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I thought Elden Ring would be my game of the year. I was wrong.

I knew I was going to enjoy God of War: Ragnarok. I loved the series reboot from 2018 and decided to pre-order the Collector’s Edition of Ragnarok. I was expecting to play through just the story and watch the credits roll at the end before returning to other games on my list.

I haven’t been able to stop thinking about the game.

God of War: Ragnarok, an action-adventure game released on Nov. 9th, 2022 for the PS4 and PS5, follows the story of Kratos and Atreus after the events of the 2018 game, God of War

The prophecy of Ragnarok hangs over the heads of the father and son duo as they navigate the nine realms of Norse mythology to find a way to divert it. Ragnarok is a real prophecy in Norse mythology that foretells a war that will take place between all nine realms and will result in the destruction of everything, essentially the end of the world.

Writer's Note: The section of the review that follows will be spoiler-free, and the section of the review that contains spoilers will be marked.

Gameplay

God of War: Ragnarok is an improvement over the 2018 installment in nearly every way. The solid combat system is given increased depth thanks to new abilities and combos, as well as a few features you acquire later on.

Kratos starts off with both the Blades of Chaos and the Leviathan Axe, but none of the magic he acquired from the previous game. It has all been stripped away due to Fimbulwinter, which is a winter that spans three years and is the prelude to Ragnarok. This was a strong reason for the player to start fresh and gain new abilities.

The combat itself has much more depth than its predecessor. There are around 50 different enemy types in God of War, but in Ragnarok, there are 84. Each encounter feels different from the other and gives the player different challenges to face, forcing them to switch between weapons and strategies to survive.

The combat arenas are more varied as well with more verticality than the previous game, which allows Kratos to utilize a slew of different jumping attacks. The player is given more freedom to take combat how they choose.

Atreus remains largely the same as he was in the first game. He gains two new arrow types that double as tools to solve puzzles. You can unlock upgrades for him with XP that improves his effectiveness in combat, but I felt that he was nearly the same as in the previous installment. There is a reason for this, but it delves into spoiler territory.

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There are a lot of new artifacts and armor sets that give the player more freedom than ever to create a unique build suited to their specific playstyles. The build I ran with was a strength and defense build, and thankfully there’s a set of armor you can get late in the game that turns Kratos into a tank. Players can figure out a playstyle that works for them thanks to the large selection of armor that changes your stats.

The player even gets access to five different shields, all with different abilities. The expanded combat along with all of the new armor and ability options makes Ragnarok one of the most solid action games in recent memory.

Presentation

The gameplay isn’t the only solid aspect of Ragnarok. One of my favorite things about video games is the art direction and soundtracks, and Ragnarok doesn’t disappoint at all.

The graphics stood out to me immediately. I played on the mode that favors performance over visual quality to stay at 60 frames per second, but the game is still gorgeous. Each of the nine realms that Kratos and Atreus explore has a unique color palette and aesthetic, from Midgard’s frozen Lake of Nine to the azure, warm rivers of Svartalfheim. 

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The realms that appeared in the 2018 game get twists of their own, too. Without delving into spoilers, Alfheim and Jotunheim are completely different from the previous game. Midgard has frozen over thanks to Fimbulwinter, while Niflheim and Helheim show off different areas entirely. 

The level design is incredibly detailed, as are all of the character and enemy models. Overall, this is the prettiest AAA game I have played in the past few years, even more so than Elden Ring and Forza Horizon 5 in 2021.

The soundtrack is another standout from an already excellent game. Composer Bear McCreary forgoes the stripped-back instrumentals of 2018 for a sweeping orchestral vibe. A booming male choir accompanies a full orchestra and a hurdy-gurdy of all things to provide a solid and memorable soundtrack.

Each realm has a unique tone that the soundtrack reflects. The theme “Muspelheim and Niflheim” sounds ancient and invokes curiosity before it launches into an intense section accompanied by an organ. “Huldra Brothers” makes use of the hurdy-gurdy for the main melody and stays consistent throughout. 

The music is just set dressing for the main course, however. The bulk of Ragnarok’s excellence comes from the story. The game contains a sweeping narrative that takes the original myth that Santa Monica Studios puts its own twist on.

I will delve into the story in detail within the spoiler section, but it is simply incredible. The player gets to follow the story of a father and son learning to trust each other and make their own fate in a world obsessed with the idea. However, there are some pacing issues with the story toward the end of the second act. The story slows down when it should speed up as an excuse to encourage the player to do side content.

The vocal performances for every character are fantastic too. Christopher Judge gives a subtle and layered performance to Kratos, showing a man who struggles with the idea of going to war because he just wants to protect his son. Sunny Suljic plays Atreus just as well as he did in the 2018 game, but the standout to me was Danielle Bisutti as Freya. Bisutti puts all the pain of losing a child and seeking revenge against all who wronged her into Freya with a believability that makes me ache for the character.

A combination of solid gameplay, excellent music and visuals, and a gripping narrative topped by incredible voice performances makes God of War: Ragnarok one of the best games of 2022. I can’t recommend this game enough to fans of God of War and those who are interested in the series.

Aye brother! According to my vast knowledge, there are spoilers ahead.

New Gameplay

Atreus is just as integral to the series as Kratos now, but I never expected to be able to play as him in this installment. None of the trailers marketed his gameplay, so when the camera panned from Kratos speaking to Mimir down to Atreus eavesdropping on them and then kept following him, I knew this game was going to be special.

Atreus offers a very different fighting style than Kratos, emphasizing the use of ranged combat over Kratos’s typical close-quarters combat. Atreus is even given different artifacts that can strengthen both types of elemental arrows, as well as his limited melee attacks.

Playing as Atreus does get stale by the end of the game, though. Unlike Kratos, Atreus doesn’t have a large number of weapons to switch between or builds to create, nor do his companions have skill trees. If this was a test to see if Atreus could work as a playable character in a standalone title, then I believe it could have more options for the player in terms of skills and build creation.

Atreus isn’t the only new gameplay element of Ragnarok. Kratos forges the Draupnir Spear about two-thirds of the way into the game to use against the god Heimdall. I wasn’t expecting to get another weapon to add to the collection, not even Mjolnir like many others were hoping for prior to release.

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What we did end up with, however, is a very good addition to Kratos’s arsenal. Kratos is able to toss an unlimited amount of duplicating spears at an enemy, which he can then detonate for a lot of damage. The spear also has a wind element which pairs nicely with the fire and ice damage.

Draupnir also has an unlockable ability to absorb an enemy’s elemental property and use it as its own temporarily, giving you the power to use poison or Bifrost attacks as well. The spear is an excellent addition that helps keep the game fresh going into its end; making a build for Kratos has never been easier.

Story and Themes

Along with this expansion in gameplay options comes the expansion of the story. Ragnarok has a much grander narrative than God of War. Kratos and Atreus travel to all nine realms in an effort to stop Ragnarok from coming to pass, but they also learn to trust each other along this journey.

Trust is the main theme of Ragnarok. Kratos must learn to trust Atreus as he grows into a man. Atreus puts his trust in the friends he makes along his journey like Thrud and Angrboda. Freya has to learn to trust Kratos once again after the death of her son. Ultimately, all of the characters we follow must trust each other if they want to stop Ragnarok from destroying all of the realms.

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Freya’s character arc throughout the story was incredible to watch. She and Kratos are forced to team up in Vanaheim so she can restore her ability to travel between all nine realms that Odin stripped from her. They bare their hearts to each other about their separate pasts and the traumas that they carry with them. Freya chooses a new family with Kratos and Atreus and breaks the shackles of Odin’s abuse. I wasn’t expecting Freya to become such a strong ally, but this game is all about subverting fate.

Santa Monica also made sure to subvert audience expectations about the story. Everybody expected Kratos to sacrifice himself so his son might live after seeing the end of God of War, but by the time the credits rolled both Kratos and Atreus are alive and well. Another notable subversion was the popular theory that Kratos would kill Thor and take up Mjolnir to use as a weapon, but neither of these things happened.

The story of Ragnarok is my favorite part of the entire game. I could speak about how much I enjoyed every scene and scrap of dialogue in it, but that wouldn’t be able to show off just how excellent it is. This game is worth experiencing for the story alone. Everybody at Santa Monica Studios gave it their all to craft a beautiful story that centers around a father and son learning to trust each other.

I cannot recommend this game or this duology as a whole enough to any person who is even remotely interested in it. Ragnarok deserved every award it received at The Game Awards and so much more.

Editor’s Note: Just wanted to say that I agree with Will, this game rocks!

Will Edmonds

Will Edmonds is a sophomore who loves single-player video games, playing the saxophone, and creative writing. He is majoring in professional writing and a part of the one of the jazz bands at the Catlett Music Center. He plans to become an editor after graduating college and hopes to publish his own book.

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