It’s rare to have such uncomplicated feelings about a game. To finish something and think, “that’s one of the best games I’ve ever played.” But with Ragnarok, it felt obvious. Sony Santa Monica‘s sequel is a high watermark for the medium and certainly surpasses all first-party games to date on PS5.
It’s also a very difficult game to talk about, because Ragnarok’s greatest strength, is its ability to shock. There are large parts of this game, and many of the things that make it so incredibly special, that deserve to be experienced without the slightest hint that they’re about to happen.
“Are they really about to do that?” was a constant refrain as the conclusion to the Norse Saga built to its crescendo. Featuring an intense final act that is among the most memorable in modern gaming, it’s an adventure that trades in the epic spectacle in a way that is rarely attempted.
God of War Ragnarok - Review Roundtable
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But it’s not just the blockbuster moments that make God of War Ragnarok so special. If anything they’re elevated by the moments of peace between the march towards Ragnarok, the realm-ending war that Kratos and Atreus seem destined to fight in.
Atreus, now older, taller and in full knowledge of his status as the half-giant, half-god Loki is grappling with his destiny, a destiny that Kratos does not want him to fulfill. What that conflict manifests as early is essentially teenage rebellion. That deeply relatable adolescent feeling of thinking you know everything and that your parent just doesn’t understand.
The God of War duology’s strength has always been recasting Gods are relatable characters with emotional depth, and Ragnarok only continues that. Many players will be shedding a tear within ten minutes, such is the generational leap in performance from Sunny Suljic, an absolute pillar of this game.
Kratos doesn’t want to fight another war. He’s determined to leave that life behind, the entire reason he came to these shores in the first place, but he also senses that it is inevitable, and is grappling with his own mortality, despite his Godhood. He’s trying to protect Atreus, but can also sense that in doing so, he’s pushing away the thing he loves unconditionally. Boy no longer, Atreus is a man, and Kratos is struggling to come to terms with it.
This is all staged in the shadow of Asgard, and its none-too-thrilled leader. Following Kratos’ brief return to god-slaying in the last game, Thor appears at Kratos’ door, accompanied by the All-Father Odin. He wishes to strike a deal for peace between Kratos and the Asgardians, desperate to circumvent Ragnarok.
Odin, played by Richard Schiff, is part mob boss, part cult leader. He strikes the figure of George Carlin and pours poisonous invective into the ears of all of those around him. He’s unlike any villain in the series. The writing strikes the perfect balance between utter distrust and the potential that this call for peace could be legitimate. His entire Asgardian clan is brilliantly written, far from cartoon villains, the interpersonal drama is more like a Norse-themed episode of Succession.
“But it’s not just the blockbuster moments that make God of War Ragnarok so special. If anything they’re elevated by the moments of peace between the march towards Ragnarok, the realm-ending war that Kratos and Atreus seem destined to fight in.”
We have now reached the point where we don’t want to discuss the story in any further detail because the sheer pace at which things accelerate needs to be experienced firsthand. Even attempting to explain all of the story beats in the first seven hours would rob players of some of the year’s very best surprises.
Something that isn’t a surprise is how great God of War Ragnarok feels to play. The combat system, which was a highlight of the first game, has been refined, feels tighter, and has added a catalog of new abilities and moves which makes fights feel far more varied than in the original. This is also aided by a massive overhaul of enemies. Gone are the days of fighting endless Draugrs; each realm has several classes of unique enemies, all of which provide added challenge and encourage players to step out of their combat comfort zone.
And it’s vital that the combat is able to stay fresh and entertaining because this is a long game. Not only does the main path take around 20 hours to complete, but you’ll also spend double that with the huge amount of side content, not to mention the post-game which is significantly more fleshed out and expansive than the first game.
This isn’t generic checkbox open-world stuff, there’s a huge number of side quests in areas that you’ll run through if you don’t take the time to look around. We’d really recommend finishing these before completing the game, because most, if not all of the dialogue will explicitly reference what is going on, and doing these quests after the final events robs them of a bit of that connection to the main story. There are puzzles to solve, utterly brutal fights that in some ways surpass the legendary valkyrie fights from the first game, and so, so much lore to explore.
And those realms you’re exploring are utterly stunning. This isn’t just a case of making things look realistic (although we did find ourselves wondering how many dozens of people it took to make snow that looks photoreal as a backdrop for you beheading things), but it’s the epic art direction. Everything is bigger and grander. It is a game that’s just dripping with expense in a way that video games don’t often reach. Play it on the biggest screen you can.
The game offers a performance mode and a fidelity mode, each of which can be supercharged with a high frame rate if you have the TV to show it off. While the fidelity mode is obviously beautiful, and when the sadly absent photo mode is eventually added it’ll be great for your digital tourism through the realms, the 70 to 90 FPS we managed to get out of performance mode on a 120hrtz screen is staggering. Comparing this game to how the original looked and ran when it first launched, feels like a generational leap, even if some parts of the game do not.
“The combat system, which was a highlight of the first game, has been refined, feels tighter, and has added a catalog of new abilities and moves which makes fights feel far more varied than in the original.”
God of War Ragnarok is likely Sony‘s final big cross-generation game and while it doesn’t feel like the game was held back in terms of performance, visuals, or broad scope, there are a few scars from being on PS4 that you may notice. Areas aren’t as big as they could be on PS5 and there are plenty of “duck under the wall” loads, but that’s pretty much it in terms of remnants of the last gen.
We had played 10 hours of the game before someone pointed them out to us, mainly because we were distracted by the utterly ridiculous opening act, rather than some, admittedly a bit annoying, last-gen concessions. Fast travel using the realm between realms is near instant, only taking longer if there’s dialogue that is required to finish before the mystical door appears.
Special mention has to be made of Bear McCreary‘s incredible soundtrack. It genuinely sneaks up on you, and when it does, it doesn’t so much tug at your heartstrings as hooks onto them with a Blade of Chaos and throws them across the room. The soundtrack is reserved when it needs to be, but when it has an emotional moment to carry, it does so spectacularly.
The overwhelming feeling we had as we were approaching the end of God of War Ragnarok is just how astonishingly far the series has come. The idea that this game, which so delicately handles the relationship between a parent and their child as the child slowly becomes an adult, is the same one that started on the PS2 with us ripping the heads off Hydras and throwing bits of old greek temple at Zeus is incredible.
As Bear McCreary’s epic score heralded the beginning of the end, the chills we experienced were a rarity in media. It reminded me of sitting in the cinema watching The Lord of The Rings: The Return of the King, absolutely in awe that something of this scale could exist. You don’t get many moments in gaming where you can honestly say you’ve never seen anything like that before. Ragnarok’s final bow is one of those moments. In fact, it’s full of them.
God of War Ragnarok is a testament to a developer operating at the absolute peak of its powers. It is not only one of the most singularly powerful games of the modern era, it’s a current-gen benchmark that other studios should aim to be within touching distance of.
The story of Kratos and Atreus will surely be remembered as one of the best in the history of the medium, and Christopher Judge and Sunny Suljic deserve all of the acclaim possible for the characters they’ve brought to life.
It is a victory march. While some insignificant elements of its cross-generational status occasionally flare, they are utterly drowned out by the visual, aural, and emotional symphony that the game conducts. A final act that’s perhaps the finest in gaming, brings an utterly unbeatable duology to an unforgettable end.
God of War Ragnarok is an incredibly special game. It's vital in a way few releases are. With captivating performances that carry an amazing story to a jaw-dropping final act, it’s a game that achieves everything it sets out to do to the absolute highest standard.
- Refined, addictive and endlessly varied combat
- Visually stunning
- Chrisopher Judge and Sunny Suljic give two of gaming's best ever performances
- Epic, emotionally devestating story
- Incredible score
- Some minor cross-generational scars