Once in a while, a game comes along that does something different. It does something that no one expected. It does something that helps push our beloved medium forward. God of War (2018) did just that, and with God of War: Ragnarok, Sony Santa Monica and PlayStation have managed to do that once again.
While the template of God of War Ragnarok continues that which its predecessor set out. along with a handful of new additions, it's the storytelling that really goes above and beyond anything I've experienced in video games. The journey of Kratos and Atreus is one that made me laugh, cry and exclaim in shock multiple times – and that was only in my first few hours.
It's an experience worth savouring. Everything poured into God of War Ragnarok is done so for a reason, be that adding to the lore, developing a character or learning something new about this mystical, magical world. Don't rush. Don't sprint to the end. Take your time and the game rewards you with a masterful narrative that on its surface comes across as something otherworldly, but underneath, all comes down to family.
Warning: God of War Ragnarok has many spoilers and naturally some of these moments need to be addressed to conduct a review, however, we will not be disclosing anything major. If unsure, we recommend going in completely blind.
God of War Ragnarok review: Price and Release Date
- What is it? An action adventure that sees Kratos and Atreus preparing for Ragnarok while also serving as a sequel to God of War (2018)
- Release date? November 9, 2022
- What platforms can I play it on? PS5, PS4
- Price? $69.99 / £69.99 / $AU124.95 (PS5), $59.99 / £59.99 / $AU109.95 (PS4)
God of War Ragnarok review: What is it?
Taking place three years after the events of God of War (2018), Kratos and Atreus, now feeling the full force of Fimbulwinter, must scour the Nine Realms of Norse mythology in preparation for the end of days, Ragnarok. It's filled with continuous twists and turns that kept me on my toes, concluding in an unexpected but satisfying way.
The opening pacing is superb. Moments in, Freya – the mother of Aesir god Baldur, who was killed by Kratos at the end of the last game – is charging at the protagonists in a thrilling battle through the snow-blanketed hills of Midgard. It's one of the best first hours of any video game I've ever played. Sure, it may meander a little in the middle but I didn't care. I wanted to embrace every second of this gripping journey, only topped by those sombre moments between father and son being interjected as both learn from one another's mistakes.
This is a more open Kratos, one that has seemingly learned from his past experiences. One willing to embrace his son in times of sorrow and one that grows further than we've ever seen the character grow prior. Kratos and Mimir, everyone's favourite travelling companion, have become closer too, even brotherly. It's a far cry from the mindless monster which began the franchise in 2005 – and is better for it.
Best of all, Mimir is available from the start this time. The former advisor to Odin and self-proclaimed Smartest Man Alive is fantastically funny, creating some true bellylaugh moments. Simple things like: "brother, what if we took a stealthy approach to our next battle?" followed up by a simple "no" from Kratos had me in stitches. He genuinely might be of the best side characters.
Brok and Sindri return with bigger, more integral roles. Each is paired up with one of our protagonists, creating some fantastic dynamics. Sindri's obsession with cleanliness and Brok's foul-mouthed approach to the world is still relatable, yet we learn more about their past which helps to enhance every meeting. The same can be applied to Freya's arc, still grieving from her loss.
Speaking of characters, God of War Ragnarok has quite a few of them. Compared to the relatively small cast assembled in the first, it's quite substantial... for better or worse. Odin, Thor, Heimdall, Sif, Tyr, Angrboda, the names go on. Thankfully, each is given an adequate amount of time to make their mark. Odin is calm, measured and laser-focused on his goal while Thor is pompous, mighty and like Kratos, layered. I'd argue that none of the newcomers quite measure up to the original crew but fans can rest assured that the Norse gods deliver on their promises.
Ragnarok's stakes are notably (and obviously) higher, although it still manages to balance the personal aspects that helped make the previous game a hit. Eric Williams, taking over directing duties from Cory Barlog, has done a wonderful job of ending this story, even if some may find it divisive. I personally hope this is the last we've seen of Kratos and Atreus but that feels like a fool's dream considering the IP's appeal.
God of War Ragnarok review: How does it play?
God of War Ragnarok is a third-person action adventure that expands upon its predecessor with advanced combat and further upgrades – expect multiple skill trees. Kratos still relies on either the Leviathan Axe, Blades of Chaos or Guardian Shield to obliterate all that stand in his way. Atreus, meanwhile, provides backup via his bow and arrow and summoning abilities – a pack of wolves or an unkindness of Ravens, for instance. Utilising a mix of light, heavy and special attacks, gameplay is fun, fluid and fast. It never tires, ramping up the challenge when necessary for some truly seismic encounters.
Elemental abilities (ice and fire) play a larger part this time, adding an interesting puzzle element. Building on this, different types of magic are then introduced, meaning by the end it stands on the precipice of doing too much. It works, though! It requires thought instead of the simple hack-and-slash mechanics of the original trilogy, smartly conveying the evolution of Kratos himself.
Alongside this, players control Atreus for significant portions of the game. Lots of effort has been spent differing how the "boy" fights to Kratos, blending a mix of ranged moves and hand-to-hand via the bow and arrow. Is Atreus more enjoyable to control than Kratos? No, not quite. Does it provide good variation, helping to better the story as a result? Absolutely. There's also something greatly profound about seeing the 14-year-old undertaking his own adventure, or so to speak.
Sindri's spotless house is used as a hub for where Kratos and Atreus plan and proceed to the Nine Realms. As a result, levels appear more linear but are accompanied by free-roam sections once a realm has been visited. Midgard is still pretty big, featuring a frozen-over lake that can be raced across via two wolves and a sledge, while Svartalfheim has an ocean to traverse (yes, the boat is back) as well as a dwarf city to explore. Each feels distinctly unique, even if some are essentially reduced to one-and-done stops.
Plenty of puzzles help to break up the combat. My personal favourite has Kratos throwing the Leviathan axe through multiple red orbs that return immediately if not all hit at once, something that was apparent in the previous game. This time it's been enhanced by a purple substance that ricochets the weapon in a direction not previously possible. Equally, boss fights require an added element of strategy. I literally had an "aha" moment when facing off against a late-game boss.
Ragnarok's side missions are exceptional. So many of them feel significant, such as freeing a chained Lyngbakr the size of a whale that was once trapped by Mimir. I was enamoured, unable to progress further until I helped the beast. Those that enjoyed Elden Ring will also be pleased when it comes to Berserker Gravestones, a one-on-one fight that makes the Valkyries seem like Hel-Walkers. Believe it or not, the collectathons of killing Odin's ravens even have a better purpose, making everything worthwhile.
Playing on PlayStation 5, I was excited to see what wizardry Sony Santa Monica could concoct when it comes to the DualSense controller. Sadly, there's nothing special. It's very cool calling back the Leviathan Axe and feeling it slam into your palm like a baseball or swinging the weapon into a tree only to feel the tension grips pull back, I just expected more considering we're almost two years into the console's lifecycle. Additionally, there's one use of the touchpad in the later stages which felt very out of place.
Coming off the lacklustre 30fps in Gotham Knights, God of War Ragnarok is smooth as butter, offering the choice of Favour Performance (variable resolution at 60fps) or Favour Resolution (native 2160p 4K resolution at 30fps).
Furthermore, very few bugs occurred in my playthrough with Sony already rolling out various patches. It's rare to get a game at launch that plays this well. Similarly, the extensive improvement of accessibility features over the last game – vision, hearing, motion and motor options – are a terrific step in the right direction.
God of War Ragnarok review: How does it look and sound?
Numerous moments throughout God of War Ragnarok will position you in front of a stunning vista, solidifying why a PlayStation 5 is necessary to truly appreciate the graphical fidelity. It's gorgeous! Very few games, if any, measure up to this level of detail. Be that the luscious greens of Vanaheim, the glistening yellows of Jötunheim or the crisp sandy desert of Alfheim. Just the level of detail given to sunlight and shadows alone is something to behold.
I don't know if I've seen more varied or detailed creature designs, either. Aesir, Elves, Hel-Walkers, Midgardians, Primordial, Selor, and more, make up the Bestiary Index. Within this, I found between six to 15 sub-species – there's likely more to discover too. It's a shame photo mode won't arrive until a later date.
Christopher Judge and Sunny Suljic as Kratos and Atreus, respectively, are at the top of their game. It's wonderful to watch. These performances elevate the next-gen facial animations made through motion capture. Ryan Hurst as Thor is similarly a standout. That said, the whole cast is remarkable.
Music is atmospheric but I'd struggle to recollect any beyond the main God of War theme. It's the lack of sound in those quieter moments that strike hardest. I just won't be listening to the soundtrack on Spotify for days to come.
God of War Ragnarok review: How long to beat?
It took me approximately 26 hours to roll credits on God of War Ragnarok, however, that hardly scratches the surface of what this game has to offer. My playthrough mainly focused on completing the story and in some ways, I think it lessened the experience. Without a doubt, I will be going for the Platinum trophy, expecting to reach the 50-hour mark by the time I finish.
Anyone thinking of jumping in without playing God of War (2018) – something I do not advise – has the option of a recap on the main menu screen. I found it useful after only just replaying the game a few months prior. It's not relayed by Mimir, though, which feels like a missed opportunity.
God of War Ragnarok presents a fantastic conclusion to the Norse saga, pushing Kratos and Atreus to a level in storytelling matched by few. Every character is impeccably written, having me in stitches one minute and in tears the next. The Nine Realms are stunning to explore with an exceptional level of detail, an abundance of different enemy designs and significant side-missions that are frankly unavoidable. Sony Santa Monica has quite possibly delivered the greatest one-two punch in video game history.
God of War (2018) is what I consider to be the best video game I've ever played, enriching everything that Ragnarok has to offer. It's a much smaller story in comparison, setting up the world, stakes and characters for the explosive ending that is Ragnarok.
Aside from this, the Horizon series is another must-play blockbuster from Sony, where huntress Aloy must venture through a post-apocalyptic version of the United States that is now infested with giant mechanical machines. The latest instalment, Horizon Forbidden West, launched in February 2022 and is another fantastic reason to own a PS5.