Tuesday, December 6, 2022

God of War: Ragnarok > NAG

The impact that God of War (2018) had on gamers still echoes across the world every time someone debates the question of which is the best game of all time. It is a big title that still attracts new fans every year.

It’s been just over 4 years since the developers at Santa Monica Studio released that game onto the world, and they set the bar high. While we were eagerly anticipating the follow-up to God of War (2018), I found my spirits dampened thanks to the tsunami of unpolished games that were released in this four-year period. Think Cyberjunk 2077, Battlefield: 2042 and Saints Row, you get where I’m going with this.

It’s one thing worrying about whether the team behind the story of the 9 realms would suffer the same fate as some of those disgraced developers but it’s another having to snap back to reality and consider whether it’s even possible for everyone involved to create lightning in a bottle , twice.

“Intent does not matter, only consequences” – a recurring theme in the game.

In God of War: Ragnarok, 3 years have passed. Kratos and Atreus are amidst the dreadful season of Fimbulwinter in Midgard. A few things have changed, Atreus for one has grown up, you can tell by the voice, his training with Kratos has made him a fierce fighter on the field. He also challenges his father’s notions a lot more, indicating his gradual sway towards independence. Some things remain the same though, Kratos is still a man of very few words, merely grunting his way through conversations. He has yet to fully deal with the passing of his late wife, Faye, and struggles to find a way to maintain a balanced relationship with his ever-relentlessly curious son. Indeed, it feels like we’re back with the dysfunctional but deadly family that I grew to admire and grow fond of back in 2018.

Do you recall the words uttered by Kratos after the killing of Thor’s sons? “There are consequences to killing a god”, well, in this installment of the God of War franchise it becomes quite apparent early in the game that Kratos will have to face those consequences.

In the first few hours of the game, you’re thrown right into the action by having to take on Freya (who is still on a vengeance quest after the death of her son Baldur), a grizzly encounter with a giant bear, an electric lizard and the god of thunder himself, Thor.

With the world-shattering event, Ragnarok, approaching and the gods angered by their past actions, the deadly duo’s motivations are clear from the start. Atreus intends to find out more about who he is and what his fate entails given the recent learnings of his prophecy. While Loki, and Kratos seeks to protect his son by preparing him for the dangers that lie ahead.

Combat & Gameplay

The game is packed to the brim with boss fights, which you’ll find around every corner, each one proving to be a true test of your combat skill, pattern reading, and perfectly timed attacks. Your skills and understanding of your environment adapt throughout the game but so do those of your enemies. At times you need to blend multiple efforts and playstyles to get through specific obstacles and dominate your enemies.

There is a wide range of enemy types, some more proficient in ranged attacks while others good in close combat. They all need to be tackled in their own way to be defeated and when facing multiple enemy types all at once, this often proves more difficult than it seems.

The shield is now integral in the fight against adversaries; they’ve added multiple shields that all serve different functions. There’s a shield that can take on heavy damage and another that wields ‘high risk, high reward’ depending on how well you can time your parries. A shield strike can knock an enemy that’s either heavily shielding itself or preparing for a heavy strike. It’s this duality of having to master both your shield and your primary weapon that makes each fight feel so dynamic.

The primary weapons have been tweaked quite a bit, both the leviathan ax and the blades of chaos can be charged up to increase damage. These abilities can be upgraded over time using the skill tree, although this will require you to remember how to pull off each one, which can be tough in the heat of battle, it sure was for me. Each of the main weapons has unique finishers, offering a variety of finisher animations that they’ve added to the game. The finishers are as brutal as ever and they range from shredding bodies in half to intense decapitations.

The 9 Realms And Beyond

Exploring the 9 realms and everything in between has become a main focus of the game. Different realms all with their unique attributes make traveling and exploring this universe all the more pleasant.

The first is Svartalfheim, (wetlands) a stark contrast from the fimble winter in Midgard you experienced at the beginning of the game. It has warm weather and large bodies of water crawling with fiesty little critters that remind you about the looming danger, despite its appealing nature.

There’s also a bustling city, Nidavellir, a thriving community populated by dwarves and a bar that you can enter. Some of the realms we have seen in the previous game have changed completely, Midgard is layered in sheets of snow thanks to Fimbulwinter, and Alfheim is consumed by darkness as the war between the light and dark elves continues. There’s also Vanaheim which is a remnant of a large forest, rich in vegetation, wildlife and greenery. Jotunheim, a magical realm that bears the season we know as autumn in its vibrant red and orange colours. There’s plenty of ground to cover and you are given the choice to explore freely or continue with the main quest. I recommend the latter as there are a lot of hidden secrets and rewards to be discovered in these realms.

The weapons you carry have become pivotal in how you traverse and experience the realms, this ultimately brings you to interact more with the world around you, creating an immersive gaming experience. The blades of chaos can be used to move pillars out of the way, swing from one platform to another, or maneuver vertically from platforms. The leviathan ax is also handy, you can freeze geysers and water flows, and ricochet off special surfaces. At times a number of these options may need to be utilized to get through to the next area, adding much-needed complexity to the puzzle levels in the game.

Friends & Foes

A lot of questions were raised in God of War (2018) and they intended on answering most of them in Ragnarok. For long-time fans of God of War, Kratos’ past, which he tries so hard to move on from, seems to haunt him further and this time puts his son at risk of finding out. He has yet to come to terms with his past actions and needs to do his best to make sure he doesn’t suffer the same fate, a tall task even for the God of War.

Atreus grows increasingly defiant towards his father in search of the truth behind his true identity. He’s aware that his father loves him and tries his best to protect but this begs the question, who is responsible for protecting his father? In an attempt to do so, Atreus ventures out on his own, against his father’s will, and proves to be a more than capable warrior on his own.

The father-son duo meets a variety of memorable characters along the way who join them on this mission to stop Ragnarok from happening. We get to learn more from familiar faces such as Brock and Sindri as the story progresses. Some of these friends aid the pair in battle, adding an additional element to consider when faced with a swarm of enemies. The story of everyone along this great path is integral to the character development of both Kratos and Atreus, it shapes their intentions and emotions toward one another. Watching them grow together, and as individuals, whilst they take on this behemoth task really pulls at the heartstrings. I found myself on a rollercoaster of emotions, feeling frustrated at times or elated based on the decisions each character made at the time. Ultimately, I couldn’t help but feel empathetic due to how well each character’s story arc was developed. At any given time, you’re made fully aware of their current state, from how they feel to what they’re thinking and how this impacts them. Every element that makes the story, the voice acting, the writing and overall gameplay, is executed exceptionally well.

game performance

I had the privilege of playing the game on my Playstation 5 and the fidelity on its own is mesmerizing. The game plays and looks like a dream, and the experience is enhanced by the colour, tone and vibrance presented across the different realms. It’s almost as if the devs sat down and asked themselves how they could push the next-gen console to its limits ensuring that it stands the test of time considering the rapid growth in technological advancements in the gaming industry.

The audio design was immaculate as well, I used my PS5 3D Audio wireless headsets and this greatly helped in my playthrough by adding to how I perceived the world around me. It’s always a nice advantage to be able to pinpoint where enemies are coming from. For those who may not have great auditory peripherals that’s no issue as the friends that help you in battle, such as the talking head, Mimir, will always shout where incoming attacks are coming from.

The one thing you’ll be pleased to know is the one-take single camera approach used in God of War: Ragnarok is very fitting for the pace at which events take place. There is no rest for our friends as they move from one cataclysmic event to the next. There’s not a moment of silence; If it’s not the carefully crafted score by Bear McCreary, or the rich dialogue of our protagonists, then it’s the ambience of the different areas within the 9 realms. The sound of critters screeching, the rippling flow of waterfalls, the rumbling of vines moving through the earth, it honestly never gets old. The developers spared no details in the making of this game and it shows.

verdict

It seems that Santa Monica studios did in fact manage to capture lightning in a bottle twice. Dare I say they did better this time around, and rightly so, given the extra resources at their disposal thanks to next-gen consoles.

Throughout my playthrough, the words I uttered to myself in awe, repeatedly, were: “Wait, what? Is there more? Just when you think the game has done enough and reached its climax, you’re proven wrong, time and time again and trust me, you’ll never get tired of it.

God of War: Ragnarok is a tale told like none other. The detail that went into the world-building, the customizability in combat, the freedom to explore, and the narrative, all serve to give you the ultimate gaming experience. The blend of cinematic sequences mixed with the interactive gameplay experience will have you heavily immersed in this world making you feel like a vital part of the story. Seldom do games pull this off successfully and God of War: Ragnarok did it effortlessly.

God of War: Ragnarok is hands down my favorite game ever made (It was Red Dead Redemption II before this game). A masterpiece on all fronts, one that requires multiple playthroughs to fully grasp its beauty.

BOTTOM LINE

God of War: Ragnarok is a tale told like none other. The detail that went into the world-building, the customizability in combat, the freedom to explore, and the narrative, all serve to give you the ultimate gaming experience. The blend of cinematic sequences mixed with the interactive gameplay experience will have you heavily immersed in this world making you feel like a vital part of the story. Seldom do games pull this off successfully and God of War: Ragnarok did it effortlessly.

PROS

Engaging story

Character development

Progressive combat

World design

Boss fights and vast array of enemy types

CONS

I genuinely couldn’t find any

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