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2021 Preview: God of War: Ragnarök teases an epic Norse battle
Just three years since the last game, Sony Santa Monica is plotting another Norse bloodbath on PS5
Ragnarök gets everywhere these days.
From Marvel’s Thor movies to Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla to a Norwegian Netflix series, the Norse apocalypse legend is getting more attention than it’s had since Viking times. Now Sony’s Santa Monica Studio wants a piece of the action. The reveal for its big sequel to 2018’s God of War reboot emphasised one thing: ‘Ragnarök is coming.’
It’s not clear from the announcement trailer whether Ragnarök is actually the title for Kratos’ continuing Norse adventures, but it seems likely. In truth, not much has been made clear as yet, although the same announcement did confidently stamp down a 2021 release date. Fortunately, we can gauge quite a lot about God of War’s return from where the first game left off and from that all-important word ‘Ragnarök.’
By the end of the last game, Kratos and boy, sorry, Atreus, had killed troublemaker Baldur, son of Odin and Freya, and Thor’s sons, Modi and Magni. This kind of behaviour was always bound to cause a stir, and bring the A-list deities out from hiding. Thor, in particular, is likely to be a major antagonist this time – he appeared in a bonus ending sequence in the first game, looking all vexed and thundery.
Freya, an ally before, could also become a powerful enemy. Kratos saved her life by killing Baldur, but she didn’t take it well. She could be looking to return to her former position as queen of the Valkyries and rain down some fury.
As for Odin himself, he’ll have to be involved if Ragnarök does kick off. In Norse legend, Ragnarök, the ‘Fate of the Gods’, follows a string of events, including the death of Baldr (Baldur) at the hands of the treacherous Loki, and ‘Fimbulvetr,’ an extra-long winter that heralds the arrival of the end times (as we left Kratos and Atreus last time, Fimbulvetr had already begun).
When Ragnarök begins, the seas flood the land, mountains collapse and the sun and moon are eaten by cosmic wolves. Loki breaks free from imprisonment and rises against the gods, and fire-giant king Surtr invades Asgard, Odin’s kingdom. Then basically everyone dies. Odin is eaten by giant wolf Fenrir, Freya and Surtr kill each other, as do Thor and Jörmangundr, the world snake, and Heimdall and Loki. With that done, the whole world sinks into the sea, leaving a void. It’s heavy stuff.
We assume God of War won’t quite take things this far, not least because the ending of all existence isn’t a shrewd move for the future of the franchise. And Santa Monica Studio isn’t exactly attempting a faithful retelling of Norse mythology. But Ragnarök implies a more epic scale even than the first wide-ranging adventure, and the likelihood that the Norse pantheon will be decimated. Given Kratos’ track record, if our grumpy Spartan demi-god is sufficiently angered, perhaps he could be the bringer of Ragnarök himself, dealing death to all.
“Santa Monica Studio isn’t exactly attempting a faithful retelling of Norse mythology. But Ragnarök implies a more epic scale even than the first wide-ranging adventure, and the likelihood that the Norse pantheon will be decimated.”
Those familiar with the first game will know that the role of Loki in these legends could be a trigger issue here. Let’s just say that family ties and personal revenge will probably once again be as central to events as world-ending prophecies. The reboot put a lot of work into developing the strained relationship between Kratos and Atreus, and that’s likely to remain a key theme. Expect more blunt parental advice and mood swings. Will they stick together? Might they even face off against each other at some point?
As for the play experience, we don’t anticipate big changes. The combat was pretty feisty and fun the first time around and just needs a little fine-tuning to really shine. A new weapon to master would also be appreciated. Other than that, we honestly wouldn’t mind if they simplified some of the resource hunting and upgrading systems, to focus more on rewarding exploration and set-piece encounters.
Presumably, there’ll be a semi-open world structure again, with a branching hub area and occasional visits to alternate realms. In the first game, we never got to see three of the mythological nine realms: Asgard, Vanaheim and Svartalfheim.
It seems highly likely that Kratos will at least travel to Asgard in the sequel, the home of the Aesir gods ruled by Odin, given how central it is to Ragnarök. Vanaheim, the home of Freya and the Vanir gods, could also play a big part, with Svartalfheim, a land of dwarves, potentially featuring in some respect as well.
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One big question is whether God of War: Ragnarök will make it to PS4, as it’s only been confirmed as a PS5 title. So far, Sony has refused to comment, but can such an expensive game ignore the huge installed user-base on the older format? Then again, it will create complications if Santa Monica Studio again commits to having the game play out in a single unbroken take.
The PS5’s SSD will reduce loading times, removing the need for padding scenes between areas, which the PS4 would still require. Reboot director Cory Barlog has talked up the importance of SSD for this reason, and it’s hard to imagine they’d want to go back.
And what about that 2021 release date? That’s only three years since the last game, which would make for a pretty quick turnaround. But judging by the way the reboot was plotted, with characters and locations held back, it feels like it’s been well planned all along, so perhaps it’s not unrealistic. If it is on track, we should find out more soon. If not, Ragnarök will come when it’s good and ready.