God of War: Ragnarok. Forgive me, Father
Over 23 million copies sold, multiple gaming awards and one of Sony’s most coveted PC exclusives – it is just a few of God of War’s 2018 accomplishments. Sony Santa Monica successfully modernized the original franchise and also managed to turn a story about a cruel god into an interesting and – partly – adult statement. Remaining essentially the same brutal slasher, God of War began to talk with players on more complex topics than revenge. The story of the confrontation with Olympus is over and Kratos is no longer looking for reprisals – now the ruthless warrior is worried about his legacy; about something he would like to leave behind. Covered by many scars from past fights, Kratos goes through self-acceptance, learns to create new connections and control his own destiny, despite the any dark prophecy. No other game in the series has raised these questions at this level, but the development team heading by Cory Barlog accurately chose the right tone for the story and found a balance between an interesting and adult story and exciting gameplay.
I also want to make a kinda prophecy, especially it is quite easy to determine the fate of the sequel. God of War: Ragnarok, just like the reboot of 2018, will sell tens of millions of copies, collect a bunch of awards and become one of the most desired console ports for the PC audience. And now, after completing the game, I can answer on the main question: is God of War: Ragnarok better than reboot of 2018?
The sequel starts from the very point where story left the heroes in the previous part. Kratos and a grown-up Atreus are trying to survive Philbumwinter – a harsh three-year winter that precedes a Ragnarok. The inconsolable goddess Freya, whom Kratos and Atreus literally left with nothing, will not leave our heroes alone. Other gods also have delicate questions for the couple. Asgardians, warned by ancient legends, want to return control over their fate and make a courtesy call to the heroes. And this is how the main events of God of War: Ragnarok begin.
As expected, the emphasis of the sequel has shifted: now Atreus is a full and active participant of the story. The son of a Spartan god, who has entered adolescence, is no longer ready to unquestioningly follow his father. Atreus thirsts knowledge and answers, and for that he is ready to do anything – even risk his his life and the lives of his loved ones. This is suitable bet to the spirit of the Scandinavian apocalypse.
The former god of war also is ready to risk existing world order, but he is ready to do this only for the safety of his family. However, Atreus doesn’t really need such kind of care: he does not seek protection by his father, but he looking for understanding and for the possibility to choose his own fate. The relationships of the characters become much warmer in Ragnarok than in the first part, and the sequel is even more tested it for strength. And if God of War 2018 was remembered by you as a story about a father and son, then the sequel will not disappoint: the story harmoniously develops the personal arcs of the characters, complicating them with new nuances.
God of War: Ragnarok has a titanic story campaign. The game has several equivalent leitmotifs, but it’s not so easy to say unequivocally what exactly the sequel is dedicated to. The story attempts to embrace conflict of generations, talks about the concept of determinism and blind following of fate. The script also tries to speak in details about the role of the past in the personality and devastation of war. Unfortunately, the game does not cover all topics equally well: for example, the anti-militaristic message, that is extremely relevant now, sounds more or less loudly only at the end of the game. The rest of the time is mainly limited to dry phrases of Kratos like “I stand against war.” A game called “God of War” could talk about this theme with more details though.
Despite a variety of gods in the plot, the problems of the heroes are quite human, and they try to solve them as humans. The game’s narrative only benefited from this. For example, now Kratos driven not by only rage. He has become even more reminiscent of a real person: a tired veteran, who has participated in all kind of battles, wants only to find peace and protect his loved ones. The fate of the world interests him last.
There are exactly two main claims to the whole story. The first is about strange work with characters. You spend most part of the game in the company of heroes you already know. Yeah, they have interesting side quests, and, in general, your mates will be revealed from new sides, but there are unforgivably few “newcomers” in the game. Why even the Asgardian gods will take about three hours with a total timing? This is something discouraging in this. Odin and Thor have turned out to be interesting heroes that you want to follow. The last one have a personal drama that could – and should – have been discussed in much more detail. But what is what is.
The second point about plot: the story have pretty small scale. The main story is about thirty hours, and during this time you will visit all kinds of worlds and fight with a variety of monsters, but for some reason the sequel does not cause a general feeling of epic. Even the final battle, for which you prepare throughout the game, feels like a drunk village fight. On the background you can see worlds collapsing and fantastic creatures beating each other, but you just a spectator. You are just a local bouncer who tramples peasants into the village mud. However, the reason for this could be in old technological base of the new God of War, but we’ll talk about that later.
Even before the sequel’s release, many people had a suspicion that Ragnarok would have not so many changes compared to the original. Someone even thought that it would be more correct to call the new God of War DLC than to call it a sequel. And although the most ardent skeptics, of course, turned out to be wrong (it is very absurd to call a forty-hour game an add-on). But the Ragnarok have a few innovations, it is true. The game director of the new part, Eric Williams, a man blessed by Corey Barlog. The former game director assured that the new leader would do an excellent job and would not break or spoil anything in the game. The good news: Williams really didn’t mess anything up. The bad news is that the sequel is not much different from the original game.
God of War: Ragnarok is a typical safe-sequel, all the changes in the game can be described in one or two paragraphs. This is still the same by its structure; the game has a bunch of closed areas that can be passed through only with the special skill or tool. Locations can be divided into two types: the first are beautiful, but tight story corridors with a minimum of forks. The second are relatively large: at these locations the game releases the plot leash and literally forces you to explore world attentively. This is not a joke: every step you take generates some kind of side quest, an optional battle, or gives out a piece of game’s lore. Once I managed to take four side quests along when I tried to accomplish the one. My eyes literally run wide from such an abundance. But it makes little sense to clean up all the “questions” in the level – only a third turned out interesting. A significant part of the secondary quests are ghost missions that consist of returning of the lost items. For your help spirits will give you an insignificant reward and tell you a piece of the game lore. But in the game there are also Norn chests and hidden places that you definitely want to get into…The game treats your free time mercilessly, but fans of 100% completing will be delighted.
The developers have slightly updated the progression system for this amount of content. In God of War: Ragnarok all your weapons, equipment, armor, shields, weapons of your partners and their equipment are upgrading separately (I’m sure I missed something). Your partner’s skills (that activates with a separate button) are actively using in combat, solving puzzles and extracting loot from the chests. Also now Kratos has a new weapon: just an only one, but it is a good extension for the existing arsenal. The style of combat with the new one harmoniously complemented the axe and Blades of Chaos: the new weapon became the fastest weapon in the game, but at the same time it retained the multitasking habitual for the series. And yes, it can be effectively used both in melee and at the distance.
Kratos himself has also became more mobile. The hero can quickly move with the Blades of Chaos, and the behavior of the enemies now motivates the player to attack more actively, avoiding going on the defensive. Attacks of your opponents vary in its damage – some beats be repelled, others are better to dodge, and the third type must be breached by a shield (or Kratos will receive significant damage from the Bifrost energy). The new rage mode also encourages you to take more risks: now your rage energy can be spent not only on the classic berserk mode, but also on restoring part of your health, which allows you to experiment more often in battle.
But the most significant innovation in the game is not related to Kratos. If you want to play the game without any significant spoilers, then you better skip the next few paragraphs.
So, in God of War: Ragnarok Atreus became a playable character and an essential part of the events is revealed from the perspective of young god. The gameplay of Atreus is very different from his father’s combat style – he hasn’t huge power nor a big weapon’s arsenal. In battles a jotun descendant relies primarily on its bow and a couple of magical abilities. Thanks to his speed, Atreus can easily evade enemy attacks, paying for it with lower damage. However, you can’t call this guy completely helpless in close combat: if necessary Atreus can use his bow as a clue – a funny but effective trick.
Despite a significant part of the game assigned to Atreus, the gameplay for him is still inferior to the gameplay for Kratos in terms of elaboration. The young hero got only simple battles, that can be completed with a more meager arsenal. Atreus is mostly fighting with ordinary undead, while his mentor beating down giant monsters without any effort. The developers did not give the guy even an interesting boss, in fact admitting that the game segments for him are just a nice addition. They seem to say: hey, take a break and watch the story, the real mess will begin later.
But the Atreus part of the campaign also is a poor plot conductor. It is on behalf of Atreus that we observe the life of Asgard and get acquainted with the behind-the-scenes life of the local gods. And for some reason the team led by Williams did not go to the end here either. For example, the personal drama of Thor breaks off before its reaching the climax and Odin’s motives again and again come down to the extremely villainous “I need knowledge.” Perhaps a certain crumpled narrative lies in the fact that the reboot of 2018 was supposed to be the beginning of a trilogy, but the authors eventually decided to limit themselves by two games. This is not a good decision, but Sony Santa Monica would definitely not have been able to stretch a scanty set of innovations into three games.
The final impression of the game is strange. Sometimes Ragnarok seems to be overabundant, but sometimes it seems to lack the things that you expect from it. In a slasher about a brutal killer of gods there are few murders of the gods. On the horizon you can see epic battles, but the player is taken out of this confrontation. Watch it but don’t touch it. At the same time at its best moments the sequel really captivates with spectacular scenes. Perhaps the best way to complete the game (at least for the first time) is to complete its story campaign. A close exploration for additional content – if such a desire arises – is better to leave for the second time.
Finally about the technical part. I did not focus on the fact that Ragnarok suffers in many aspects precisely because of it, it sad but true. Optimization and the visuals of the project are pretty good: the game works fine both on PS5 and PS4. The new part was scoped specifically for the previous generation console. In God of War: Ragnarok there are five graphics modes on PS5 and the most optimal one combines high resolution with good frame rate. Both consoles always work at the maximum power, giving a clear picture with a decent frame rate. I played the release version and of all the bugs I encountered only an weapon stuck in the textures and even then only once in the entire campaign. But have not come across an annoying error with failure to register damage from opponents (I’ve heard a lot about it but now it seems to be fixed).
But it is the only one side of the technical issue. Unfortunately, due to optimization for the previous generation, God of War: Ragnarok have a problem with subloads. And the number of these subloads increased to outrageous proportions. On the both generations PlayStation you should be ready for the same picture: Kratos, the slayer of the gods, literally the top of all food chains, spends half of all time bent in pits. These bottlenecks appear in the sequel so often that they begin to serve as a kind of route indicator: if there is a narrow passage ahead, then be sure – you should going this way.
As I said, the mostly (except for large locations) it’s hard to find fault with the graphics. As for me, Horizon: Forbidden West still remains a more technologically advanced and beautiful PS game, but in a case of avoiding direct comparisons God of War: Ragnarok looks quite attractive by all standards. High-poly models, improved lighting and animations, bright colors – the sequel has more rich picture then GoW 2018. I am sure that most players do not need anything else.
To summarize, let’s go back to the very beginning. The critics gave God of War: Ragnarok a very high metacritic score, but ironically it’s identical to the reboot’s rating – both games have 94 points. It seems that everything will be fine with the awards for the new game: Ragnarok was nominated in ten categories at The Game Awards, including the Game of the Year. And I am pretty sure then it will take a couple of tech prizes (is is me from the future: it takes six). Also everything is more than good with sales: Sony sold more than 5 million copies of the game since week after release and it is an absolute record for Sony’s internal studios. Everyone seems to be happy, right?
Maybe, but the truth is that the team of Eric Williams did not succeed in making of an ideal sequel. God of War 2018 successfully combined wow-moments with slow lore revealing and intense action with calm episodes, but the Ragnarok just mixes everything in one big pot, not worrying too much about how it tastes. Just want to be clear: the sequel still has something to surprise players. But developers consider that gamers would be willing to endure several hours of tedious and monotonous gameplay. If you are really ready, then do not listen to anyone – you will definitely like Ragnarok.
If you are not, then it will be a little more complicated for you. God of War: Ragnarok still is a huge (in every sense) game, and it would be wrong to completely skip it. The question of the first discounts is not in option now, but sooner or later the price will drop down and then it will be a great offer. By the way, there is the secondary market, still remember about it.
It seems that Sony is ready to say goodbye to God of War for a while. Corey Barlog himself is busy on unannounced sci-fi project, but without his lead the team is unlikely to risk doing the next part. A franchise is like its protagonist: its rarely flares up, but do it brightly. Some time must pass for the new spark. Kratos himself is increasingly saying that it’s time for him to rest. It’s time to honor the veteran and finally give him what he wants, he deserves it.
And we’ll wait.
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