- Story and characters
- Fighting feels good
- Variation in environments and gameplay
- Excellent graphics
- Stable performance
- Lack of overview in armor/buffs
- The camera sometimes does not turn smoothly
- Annoying bug
Muspelheim: It was a realm I hadn’t really been to much in my first 45 hours playing God of War Ragnarök. But now, with the denouement of the story just around the corner, I decided to give the Crucible, a series of special combat trials, a try. I passed seven trials, but that turned out to be just the beginning: there were eighteen more waiting. My first reaction: yes, I’m not going to do that. But I did one more. And another one. And then another and another, and before I knew it I had completed the whole Crucible. The trials always had a slightly different approach, but often came down to the same thing: defeating many enemies, with the same weapons and skills that you always use. And that’s 25 tests in a row. Sounds boring and repetitive, right? So it didn’t feel that way at all.
Kratos, Atreus & Ragnarok
Spoiler alert! Note: Below we discuss some parts of the game’s story. If you don’t want to know about that, skip this part.
You can count on your fingers that the events of the previous game have consequences. Those consequences took some time to materialise, because Atreus is no longer the ‘boy’ you know from the previous game in God of War Ragnarök, but a teenager. This is not only accompanied by a somewhat lower voice, but also with the discovery of his gifts. That he will need it soon becomes clear when thunder god Thor and all-father Odin visit the house of Kratos and Atreus. For Odin, it’s simple: Kratos killed the godly children in self-defense, and that’s the end of it: the all-father wants peace with Kratos so he can focus on averting Ragnarök. That Thor hasn’t exactly given the past a place yet, becomes clear when he challenges Kratos to a fight. While the brawlers battle each other,
From here, various storylines that are touched upon throughout the game are brought together and released again. The overarching main storyline is, you wouldn’t think so given the title, Ragnarök. Kratos, Atreus, Mimir, and the dwarven duo Brok and Sindri meet various other gods and characters, such as Tyr, Freya, and Freyr, who all have their own ideas about what should be done. However, Atreus quickly emerges as a central character. He has specific gifts that enable him to consult ancient prophecies in hidden temples. We will not tell you what he learns from this, but it is clear that it is important.
Atreus, however, builds up knowledge that Kratos does not have himself, choosing not to always tell Kratos everything. Here we find the story within the story. Kratos has a hard time with Atreus keeping secrets from him and not telling him the truth. The fact that Atreus occasionally goes out without his father doesn’t make it any better. When Atreus refuses to accept Odin’s offer to visit Asgard, the relationship between the two falls to an all-time low. The bond of trust between father and son, but also between various other characters in the game, gives the story and the characters a bit more depth.
The characters themselves also deserve a big compliment. There are few games in which the acting is as good as in this God of War game. That is of course in the performance of the voice actors, but also in the elaboration of the faces. The mimicry that can be seen in the facial animations is impressive. In this way, the characters each succeed in conveying emotion, which of course benefits the story. By the way, they don’t only do that during cutscenes: at any time in God of War Ragnarök, characters can strike up conversations with each other. For example, Atreus regularly has questions for Mimir and Mimir sometimes wants to know something from Freya, who in turn has questions about Kratos’ past. These conversations are nice. They fill the ‘space’ that is available when you simply travel through one of the worlds.
The story is fantastic, as is the way it is presented. It’s great how the writers put the player on the wrong foot several times and come up with nice plot twists. In addition, it remains nice to be able to draw from Nordic mythology, because there are plenty of colorful figures to be found there. You may already know many of them from other popular media in which the same names appear, but God of War Ragnarök definitely gives all those characters their own twist. Our favorites? Thor as a drunkard, Heimdall as an insufferable, arrogant know-it-all, and above them all: Freya. Not only does actress Danielle Bisutti steal every scene her character is in, Freya also takes care of some of the most memorable side quests and, apart from the main characters, goes through perhaps the most interesting development.
Packs and buffs
The story automatically leads Kratos and Atreus through the different realms and of course everything happens there. God of War Ragnarök is an action-adventure game, which means a lot of fighting. The gameplay strikes a nice balance between combat, puzzle solving, and world discovery, with it being especially fun to find hidden parts of the game world, where you can often find something like a chest with valuable loot, or a battle with a special enemy. Certainly, a bit further into the game, it becomes a game in itself to find all those hidden zones in all parts of each realm. Now you could say: well, I’m not a completionist, so I’m not going to do that. You may be right, but neither am I.
Buffs and stats
When you do that, you also collect a lot of stuff that you can use to improve your armor. As in the previous game, you will encounter Brok or Sindri in each world, and they never travel without their tool. The dwarves are always ready to improve your weapons or your equipment or make new items for you, as long as you have the right resources with you. This system goes pretty deep. The items Kratos carries can give him all sorts of different buffs. Think of special attacks that do extra damage or buffs that give extra protection. If Kratos wears more matching pieces of equipment, those buffs also become stronger.In addition, all those parts of your equipment also have basic properties that contribute to Kratos’ stats in Strength, Defense, Luck, Cooldown, and Runic. The ratings on those properties translate to the gameplay in all sorts of ways. And then we haven’t even talked about the amulet on which Kratos can add extra buffs, which also opens up extra possibilities. Well, we already said it: it goes pretty deep.
In fact, it goes so deep that you can wonder if it isn’t a bit too much of a good thing. Of course, your Kratos is at its best if you dig deep into all the armor you can choose and pick up the best buffs that suit your fighting style and favorite weapons. However, it is so much that it is hardly possible to keep an overview. We gave up on that after a few tens of hours of playing. At that time we had found a set that we thought worked well and no longer felt the need to further explore all the new stuff that we picked up. The interface doesn’t seem quite designed for it either: you’re scrolling for a long time in a list that seems to never end. In our view it would have been stronger to have a smaller selection,allowing gamers to make a clearer choice. It is now a lot and it becomes so complex that it actually loses its value a bit.
That’s not too bad. It is true that if you choose to just stay with the same package, you can also continue the game. Of course, you have to upgrade that suit, because the enemies also become stronger, but which armor you choose is not that important. That’s nice because the system around armor and buffs does not form any restrictions for gamers who do not want to delve into it so deeply. They can confidently get going with the same thing for everyone: the Leviathan Ax and the Blades of Chaos, the two main weapons of Kratos, as they were in the previous game. You can upgrade the weapons with all kinds of special handles that also bring buffs, but because they always stand on their own, this is already a bit clearer.
Well, then the real work: the fighting itself. In the previous God of War game, we found the feel of the punch to be excellent. The blows Kratos landed had a certain weight behind them; you could feel the force and the impact, so to speak. That has been preserved in God of War Ragnarök. Improved? We don’t want to go that far. The game looks better and runs even smoother (more on that later) and that makes the effects associated with ‘axe hits monster’ even better. That helps of course. The animations associated with changing weapons also make it fun to hit. You can switch to another weapon in the middle of a combo and pick up the combo again, which feels good even after dozens of hours.
Continuously unlock new skills
You don’t have to make it that complicated though. The base is simple. So you have the Leviathan Ax and the Blades of Chaos. Both weapons have a light and a heavy attack. You can also throw the ax and the Blades are on chains with which you can attack enemies from a distance or even pull them toward you. Okay, this is where things start to get a bit more complicated. However, that’s not a problem. God of War Ragnarök is good at learning all the different attacks and abilities. You can unlock many of those options via a skill tree . Each weapon has its own skill tree and every time you upgrade a weapon you can unlock new skills.For example, the game ensures that even after dozens of hours of playing you learn all kinds of new tricks, which you can then use in the fights.
Those battles also start simple, but slowly become more and more difficult. Enemies get shields, are more or less susceptible to certain elements, make attacks that cannot be blocked with Kratos’ shield and so on. Every battle, even the battles with random enemies you encounter in the game world, has its own challenge. One of the criticisms of the previous God of War was that there was little variety in the enemies. That goes much better in Ragnarök. You still come across certain archetypes more often, but not so often that it becomes annoying. The different enemies come from different realms and often have different fighting styles, so that variation in the fights is naturally present.And if it does get boring, a fight with a more challenging enemy is never far away.
Berserkers instead of Valkyries
Challenging enemies come in all shapes and sizes and you will encounter them both inside and outside the main questline. An important difference is in any case that the difficulty level within the main questis not excessively high. You will certainly die, but all battles are doable. If you deviate from that main path and go looking for the extra boss fights, God of War Ragnarök becomes a more difficult game. In the previous game you had the Valkyries who really tested you and in Ragnarök, it’s Berserkers who really give you a hard time. Somehow it is strange that the most important boss fights in the story are not the toughest tests, but it does provide a nice distribution. Gamers who feel like the extra challenge can look it up and gamers who just want to follow the story can finish that story without too much difficulty.
Atreus goes solo
On the way to all those big fights, there is another important aspect that certainly adds a lot of variety. We already wrote it on the first page: Atreus occasionally goes out without his father in this game. In God of War Ragnarök, you still play most often with Kratos, but there are also large parts in which you play as Atreus. Early in the game he goes out with Sindi, who also helps him a bit in battles, but that is not very necessary. Atreus is no longer a child. The young adult half-giant is armed with a bow and arrow and can handle it just fine. His special arrows also play a role when he fights alongside Kratos: he can stun enemies or make them extra susceptible to Kratos’ attacks. Atreus’s grown role has been very successful in our opinion and some of the ‘Atreus missions’ are great fun and sometimes even heartwarming to play. Of course we don’t want to reveal anything about this, but if you play the game and come across this piece, you will understand what we mean.
Beautiful and stable
Just as important as the story and the combat are the worlds in which it all takes place. God of War Ragnarök takes its inspiration from Norse mythology and, just like in the first part, Kratos and Atreus frequently travel back and forth between the different realms. They do so through the hidden world of the World Tree, which they can access thanks to Brok and Sindri. If you travel between two realms, you walk over the World Tree until a door to the other world appears. You get it: this is a disguised loading screen, but because the characters in these scenes always have a short conversation about one thing or another, it doesn’t feel that way. For example, real loading screens are limited to when you load a saved game or when you load the last checkpoint after you died.
Lots to discover
The setup with nine different realms is interesting, especially when you consider that God of War Ragnarök is sometimes a closed, linear game and at other times it is almost an open world game. The quests that are part of the main path often keep you stuck for a while and let you walk a predetermined route. That is necessary, because that way you eventually open more and more worlds. Once you have visited such a world, you can often go back there. This does not apply to all worlds, but Midgard, Svartalfheim, Alfhem and Vanaheim are certainly full of extra missions and regions to discover. In Vanaheim you even discover a gigantic part of the world where you don’t actually have to do anything for the story, but this region is packed with content and beautiful environments.
Vanaheim is a world that is not so heavily burdened by the Fimbulwinter, which, among other things, has a firm grip on Midgard. Vanaheim, but also Svartalfheim, are therefore good for beautiful pictures. The jungles are rich and green and the vistas are cheerful. Midgard and Niflheim are very wintery or even frozen. The different realms have their own character and appearance, which makes for a nice variety. The way you move around in those worlds is also different. In Midgard and Alfheim you can ride a sled, but in Svartalfheim and Vanaheim Kratos often travels by boat. As mentioned, in all worlds there are all kinds of hidden areas where you can find boxes and other valuable objects.It is also nice that you cannot reach some areas immediately. You will then see elements that you should clearly be able to do something with, but you do not yet have the necessary skills at that time. The game sometimes takes you back to worlds you have visited before, where you notice that you can reach new places.
So the worlds are certainly good for a good portion of eye candy. God of War Ragnarök is a beautiful game across the board, we could be brief about that… but we won’t. There is quite a bit to tell about the graphic side of the game. That starts with the available graphics modes, because just like in many modern console games, the player has to make a choice for optimal image quality or optimal performance. If you don’t have a television that supports 120Hz, you have two choices: Favor Performance or Favor Resolution. With the latter option, you play the entire game in native 4k, but with a cap at 30 frames per second. If you go for performance, you can play the game at 60fps, with the resolution scaled between 1440p and 4k.
If you do have a TV that supports 120Hz, you can choose a high frame rate mode, or a Favor Performance mode that runs at 40fps instead of 30fps. We have not been able to test these modes ourselves, but according to Digital Foundry, the frame rate in that HFR mode fluctuates between 80 and 90 frames per second. However, Digital Foundry notes that this mode only works well if your screen also supports a variable refresh rate. According to them, the HFR mode does not appear smooth without this function. They, therefore, recommend that you only use HFR if you also have VRR and otherwise choose one of the other graphic modes.
We have also tested the two most common modes ourselves and see that the Favor Resolution mode does indeed run tightly at 30fps. The Favor Performance mode has a bit more difficulty in busy battles with a lot of visual effects: the frame rate dips slightly below 60fps here. There are no shocking drops, but the 60fps is not held continuously. However, that is not a bad thing: while playing we did not notice this at all. In fact, we dare to say that the Favor Performance mode is the better of the two. Anyone who sees both variants in action next to each other clearly sees how much smoother the 60fps mode runs. On the other hand, the added value in image quality is hardly visible. You would have to view images frame by frame to see the differences in detail. There are those differences. For example, the 30fps mode shows better shadows and the level of detail of objects further away is slightly higher. Do you notice this while playing? Not really. Therefore, opt for the higher frame rate: it makes God of War Ragnarök an even nicer game.
A strong base further improved
By the way, all graphical modes benefit from the graphical improvements that Sony’s Santa Monica Studio has made to God of War Ragnarök, so it doesn’t matter which way you play the game. Looking at the improvements, we first want to note that it is not difficult to see that this is a further development of the first game. The whole looks similar; you see the similarities. That is certainly not a bad thing: it would be rather strange if that were not the case. This is a sequel after all, and God of War was already a good game, so it’s not surprising that many of the basic elements are similar.
Still, God of War Ragnarök looks a lot nicer and light plays an important role in it. That’s quite funny because the light in this game is actually relatively simple. God of War Ragnarök does not work with a day and night cycle; the light is basically stationary. In some places you do have day and night, but that is one specific variant when it comes to the global light effects. The game’s main point, however, is the greatly improved ‘indirect illumination. For example, consider a scene where Kratos walks into a cave that has a small open area at the top. The sun’s rays then come through that open area, illuminating parts of the rock wall and that light in turn illuminates the cave in which Kratos walks. Especially that effect looks phenomenal in this game. The result? The environment looks very credible and so does the way in which that environment is lit. The surface that is illuminated also looks better. God of War Ragnarök uses tessellation to show relief in, among other things, the subsoil much better. That effect is clearly visible in the snow, which looks much more believable.
We have not been able to test the PS4 version of God of War Ragnarök. If we are to believe the stories on the internet and the findings of other reviewers, that version runs quite well, with the PS4 Pro running at twice the resolution of the normal PS4, but both consoles should deliver excellent performance. Of course without some of the graphical bells and whistles that you do have on the PlayStation 5, but the level is, it seems, certainly high enough.
Bugged boss fight
The game runs on the PlayStation 5 without any significant problems. The over-the-shoulder camera sometimes doesn’t work very well and can sometimes cause enemies to unexpectedly come out from behind you, but that’s not a bad thing. We didn’t really experience very big bugs … we thought. When we had already recorded the video review, which is why you don’t see the bug in it and don’t hear about it, we still encountered an annoying bug. At the end of a tricky Berserker battle, you’ll need to take out your enemy with a finisher for good, and to do that, press R3 as always. In this case, however, that turned out to be of no use. We tried everything, but the game wouldn’t respond to our command to deploy the finisher and there was nothing to do but restart the battle. That hurt, because it took enough tries to win the fight even once. Too bad, but not the end of the world either: an attempt later succeeded in winning the fight again and then the finisher worked. There is therefore a chance that not all gamers will run into this bug, but if they do, it will be an annoying moment.
God of War Ragnarök is a wonderful game. Whether you look at the story, the characters who carry that story, the structure of the worlds or the extremely fine gameplay: everything is good. If you have mastered the combat system and alternate between your weapons to your heart’s content and make good use of your various skills, God of War Ragnarök plays away wonderfully. The story grabs you, surprises every now and then and captivates with ease until the end. You postpone that ending hour after hour, day after day, because it’s just too much fun to unravel all the worlds down to the last stone and to get all the sidequests and pieces of story that go with it. Even a series of 25 somewhat repetitive trials in Muspelheim is not enough to put even a little pressure on the desire to continue playing: it remains fun to send one enemy after another to Valhalla. It is clear to see that God of War Ragnarök is ‘just’ a sequel to God of War, but that’s not a bad thing at all, because this sequel is better than its predecessor on all fronts. It is therefore mandatory reading for gamers with a PlayStation 5 and in our opinion one of them, perhaps even the games of this year.