Five hours in and God of War: Ragnarök is already stellar
Another Game of the Year contender enters the mix.
While we've already communicated when we'll be publishing our full review of God of War: Ragnarök, due to how early codes have been distributed, we're able to provide some impressions based on the opening stages of the title. And when I say opening stages, I don't mean the first 60 minutes or something similar. Instead it's in reference to around the first three-to-five hours of the game (depending on exploration), as Ragnarök is shaping up to be a pretty damn lengthy sequel. Now, I won't be talking about the specific narrative beats all too much in this preview, in the spirit of protecting the tale that Santa Monica Studio has weaved, but I can say that generally speaking, this game will not let down fans of the 2018 original.
Because it is incredible. Now that is an opinion formed from just a few hours with God of War: Ragnarök, but this is a game that looks to capitalise on the brilliance and story that God of War served up. What I mean is that this sequel doesn't need to follow the same character development beats as the 2018 game, because we've already experienced that. Kratos and Atreus have a formed and trusted connection. Kratos, while still grappling with and learning how to be a single parent, is much more versed and experienced at the role, and treats Atreus with more respect and compassion. And Atreus understands how to communicate with his battle-hardened father, and also supports him in combat and when exploring without Kratos specifically having to guide his actions. It's a similar situation to going from The Last of Us: Part I to The Last of Us: Part II, with Ellie going from being a young child desperately in need of protection, to a capable and intelligent individual that can handle their own. Granted, there is still parenting to be done for the Ghost of Sparta, as this adolescent Atreus is forming a rebellious streak, and without dishing out on plot details, it's this streak that has caught the attention of Asgard and pulled the father/son duo into another tricky situation.
As you can probably infer from the way that Kratos and Atreus have transitioned to this sequel, Ragnarök also doesn't have the same gameplay progression as the original. Kratos starts with access to both the Leviathan Axe and the Blades of Chaos, as well as any items and goodies gathered from the previous instalment. This means from minute one, the story is bolstered by Mimir's insight into Gods and the Realms, which helps to improve the narrative, add depth to exploration, and also enhance Kratos' dialogue, as the God of War has a friend to confide in from the start. As mentioned a moment ago, Atreus is smarter and stronger now as well, and will help in battles more, and even climb and explore without needing to be carried around by Kratos like a baby monkey.
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There are still progression elements baked in of course. Between earning experience that can be used to purchase new combat skills and abilities for both Kratos and Atreus, all the way to acquiring new items that let you explore the world in new ways, for example Sonic Arrows for Atreus that can shatter a new shiny green material to open new pathways. Most of these goodies are provided by Brok and Sindri, the dwarf allies that once again are very important to the narrative and storyline. And as you'd hope, the progression systems feel intuitive and straightforward, making for a very simple system to master.
On the topic of combat, the game plays similarly to the original, as you'd expect, although Kratos feels deadlier this time. He can almost play with his food, using a flurry of combos and attacks to chop, throw, ignite, and freeze foes at a moment's notice. It all feels incredibly fluid and smooth, and it's further proof that Santa Monica Studio are masters at creating a melee combat suite.
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Looking towards the exploration, while I won't delve into plot points relating to the side quests, all I will say is that there are a bunch to indulge in, which are both bolstered by a wealth of mythological narrative, but also significant enough in size that they will take you off the beaten path for quite a large amount of time. To add to this, the locations you visit are rammed with other objectives to complete, such as mini-bosses to tackle, lore to uncover, collectibles to gather, and once again, Odin's Ravens to smash to smithereens. All of this will keep you occupied in just one Realm for hours and hours.
As my current time with God of War: Ragnarök has been on the PlayStation 5, I can't comment on how the PS4 handles the game as of yet. But, what I can say is that on the current-gen system, this title is visually striking, with stunning vistas and set pieces, and also plays incredibly fluidly in a performance sense. The DualSense support does help add to the immersion in places, with Haptic Feedback being a highlight as usual, while the Adaptive Triggers make throwing the Axe feel a little annoying after a while. I have noticed the occasional hiccup with the 3D audio support as well, but for the most part, this is also excellent.
To me, it's clear that God of War: Ragnarök is shaping up to be an absolute titan. From just a few hours with the game, it's blatantly obvious that Santa Monica Studio has created a sequel that is not just worthy of following up to the 2018 game, but one that also succeeds and positively builds on it in significant ways. This is already a fantastic game, and I can't wait to see how the rest of the story looks to affirm the opinion I've generated already.