We’ve had some great games released for PlayStation 5 since its arrival in 2020. Some have made excellent use of its next-gen talents, such as Horizon: Forbidden West, Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart and Returnal, while others have remastered existing masterpieces with aplomb, including Demon’s Souls, Spider-Man and The Last of Us Part 1. But then there is God of War Ragnarök – which is something else yet again. It is arguably not just the best game on the console yet, it could well be the best this generation.
It sets a bar so high it’ll be hard for others to match let alone excel. It is god-like, so to speak.
In the beginning
Following-on directly from 2018’s God of War reboot, albeit set three-years later, Ragnarök will feel hugely familiar to those who have played its predecessor. If you haven’t already, you really need to first. There is a recap option on the main menu screen, to help you catch up with events, but where’s the fun in that? We suggest you stop reading right now and go play it immediately – the PS4 version even runs in 60fps on PS5.
For those who have already, the control method, characters and locations are like old friends, at least initially. There are plenty of additions, especially in the PS5 version (as reviewed), but Santa Monica Studio has cleverly retained the look and, most importantly, feel of the last chapter to instantly put you at ease.
Kratos is still full of parental angst and as short-tempered, Atreus is a tad older, more capable, but equally as inquisitive and finding his way, while Mirmir’s head continues to act as a comedic, yet useful sidekick. You are also joined by the dwarven weaponsmiths, Sindri and Brok, soon into the story, adding further familiarity. While other major characters revisit often.
There are also the Asgardians, who once again deem to darken the God of War’s door with their shenanigans and provide the foil for Kratos’ ire. However, this time they are equally in danger with the eponymous Ragnarök looming large and threatening the end of all. Thus a new quest emerges – one with several twists and turns along a winding path, and opportunities to play as different characters in a sequel that seems even grander than the last.
We’ll not go too much further into the plot for fear of spoilers, but needless to say that it is as gripping (if not more so) than the first chapter – with a superb script, wonderful voice acting, and some of the greatest set pieces and boss battles in gaming.
This God of War also seems much bigger than the last – in scope and sheer size. Just about each location (unlocked as you go, much as before) presents a new, larger open-world map, which can be explored for a wealth of loot and side missions galore. And, like some of the areas in the previous game, they can be revisited later to access zones you couldn’t reach the first time.
Ragnarök is therefore as big an experience as you want – as much an epic RPG as it is an action-adventure. It easily takes up 50 hours or more to complete every quest – main and side – and find every pickup and secret. Even “racing” through it and ignoring some of the harder optional challenges took us over 35 hours, which might sound daunting but seems to go so quickly you’ll be devasted when the final curtain arrives.
That’s doesn’t even include the numerous restarts you’ll undoubtedly undertake – much like us – after falling foul of particularly tough bosses or waves of foes. That’s where the mountain of loot comes in, as it is essential to your progress and managing Kratos’ loadouts and skills is as important as getting to grip with his fighting moves.
Indeed, we often found ourselves facing a challenging fight that we couldn’t beat unless we left, found some more power-ups for our weapons and armour, then return. Certainly there’s no shortage of the stuff.
It’s been a fair while since we last played God of War, but we don’t remember quite so many different armour types, runic power-ups, skills, and other benefits and bonuses you can give your character(s) just to keep them alive a little longer. Let’s just say, you’ll be looking in every nook and cranny as you travel – either by foot, boat or sled – to give yourself every advantage. You’ll certainly need it.
Riddle me this
As before, the loot is mainly hidden behind some rather cunning puzzles – many of which extensions on those found in the previous game. Nornir chests are back, presenting you with apples and horns to permanently raise your health and rage meters. And there are legendary chests, lore, treasure, Yggdrasil rifts, and so many other types of collectables to enhance your character sheet that you can spend hours just hunting them down.
Admittedly, a lot of puzzles don’t make sense when you first start out – are impossible even, without gadgets or weapons you can only acquire later. But, this is where the developer shows true mastery as the story missions weave around them, sending you back to their locations when it is most logical to do so. Sometimes you may have even forgotten about a certain glowing area on a wall, for example, until you find yourself cleverly manipulated to revisit, now armed with the right tool for the job.
Never does this feel forced, either. In fact, you can’t help but smile or giggle with glee when presented with a riddle or task that you spent ages on before to no avail, only to realise that you can complete it easily second time around. The dialogue helps in this way too, with Mirmir or a fighting partner often informing you when you might be missing the right implement to solve that particular discovery yet.
This is what sets God of War Ragnarök and the former reboot apart from even the previous franchise games. It’s not all action and fisticuffs. Although there’s a fair amount of that too, of course.
While the game has many role-playing elements, it also ticks every box when it comes to the combat. There’s no hiding the similarity with its predecessor when it comes to fast-paced battles, but it adds so many extra moves, combos and powerful finishers that it feels even more joyful. There’s an extra weapon too, acquired late in the game, which enhances things further. We won’t dwell on it too much though, as it’s a pleasant surprise.
You start with the Leviathan Axe again, which is abolsutely fine with us, not least because it’s one of the best weapons in any game ever. It can be thrown as before, and whipped back using the triangle button like Thor’s hammer, which feels so good once more. You also soon pick up your trusty Blades of Chaos, with their faster speeds and fire-based abilities. And, hot swapping between the two (then the third, mystery weapon) is what makes the combat flow so well.
Each weapon can be highly customised and tweaked with new hilts and runes, which add different, powerful special attacks. They can also be powered-up through crafting materials, found abundantly along your travels. Kratos’ skill tree then adds even more combat abilities as you unlock them through XP. In short, battles become more complex and interesting as you progress, with constant growth in move variety. But, because it is gradual, you never feel overwhelmed by the additional demands. It has an excellent learning curve, that’s for sure.
That’s largely similar to 2018’s God of War, but something that we loved about the original anyway. And, by the end of Ragnarök, you soon realise the differences and improvements – in move types, the new weapon, and enemy AI. You’ll certainly not be complaining as you juggle a Grim in the air with your Blades before dispatching it into the void.
Another step-up for this sequel is in visual presentation. When the PS5 was launched, Sony upgraded God of War to run in a higher frame rate and to make use of the SSD to improve loading times. The moves made it so much more playable. Now we have additional use of the console’s unique hardware for an even better, crisper, smoother experience.
The game comes with several graphics modes on the PlayStation 5 that you can use to tailor the visuals to best suit your tastes and TV tech. You can either favour resolution or performance and, on top, choose a high frame rate mode for each.
That means you can run God of War Ragnarök anywhere from 1080p 120fps to native 2160p 30fps, with options in-between. We settled on the performance graphics mode with high frame rate turned off, which gave us 4K (possibly upscaled a touch) and 60fps, but it’s nice to have alternatives.
Whichever you choose, the art style is exceptional. It has the same look as the PS4 original, but with far more detail and a superb use of HDR and lighting effects. The character models are great too, with some excellent textures on skin and clothing. It generally looks stunning.
Audio is set to the output you’ve chosen in your PS5’s menu, with up to 7.1 home cinema systems supported. Certainly, a surround setup is wonderfully served, with a great, cinematic soundtrack and fine effects spacing.
Particularly notable is the voice acting, which we’ve mentioned earlier in this review. Considering the story is driven by a lot of dialogue between the main protaganists, it is essential that it feels real and is delivered cleanly. The relationship between Kratos and Arteus continues to be particularly engaging and emotive, while other returning characters are better fleshed out in the script.