Finally here we are! The day of God of War Ragnarok has come, and the echo of the Gjallarhorn now echoes throughout the Nine Realms. It's the end of everything, it's the reckoning.
A showdown that does not only concern Kratos and Atreus, and what their destiny will be, which seems already written and prophesied by the race of giants. The reckoning is also ours that, after quite a few hours of play, we are ready to tell you what God of War Ragnarok is, aka the most awaited title of this season and, certainly, among the most anticipated of recent years, given those wonderful premises, and the even more exciting results, which had characterized the 2018 reboot / sequel whose signature, as you recall, was that of Cory Barlog, historical name of Sony Santa Monica, and there in the role of Director of the game.
Before starting this journey together which, I must say, I will tell you firsthand and consequently, from a very personal point of view, however, as a critic and a fan, I would like to make a premise, especially given the events of recent days in terms of spoilers, which have made the development of the God Of War Ragnarok review not a little difficult and onerous, especially because during its elaboration it reasoning was born on the sense of criticism and its relationship with the spoiler. A topic which, however, we will leave on stand-by for now, and which we will perhaps devote to a separate discussion.
Meanwhile, to begin…
Death to the spoiler!
God of War Ragnarok, you will have already peeked at it by looking at the vote and final summary, it's a game. You won't even need the infinite words spent on this wall of text to tell it worthily, because the work is so extensive, majestic, and above all varied, that during the drafting I had the problem of having to stop, that the words were already too many, and I'm not even so sure that everyone will want to read them.
Net of this, God Of War Ragnarok still has some hitches, which cannot be ignored either by critics or by fans, although it is clear that it remains a game from which I would not subtract anything, both in terms of positive analysis and final grade , since the work done by Sony Santa Monica, even net of the relatively "few" years of development, it is nothing short of extraordinary, so much so that in certain situations it is surprising both in terms of gameplay and narration, with gods often unexpected and interesting passages.
In a nutshell, there are some aspects of the gameplay which, in some way, derive directly from narrative aspects and which, for this reason, I have decided to omit from this review altogether. It is undoubtedly a strange choice that will probably go against the trend of what some colleagues in the sector could do, especially given an embargo on content, given to us by Sony, unexpectedly “large” in terms of what we could have said or not said in writing this article.
So, except for one truly fundamental aspect, and that if omitted it would prevent you from fully understanding the difference between this game and its predecessor and which constitutes, if desired, a small spoiler, the rest of the sensitive information, but which would also be interesting to explore for gameplay reasons, I will omit them almost entirely, because the idea is that this review accompanies you towards the discovery of God Of War Ragnarok until, finally, you can get your hands on it, and not barbarously deprive you of any surprises. This decision, perhaps strange to some, it derives also and above all from what has happened in the last few days when people evidently in need of attention, have well thought of spoiling a good part of the contents of the game, forcing Santa Monica itself to publish a press release and run for cover.
We at GameDivision, as far as our profession and our expertise allow us, we eschew and will always eschew spoiler culture, which easily feeds the collection of clicks and views, even at the price of delivering you a review which, potentially (or hypothetically) could be incomplete in comparison with the competition. Because respect and love for the reader comes first, even the profession. Said this, the spoiler that we are forced to do is contained in the paragraph "Son of War", but we guarantee that while reading it it will not affect your gaming experience in any way, also because, as anticipated, it is a really fundamental aspect for this chapter of God of War, and is nothing short of divisive compared to the past of the brand.
With that said, we can finally get started.
“The sun goes dark
the earth sinks into the sea,
they fall from the sky
the shining stars.
and who feeds life;
play the blaze high
with the sky itself.
Ferocious howls Garmr
the laces will break
and the wolf will run.
Many sciences she knows:
I see from afar
the fate of the gods,
mighty gods of victory.”
The end of the world, Vǫluspá
Ragnarok, the end of the gods
Set a few years after the previous chapter, God of War Ragnarok picks up where the previous title left off when, as you will recall, Kratos and Atreus had made an epic journey to reach the highest peak of all the Nine Realms, with the aim of scattering the ashes of Faye, the Norse woman Kratos met in the winds from it and with whom he fell in love, after his escape from Greece, left destroyed by the Spartan following the events of God of War III.
A journey that had set father and son, the young and inexperienced Atreus, on a path full of obstacles, first of all "The Stranger"or Baldur, the god son of Odin and an unexpected ally, Freya, the Witch of the Woods, who had even helped Kratos in saving his son from a mysterious evil, arising from his semi-divine nature.
Killed Baldur, antagonized Freya, and discovered the true nature of Atreus, last survivor of the giant race under the name of "Loki", the two then returned to their isolated abode in the woods, stronger than ever in a rediscovered and renewed bond between father and son, but each with a small abyss in their heart which, in some way, forced them to seek safe haven , at home, even if with the awareness of being on the threshold of the end of the world.
We had therefore left Kratos uncertain of his fate, after the discovery of a fresco that seemed to prophesy his death, while in Atreus the pain of losing his mother has replaced the desire to discover more about himself and on the past of their race, mysteriously found dead in the valleys of Jotunheim. Doubts and uncertainties, on which the Spartan's will to step aside was strengthened, perhaps also and above all to avoid fighting with Freya who, as shown in several trailers, is on the heels of father and son with the will to avenge the death of Baldur.
While in, a freak cold has descended on Midgard, Realm of mortals, destroying everything and even freezing that Lake of the Nine which had been the fulcrum (and HUB) of the previous trip. And the Filbumwinter, eternal winter, which unleashed by the death of Baldur, as prophesied by the giants, will initiate the end of everything, Ragnarok, the twilight that will lead to the death of all the gods and, finally, to the annihilation of life.
But perhaps fate is already written, and whether it is the Fates or the Norns who decide it is not important. The gods exact tribute, they exact vengeance, and history, past and future, loudly demands that those who are at the center of certain events remain neither indifferent nor immobile. Atreus knows it well, who goes sneaking off in the middle of the night in search of the secrets buried by the giants, and the arrogant Aesir of Asgard know it well, who in the guise of Thor they will come back to knock on the door of the house of the Ghost of Sparta.
Then it will no longer be peace, but war. And with the war a new journey dedicated to the search for something or someone that stops the end of everything. Someone like Tyr, the god of war of the northlands who, perhaps killed, perhaps trapped by Odin somewhere, seems to keep the solution so that the destiny written in Ragnarok never comes to fruition.
Fathers, sons and family drama
This, in summary, is the plot of God of War Ragnarok and, believe us, there would be plenty of things to tell, starting from the narrative pretext which, to some extent, it had been anticipated by an unlockable "vision" at the end of the previous game, up to the final stages of the journey which, we say it immediately, will leave more than one player with a bad taste in the mouth. Now, as said at the beginning, we choose not to go further here, e not to tell you about the characters you will meet, nor how they will fit into the construction of events set up by Sony Santa Monica and which, just looking at a few trailers, would leave anyone with more than a few questions. The team, as you will recall, had in fact widely anticipated the presence of characters such as Tyr, Thor e Angrboda, also leaving us perplexed, at the time, as to why they had chosen to "spoil" so much of a title that was expected to say the least.
Not too predictably, the answer is today clear and simple: what is seen in the trailers represents very little, if not very little, of what you will see in the game, and indeed we can say with certainty that a good part of what you will have seen perhaps corresponds to what you would see in the first hours of the game, at most the first 5, which are few on a body of at least 25/30 hours of play, if not very few, especially in the face of a massive and preponderant narrative body, which will take the trouble to tell you everything, and perhaps even more, than Mimir himself could tell you.
But what is there in this God Of War Ragnarok that is worth being told? There's a lot actually, but there's also some aspects that they convinced us little and which, in fact, are the fundamental fulcrum of some points lost on the final evaluation of the game. Still a high grade, of course, but what undeniably it was truncated by some not-so-brilliant choices and ideas, almost bucking the depth of the previous game. But let's go step by step.
The impressive thing about God of War Ragnarok is its continuity, or the way in which the game sorts out its characters, certain events that had been hinted at, or even just certain clues that had been disseminated. Even some aspects of Kratos' past have been dug up, and are used for optional conversations, useful to enrich the journey of our heroes. And it's beautiful, it is undeniably beautiful and fulfilling even if, as you will understand, these are outlines, often completely superfluous, however appreciable from the point of view of world building and lore. And so, unlike, for example, the 2018 title, Ragnarok chooses to focus not only and exclusively on Kratos, and on his relationship with Atreus, in which the latter was, if you recall, only a poor protagonist of the narrative, but above all on Atreus himself who, especially in his god/giant dichotomy, becomes a more central figure, and perhaps richer than in the past.
Also the rest of the cast, passing not only for the supporting actors, such as Brok, Sindri and Mimir, but also for certain enemies, such as Thor and Freya, enjoy their own and personal narrative moments, which they offer almost every character a motivation, a purpose, a doubt but also a pain. Because pain, combined with the theme of the family and, specifically, with the family inheritance, and in the relationship that exists between the different members of a family, regardless of its construction, is the narrative centerpiece of God of War Ragnarok and this, in our opinion, makes it all very interesting, especially if you arrived here with the "hunger" of a fan, who would have liked to know a little more in detail about the vicissitudes of the Kingdoms and the characters of the game world.
This does not mean that the fulcrum of the story does not still reside in the relationship between Kratos and Atreus, on the contrary, precisely this aspect has been even more in-depth and refined, going beyond what, evidently, was a surface that in the past had only been scratched and which today is instead investigated with care and more thoroughly.
The point, if anything, is that in God Of War Ragnarok a certain lack of style is perceived throughout and, if we want a certain authorship, which has led not only to a bad management of some narrative implications, but even to a general banality of certain situations. Difficult to explain everything more clearly without spoilers, so let's say that if there is something missing in this Ragnarok, and which instead abounded in the previous chapter, it is a certain “gravitas”, a solemnity that in the previous game was found not only in the narration, or in the carving of the hard father/son relationship, but also in certain linguistic and narrative choices which, starting from the famous "boy", up to the composed and posed language of Atreus, they made the narrative experience more tense, intense and, perhaps, even more fulfilling.
There was a sense of weight in 2018's God of War. The weight of the past, the weight of responsibility, but also the inadequacy of being a father, the fear of being fallacious, insensitive, or even just indifferent. A work that, as you will recall, had not a simple narrative will behind it, but the marked hand of Cory Barlog which, addressing the personal issue of parenting, he had poured his fears into the game, one's doubts, one's fatherly ambitions, transforming Kratos and the whole plot into a fetish or, if we like, an instrument of catharsis.
This had undoubtedly made a difference, since the author expressed a concrete and personal need through the narration, which had implied not only a frank and clear change in the game mechanics but, above all, a change in the narrative dynamics, moreover in a title that, until some time before, had never shone for themes or emotional insights. Ragnarok, in this sense, sounds more like a dutiful task, certainly done artfully, but still a task and that's it. Capable of exalting in certain aspects and moving in others, because the Santa Monica Studios job is so much and indisputable, but in any case the delivery seems like a task and nothing more.
Just to be clear, Atreus is now grown up and is, in fact, a teenager, but his motivations, his attitude, even his "troubles" or escapades away from his father, they often seem forced and almost stereotyped, and his whole attitude looks vaguely copied from a random Tom Holland, and certainly not similar to what, even if only with imagination, one would imagine to be a boy who grew up among the dangers and monsters of a Scandinavian forest of who knows what year before Christ. And this, believe us, is just a trivial and immediately identifiable example as far as writing is concerned.
On the other hand, however, there are moments of grace that are interesting and captivating which, for example, give a new and unprecedented substance to what is the concept of "divinity" in the world of God of War, in a work which, wanting to look for a comparison in the series, and therefore looking at God of War III (that is, the chapter in which we met all the main gods of the Hellenic pantheon), gives the gods of Asgard a marked humanity, which will not portray them as simple executioners, but as divine creatures, but moved by doubts, fears, uncertainties and human impulses. Unlike, say, God of War III, where every deity looked evil for the sake of it or because, precisely, he was a divinity.
The narrative scheme, therefore, proceeds with a syncopated rhythm, lacking a firm hand that holds the reins from beginning to end or that, at least, has traced with certainty not so much the direction, but the meaning of certain choices and motivations and the impression, in certain areas, is that if among the themes of the game there is, for example, Atreus' difficulty in growing up, and the motivations that drive a teenager to seek his place in the world, they are dictated more by logical business needs (like: we have a little boy who has grown up, so this will be the theme), which comes from external and human factors and, therefore, no longer children of an artistic, psychological or emotional need, but of the simple narrative legacy dictated by the previous chapter .
This, unfortunately, ends up making certain implications not only trivial, but often unjustified or senseless, and the climax is reached practically at the end of the adventure, when the game fails at what would be its most obvious task, and its exquisite privilege: the epic.
God of war
From a pure hard gameplay point of view, God of War Ragnarok confirms and, if possible, expands, every good premise already had in the preview phase when I had faced the first hours of the game, expressing a more than positive judgment on the gameplay in general.
First of all, the game uses a concrete, and also sensible, pretext for what is the reset applied to the abilities of Kratos and Atreus, using the Filbumwinter who, devouring not only the world, but also its vital and magical essence, has drained, after at least 3 years of freezing, what are the powers of father and son, thus forcing them, like the players, to somehow have to start over.
Without this pleasant premise, what clearly differentiates Ragnarok from its predecessor is the quality with which the development team reviewed the use of the Spartan's weapons, and this is not meant simply in the modification of the attack patterns, but also in the management of the weapons themselves and their abilities.
First of all, not only the Leviathan, but even the historic Blades of Chaos will be available and upgradeable immediately, thus offering an already wide variety in fights, however tested. Here, to avoid any feeling of deja vu which could compromise the enjoyment of the player, as well as being unpleasant in itself, the various additions implemented by Santa Monica intervene which, first of all, allowed a revision of the skill tree, both of Kratos and of Atreus.
Skill trees are more extensive than in the past, and foresee some bifurcations, divided as they are into 3 basic sets which concern, in summary, runic abilities, ranged attacks, and melee attacks. Each weapon, including Atreus' bow, has his abilities, and these are expanded and refined the more the weapons have been enhanced thanks to the help of Brok and Sindri, and after the procurement of some objects for creation.
A small parenthesis is needed here: the elements of creation are many more than in the past, and go perfectly with Kratos' expanded equipment. The armors are more numerous, and in addition to being able to be found during the long hunt for monsters and chests, they are also made available by the two dwarven smiths from time to time, who will be constantly working to make Kratos' equipment more varied and efficient.
This greatly expands the player's need to fight and explore, as not only endgame equipment, but also some mid-game equipment, they now need different materials to be empowered and this, frankly, makes the whole build construction experience wider, more varied and more satisfying, especially when one realizes that it is worthwhile to upgrade not just one set, but maybe two, to be exchanged as needed on the basis to needs.
Obviously this does not mean that it is necessary to constantly keep an eye on the equipment as a more exquisitely role-playing title or, perhaps, as in a Souls, but it is clear that the team has raised the problem of make builds more defined and with a more precise identity, allowing the player to be able to set a style of play right away, perhaps varying it over time and based on the occurrence of the action, rather than mere aesthetics.
Said this, in Ragnarok you fight a lot and you fight very well, and the introductions proposed by the team, which initially seem like mere frills, find ever greater usability as the hours of play go by. In this sense, perhaps the most interesting variation is the introduction, on Kratos' skill trees, of upgrades for the various "skills", I am talking specifically about refinements that can be unlocked for practically all the available skills, and which require a simple and continuous use of the same.
Therefore, by constantly using a skill, it will automatically boost itself twice. It will be enough to use it and make it go to sign for a special counter, always clearly visible in the skill menu, to fill up. In this way, the completion of a certain number of uses, proposed among the many (but what am I saying, many) challenges present in the game, will allow a first passive and standard upgrade. It will then be with a further series of uses of that same skill that it will reach its third level of efficiency where, at the price of an expense in terms of experience points, you will be allowed to choose one of 3 different modifiers, always different based on skill, and with which you can strengthen passive factors but useful for perfecting your style of play, and related build.
In this way a specific attack, such as throwing the Leviathan, could deal more damage, or maybe more stun or, why not, a faster reload than freezing the axe. Each skill has its own unique set of refinements, which makes the gameplay not only richer, but also more technical and customizable.
The rage that grows, the blind rage
As regards, however, the character development system, we confirm what we had already anticipated in the preview phase. Ragnarok, in fact, is proposed with the same development scheme as the previous title, with Kratos' levels directly dependent on his equipment, while the gathering of experience points (now no longer common between father and son, but independent for one and the other), they are used to unlock and enhance the many and numerous skills.
In summary, the character development system is the same as the previous game, but with some refinements, useful not only to make everything more satisfying, but also to better distribute the development of the character over the long hours of play. As in the past, therefore, you will have to work hard to level up, aware that to reach the maximum, i.e. level 9, will have to wander far and wide looking not only for the right pieces of equipment, but also for enough items to upgrade them.
The parameters, net of this, are always the same: Strength, Luck, Vitality, Runic, Defense and Cooldown. And each of them defines what are the characteristics of your personal version of Kratos, including, of course, his build.
The difference with the past is that there are now more pieces to equip, which does not simply mean that there is more armor available, but that in the inventory set there is room for additions, which contribute to the construction of the character build, as well as the achievement of the next level. Therefore, in addition to the armor divided into 3 different parts, or bust, belt and bracelets, shields are also part of the game economy, where in the past the equipment involved only an aesthetic change.
Indeed, in Ragnarok the modification of the shield does not only imply a variation in the appearance of the same, but there are just different variants of equipment, and each grants a different function to the parry key (L1), such as a particularly efficient parry, or the activation of a running charge towards the enemy. Shields therefore have their own level, skill, and even stats, and they, in turn, have an equipment slot, consisting of a central stud which, freely exchangeable, modifies not only the aesthetics of the shield, but also the overall statistics, thus helping to redefine Kratos' build and, obviously, his level.
This is joined by a new upgradeable item, that is, an amulet, consisting of 9 slots, and in which as many passive spells can be included, which can also be set with sets of 3, che unlocks additional benefits. A very useful accessory, especially during the further refinement of the build, whose slots, initially only 1, they can only be unlocked after finding 8 objects to bring back to Brok and Sindri, and which almost always require a certain exploration, as well as the resolution of some puzzle, or a particularly difficult battle.
The general idea is that the construction of the character, as well as and above all the progression of the levels of Kratos, is much more detailed, refined and above all balanced compared to the past, perhaps to avoid that unpleasant feeling that there was with the first chapter in which, as you will remember, arrived more or less at level 7 it was already considerable war machines, and was ready to face most of the Valkyries.
Kratos, in essence, is now more customizable than ever, which makes each version of the Spartan the personal one of the player who is using it. A principle that is not only evident from aspects such as charms, skills and trinkets, but also from certain aspects of the gameplay, like the Fury of Sparta who, just in this episode, received a more interesting review which makes it, in fact, more versatile than in the past, as it can now be used not only for furious combos, but also to recover energy or to generate explosions. All with an always free selection, provided of course that I have reached the right moment to unlock the skill.
The general idea, therefore, is sensible and also pleasant, and although even this time it is not so fundamental to bring Kratos to the maximum level, let's say that the experience is a bit more balanced than the 2018 title, and the distribution of Kratos' levels coincides with the challenge offered, especially if you spend a few hours ignoring most of the side quests (but don't ignore them, trust me. It's always worth it!).
The problem, if anything, is elsewhere. While proposing itself with many fights, and while enjoying a decidedly higher number of Boss Fights, many of which are beautifully finished in the mechanics and intuitions required of the player, However, Ragnarok seemed to me a slightly more accessible title than its predecessor, so much so that there are very few enemies who have seriously put a spoke in my wheels, and in any case mostly only in the arc of my secondary activities.
For this reason, I advise fans, but especially those who love challenges, to select at least an above-average level of difficulty which, pad in hand, it actually offers slightly more difficult situations, at least as regards the damage inflicted and suffered by enemies, which not only makes the challenge a little more interesting and technical, but also a little more satisfying; perfect for those who are not beginners with the adventures of Kratos in general, and maybe even fresh from a "rematch" with the 2018 chapter.
Ice and fire, old and new
All of this is part of a new and, in some respects, more interesting method of approaching Kratos' equipment by the development team, which evidently has the aim not only of making the weapons more interesting and "exchangeable" beyond the enemies that we will face, but also that of making their sense in the game economy more defined and concrete.
Still on the subject of skills, for example, each weapon of Kratos now has a new feature, which consists of a quick recharge of elemental power, to be summoned by holding down the triangle button. If the Leviathan, in this sense, quickly recharges with ice to deliver a powerful and concentrated blow, with a strong elemental wave, the Blades of Chaos can instead be rotated, to deliver a powerful descending and explosive blow to the ground.
Their use in exploration has also been heavily revised, and if in the past the Leviathan, for example, was nothing more than an object to be thrown to freeze a mechanism or, sometimes, to rotate mobile platforms, today both weapons are used with greater knowledge of the facts, and are an integral part of different types of environmental puzzles, with some of them even being a specific prerogative of the Kingdom we are visiting.
This, moreover, is part of what we had already anticipated in the preview phase when, already on my first lap at Svarthalfeim, I confessed to having found in Ragnarok a certain taste for environmental puzzles, rediscovered legacy of an old way of conceiving God of War.
Well, I confirm that in God of War Ragnarok environmental puzzles are really present in large quantities, and almost always require a certain analysis of the game environment, often pushing the player to a certain "creativity", which does not mean a variety of different possible solutions, but having to better consider the possibilities of the available weapons, even in combination with Atreus' arrows, and how you can make them interact with the environment.
An approach that is never prohibitive but which, once again, puts exploration at the center of everything, the discovery and need, on the part of the player, to carefully scan the environment, both for the search for secrets and chests, and for the solution of the traps placed to guard them which, considering the extension of certain maps of game, it is not only enjoyable, but also rewarding.
Still on the subject of exploration, and just to give a concrete example, just think of the new possibilities offered to us by the Blades of Chaos in terms of mobility, since now they can be used, practically immediately, like real grappling hooks, useful not only to hit, and possibly drag your enemies, but also to explore the different game levels in new and different ways, which is very useful in a title in which mobility has been heavily revised, both in arenas and in the field of exploration.
The concept of space
Just the mobility and, in particular, the exploration and the level design in general, they are therefore one of the spearheads of the gaming experience and this not only for the variety and complexity offered by the Nine Realms, all of which can be explored today, but also and above all for the variations offered to the player, both in terms of just wandering around the game world, and for the fights.
Indeed, unexpectedly God of War Ragnarok has a more layered and vertical level design than in the past, in which many game areas are spread over several floors and this is true not only for the search for puzzles, secrets or rich chests to loot, but also for certain game arenas.
Many situations, where enemies are numerous and potentially overwhelming, in fact, they take place in areas where it is possible to move quickly to a higher or lower level, or in which it is possible to jump from a chasm to the top, allowing yourself a moment's break from enemy charges or, perhaps, simply to guarantee yourself an advantage with a falling attack.
Indeed, Kratos can now make a powerful, smashing descending attack, which can be done either from an upper platform, or even at the end of a jump from one edge of a chasm to the other. These little introductions are all part of the same philosophy, in which mobility is always wide, and the arenas are never narrow and too circumscribed areas, but rather offer a point that can often be a real escape point to wriggle out of battle.
Even exploration, in this sense, is wider and more rewarding, and also offers greater support to the aforementioned and rediscovered group of puzzles which completely overshadows what we saw in the previous chapter. Ragnarok, in fact, is in some ways more similar to the older chapters of the saga, in which one could come across a large number of puzzles, often even entirely optional, to be faced with the sole objective of discovering secrets, obtaining rewards, or broadening the horizon of one's exploration.
Net of 9 kingdoms to explore, which in themselves would already offer great comfort to anyone in search of adventure (and longevity), Ragnarok still chooses to tread the hand, offering large maps, some huge, and numerous possibilities to come across something new, unexpected or interesting. Even the placement of enemies has been completely overhauled, so that there are now entire sections of almost every map in which enemies constantly respawn, even offering the player the possibility of bypassing them completely, either because they are unprepared or because they are simply not interested in direct confrontation. An enormous work, perfectly chiseled, which does not offer the side to any criticism or drool and which, on the contrary, greatly extends the scope of an adventure, which is already very long in itself for a title of this type.
And let's make it clear: God of War Ragnarok will take you at least 25 or 30 hours to complete only from a narrative point of view, but will demand at least another 15, 20 if not 25 for total completion, undoubtedly proposing itself as the greatest God of War ever, and also as a title in which getting lost is frankly a pleasure.
Son of War
Now that most of it has been said, we need to take a step back. I had spoken of a factor that is decisive for the characterization of this episode, and which represents a divisive aspect compared to the past of the series. As anticipated, here we will have to make a SPOILER, without which it would be really impossible to tell you the meaning of this God of War Ragnarok, because it is the most obvious and, if we want, important difference, which makes this chapter more than a simple "more of the same" compared to the game of 2018. And so… SPOILERS.
After spending the first few hours in the company of Kratos, and returning from our journey to discover the first of the available Kingdoms, or Svartalfheim, Ragnarok will pass the gameplay baton from Kratos to Atreus, making the character fully controllable by the player! It will only be the first of several interactions between the player and the character who, in these outings, he will often be in the company of Sindri, who will support both the narrative and the gameplay.
The transition from Kratos to Atreus is an interesting prospect both for the present of the game and for its hypothetical future, since it is the first time in the saga that the player switches from the control of Kratos to that of another character, involving, moreover, a full-bodied change of direction in the pace of the game.
Ragnarok, in fact, is not simply the story of Kratos' journey towards Ragnarok, and of his survival to the vicissitudes that the Fimbulwinter has unleashed on the Nine Realms, but it is also and above all the journey of Atreus, to discover himself and his place in the world, in what is a story which, as we have told you, passes a large part of the baton to the motivations, and above all to the actions, of the boy divided between being a god and being a giant.
And so, predictably, God of War Ragnarok will put us in the shoes of Atreus in different junctures of history, in what are mostly "research" moments on which, obviously, we won't tell you more. But what is interesting is the variation of the actual gameplay, which con Atreus it becomes less brutal and bloody, but certainly faster and more dynamic.
With a revised and expanded skill tree, Atreus still relies entirely on his bow which, as in the past, has two different abilities, and to which will be added the now usual runic evocations, in the form of spirit animals ready to give us rapid support during the most agitated clashes.
The fulcrum of the fights is therefore, unsurprisingly, the bow, whose key pattern for aiming is the same as that used for throwing Kratos' axe, with L1 entrusted to the actual aim, and the R backbones used instead for the various arrows, with R1 dedicated to normal arrows, and R2 for the elemental ones.
The aim is always clean and precise, e the system works well even in the most agitated situations also thanks to the movement speed of Atreus who, for example, can dodge shots even with the arrow nocked on the bow and, therefore, while the player is intent on aiming. Dodging forward or backward, Atreus will launch into a dive in the same direction, which can shorten, or possibly lengthen, the distance between the boy and his enemies.
Obviously, either for the presence on the field of different and numerous enemies, or for the wide mobility granted by the game arenas which, as we have anticipated, are often larger and also stratified, the bow alone would not be enough to deal with the numerous enemies, even net of the efficient support of Sindri, and thus lowered the bow, the backbones R, as for Kratos, can be used for melee attacks, which take place thanks to the use of the same bow, used by Atreus as a sort of club, or staff.
From a metafiction point of view, we admit it, it's strange to see how easily Atreus's bow can withstand discounts even with particularly large and corpulent enemies, leaving us in doubt whether it is made of wood or perhaps of tungsten, given the use that is made of it, which at times seems similar to a baseball bat. However, disbelief suspended anyway, we admit that the fights experienced with Atreus are fun and very dynamic, and the "lightness" of the boy, guarantees an unexpected and pleasant freshness to the discounts which, in itself, pleasantly breaks the gameplay of Kratos which, although never monotonous, however he carries on his shoulders that vague (very vague) and distant sensation of already seen inherited from the previous game.
The intriguing thing is that, as for Kratos, Atreus will also be the protagonist of some changes that will take place during the hours of the game, adding some gimmicks that, from time to time, will allow the player small and pleasant variations to the clashes. These are trifles, deriving from narrative implications on which, as you will have understood, we really don't want to anticipate anything, but the summary is that the variety and freshness that we have already mentioned in the previous paragraph when talking about Kratos' gameplay is also present here, albeit in a slightly reduced form.
In addition, Atreus the use of one of his very personal "Fury of Sparta" is even allowed, whose effects are completely different from those of Kratos and, in some ways, also make him more efficient and invulnerable than seen in the role of the Spartan. In these moments, in which there is so much anger in itself that it can be unleashed by pressing L3 and R3, the boy becomes a real war machine, making it completely unstoppable even for the bulkiest enemies.
A choice in contrast with the gameplay of Kratos who, however, even in Fury mode is always vulnerable to enemy blows, but which is fully justified both by the lesser strength of the boy and by the lesser strength of his supporting actor, so that the fury becomes a sort of of "smart bombs" with which the player can often avoid a ruinous game over. Not elegant of course, but somehow understandable.
Another important change is dictated by the absence, in the skill tree, of those upgrades that can be unlocked upon reaching a certain number of uses. This absence, perhaps justified by the fact that the gameplay of Atreus is still limited to specific sections of the game, however, it sounds like a small lack, which betrays the wider and more appreciable prospects for enhancing the characters granted by the game. Also because the XP obtained by Atreus are independent from those of his father and, already just over half, it will feel like you have more XP than you actually need.
To make up for this lack, perhaps also evident to the development team, A Runic Enchantment has been added for Atreus that basically replaces the Light Runic Attack of Kratos' weapons, while the heavy corresponds to the evocation that the boy can use, since the previous title, as a support to the gameplay with the Ghost of Sparta. Two variable and upgradeable skills sure, but however, it is too little to give the boy's build the same extent granted to Kratos which was, and remains, firmly anchored in the role of protagonist of the gameplay.
Considering that the unlockable weapons for Atreus are very few, and only vaguely upgradeable, and that the proposed clothing has no value, if not merely aesthetic, to make theidea of the build there are only the "accessories", or objects that can be found around the world, and some that can be forged by Brok and Sindri, which add some passive bonuses to the character's gameplay. However, since it has no statistical parameter, the bonuses mostly apply to arrows, summons, with variations on effects, damage to enemies and recharge times. Let's face it, a little bit overall, especially considering that, as mentioned, different, and often extensive, sections of the game are dedicated to Atreus.
And Nove Regni
From an artistic point of view, God of War Ragnarok is a feast for the eyes. If the fear that the Filbumwinter could somehow smooth out the whole aesthetic under a blanket of snow had already eclipsed starting from the previous preview, with the completion of the story I can confirm that the variety is great, and that the work done by Santa Monica is impressive, massive, even capable of eclipsing that other pearl of variety that Sony had offered us this year, or the excellent Horizon Forbidden West.
Proposing itself with 9 Realms to explore, albeit with very different dimensions and extensions of the maps, God of War Ragnarok is ecstatic and overflowing in its visual delivery, thanks to a fine technical construction, which makes the game an explosion of colors, lights and, of course, polygons.
While paying the price for the PlayStation 4 hardware ballast, which in some way has evidently smoothed out the technical sector to the previous title, however, the game does everything possible to rise to a higher level, proposing very rich and refined models, possibly realistic and always captivating, but also and above all an unparalleled wealth of environmental detail, especially if we consider the absolute absence of any evident loading.
Developed, once again, as a long and immense sequence shot, in which any (but rare) changes of perspective are always justified with a certain directorial attitude, Ragnarok cleverly hides its loads between sections to be crossed close to the walls, some climbing, and the inevitable crossings by boat, or more occasionally by sled that , I say it on the fly: it is indeed a novelty, but it does not represent a concrete and real change compared to wandering by boat.
From a technical point of view, therefore, but above all from an artistic point of view, the work done by the Santa Monica team is titanic, and does not show the side to loading, slowdowns or smudges, except for some occasional, if not rare, and in any case distant, pop up. The structure of the Nine Realms, their differentiation, and the narrative justification offered to us for Fuilbumwinter, capable of explaining why there is no snow everywhere, they allowed Sony Santa Monica to indulge themselves, offering from time to time the opportunity to admire, discover and explore something new but, above all, beautiful.
And so it goes from unhappy frost of Midgard, which even destroyed the theme of Tyr, freezing the Lake of Nine, in the boiling heat of swamps and streams of Svarthalfaim, the kingdom of the dwarves, passing through the unseen places of Alfheim, and even a lush and pristine jungle that we will have the pleasure of discovering in one of the unpublished kingdoms. Each place has its own precise identity, which is also found in the creatures that inhabit it, as well as by the enemies that threaten it.
The glance is rich, ecstatic and fulfilling. Everywhere you turn there is some creature that, by moving, enriches the environment, and the maps themselves are dripping with activities, optional encounters and treasures to track down, preventing the player from walking a straight road from start to finish and, indeed, constantly enticing to deviate from the path to discover something new.
A truly commendable work which, dulcis in fundo, is also found in those kingdoms widely chewed and digested by the previous game, such as Alfheim, which is proposed here in a totally different formula than in the past, and moreover decently motivated also from a narrative point of view.
Even the optional worlds of yesterday, like Muspleheim, are now more defined from an artistic and level design point of view, so much so that in the endgame phase you will find yourself very little disappointed, even by those environments that you thought you had already widely visited.
A praise also to the musical accompaniment, again by Bear McCreary, capable of giving even more form and substance not only to the different game situations, but also and above all to the different worlds which, in addition to a fine artistic carving, they all enjoy respectable acoustic accompaniment, which is also reflected in the depth of ambient sound, which makes the game nothing short of ecstatic when played with headphones.
Horns, deep and cavernous choirs, the intensive use of stringed instruments, hurdy-gurdies and drums, make the sound accompaniment always engaging and emotionally transporting, from the beginning to the end of the game, in what is a mix of the different tracks that is always clean and never "dirty", and which also helps to create a certain emotional transport when necessary, regardless of whether or not the blood of the enemies is flowing on the screen.
Once the game is over, the storyline completed, the realms explored, what is left for the player to do? First we tell you that we will dedicate a special article to the God of War Ragnarok endgame which, even for spoiler reasons, we will make available on the actual day one of the game, so that there is no possibility of ruining the gaming experience. Meanwhile, however, something can still be said: as one would expect after this long review, Ragnarok is a title full of activities and experiences, which constantly rewards the player for his desire to discover and explore, and which even after completing most of the secondary activities during the main quest, however, it will guarantee you several possibilities to further lengthen the gaming experience, also thanks to a delicious narrative trick on which, for now, there will be no spoilers.
As you will verify already in progress, Ragnarok always uses interesting narrative tricks to invite you to backtracking, making certain "forced" returns to visited kingdoms, also an occasion for new and interesting activities and, not infrequently, to extend the size of a map that, perhaps, was thought to have already been explored.
If in the past the closing of the game was entrusted only and only to a few activities, basically 3, or the completion of the Ivaldi Laboratory, that of the challenges of Surtur, and the killing of all the Valkyries, the possibilities offered today are decidedly more, and even if some already tested solutions remain, as precisely the challenges of Muspelheim, these are joined by numerous secondary quests, challenges with previously inaccessible enemies, and even a few little extras, which will allow you to refine your knowledge of certain worlds, obviously already explored.
The intriguing thing is that, beyond some ghosts to help, legacy of the previous game, whose motivations are sometimes as bland as in the past, 90% of secondary activities always have a narrative motivation, which serves to give greater consistency to the lore of the immense game world, contextualizing facts of the past, narrating new ones, or perhaps trying to solve some problems caused by the whim of the Aesir deities (but also of some allies!).
Even the famous Crows, present here in slightly smaller numbers (48), have now been contextualized from a narrative point of view, as if the development team had made an effort (and succeeded) to always offer something more than a mere and bland pretext.
God Of War Ragnarok, a game for everyone
Before concluding, we want to dedicate a small entry to the theme of accessibility which, especially at Sony, in recent years it is finding great (and very rightly) space, with several development teams who are spending a lot and well in making their gaming experiences more usable, even for those who may suffer from motor or visual impairments. In this sense, God of War is a little jewel, having a frankly infinite number of possibilities in terms of setting the game settings.
The aim is to make the entire title playable for anyone, and even if it is difficult for the writer to say that the goal has been achieved, for obvious reasons, however, the effort made is evident, and the possibility that this is really a title that could be tackled by anyone. From the speed of the game, to in-game aids, passing through the visual and acoustic settings that allow, for example, to use a code of specific signals to facilitate the game even for the blind, Ragnarok is a product that will set the standard and which, we hope, will be a starting point for many other development teams and publishers. It's not the first time that Sony amazes us in this regard, and also The Last of Us 2, for example, had proved to be a commendable title from the point of view of accessibility, but the work here is truly excellent, and it is extensive and even more refined, making the gaming experience possible for everyone.
Something that, in a smaller way, it is also testified by the 5 different difficulties, which the player can freely select at the beginning of the adventure, but which he can also modify during the work, both upwards and downwards, to what happened with the previous chapter. So players interested in mere storytelling will be able to choose a largely facilitated path, which will put the fights in the background, to offer a more uniform and accessible story, at the antipodes, you can select a high level of challenge, which will make even the most trivial clashes a real hell. The options are brilliantly diverse, and that just widens the game's adaptability to the player in what, honestly, it is a path that the videogame medium should always embrace, without creating any impediment to those who, after all, just want to find out firsthand what's at the end of the journey.
In this sense, it is worth reiterating what has already been said in the previous paragraphs: the general impression is that the game is slightly easier than in the past, even in the presence of numerous boss fights. In this sense, the most sensible advice is to opt for a level of difficulty that is at least slightly above average, at least if you have extensive and tried-and-true familiarity with the previous chapter because, otherwise, there will be very few situations in which you will feel really cornered, especially during the main quest.
So it's decided!
God of War Ragnarok is a massive and imposing title which, in large part, embraces and adopts the principle of the "bigger and better" that one would always wish for when facing a title that is a sequel to a masterpiece, as indeed the 2018 God of War had been. The gameplay is an enhanced version of the previous game, and has the advantage of proposing interesting variations for many, many hours designed to always keep the player's attention high.
The introductions made for Atreus are also a pleasant novelty, and contribute to making the playful and narrative experience more complete, complex and, if we want, satisfying. Apart from this, however, the weakest part of the game is perhaps its narration which, devoid of the authorial signature of Cory Barlog, now gives way to a certain banality.
Obviously there is no shortage of twists, such as interesting and, in some ways, innovative ideas for the brand, but the reality of the facts is that often, either for its many hours of play, or for certain not exactly spot-on choices, the plot of God of War Ragnarok sometimes slows dramatically, sometimes stumbles and finally seems unable to give the player that epic that would seem guaranteed by the premises of the game, or even just from that "Ragnarok" which is the title of the work.
Let's be clear: you don't need to turn a blind eye to still enjoy a rich and satisfying epic, because God of War Ragnarok is a great game, indeed a very good game, however it is undeniably the victim of several factors: its own high-sounding name, the strong hype that accompanied its release, but above all the absence of a narrative direction dictated by someone who had something sincere and personal to say through the plot and game dialogues. Don't be scared though, because the game is still a bomb.