God of War Ragnarok Review: Unmatched Action

It says everything you need to know about God of War Ragnarok that you can listen to the captivating tales of Norse mythology as told by your best friends while gently navigating past dense riverbanks dotted with lush jungle and along tranquil, by Lakes surrounded by snow float. covered mountains to crushing giant flying eyeballs with your bare hands in about 90 seconds.

Neither feels out of place or intrusive, but the flying eyeballs likely disagree.

Though remarkably similar to 2018’s God of War both mechanically and graphically, God of War Ragnarok is gradually shaping up to be a significant advancement in the series, expanding the scope of gameplay both stealthily and openly while delivering a tense and twisting story , which bends legend around its characters in exciting and endlessly interesting ways.

God of War Ragnarok takes place in all nine realms of Norse cosmology, while Odin – king and all-father of the Aesir gods – literally moves heaven and earth to try to avert the judgment day prophesied to take place around his bring about destruction. At the end of the final game, Kratos and Atreus learned of their unknowing role in the prophecy, and God of War Ragnarok looks at the ramifications of this new knowledge and the aftermath of the events that led to him gaining it.

Kratos examines a giant skeleton in God of War Ragnarok

It’s a very direct sequel, and perhaps due to the couple of years of detachment and watching beautified PC port footage in between, launching Ragnarok almost felt like launching the final game and picking it up exactly where it ended.

In Sony’s first-party pantheon, despite the hardware upgrade, Ragnarok feels a lot more like the jump between Uncharted 2 and Uncharted 3 than the more recent example of The Last of Us Part 1 and 2. This obviously makes sense in both the development time between the rebooted God of War and Ragnarok (which would have been just a few years without much delay) as well as the cross-generational availability.

It looks and feels great, with detailed environments and distant landscapes in each realm, but there aren’t any major technical or graphical feats that immediately jump off the screen. And that could make for a disappointing first impression if you’re expecting something that’ll make your PS5 jet engine like your PS4 does.

That’s not to say that God of War Ragnarok is completely overhauled or does nothing to move things forward. Familiar swells as the game progresses – be it combat styles, companion abilities, traversal, or puzzle solving – to the point where you later realize how much is different and new throughout the entire experience.

So the first few hours feel pretty close to what you’ve already been playing, and if Sony Santa Monica tried to roll out a lot of it faster just for the sake of differentiation, it would have ended up feeling overwhelming or disparate when it’s the right one choice for the game as a whole. Even if you sometimes encourage speeding things up a bit.

Kratos and Atreus paddle down a jungle river in God of War Ragnarok

Kratos and Atreus travel to all nine realms of God of War Ragnarok

However, you’ll have plenty of time to explore the mechanical nuances as they emerge. Where the spectacle-action genre of the console showpiece used to be a 6-hour linear fireworks show, God of War Ragnarok is as chunky as Kratos’ own biceps and it took me just over 40 hours to complete the main story (at around 75% Completing side stories), collectibles, and additional goodies) on Normal difficulty.

At the end of a main story branch, you almost always have the option to break off into a relatively compact – but very dense – open-space exploration filled with environmental puzzles, mini-bosses, and fetch quests. Diving into these rooms is highly recommended not only for the world and character-building exploits (the main “favors” in each area are generally good), but because they offer a lot of the best stuff and upgrades, which makes them pretty important to you makes you want to move forward smoothly in the next chapter.

These areas are also non-disposable. More activities appear fairly constantly as the state of the world changes during the main quest and even after the credits roll, giving you constant incentive to keep the family road trip through the realms going. But the constant detours can also be a bit distracting, both in the exploration areas and along the main trail.

There’s something hidden around almost every corner, and sniffing it out can get you out of the moment a little. If you’re a magpie like me, think more about the collectible you have to smash in the corner while a cutscene is playing than what’s actually going on. If you have a short attention span, be warned.

Kratos and Atreus exchange a look while following Tyr in God of War Ragnarok

But if you know that you really can’t miss anything and You can always go back and get things you miss – which you know now because I’m telling you – hopefully most people can get over that completion itch.

I wrote in my First Impressions preview that the beginning of God of War Ragnarok’s story worried me a bit because it portrayed the emotional movements thicker than the fur of the world serpent Jormungandr. From the moment you hit New Game, it’s all heavy hearts, long sighs, and somber silences that threaten to turn soppy – and at this point it feels like a Sony studio party ploy.

However, the characters’ motivation quickly rekindles to make everything feel more deserved – and from there, Ragnarok never loses its great moments. An early standoff between the game’s main protagonists sizzles with intense atmosphere and menace, and the unexpected and intricate characterizations of many of Ragnarok’s antagonists are almost as revolutionary as the renewed depth of Kratos’ character in God of War 2018.

These moments become more frequent and intense as the game nears its climax. Then, from the final full range arc recap to the blockbuster finale, it’s gigantic, cataclysmic set-piece after set-piece – wielding the full weight of everything built up to that point to make you so aggressive and angry as the characters pack battle on screen.

Kratos wields his ax against a revenant in God of War Ragnarok

The action in God of War Ragnarok is as good as ever, with many different playstyles

It’s not just about the captivatingly spectacular parts, but also the quieter parts. Dealing with topics such as responsibility, loss and, above all, the uncertainty in changing stages of life gives us an emotional boost and makes the edge of what is happening much sharper. Whether the story is contemplating coming-of-age, fatherhood, or death, it does so thoughtfully and consciously. And it always keeps you interested.

The only problem I have with all of this is where characters tend to spell out basically the insinuations of a scene; saying the quiet part aloud when it was already well deserved and clear from the context and performances. I wouldn’t say it undercuts anything too important because when the really emotional moments hit they land like a swan on water.

But it feels like there’s an undue concern that people won’t “get it.” This is especially felt at the end of the main preferences in each area, which often end in a conversation that feels a bit like a plenary session at the end of a school lesson or the coda at the end of a sitcom – “so what did we all learn today?”

But that’s all overshadowed by the action anyway. Once you get used to the touch-tight camera angle (which can leave you feeling like you’ll be confused by things outside of your peripheral vision before you’ve mastered the audio and visual cues), the arsenal of weapons, combos, and abilities is at your disposal feels incredibly flexible – with add-on items to modify almost every option available to you.

Kratos faces off against a formidable dragon in God of War Ragnarok

Kratos faces off against a huge array of magical beasts and enemies

So much information is communicated to you so naturally through subtle things – the clank of a sluggish charge on an armored enemy, or the slight sparkle of a fully charged swing – that finding your own style within the skillset is instinctive. And that’s without the jarring stops and slowdowns that add crisp impact to every shot and have you throwing yourself into every shot like a soccer manager kicking every ball for his team on the sidelines.

This is felt most clearly in the many passionately bitter boss fights that characterize the game. They do a great job of incorporating unique mechanics without looking cheap or overly simplistic. And truly, these boss fights are emblematic of what makes God of War Ragnarok great: they’re hugely successful amalgamations of a gripping story and brutal action, creating not only breathtaking, immersive spectacle, but a passionate investment in the outcome as well.

God of War Ragnarok launches November 9, 2022. Reviewed on PS5, code provided by publisher. God of War Ragnarok Review: Unmatched Action

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