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God of War: Ragnarök review — Fimbulwinter, Fate, and Fatherhood

God of War: Ragnarök is an absolute masterclass in storytelling and combat balance. If you needed your review boiled down to one sentence, there it is. That said, it’s also filled to overflowing with incredible moments that will keep you on your toes for the entirety of the game, and I will not ruin those moments under any circumstances. As such, this will be a spoiler free review from top to bottom, other than some basic setup. When I assure you that I’ve not spoiled anything beyond the most surface level things, know that this is an understatement as well. God of War: Ragnarök is deep, and there’s a lot I leave to you to uncover for yourself. Let’s get to it.

Ragnarök opens with a more capable teenage Atreus and a visibly exhausted Kratos venturing to the only place left in their journey – home. Lashing a deer to their sled, the duo prepare for the road ahead. Atreus, now keeping his own council, has secrets of his own, but those will have to wait. A recklessly distraught Freya pursues the pair relentlessly, and the death of Baldur brings Fimbulwinter – an bitter and endless grip of ice upon the world that carries implications far beyond the cold.

God of War: Ragnarök picks up several years after the events of God of War. And that’s about all I will tell you about the story beyond stating emphatically that it’s incredible. Any attempts to tell you more would be so fraught with peril that I’ll inevitably ruin some portion of it, so I’ll stick to the mechanics of it. Even there it’ll be a light touch.

Starting out any sequel, you know that the first order of business is a reset, and Fimbulwinter provides that easily enough. The weather crash has weakened both Kratos and his son, strengthened their enemies, and hand-waved you back to level 1. Mimir even jokes about it, so no need for a singular de-powering event. More than this, however, there are a number of new mechanics that provide the next iteration of combat for the God of War series.

Both weapons from the first game, the Leviathan Axe and the Blades of Chaos, return, but they are greatly expanded in both utility and power. The Blades of Chaos can now be used to grapple to ledges to traverse the environment, and both weapons can be unleashed after leaping off of higher ground for a massive crash attack. Kratos has the ability to charge up the Leviathan Axe with a powerful ice enchantment called “Frost Awaken”. This makes the next attack deal ice damage, and that’s just getting things started. The Blades of Chaos can be thrown into an enemy, impaling them with an appropriately-named attack called “Whiplash”. As Kratos whips the chains, gouts of fire roil up the length, burning the target at the end. Enemies can now possess elemental armor. This can be a real force multiplier for them, so removing that armor and opening them up to stronger attack is important. In the previous game, the triangle button was used to recall the Leviathan Axe, meaning it was rarely used beyond that function. Now this is used to activate these “Weapon Signature Moves”, as well as signaling Atreus to unleash his deadly arrows. And yes, it can still recall the axe.

You’ll note that Kratos and Atreus now have separate experience point pools. As before you’ll be unlocking your skills with that experience, but now you’ll also install “mod tokens” that can be slotted on some skills to further augment their use for elemental impact, defensive boosts, or offensive capabilities. Once unlocked, each offers three additional variables for the min/maxers out there, though ultimately it’s skill that will win the day – stats won’t save you against a massive crocodile beast many times your size that threatens to eat you whole.

There was one obvious item left out of God of War (2018). Though you could collect a wide variety of very cool looking shields, they were all merely cosmetic changes between them. Now, these shields are another valuable part of your arsenal. Each shield has a specific function, so having the right gear at the right time begins to matter. For example, the Dauntless Shield allows Kratos to respond with a massive smash attack that hurls enemies away from Kratos, stunning them, provided you can nail that perfect parry. Conversely, the Stonewall Shield is more of a defensive implement. While Kratos loses the ability to actively parry with it, it provides a huge bulwark against incoming damage. As enemies crash against the shield over and over, it builds a kinetic energy. Fully charged, Kratos will slam the shield into the ground, sending a massive pulse out that knocks every foe on the screen to the ground, stunned. Additionally, you can use your shield as a weapon, holding it aloft and striking it at the last moment to stun them. It’s another tool in your arsenal, and it feels as realized as every other weapon.

There are upgrades for your armor and equipment, just like in the first title, but it’s been expanded greatly here. Every piece of equipment has upwards of nine upgrades available, with the higher tier upgrades requiring increasingly rare materials and Hacksilver. Additionally, there are more unique items than before, and not just found at the endgame.

Atreus’s skill with a bow has increased dramatically, as has his ability to handle his mother’s blade. As such, he can hold his own in battle. Brok and Sindri are on hand to help, of course, granting additional upgrades to his arrows. Here we see another expansion on armor and weapons as his equipment can also be improved, though not to the granularity of what Kratos carries.

God of War was nothing if not expansive, though the Bifrost could only carry to six of the nine realms. In God of War: Ragnarök you’ll be visiting Asgard, Vanaheim, and Svartalfheim, as well as Midgard, Alfheim, Helheim, Muspelheim, Niflheim, and yes – even Jotunheim. Some of these worlds are smaller than others, yes, but there is no arguing that they are fully fleshed out and completely realized worlds. I particularly enjoyed Alfheim, and for two very, very large reasons that I won’t reveal to you here – you’ll meet them soon enough.

The other area where God of War arguably stumbled was in enemy variety. You spent a great deal knocking down Draugr and Dark Elves, with a handful of other foes dashed in periodically for flavor. Here, you’ll encounter new and unfriendly faces bespoke to each realm. Massive beasts, centaurs, poison-spitting Grims, several varieties of Tatzelwurm, plants that spit needles, acid spewing river beasts, Draugr, Dark Elves, and far more that I won’t spoil here are just a few of the creatures that’ll cross your path. The Bestiary is filled to the brim with excellent drawings and backstory on each, and I have to say I enjoyed fighting everything in the game. Even when they kicked my teeth in, it felt fair…other than a certain librarian…she can go straight to Helheim. Joking aside, Sony Santa Monica has done a wonderful job populating this world with life, and it feels very much lived in now. Truly – well done.

I cannot say more on combat other than to say it’s extraordinarily nuanced, well balanced, greatly expanded, and downright unpredictable. At any moment you may be ambushed or attacked, and often without warning. While you knew you were about to step into a tough fight in God of War when you reached into the breach between realms, here it can happen at any time – be ready.

One of the biggest changes to the formula is the verticality that God of War: Ragnarök is bringing to the table. As Kratos can use his Chains of Chaos to ascend to higher ground, which is handy for a rapid attack from above, but now can also be used to solve puzzles from a different angle, or to simply open up new ways to explore. Yes, it’s still linear of course, but with this additional height there’s a great deal more opportunities for exploration.

Every game Sony puts out is another opportunity to embrace the DualSense, and wow does Ragnarök do exactly that, at least early on. The tinkling of the chains on your sled dogs comes from the controller itself, the triggers carry different weight as you swing the axe into fallen logs, and the thud of the Chains of Chaos impacting your foes all make the DualSense sing. The light on the DualSense reflects a great many things, on the off chance you happen to be looking at it. While on the water it turns a lovely shade of blue, and it’s murderously red when Kratos unleashes his rage. I do wish that these early moments were painted throughout, but what’s here is top-shelf.

God of War: Ragnarök carries four graphics options, as we’ve come to expect on Sony PlayStation 5 titles – a full 4K resolution locked at 30fps, and a dynamic upscale to 4K shooting for (and mostly hitting) 60fps being the most relevant pair for most.  If you have a high-refresh TV, however, you’ll have something more to look forward to as there’s also a 4K/40fps locked, and a variable rate 120fps, provided you have an HDMI 2.1 capable TV with 120hz refresh rate at your fingertips.  It’s entirely up to you, of course, which way you choose to experience the game, though I admit that I preferred the steadiness of the locked framerate with high framerate than a flexible one. Just know that options await, and more than you likely expected.

Honestly I could write an entire article twice the length of this one already just to talk about the accessibility options. Frankly, I’m not even sure I understand all of them. There are over 60 options, with simple things like UI text size and color filters, all the way to descriptive services and colors to help those of varied visual impairments. Frankly, it’s astounding. I thought previous efforts like The Last of Us and Horizon Forbidden West had raised the bar – God of War: Ragnarök is on a whole different level entirely. Given that so many games can’t be bothered to even give us a colored background for subtitles, this level of devotion to ensure all gamers engage is greatly appreciated.

To help bring this game to life, Sony Santa Monica once again turned to the legendary Bear McCreary for the soundtrack. Once again he delivers in spades. God of War has long since ceased being endless slaughter, giving way to a man and his son, and the growth of their experiences. Bear provides the backdrop for these moments, as well as the strife in between, and honestly it’s one of the reasons to pick up the Collector’s Edition – as if you needed another reason.

I don’t know who this little guy is, I just know that I have to find out his ENTIRE story….

One of my favorite things about God of War: Ragnarök is the pacing. Just like this review, it’s introducing new mechanics and changing the conversation once again to customization and combat. Throughout this adventure you’ll suddenly find yourself being pushed out of your comfortable lane, giving you new ways to fight. Just when I thought I was fully settled into my groove, I received an amulet that gave me nearly a dozen (literally!) new opportunities to change things up. At some point I expected the weight of all of these systems to collapse the fragile balance, but somehow…it didn’t. It provides endless possibilities to change up combat, and frankly I think I’ll end up paying God of War: Ragnarök the highest compliment I can – playing it all over again, and then revisiting it if and when it arrives on PC. It’s just that good.

I did run into a few bugs while playing Ragnarök. Frequently when I’d reveal a new entry for my Bestiary, or a fresh lore entry, I’d open it with the touch pad and be greeted with the empty screen below. If I went back in I could view the entry, but this is a repeat occurrence. I’ve also had Kratos get stuck with his hand out, waiting on an axe that isn’t coming as he walks through a cutscene. The only way to regain control was to exit the game and restart it. This happened three times over the course of the game. Not egregious, but it’s going to need some attention so as to not break the immersion of this fantastic story.

Ultimately you probably knew this was going to be a fantastic game, based on the incredible title from 2018. What blows me away is just how much better this game is than its predecessor. There have been some incredible games this year, but this is it – God of War: Ragnarök is your frontrunner for Game of the Year.

God of War: Ragnarök review — Fimbulwinter, Fate, and Fatherhood
100

Phenomenal

God of War Ragnarok

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It’s rare to see a sequel nail it this hard, but God of War: Ragnarök has once again raised the bar for every action adventure title. It’s the best game I’ve played in a very, very long time, and is, in a word, perfect.

Ron Burke is the Editor in Chief for Gaming Trend. Currently living in Fort Worth, Texas, Ron is an old-school gamer who enjoys CRPGs, action/adventure, platformers, music games, and has recently gotten into tabletop gaming. Ron is also a fourth degree black belt, with a Master's rank in Matsumura Seito Shōrin-ryū, Moo Duk Kwan Tang Soo Do, Universal Tang Soo Do Alliance, and International Tang Soo Do Federation. He also holds ranks in several other styles in his search to be a well-rounded fighter. Ron has been married to Gaming Trend Editor, Laura Burke, for 21 years. They have three dogs - Pazuzu (Irish Terrier), Atë, and Calliope (both Australian Kelpie/Pit Bull mixes).

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