As more and more PlayStation exclusives make their way to PC and other consoles, God of War Ragnarok remains one of the last bastions of first-party greatness from Sony this generation. The long-awaited sequel delivered the thrills, violence, and intense storytelling fans have come to expect from this new chapter in the God of War saga. Or did it?
Now, I don’t want to make it sound like God of War Ragnarok didn’t live up to the hype – and I couldn’t even pretend Kratos’ latest Asgardian escapade could ever be considered a “bad game.” I’m saying that the game has been out for nearly a year now, which means the recency bias is beginning to fade.
When we take a deep, objective look into what made the God of War soft reboot such a unique gaming experience, we’ll find that most of the things that Santa Monica Studio did right in that game are more or less absent from God of War Ragnarok. There’s a reason why most players have fonder memories of the PlayStation 4 title instead of the latest one – and it has nothing to do with the PlayStation 5’s infamous scarcity.
Man of Peace
One complaint fans of the original God of War trilogy frequently voice regarding the new saga’s direction involves the story’s more constrained focus. While Kratos used to fight literal deities and colossal enemies in big-budgeted setpieces, the new God of War and Ragnarok made things feel much more personal.
This is a divisive take, but it seems as if Ragnarök took things a bit too far with this approach. While the game certainly looks larger and involves a much more nuanced plot than its predecessor, the story seems unapologetically rushed at times. The whole “Ragnarok” part of the game feels like a natural conclusion to this storyline that should have come at the end of a new trilogy – and not something that should have happened in the second game.
The result is a story that establishes some high stakes for everyone involved – but never actually lives up to its own hype. Sure, players get to see – and sometimes maim – the rest of the Asgardian pantheon, but it lacks the narrative development we’ve come to expect from the series.
Kratos has changed – that much is true. Now, he’s a more serene man than he ever was before. There’s virtually no trace of the Ghost of Sparta, which means that the story would need to more or less redeem him – which is not easy, considering most of Kratos’ past is so soaked in blood that no one could ever read it.
The shift to a more “Souls-like” fighting scheme in the 2018 God of War made the game feel like a more modern, decidedly cinematic take on the series’ formula. Gone were the days of furious button-mashing for Kratos to perform a variety of dazzling combos and the distant camera angles that made the games look more like a diorama and less like a movie.
God of War was now more visceral and personal in every encounter, even if it came at the cost of some spectacle. Being the first time the series implemented this new approach to combat also meant that some details needed to be addressed before the game felt like it should.
God of War Ragnarok improved virtually every aspect of God of War‘s combat. Weapon variety and the combos themselves are now much more varied, allowing players for an even better power trip. However, what good is the improved combat if there’s nothing good to beat in the game?
Most players would agree that the Thor fight stands as the single best moment in the game. Even the developers seem to think the same, considering this particular bout was the focus of the game’s advertising. There’s just one problem with this epic fight, however: it happens way too early in the story.
While having the first confrontation with Thor happen so early in the game might be great for keeping you hooked for what’s to come, it can certainly be a double-edged sword once you realize that the game peaks at around the first hour of gameplay.
This bears the same implications as what happened with the game’s plot: God of War Ragnarok sets the pieces into place for what’s sure to be an epic adventure, but it never delivers on its promise.
Once again, we found God of War Ragnarok improving on the foundations of its predecessor – but failing to understand what those foundations meant in the first place. Back when it was released, critics loved the narrative of the new God of War: the game follows Kratos in what appears to be a long, continuous shot, making the player feel even more invested in the plot and characters.
God of War Ragnarok keeps the same camera technique, but the gameplay doesn’t exactly play along with the narrative. While the first game had Kratos moving from one restrained setpiece to the other at a relatively brisk pace, God of War Ragnarok introduced even more puzzles and chores for the player, which ultimately hinders the sense of urgency the plot seems to be going for.
Sure, having Mimir, Atreus, and occasionally Ratatoskr helping you with every puzzle can somewhat alleviate these issues – but, at that point, one can’t help but wonder what was the point of having puzzles if the game was going to give the players the answers right away?
When you combine these poorly designed puzzles with the lack of enemy variety introduced in 2018’s God of War into the mix, the result is a disappointingly forgettable experience that never achieves the highs that its predecessor set for the future of the franchise.
Now that the Nordic chapter of the God of War saga appears to be over, we can’t help but wonder if, perhaps, God of War Ragnarök bit more than it could chew. Having such a disappointing finale for one of gaming’s most memorable characters sounds borderline criminal, but that seems to be Kratos’ fate at the end of the game.
God of War Ragnarok might never be as influential as its predecessor – but that doesn’t mean the series is over now. If Santa Monica Studio could rebuild the franchise and revitalize it after God of War Judgment, then there’s still hope after Ragnarök.
Considering the game is still as gorgeous as ever – and remains one of the last proper exclusives on the PlayStation 5 – any fan of the series owes it to themselves to play the game. Just don’t expect the same adrenaline rush you got when you played 2018’s God of War.