Monday, 16 January 2023

Game Review: God of War – Ragnarok


With all the ingredients of a bigger, better and bolder sequel, God of War: Ragnarok builds upon and finesses so much of what made 2018's reboot so good in the first place.

Given that it was my entry point into the God of War series, I remember really liking 2018's reboot, but not being totally swept up in it – to me, it felt an awful lot like every other Sony first-party title at the time, with Norse mythology serving as the setting, instead of Feudal Japan, the far-flung future or a mystical pirate island. 

Ragnarok still has all that Sony first-part title stuff – but it's propulsive and gripping in a way that I thought 2018 God of War wasn't, splashy and full of spectacle right from the get-go. What surprised me about Ragnarok is the storytelling; how brisk the pacing is, how you're just carried off and the action rarely relents for hours at a time. Characters come and go from story, weaving in and out, and immediately the scope feels infinitely bigger.

And the best part, rarely an hour passes without something big happening or changing, whether that's a big story setpiece or visiting a new setting. Each night I'd play for an hour or two, and every time it felt like I'd unlocked something new or was exploring an entirely new playground. 

A big part of that comes down to the story structure, as Kratos and Atreus visit all of the Nine Realms, sometimes several times – so one minute we're in the wintery woodlands of Midgard, the next we're exploring the arid sands of Alfheim or the lush jungles of Vanaheim or the molten rocks of Muspelheim. 

Each realm rendered in exquisite detail and in luscious colours, of course – none of them feel like an afterthought or like anything less than a living, breathing part of this world, with lore and loot lurking round every turn. 

The plot moves so quickly and the world changes beneath your feet so often, that the hours just melt away playing Ragnarok – it's been a long, long time since I've looked up at the time and yelped in surprise at how late it is. 

I was gripped, from start to finish here – even some of the slower, character-driven chapters (there's one early one where Atreus visits an ally in the Ironwood forest that dragged) is loaded with important story details that pays off in spades later on. 

Somehow, Santa Monica Studios have threaded the needle perfectly – crafting a sprawling Norse epic that feels both expansive and intimate. Bigger and bolder but never leaving behind the complex, layered father-son dynamic that made the first game so effective. There's a lot of musing on things like fate and destiny here, as well as a killer twist just as you're about to launch into the third act – one that I didn't see coming from a mile away.

In terms of gameplay, a lot of these PlayStation exclusive titles are like slipping into a pair of comfy slippers – familiar, easy to pick up and play, very accessible and slick, with some nuances to become a true master of the craft. As you get deeper and deeper into the game, the combat becomes more complicated and convoluted, but you've been drip-fed the details so it doesn't overload you all at once. That said, I did find myself struggling to recall the specific combo or elemental attack I needed to use to take down a specific enemy type on more than one occasion.

Thankfully, I had the difficulty dialled down to the second-easiest setting ('give me grace'), because that's my speed nowadays – and even still, I did cross paths with a couple of boss fights that tested my mettle. One side quest in Alfheim pits you against an Elven librarian with dual scythes and let me tell you – after a couple of tries, I was starting to curse her out big time. 

And this wouldn't be a God of War game if you didn't lock horns with another devious deity from time to time. Suffice to say, there's plenty of divine duels here; one in particular against a Norse god who hasn't felt pain or drawn blood in centuries is particularly dastardly. 

I think Ragnarok's biggest flaw is the convoluted RPG elements and inventory system, through which you can purchase weapon upgrades, new abilities, armour and accessories for Kratos, Atreus and a couple of other companions. But I didn't delve very deep into this area, and just focused on the stats – if the number went up, I went with that route. The skills, amulets, incantations and whatever else the game was throwing my way, largely went ignored. 

The Verdict: 10/10

Blockbuster gameplay, accessibility options for days and a riveting story that pulls you in from the very first scene, God of War: Ragnarok is my pick for 2022 game of the year. 

God of War: Ragnarok was reviewed on PlayStation 5.

No comments:

Post a Comment


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...