Ever since I landed back home from my honeymoon, I’ve spent every waking moment outside of work playing and thinking about God of War Ragnarök (henceforth GOWR). It is nothing short of incredible, and *actually* lives up to the hype. Even tearing myself away from the PS5 to write this review took effort.
I grew up playing GOW, and despite fierce competition from other high-fantasy hack-and-slash RPG epics like Elden Ring, Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim and The Witcher, God of War has a special place in my heart and remains my favourite gaming franchise of all time.
Like a lot of you (probably), I was a big nerd since childhood, voraciously reading every fantasy book I could get my grubby paws on, and I quickly became obsessed with Greek mythology and its capricious, sniping pantheon of Gods. With its fast and loose interpretation of said Greek mythos, wonderfully campy narrative detailing the rise, fall, and second rise of the Ghost of Sparta to the titular God of War, combined with the visceral satisfaction of killing one Hel of a lot of Gods, the original GOW trilogy was the epitome of my adolescent fever dreams.
Fast forward to 2018, just when I thought the series couldn’t get any more ambitious after the Homeric showdown between Titans and Gods in GOW 3, Santa Monica Studio and Cory Barlog changed the game with a soft reboot, daringly recasting Kratos, and even more riskily, introducing his son. What can I say that you don’t already know and love? The pivot to Norse Mythology, the introduction of Atreus/Loki and the refreshingly layered Daddy Kratos, a nuanced, grown-up tale of loss and parenthood, the logistically insane, revolutionary one-shot-take of the entire game. Like I said, GOWR has giant shoes to fill… so, does it? Let’s break it down.
If you thought GOW 2018 and its subsequent PS5 remaster looked good, you are in for a treat! Although GOWR has the same character models as its prequel, they’re now crisper, and the landscapes and details are just breathtakingly beautiful. Admittedly, a couple of the fleeting NPCs got a bit less graphical fidelity, but it’s plain to see that the art department put their hearts and souls into every corner of this game, and I’m always itching to see the next new horizon or world to relish its lovingly-made designs.
Combat & Gameplay
GOW 2018’s combat lost the frantic pace of the original trilogy, but just like Kratos, the new combat system had matured, and in contrast to what came before, it was meaty, realistic, and oh so satisfying to *feel* The Leviathan Axe chomp down on those nasty Trolls. That same grounded, gritty combat is back, and the revamped haptics of the DualSense makes full use of every hack of the axe and whirl of the blades.
The innovation here in GOWR actually takes a page from the original trilogy: verticality. If there was one critique of the GOW 2018 combat system, it was that Kratos could no longer jump. Just like FromSoftware’s Sekiro, the introduction of verticality in GOWR adds nuance and choice in how the player approaches every battle, and a literal new dimension to all of the traversal puzzles interspersed within the levels.
Story, Dialogue & Characters
For me, a huge draw of GOW2018 was inclusion of side characters Mimir, Brok and Sindri, which added a lot of much-needed humour (and a convenient, fascinating lore mechanic via Mimir) to an otherwise very serious game. While I’m pleased to report that lovable old Mimir, gruff but charming Brok, and the delightfully germaphobic Sindri are back in top form, I’m most eager to spend more time with intriguing newcomers Durlin, Angrboda, and of course, Kratos’ enigmatic Norse counterpart, Tyr.
Without spoiling it for you, GOWR marks the end of the Norse leg of the series, and the creators drive this message home because right from the opening credits, the game wastes no time in introducing the antagonist and pitting you in another glorious brawl for the ages.
I’ll be honest, as an obvious fanboy, I’m not objective at all, but so far, the game has lived up to my sky-high expectations, and I absolutely can’t wait to play it to completion. If you’ve preordered it, breathe a sigh of relief because your investment is safe. If you’re on the fence, please don’t be because GOWR is most certainly a GOTY contender if not the outright winner (it’s either GOWR or Elden Ring). If anything, you should buy/play this game because we need more developers like Santa Monica Studio to keep churning out sequels of this unbelievable quality.
About the Author
Gareth Fernandez aka SpareNerd is better known for his music career, but is also an avid gamer. He loves all things nerd, but medieval fantasy RPGs are his genre of choice.