair and their relationship. These characters are completely different in this universe and you’ll discover just how very quickly.
Kratos is of course voiced once again by Christopher Judge (Stargate SG1) who truly realises the character. You could listen to his deep tones reading a cookbook and be satisfied, but here he delivers so much more depth and emotion than your Sunday morning waffle cook-up.
The trauma of his past is forefront and the balance is superb, just when you start thinking this is an Atreus story, they pull you in another direction to the true hero of the story, only to then pull you again to remind you its a story of a Father and his Son and a flawed but powerful bond. It really feels like if you were to just sit and watch someone else play this game, it would be equally enjoyable as a non-interactive piece of cinema.
At this point it’s important to point out how fun and funny the game can be, it’s easy to think it can be a heavy burden to play, but these moments are usually broken up by genuine laughter and usually from Atreus’ quick wit as he puts Kratos and Mimir in their places.
The gameplay is flawless, especially the combat which is immersive and engaging. It is tweaked from the previous title but not a complete makeover, there’s a real sense of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”, so it will feel very familiar without being stale. At times the screen can become a frantic violent mess of enemies and mayhem, but this does more to create the tone of battle than as a distraction of chaos.
As you adventure through the nine realms you’ll be given sidequests, make sure you do all of these as while they don’t all have an impact on the main story, they do have an impact on character understanding and will just keep you playing for longer, it’s a game you don’t want to rush through. It took me roughly 30 hours to complete and I still think I could have taken my time a bit more.
Graphically the picturesque scenery will have you mesmerised. While the game is still available on the previous-gen console it really makes the most of the PS5 power. Having multiple environments allows for more and more breathtaking visuals. So for the best experience, play on PS5 with the lights low and the sound at a significant volume.
God of War Ragnorok Review
There are lots of games with great stories and others with great gameplay but it’s so rare to have both and that’s what this franchise manages to accomplish and why gamers and critics love it so much. The blend of ancient mythology with arcade elements makes for a title that hits you emotionally. The tears will flow freely throughout this epic adventure and you’ll welcome them with open arms like a friend as you bond over the discoveries that this story has to offer.
God of War: Ragnorok is a flawless gaming masterpiece and much like the myths it is built on will be spoken of for generations to come. This is what it means when people talk about buying a PlayStation for the exclusives. 10/10