God of War Ragnarök (2022)

Despite its faults, I gave the revival of God of War a glowing review. It was an excellent game in many regards and had masterful presentation. Four years later, I don’t feel nearly as positive about its sequel, God of War Ragnarök. While it’s not uncommon for a sequel to regress or diverge from the original, that’s not the case here. Instead, God of War Ragnarök is a victim of being overly safe and designed-by-committee, with little to give it an identity of its own. Sure, it’s a competent video game and it’s undoubtably well-made, but its lack of originality makes it unremarkable. Moreover, God of War Ragnarök is bloated and desperately needed more revisions and editing to make it a leaner and more cohesive experience.

Before I dive into the individual systems, I want to make clear that many of these exact same flaws also existed in God of War. While it feels unfair to judge the sequel harsher for the same faults, it’s important to recognize that games don’t exist in a vacuum. Context is important. Being a sequel, God of War Ragnarök should have its own identity but instead it just feels like more of the same. In the four years between the releases, I don’t feel like any significant improvements were made. The combat and RPG mechanics are slightly better than its predecessor, but the story and writing definitely took a dip in quality. The pacing in particular feels bizarre.

God of War Ragnarök starts off strong, throwing the player into a thrill ride of exciting story sequences culminating with a spectacular boss battle. After that, the game’s pacing takes a nose-dive. While the first game in this saga had some slow pacing at times, it was far more character driven than plot driven. The singular goal of reaching the top of the mountain always loomed, and everything in between served as a way for characters to grow and develop their bonds. God of War Ragnarök instead tries to cram many plot threads and events into a single game.

The main plot of God of War Ragnarök focuses on its namesake, Ragnarök. The characters of the game desperately attempt to avoid the fated event and its consequences. It introduces tons of new characters, motivations, relationships, and moving pieces. I think this Norse chapter of God of War would have benefited from being a trilogy instead of a duology. While I understand that the developers did not want to stretch this story over a decade of real time, I think the pacing of God of War Ragnarök would have benefitted heavily from this. The first game in the Norse saga was a slow burn, a character driven adventure, so most of the actual plot of the story had to be stuffed into God of War Ragnarök.

While I believe that God of War Ragnarök would have benefitted from having a sequel to scope its story, it admittedly has other bizarre pacing issues. While the game starts strong, it slows down tremendously for dozens of hours then races through the climax. It spends too long on these “slow-burn” character building moments that no time is left for the actual plot. I was let down by the abrupt ending, which was the result of dozens of hours of build-up culminating in a rather lackluster couple of boss fights.

Where God of War Ragnarök does make strides is its combat. While it does not reach the complexity of other character action series like Devil May Cry, Bayonetta, or even its predecessors in the God of War series, it does manage to be fun. There’s a beauty in simplicity, and God of War Ragnarök manages to keep things straightforward and approachable while also providing some advanced techniques for more experienced players. While the first game in the Norse saga was debatably too simple, God of War Ragnarök introduces some key changes and combat options. First in foremost, the player starts the game with multiple weapons unlocked, allowing for some more experimentation right at the beginning. Unlocking new techniques using experience makes a return, and you can disable certain techniques if they disrupt your flow.

Being able to stack elemental damage to inflict status effects is emphasized, encouraging the player to swap between their weapons for big damage. Runic attacks make a return but have much higher cooldowns, meaning that they are no longer a spammable win condition but instead supplement your moveset. The most important change wasn’t to the combat itself, but in the boss variety. God of War Ragnarök has tons of bosses. Fighting unique mythological beings is much more engaging than fighting the same troll mini-boss over and over again.

Unfortunately, there are a few returning problems in the combat. First and foremost being the camera. It follows the player too closely in an over-the-shoulder 3rd-person view. You can’t see anything behind you, and you have to rely on directional indicators for incoming attacks. These indicators are unreliable and it’s impossible to tell what kind of attack is incoming. Is it a projectile? Or an area-of-effect blast? Or an unblockable attack? Or a standard strike? All these things require different reactions but you never know which it is or how long it will take to reach you. Once you see one of these indicators you pretty much have to stop your combo and maneuver and dodge away from where you are standing. It interrupts the flow of combat pretty badly.

My other big issue is one that plays a larger role on the higher difficulties. Enemy hyper-armor. The ability for certain enemies to shrug off your attacks and continue as if you were a fly buzzing around them. Enemies that are a higher level than you are have the nasty tendency of being doused in hyper-armor, making it impossible to pull off combos on them. You have to rely on an overly safe style of play to defeat these foes. Moreover, it creates an inconsistent experience because a level 3 draugr will easily be combo’d by the player, but a level 5 draugr does not even react to your hits. This isn’t a huge issue on normal difficulty as you will most often be at similar levels to the enemies, but it quickly gets out of hand when attempting the higher levels of difficulty.

The concept of levels itself is strange in the context of God of War, and I maintain that the Norse saga would have been much better off leaving out the majority of its RPG elements. I think that God of War Ragnarök does better than its predecessor because it has streamlined the enchantments and accessories a tad bit. Furthermore, stats and set bonuses actually feel like they have an impact in combat. However, I still find all of this to be unnecessary in a game like God of War Ragnarök. Shoehorning in RPG elements doesn’t feel like it adds anything except for time wasted staring at your inventory menu. Quests are intrinsically rewarding if they have a fun boss or interesting story line, I don’t need a cooldown-boosting pair of pants to make it worth my while to explore.

One of the biggest sources of the game’s bloat is the traversal. Getting from Point A to Point B in God of War Ragnarök is painstakingly slow. Like its predecessor, God of War Ragnarök makes frequent use of walky-talky sections and wall-climbing to pad out the space in between combat encounters and major story moments. I don’t mind having characters talk to each-other during their adventures, but when time spent in combat is dwarfed by time spent mindlessly climbing walls, it’s gone too far.

I understand that some of these sections are meant to hide loading screens, but this was a poor choice. Consider that the amount of climbing and walking can never be shortened, but load times can be massively reduced by newer hardware. This is blatantly apparent as God of War Ragnarök can be run on both the PS4 and PS5, and the PS5 players have to suffer due to the PS4’s technical constraints. If it takes the PS4 one minute to load a new environment, they had to make the climbing section at least that long to compensate. The PS5 can load in half the time, but it doesn’t matter as the game was designed around the slower load times of the weaker hardware.

While I praised the first game in this saga for its use of the single-take cinematic shot, I think the novelty of this has worn off. The immersion that this effect brings is simply not worth the trade-offs. I think that you could argue that most of my complaints with the game could be attributed to the dedication of maintaining this single shot. The camera being too claustrophobic in combat may be because zooming out would break the consistent over-the-shoulder camera angle. Poor pacing could be a result of not being able to utilize traditional cutscenes to cut out lengthy filler and skip to the point. Traversal is frustrating because you have to go slowly in order to avoid loading screens as that would break the immersion.

Furthermore, the number of resources spent in development to maintain this effect and work around its pitfalls could have been spent elsewhere. More time could have been spent refining core systems rather than being so adamantly tied to a gimmick. In retrospect, I don’t think the cinematic benefit of this single-take camera shot was worth it in God of War either. However, at least that game can take credit for originality. God of War Ragnarök doesn’t have the benefit of being the first game to implement this effect. It’s something that we’ve seen before. It’s no longer new or unique. The effect is frequently broken anyway as the player will constantly being opening their menu at their quest log, gear, and map.

More than anything, God of War Ragnarök needed an editor. Simply put, it’s bloated. The unnecessary RPG mechanics, the time-wasting climbing, the poorly-paced story sequences that went on for far too long, the single-shot cinematic effect, the dozens of collectibles that litter the map; there’s just so much extraneous fluff. Realizing what components exist to serve the core domain and what features detract from the experience is a vital skill that’s necessary when creating any form of media. Addition by subtraction is a well-known concept. All these features could have been iterated on, refined, or outright removed for the betterment of the final product.

Despite all of this, God of War Ragnarök is still a good video game. But not a great one. It is still technologically impressive. It has gorgeous environments and stellar animations. The combat is weighty, flashy, varied, but deceptively simple. The setting and premise are intriguing. The writing, despite taking a step back from its predecessor, is still leagues better than most other games. The plot was captivating even if it was poorly paced and had a rushed final act. But I wish these positives were further elevated, rather than having to sift through hours of monotonous tedium to get to the soul of the game.

God of War Ragnarök is a victim of high aspirations and poor planning. There’s too many systems and ideas at work here, bloating the final experience. Cramming two games of plot into a single game resulted in poor pacing. The insistence on being cinematic hampered many gameplay elements. Solid combat isn’t enough to carry the game when the player has to climb dozens of literal walls to get to it. It is for these reasons I give God of War Ragnarök a 6/10. I wish there was further refinement and editing to remove superfluous aspects, as being a more focused title would have benefitted God of War Ragnarök greatly.

God of War (2018)

Rebooting a classic series can be a monumental undertaking. Developers must make critical decisions on what aspects are worth keeping and what should be discarded. Modernizing revered games is about keeping the soul of the series, but revitalizing and updating dated design choices. The series which received the largest overhaul of all time is God of War. The original games were character action games with a focus on revenge, spectacle, and brutality. The player would hunt down creatures and gods from Greek mythology and unleash fury upon them. The new God of War has a much larger emphasis on storytelling, exploration, world-building, while simultaneously maintaining the large set pieces and glorious action the series was known for.


The most dramatic shift that the series makes is to its narrative structure. The original games followed Kratos, a god who seeks revenge on his peers for their trickery and deceit. The new God of War follows Kratos after the events of the original series. After decimating the realms of Greek mythology, Kratos somehow arrives into the Norse mythos where he builds a family. The game takes place immediately following the death of Kratos’ wife, Faye, whose last wish was to spread her ashes on the tallest peak in the realms. Kratos and his son Atreus set off on an adventure to fulfill Faye’s final request.


Atreus and Kratos have an incredibly strained relationship; as a father Kratos tries to push his son to better than he is. Kratos comes off as an uncaring, callous, and quick to anger while Atreus is a far more empathetic, kind, curious, and thoughtful. Throughout their journey, the pair slowly grow closer. God of War is a culmination of numerous narrative archetypes. It is a coming of age story for Atreus, a father and son bonding story, a dive into Norse mythology, tale of regret and growth for Kratos, but ultimately the overarching motif is familial strife.


I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of the story told in God of War. What I expected to be primarily an action game managed to contain one of the most compelling stories told in a game. This was accomplished due to the phenomenal quality of the writing and voice acting. Every interaction between characters feels natural and organic. As you explore the world, Kratos and Atreus will converse and comment on their surroundings and journey. The characters are wonderfully portrayed and their slow bonding experiences are punctuated by intense moments in the story. God of War is an incredibly immersive game, not only because of the realistic characterizations, but also because of the way the game was structured. The entire game is a single camera shot, following Kratos closely and occasionally panning out during cutscenes. There are no loading screens or sharp transitions, God of War goes through great lengths to maintain the illusion that you are Kratos.


It is undeniably hard to go wrong with mythologic settings. There is a reason that these fables have persisted for millennia. The vivid imagery, imaginative settings, and larger-than-life characters are key to the longevity of folklore. God of War capitalizes on these assets and creates a truly awe-inspiring world. Conversing with a plethora of Norse mythologic figures creates interesting scenarios as Kratos still distrusts all gods. Moreover, the backdrop to the adventure is gorgeous. Visiting the nine Norse realms is a diverse and magnificent journey. Each locale has its own unique environments, people, backstory, and quests. The lush foliage of Alfheim, the blazing inferno of Muspelheim, the icy winds of Hel, and of course the calming waters of Midgard all contribute to the splendor of God of War.


As an action game, God of War never reaches the complexity of games like Devil May Cry or Bayonetta. Stylish combos may exist, but God of War thrives on its simplicity and visceral combat. The brutal animations and weighty feel of swinging Kratos’ ax create a satisfying experience. The visual and auditory feedback are a humungous reason for why God of War just feels so fun to play. The power fantasy of being an all-powerful god-slayer is a feeling that God of War uses to its advantage. While Kratos is an indomitable tank, Atreus is a nimble archer who sleekly assists during battles. You can command Atreus to fire arrows at desirable targets, and he can choke enemies which allows the player to get in some free hits. More than anything, God of War is a supremely gratifying game to play.


The combat of God of War is reminiscent of Dark Souls, but with a few additional tactics. Blocking with shield, side-stepping, and rolling provide for defensive options. The offensive options include throwing the ax, light attacks, and heavy attacks. Both offensively and defensively, the combat is a game of risk and reward. Throwing the ax is a safe choice, but it does very little damage. Conversely, heavy attacks can stagger enemies and do massive damage, but they require a long wind-up. Additionally, God of War utilizes runic attacks, talisman abilities, spartan rage, and summons. All of these options have hefty cooldowns so they should be withheld to use in appropriate scenarios. Properly managing cooldowns and assessing the risk and reward of Kratos’ available options don’t make for a complex or combo-heavy game; instead, God of War is a much slower and deliberate action game.


Despite the combat feeling great, there are undeniable flaws that are hard to ignore. The camera follows Kratos so closely that you cannot see enemies that are behind you. There is a built-in indicator system that lets the player know when an off-screen enemy is going to attack, but this feature is finicky and unreliable. Additionally, there is a slew of enemies that absolutely break the flow of combat. Dark elves, tatzelwurms, revenants, and wulvers are archetypes which all have some way of breaking out of the player’s combos. These enemies either completely ignore stagger or can just dodge your attacks at will. This interrupts combos and left me grumbling as it is immensely unsatisfying to have enemies ignore the brutality that God of War is known for. Unfortunately, the largest issue with the combat is a byproduct of the tacked-on RPG system rather than with the combat itself.


The RPG elements of God of War are entirely unnecessary and inhibit the action that the game tries to promote. Throughout the game, you can accrue resources to craft new sets of armor which seemingly boost your stats. Realistically, the stats matter very little, what actually matters is how your gear effects your level. Equipping higher level gear will increase your level, which is poorly explained in the game. At first, I thought the level was just a relative portrayal of your stats, but in reality, your level drastically changes how you interact with adversaries. Higher level enemies will deal significantly increased damage, use far more unblockable attacks, become immune to stagger, and take reduced damage. Similarly, low-level enemies are nothing but fodder as they deal very little damage and are easily combo’d until they die. Ultimately, this creates inconsistencies on how the player deals with the enemies in the game. Even the most basic of enemies becomes unconquerable when they are a couple of levels above you.


The most noticeable issue in God of War is its occasionally glacial pacing. The story and combat are regularly divided by large stretches of walking, climbing, or sailing. Blank space is important in games to not overwhelm the player with relentless action, and for the most part God of War succeeds in this aspect. The slower sections are filled with dialogue that develops the characters and their relationships. Alternatively, plenty of Norse myths are told while traveling from place to place. Regardless, there are a few sections that dragged on far too long. Things like fast travel, carrying objects, repetitive animations, using elevators, and extended climbing segments are just blatantly wasting the player’s time. To be fair, sometimes the game uses these tactics to hide loading screens to remain immersive, but much of the time it feels like Kratos moves way too slow and you just want to get onto the actual game.


The worst offender for the sluggish pace of God of War is the optional exploration. For the majority of the game, I didn’t mind some downtime between battles or story progression. This is because the slower moments were filled with some sort of dialogue. Even the side quests appropriately incorporate chatter between Kratos and Atreus. Unfortunately, when venturing off the beaten path the game’s protagonists become eerily silent. Suddenly, I began to notice just how much time was getting wasted climbing, walking, sailing, and watching animations. To make matters worse, the reward for engaging in exploration was often crafting materials to use in the unnecessary RPG system. But the absolute most frustrating aspect of exploration was how poorly gated it is. I could fully explore an area, go through the tedious and slow traversal, just to reach the end which was arbitrarily blocked. High-level enemies or puzzles which I didn’t have the requisite items to solve could block me from claiming the reward. All that time exploring was wasted as I would have to return at a later point in the game.


Ultimately, the combination of the RPG aspects and exploration in God of War is nothing more than a waste of time. The game could have been streamlined by removing these elements and nothing of value would have been lost. These two features feed off of each other, you need the crafting materials to be a reward for exploration and you need new gear to explore further. Furthermore, it breaks the immersion that the developers worked so hard to maintain. Constantly opening menus and playing with the stats absolutely breaks the illusion of immersion. It’s a shame since the world of God of War is extremely interesting, but it is just so slow to get from place to place. The one exception to my distaste of the RPG system is that the way the player acquires new techniques is a fine. Accruing experience to unlock advanced techniques is a classic implementation of progression, and it works well in God of War.


My final gripe with God of War is its lack of unique boss fights. There is no shortage of interesting creatures or gods to clash with in Norse mythology. Unfortunately, there are only a few true boss fights throughout the game. There are many mini-bosses that seem to take the place of traditional bosses. Trolls and ancients are the two mini-boss archetypes that are constantly reused throughout the course of the game. They aren’t bad fights by any stretch of the imagination, but legitimate bosses from the mythos would’ve made for a much more memorable experience. It’s unfortunate because the boss fights that are in the game are generally excellent, I want more of them. The opening boss fight in particular is one of the greatest sequences in any game I’ve ever played. Hopefully the sequel can effectively utilize the Norse legends to make for some engaging boss battles.


The evolution of the God of War series is astonishing. From being crude character action games to becoming an emotional story-driven adventure is an immense shift. I genuinely loved the new direction of God of War, and its sequel is now one of my most anticipated games. I’m extremely excited to see where the story goes, as this game seems to set up a much larger tale. Hopefully the developers learn from the mistakes in this game to make for a more refined experience. Exploration and the RPG system should either be vastly improved or removed so that the resources could be used elsewhere. One of the places that could use the extra resources would be boss fights. Even with its flaws, God of War boasts a touching story, an engaging world, and satisfying combat. It is for these reasons that I give God of War a 9/10. This is a series that has received a remarkable reboot, and I am enthusiastic for its future.