‘God of War: Ragnarök’ Review: When A Sequel Is Better Than What Came Before It

Sophie Hanson
God of War: Ragnarok
Photo: God of War: Ragnarok

Warning: This review contains spoilers for God of War: Ragnarök. There are very few sequels that have the ability to live up to their predecessors. Francis Ford Coppola’s masterpiece The Godfather Part II did it in 1974, and Chris Nolan’s The Dark Knight from 2008 did it as well. If you really think I’m comparing a video game to these icons of cinema, you’d be right. God of War: Ragnarök is a masterpiece of storytelling.

It might be even better than the installment that came before it—the critically-acclaimed 2018 Game of the Year God of War reboot, for which this is a direct sequel. There are those that would ignorantly dismiss video games as childish pursuits, but the adventures of Kratos and his son Atreus are evidence games can be mature, emotionally charged and deeply nuanced. And before you ask, yes I was crying in the first five minutes.

God of War: Ragnarok

Image: Sony Interactive Entertainment.

In God of War, the father-son duo fulfills his wife Faye’s wish by scattering her ashes on the highest peak in the Nine Realms. In doing so, they defeat many enemies along the way and uncover a family secret, chiefly that Atreus is otherwise known as the trickster god Loki according to prophecy. Baldur, son of Odin and Freya, is the main antagonist. He hunts Kratos and Atreus as his father believes they’re the bringers of Ragnarök, Norse mythology’s cataclysmic end of days.

We pick up the story three years after the events of God of War. After the defeat of Baldur, the world has been plunged into a long, unforgiving winter known as Fimbulwinter—the precursor to Ragnarök. Odin and Thor, Baldur’s brother and who are portrayed most unfavorably, are now on a mission to take revenge on Kratos for slaying a member of their family, as is Freya for the slaying of her son.

The best parts in God of War weren’t the fights, though the fluidity of combat in the previous game was near perfection, it was the moments between the fights that were most affecting. Conversations between a stoic (detrimentally at times) father facing life as a single parent and his pre-teen son, who is still learning how to navigate a treacherous world. “Do not mistake my silence for a lack of grief,” he tells Atreus regarding Faye’s death. “Mourn your own way, leave me to my own.” Beautiful dialogue such as this continues to be at the heart of Kratos and Atreus’s story but in Ragnarök, the father-son dynamic is different.

Atreus is 14, a formative and confusing age made even more complicated by the knowledge he’s a deity. A teenager with a literal god complex, yikes. This evolution in their relationship is “key” to Ragnarök, as game director Eric Williams explained to Games Radar. “That’s the key to this game. The last game, you had Atreus always being told what to do by adults. Anybody asks a question and they never give him an answer,” he said, “but we wanted to be a lot more grey. Now we’re getting into Atreus being like, ‘Well, I don’t think it’s like that’ and [Kratos is] like, ‘Are you being sassy? Or should we actually have a real conversation about this?’ As you continue to play, you’ll probably see that start to blossom a lot more.”

God of War: Ragnarok

Image: Sony Interactive Entertainment.

Where God of War had Kratos front and center, this follow-up has the two sharing the spotlight. In fact, Ragnarök feels more like Atreus’s story than his father’s and playing as him is a brilliant reveal, offering new combat mechanics that mix up your approach to enemies. Where the fun of playing as Kratos is found in devastating, up-close-and-personal combat, Atreus offers nimbleness, speed and ranged attacks. It’s not quite as satisfying as his father’s visceral, hack-and-slash rage, but from a narrative perspective, it makes a lot of sense. We get to experience the trials and discoveries of this father-son duo from both perspectives now, and we begin to understand that even though Atreus can be a dick at times, he’s truly trying to do the right thing by his father and vice versa. This also opens the opportunity for new player-companion pairings, telling a more complete story.

From an enemy standpoint, the issues with the first game feel resolved. The few complaints were the lack of enemy diversity and the writers at Santa Monica Studio have taken this feedback on board. While the undead draugr are still the game’s bread and butter, boss fights are varied and frequent enough to keep players interested, while enemy swarms offer fresh opportunities for death and destruction.

When you’re not hacking enemies to pieces, there are plenty of stunning, screenshot-worthy environments to explore and Ragnarök truly is a breathtaking interactive adventure. Like the previous game, there are plenty of puzzles to solve with new and old mechanics to contend with. There is a lot of assumed knowledge here, it goes without saying that you should play the previous game first.

All in all, there aren’t really many significant changes. Sequels don’t have to be innovative and ground-breaking, Ragnarök isn’t. That’s a good thing. It’s superior to its predecessor because of the little tweaks to improve the overall experience, none of that God of War essence has been lost. Whether the God of War franchise takes out the Game of the Year Award once again—it’s up against some tough competition in FromSoftware’s Elden Ring-is inconsequential really. God of War: Ragnarök is a game for the ages and you should play it immediately.

God of War: Ragnarok is out now for the PlayStation 4 and PlayStation 5.

God of War: Ragnarok

God of War: Ragnarok

God of War: Ragnarök

The adventures of Kratos and Atreus continue in God of War: Ragnarök, the follow-up to 2018’s Game of the Year winner, God of War. Explore more of the Nine Realms of Norse mythology, face foes new and old, navigating a world on the precipice of total annihilation. Ragnarok is coming, are you ready?

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