God of War Ragnarok Review: A True Masterpiece Worthy of Being the Final Chapter

God of War Ragnarok builds on a masterful predecessor in one of the best ways a sequel ever has.

In the 2 years since its announcement during the PlayStation 5 showcase, God of War Ragnarok has been one of the most highly-anticipated games in the medium’s history. That level of hype was quite well warranted, given what Santa Monica Studio could accomplish with God of War (2018), which would go on to solidify its place in history as one of the generation’s most important games, a true PlayStation classic.

4 years is a relatively quick turnaround for a game of this scope and even with Santa Monica Studio at the helm, fans were rightly skeptical of whether this will be able to live up to its predecessor’s standard and whether it qualifies as a full-fledged sequel. Much of those concerns will be easily laid to rest simply an hour or two into God of War Ragnarok as it is abundantly clear that SMS (Santa Monica Studio) has made no compromises when it comes to the scale, scope, or level of polish.

As a studio, SMS has accomplished a number of massive things in its run, including not only kicking off a massive IP in God of War but also resurrecting after a slump. Now, the studio has another shiny notch on its belt as Ragnarok is not only just as good as its masterful predecessor, but it might just be the best sequel in the history of video games. God of War Ragnarok finds itself in a rather rarified company among the select few sequels that have not only improved upon the original but have set a new bar for the rest of the industry.

The game takes every lesson learned from the original and the result is a much more expansive experience that deepens the combat loop and presents a story that goes far beyond the scope of the original, all the while keeping track of the emotional quotient of the narrative.

God of War Ragnarok: Bigger, Badder, Faster, and a Lot More Complex

God of War Ragnarok

Going into the sequel, I was fully prepared for Ragnarok to be slightly more challenging as compared to the original but nothing could quite prepare me for the level of complexity that awaited me in the game. Not that the original’s combat loop, traversal, and exploration weren’t deep – stacking it up against Ragnarok makes it look like half the game the sequel is. This is a theme that is pervasive throughout all systems of the game – from the combat to progression, everything is a lot deeper than the 2018 game, and with it, comes an entirely new level of difficulty in the game.

The game wastes no time in bringing players up to speed with the tools Kratos and Atreus have at their disposal and you begin your journey with your trusty Leviathan Axe and Blades of Chaos. The basic structure of the combat remains largely the same with R1 for Light Attacks and R2 for Heavy Attacks. Combos also remain largely the same, but with one key move that changes things up just a little bit.

Players can now use the “Triangle” button to charge up their weapons with Elemental damage. Once charged, this can be used to unleash a powerful Elemental move. Improvements such as these form the bedrock of Ragnarok’s deeper combat loop which now has an added level of challenge.  While it’s fun to stick to one weapon per combat encounter, God of War Ragnarok switches things up frequently by populating arenas with enemies that all require different styles of combat and weapons.

In a very Doom Eternal-like fashion, the game incentivizes weapon switching as enemies now take more damage from the Blades of Chaos if the enemy has been affected by Frost from the Leviathan Axe, and vice versa. Advanced combat techniques such as this are massively effective, especially on higher difficulties as you desperately need an edge. The enemy variety, here, demands players to use all weapons at their disposal – including Kratos’ shield(s). Speaking of Shields, one of the things that best illustrate this deeper combat loop is the variety of Shields available for Kratos. Players can now pick different sorts of Shields, each with its own unique characteristics.

Some combat arenas are now quite larger as compared to the original and have a level of verticality that feels very refreshing. While the lower difficulties can still be fun – in order to fully experience the deep combat loop and all its systems, you will need to play the game at, least, “Give Me Balanced”. Weapon switching, Shield Bashing, and well-timed Counters come into use greatly on higher difficulties and it is truly the most satisfying way to experience the game.

God of War Ragnarok’s combat comes at you fast and furious and forces players to move around way more often than they did before. On higher difficulties, you will be much better off retreating to higher ground in the hopes of spacing out enemies so you can tackle smaller groups of them head-on.

A recurring complaint from even those who loved God of War (2018) was the apparent lack of variety in boss fights. Looks like SMS has taken those complaints to heart and if it was a challenge you were looking for, you’re going find boatloads of it in Ragnarok. The small mini-boss fights spread throughout the game up the challenge level in a massive way, and thankfully, the enemy types aren’t restricted to Trolls and Ogres.

From Wyverns to Stalkers, the variety of boss encounters in the game is absolutely jaw-dropping. The boss fight animations also are aplenty, which should satisfy critics of the original game that blasted the game for throwing same-ish enemies at the player time and time again.

The massive boss fights are reserved for God-on-God battles as Kratos and Atreus go up against the Aesir and all manner of mythical creatures. Each boss battle of that scale never fails to illicit a visceral reaction as you can’t help but gawk and chuckle at the sheer level of power and destruction on display. The game one-ups the masterful boss fight with Baldur in the 2018 game almost immediately and only keeps raising the bar with each subsequent throwdown.

Much like the 2018 game, Ragnarok reveals its giant back of tricks in a deliberate manner – locking away new equipment for much later in the game. This sets a good pace as there is always something new for players to discover and while the game doesn’t truly “open up” until the 3-hour mark, there is no shortage of interesting things to experience during that time. Even when you think you’ve reached the endgame stage of Ragnarok, there is at least a couple of more surprises left.

In terms of traversal and exploration – the boat makes a welcome return as they often make for some of the most interesting opportunities for exploring Lore and learning more about the Norse realms. New to the game is a new sled pulled by two trusty wolves that will help players traverse over Frozen Lands and the desert plains of Alfheim.

God of War Ragnarok’s gameplay is incredibly tight and despite the complexity and depth of its mechanics, it never quite feels overwhelming, which is a real credit to how each system was tutorialized and how new mechanics were introduced to the player. This is a game that could have easily fallen apart under the weight of its own complexity, but Santa Monica Studio proves yet again why they are one of the best AAA studios in the industry.

The game’s length, barring the side quests, is about 22 hours – but it will feel a lot longer, given the sheer scale of its narrative and story. God of War Ragnarok is a weirdly-paced game at the start, but it ultimately rewards players for seeing it through to the end with a masterfully-crafted conclusion.

Graphics, Sound Design, and Performance

Ragnarok Review

Typically, I enjoy gaming with a pair of headphones as it allows a more intimate experience and lets me experience the full breadth of the soundscape. Ragnarok sounds immaculate on headphones with 3D Audio but I would propose that players must try and experience the game on a home theater or a really good speaker. The sound design work, here, is some of the best I’ve ever experienced in a game. From the thundering footsteps of gigantic creatures or the destruction of dynamic assets in a combat arena, each sound is presented with great polish and nuance.

Perhaps the most important and effective aspect of the soundscape comes from the epic, roaring score from Bear McReary, who also happens to make an appearance in the game as Raeb, a dwarf in Svartalfheim. McReary’s score pulls absolutely no punches as it drives players forward in combat but in the quieter moments of reflection, it pulls on the heartstrings and drives home the emotional quotient of the moment in a very John Williams-like fashion. In a bid to avoid spoilers, I am going to be as vague as possible in this – but stick around after the ending of the game to finish a particular side quest to listen to the end credits song.

The 2018 game truly pushed the limits of the PS4 in terms of visual fidelity and coaxed every bit of power the aging console had to offer. Despite being a cross-gen release, the PS5 version of God of War Ragnarok is absolutely jaw-dropping, visually. The exploration aspect of the game is helped in large part by the game’s immaculately designed environments that never fail to evoke a sense of awe from the player. From the mossy lands of Vanaheim to the breathtakingly scening Svartalfheim, God of War Ragnarok is arguably the best-looking on the PS5 right now and a brilliant showcase of the power of the console.

The PlayStation 5 version of the game runs at a steady frame rate and I experienced zero frame rate drops during my entire time with the game. However, there were a couple of odd visual glitches where characters’ mouths wouldn’t move in a cutscene. A couple of times in the game, assets would pop in and out of existence accompanied by weird artifacts on the screen, but thankfully, those instances were rare enough to not spoil the overall experience of the game.

God of War Ragnarok’s Story: A Sequel Done Right

Ragnarok Review

While it is true that a large portion of the appeal of a God of War game comes from its frantic combat, the payoff only comes if those systems are supported by a well-told story. While I generally tend to avoid comparing two vastly different games, the story of God of War Ragnarok as compared to God of War (2018) looks an awful lot like The Last of Us compared to The Last of Us Part II where the first game feels like a small chapter in a much larger epic.

The original game had a laser-focused story with very clear motivating factors for our protagonists and was largely content being a smaller-scale story with relatively smaller stakes. The sequel, however, blows things up massively in terms of scale and evolves into something much larger in scope as compared to the original. The first and second acts of the game, while compelling in their own right, meander quite a bit players will find it hard to find a clear-cut motivator for Kratos and Atreus. This is precisely what makes the third act all the more compelling as it pays off things from the start of the game, neatly tying up a gargantuan tale.

Even with the gigantic scale of the story and literally world-ending stakes, God of War Ragnarok accomplishes a rare feat in storytelling. Despite the grandiosity of its narrative, the game never loses sight of the emotionally potent nature of the game’s smaller, less showy moments. Contrasting the gigantic god-on-god throwdowns and mythic proclamations of vengeance are smaller moments such as a quiet disagreement over dinner at a friend’s place or Mimir’s grand retelling of a seemingly innocuous event.

God of War Ragnarok manages to feel extremely intimate even when things are ramping up at an alarming pace, all the while managing to keep the heart of the story – Kratos and Atreus’ relationship, intact. However, the best parts of the game, at least for me, comes from Freya, a grieving mother on the warpath, seeking vengeance for the murder of her son at the hands of Kratos.

God of War Ragnarok

Freya, played by Danielle Bisutti, is easily a stand-out character and her emotional journey makes for some of the most potent moments in the game. Bisutti’s riveting turn as Freya delivers one of gaming’s most iconic performances solidifies Freya’s position as one of the all-time greats in gaming. The pain of her character practically bursts out of the scene and her relationship with Kratos forms one of the most compelling foundations of the game. Other notable standouts include Ryan Hurst’s Thor, who might just be the best version of the character ever put to screen, and Adam J. Harrington’s Sindri, who has one of the most unexpected emotional arcs in the game. The masterfully stoic and menacing Christopher Judge delivers yet another masterful performance, aided in huge part by Sunny Suljic’s immaculate portrayal of Atreus.

God of War Ragnarok is surprising in the best of ways as it adds emotional layers and depth to characters you cannot have seen coming. While it would’ve been the easier move to have the Aesir be presented as one-note villains with an unquenchable bloodthirst, the game challenges players to consider differing viewpoints and see these seemingly villainous characters in a different light.

[Mild Spoilers Ahead]

God of War Ragnarok Review

This complex morality and emotional depth are perhaps best represented by the Lore markers. While reading the Lore as Kratos, the menu lists “Friends” and “Foes” in two separate sections while Atreus sees the world as far more complex and “Friends and Foes” are present in the same section. The game asks the player to not only lend empathy toward these characters but also draw parallels between characters that you might not have expected.

The game subverts players’ pre-existing notions of characters like Odin and Thor, who appear to be rather one-note when considering the lore from the first game. This also bears mentioning Richard Schiff’s genius performance as Odin, a paranoid master manipulator grasping at every available opportunity to obtain power and knowledge. The game wraps up the Norse chapter of the franchise and it hardly ever skips a step.

While the first couple of acts of the game feel like they might be deviating off course a bit, I would implore players to trust the game and see it through to the end. The story is not as laser-focused as the 2018 game, but rest assured, it will deliver on its promise of one of the most satisfying conclusions in gaming history.

Final Word: God of War Ragnarok

God of War Ragnarok

God of War Ragnarok makes quite a few bold statements in the starting hours of the game and only one-ups itself with each new revelation, twist, and turn. The level of complexity to combat makes for a game that is not only satisfying to play, but also challenges players to do better by learning to incorporate all the new advanced moves at their disposal.

The game’s commitment to delevering potent emotional arcs is a feat that helps Ragnarok be one of the most emotionally-charged experiences in gaming and it it will be extremely interesting to see how the franchise moves forward. Ragnarok ends the Norse chapter on a incredibly high note and it is safe to say that PlayStation Studios has cracked the code to deliver mega blockbuster AAA hits that do not compromise on polish or scale.

God of War Ragnarok is out now and available for purchase on both the PlayStation 4 (Rs 3,999) and PlayStation 5 (Rs 4,999).

God of War Ragnarok

Rs 4,999
10

Gameplay

10.0/10

Combat

10.0/10

Graphics/Sound Design

10.0/10

Story

10.0/10

Performance

10.0/10

Value for Money

10.0/10

What Is Good?

  • Masterful Combat and Traversal
  • Emotionally Potent Story and Character Arcs
  • More, Varied Boss Fights
  • Great Level Design and Environments
  • Wide Range of Accessibility Options

What Is Bad?

  • Minimal Visual Bugs and Artefacts

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I possess the dexterity of a toddler when it comes to fighting games, but the confidence of a hundred Jay-Zs. Absolutely love narrative-driven games - with a particular obsession with indie side scrollers and retro wave scores. Currently playing: Deliver Us the Moon.