The 2018 reimagining of God of War was one of those rare games that felt genuinely fresh – an especially triumphant feat when you consider how stale the series had started to become before it. A new setting, a new perspective and radically changed combat combined with innovative ideas like the game’s uninterrupted, single-shot third person camera to form something that was undeniably special whether you were a diehard, lapsed fan or newcomer. Fast forward four years and the father-son duo of Kratos and Atreus are back in an adventure that, so far, feels like a welcome return even if it isn’t another massive shake-up.
Thanks to PlayStation we’ve been lucky enough to have our hands on God of War Ragnarök ahead of its November 9th release and while there’s still so much for to see, our impressions of the first 6-7 hours of the game have been incredibly positive.
Just a reminder that spoilers for the first game are unavoidable here, so if you’re yet to play God of War (2018) you should close this page, go to your nearest PlayStation ? console or gaming PC and enjoy that first.
God of War Ragnarok picks up some years after the long and brutal journey that saw Kratos and son travel across many of the nine Norse realms, following a trail left by Atreus’ late mother that ultimately leads them to learn of the impending Ragnarok. The pair seem to be enjoying relative peace despite the imminent doomsday event, but soon find themselves at the ire of Odin himself following the death of his son, Baldur, in the previous game. With Odin and Thor at their backs, Kratos and Atreus are forced to set off on a new journey, this time to find a means of stopping both Odin and Ragnarok itself.
First impressions of God of War Ragnarok are that of familiarity – from a broad-strokes perspective this game largely follows the template laid out by its predecessor. Kratos and Atreus navigate larger-than-life environments in a mostly linear fashion, solving environmental puzzles and exploring for secrets while engaging in the odd bout of combat against all manner of enemies and fantastical beasts. The more I play through Ragnarok though, the more its changes begin to reveal themselves from subtle tweaks to the moment-to-moment gameplay to larger additions and improvements that I’m sure are only the beginning of things to come.
The core combat experience in Ragnarok feels instantly recognisable. It’s still the same meaty, brutal ballet of violence that sees Kratos utilise both the boomerang-like Leviathan Axe and his classic Blades of Chaos to smash the ever-loving souls out of his foes while Atreus backs him up from afar with his bow, but smart revision and additions help it stay fresh. New abilities mapped to the triangle button allow Kratos to infuse his axe or blades with elemental powers for example, and different shields now offer slightly different blocking or parrying bonuses to suit how you play, things that quickly add up to make combat feel much more dynamic overall.
One of the other big changes comes in the form of an updated progression system that rewards players for using specific skills repeatedly in order to increase that skill’s “tier” and unlock the ability to further enhance it with modifications. I’ve been having a lot of fun with this, and it’s motivated me to really think about what skills I’m using and where, especially when it comes to dealing with new enemy types with their own new challenges. Odin’s Einherjar, for example, will inflict a ‘Bifrost’ status on Kratos that temporarily sections off a large portion of his health bar which he’ll lose if he’s hit by a follow-up attack.
Further adding that dynamism to everything is more verticality and interaction with the environment – Kratos can pick up nearby objects like pillars or molten rocks and hurl them at enemies with a button press, for example, and his Blades of Chaos now act as a sort of grappling hook to scale large cliffs or cross chasms with ease. Atreus being older also makes him a more formidable partner as well, he’s incredibly capable in battle and will traverse the environment without the assistance he needed last time around.
Other than some added mobility, traversal and exploration do feel quite similar to the 2018 game. Trekking off the beaten path and solving satisfying environmental puzzles to find things like Nornir Chests and slabs of lore is a matter of muscle memory. It’s far from a bad thing though, with all of the worldbuilding and onboarding groundwork already laid last time around, Ragnrok drops you right into the thick of it again and has you holding your own in battle, plumbing for secrets and canoeing around like the years haven’t passed.
One thing that’s obviously going to be quite special about this sequel is the opportunity to explore all of the world’s nine realms, something that wasn’t possible before and that comes up within the game’s opening hours as Kratos, Atreus and Mimir head to Svartalfheim in search of Tyr, the Norse God of War originally thought to be dead.
Svartalfheim is quite a sizable locale, a series of land sections amongst huge lakes navigated mostly by boat (not unlike the Lake of the Nine in the previous game). It took me a good few hours to see everything that I possibly could sans some parts I’ll need to come back to with new abilities, including a couple of lengthy and genuinely interesting side quests. One of these rewarded me with some very attractive and useful armour for my troubles, the other – well, I’m not allowed to say. It’s cool as fuck, though.
Both of these also happen to centre around one of the game’s supporting characters and the reconciliation of their shady past, so while I’m excited for all of the new cast of characters I’ll meet across Ragnarok it’s also heartening to return to some familiar faces and have the opportunity to get to know them even more. And I think that really sets the tone for my journey back into this world – it might not be the massive shift that the previous entry was, but that game wasn’t just exciting because it was different, it was exciting because it was really bloody good and so it’s an immense pleasure just to be here again.
Following my semi-open world jaunt in Svartalfheim is a deeper dive into an enormous mine, a labyrinthine environment packed with large-scale puzzles that make good use of the pair’s increased mobility as well as some handy new ‘sonic arrows’ gifted to Atreus that can both stun enemies as well as cause certain materials in the world to crumple under acoustic pressure. This section serves to highlight the newfound synergy between Kratos and Atreus more than ever as they navigate the mine’s depths together and actively work towards a common goal.
Between Svartalfheim, Midgard and a secret hideout amongst the World Tree in the realm between, it’s clear that God of War Ragnarok is just as handsome and awe-inspiring a game as the one before it. Playing on PS5 there’s naturally a massive bump up in fidelity and detail with lush locales, gorgeous lighting and effects and breathtaking PS5-exclusive character models, despite a lack of any other real “new gen” features given this is a cross-platform release. It’s also a little odd to still be trudging through the Yggdrasil branch sections that were originally designed to mask the last game’s loading times, though these are also used to give characters time for conversation so it’s not a huge offence.
The single, uninterrupted camera shot that was a bold and fresh concept in the last game is back as well, and despite not being a new idea is still a unique point-of-difference in this series. It works just as well as ever, and even in these early moments is used to great effect to draw you into each scene and impart the wondrous sense of scale from enormous peaks right down to the quiver in a character’s eye. The game doesn’t pull any punches with throwing heart-wrenching moments at you from the outset and so being forced to sit, in those moments, still hits awfully hard.
There’s so much more that I could talk about, and exponentially more that I simply can’t just yet, but suffice it to say that based on the first half-dozen hours of God of War Ragnarok this is everything I would have wanted in a sequel. It doesn’t offer a wildly new experience in the way that its predecessor did, but it has no reason to when there’s still so much left to offer. It’s my hope that there’s maybe a major surprise or two in store down the track, but even if that hope turns out to be in vain I’ll be left with a meaty, satisfying action game filled with gorgeous views and a riveting next chapter in this compelling world.
God of War Ragnarok releases on November 9th for PS5 and PS4. Amazon currently has the cheapest prices at $98 for PS5 and $79 for PS4.
We’ll have a full review for the game at 3AM AEDT on November 4th.