A New Saga?
Ok, confession time. I was a very late adopter of PlayStation. Even though I’ve owned every generation of the console since PS2, I hardly played on them for years. As a predominantly PC player I missed out on the original God Of War games as I concentrated on the latest edition of Civilization or Total War. To be honest, the fact that they seemed to have been written for a focus group of teenage boys meant that I probably would have skipped them anyway! Anyway, all of this rather begs the question… why am I now reviewing the 2022 sequel to 2018’s God Of War? Well, if you’ve played that game you’ll know that God Of War has grown up. In place of teenage fantasies we had a moving story of a father and son on a journey to sprinkle Kratos’ wife’s ashes from the highest peak in the nine realms (did I mention that we switched from Greek to Norse myth? We switched from Greek to Norse myth). Instead of a top down hack n slash style, we got a tight, over the shoulder view and a well honed action game that really showed the high effort and impact of Kratos’ incredibly muscular fighting. Instead of camera cuts and PS2 graphics, we had a bravura “one shot” style of camera work without a single cut across the whole 20-30 hours of gameplay and the graphics dragged every spare byte of power out of the PS4.
Like Father Like Son
First things first, if you liked the 2018 God Of War, then you can stop reading here. This is more of the same only bigger, better and prettier. The essential combat mechanics are the same, the characters are (mostly) the same, and the story follows on from where the first game left off. The big changes this time around relate mostly to the graphics and the scale of the story. The graphics are better. Much better. The colours pop, the shine is palpable and even compared to five years ago, the level of detail is staggering.
On the other hand the story is mostly bigger. Where the first story was principally a straightforward journey with a very personal goal, the revelations at the end of it are the starting point of God of War Ragnarok and (no spoilers for either game here) they inevitably mean the stakes are going to be much higher this time around. That doesn’t mean there’s no room for the intimate moments between Kratos and Atreus, in fact they’re still the beating heart of the narrative, but the bigger picture plays a bigger part this time around. And boy is it a big picture, with Thor and Odin themselves showing up this time around.
One complaint I do have is that the set piece fights aren’t so spectacular this time around. There’s nothing in the new game to match the two boss fights that bookend the original. There are a couple of big events, and the boss fights are pretty good. But nothing as big or as bold as we got in God Of War.
But what if you haven’t played the first game? Should you try this one? Is it worth your time? Well, yes. And no. First the yes, the core gameplay is crunchy fighting and interesting but not over taxing puzzles. The speed and accuracy of the controls mean the fighting feels great, and the traversal works nicely. I played this game around the same time I played Assassins Creed Valhalla and the combat in this felt so much slicker, so much sharper and so much heftier than in Ubisoft’s epic. The puzzles are sometimes a little obscure but generally work pretty well. I’m not great at these but overall I only had to look up a couple, though some of the others took a while to work out!
All told, this is an excellent game, with a story to match the first, and a realm trotting bravado, born of a team who’re truly confident in what they’re doing.
In that case though, why would I say no? Well, this is one of those unusual situations in video games where you really do need to play the original first. The story and the set pieces in that first entry are so integral to the sequel that to simply use the “Story So Far” option would be a disservice not only to the emotional rollercoaster of the first game but to yourself and your experience playing the second.
The End Times
Which leads us to a slightly awkward conclusion! God of War Ragnarok is a truly great game. An emotional wringer of a story that meshes with some of the best combat going to create a truly great game, but should you buy it? Well, if you played and enjoyed the first one then absolutely. Buy it, play it, maybe play it again? It’s well worth your time. But if you haven’t played the first one yet, then do yourself a favour and buy the first one before you get this. It’s cheaper, the set pieces are better and you really need to play the story for this one before moving on to the next. A helpful conclusion? Maybe, maybe not. But hopefully it’s accurate and a fair assessment of a fabulous game.