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God Of War Ragnarök

Platform(s): PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5
Genre: Action/Adventure
Developer: SCEA Santa Monica
Release Date: Nov. 9, 2022


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PS5/PS4 Preview - 'God of War: Ragnarok'

by Redmond Carolipio on Oct. 23, 2022 @ 1:00 a.m. PDT

Set a few years after the events of the previous God of War, God Of War Ragnarök features Kratos and Atreus journeying to each of the Nine Realms in search of answers as they prepare for the prophesied battle that will end the world.

Pre-order God of War: Ragnarok

God of War II for the PlayStation 2 dropped back in 2007 and stands, for me, as one of the greatest follow-ups of all time, right alongside games like Assassin's Creed II and Uncharted 2. The common bond with great sequels is that not only do they open up whatever world was built in their previous installments, but they also add a new dimension of energy through a combination of technical advancement, storytelling and size. Sure, they aren't perfect if you look hard enough, but they feel that way. You're busy having too much fun to care.

This is the energy I'm getting from the first few hours of God of War: Ragnarok, the next chapter in what I'm mentally calling the Old Man Kratos series, which began in earnest with God of War for the PlayStation 4 in 2018 (an especially loaded year for games) and can be traced back to the first God of War in 2005.

The narrative soul of GOW: Ragnarok remains the evolving relationship between Kratos and Atreus, with the former still transforming from being the man/god who brutally — violently — sonned the entire Olympic pantheon to the aging warrior guiding one young boy through life, all under the cloak of high adventure covering the rich landscape of Norse lore.

The story begins with Kratos and Atreus living under the blanket snow of Fimbulwinter, which, as lore has told us, is the pregame to the events of Ragnarok — basically the end of the world. The duo is on notice from a variety of foes since the events of the last game, where Kratos (with the clutch help of Atreus) ended the life of Baldur, one of the Aesir gods and son to Freya, who swore tearful bloody vengeance upon the two.

This has also gotten the notice of the rest of the Aesir, most notably Thor (who you've likely seen in the trailers and at the end of the first game) and Odin, the All-Father, whose exploits have been explained by Mimir (the talking head) as well as tales sprinkled throughout the last game. In the effort to tread carefully on embargo ice, I'll say this … if you found the first meetings with Baldur, Freya and other Norse legends exciting, wondrous, or even a little terrifying, you have every right to be excited about future encounters with others, old and new. Each time, I felt myself taking a deep breath or feeling small goosebumps. The folks at Santa Monica Studio know how to make entrances.

They also know how to bring life to the world on your screen. I'm playing in performance mode, and this is objectively one of the most attractive games I'll probably see on the PlayStation 5. It's stunning. The series has always been top-notch on the art front, but I was pulled into the cold of Fimbulwinter the moment Kratos and Atreus hopped on a sled and were propelled forward through the power of two massive wolves. This also led to the first encounter with Freya, who is still very much not happy about the fact that Kratos killed her son in front of her. It's a wild, cinematically impressive tussle that featured the series' signature quick-time style fighting and the flourishing action chemistry between Kratos and Atreus. Beyond the landscape of winter, my early playtime also took me to the elaborate tree home of Sindri, one of the dwarven blacksmith brothers from the first game, and the realm of Svartalfheim, the home of the dwarves, which in contrast of Midgard, is warm and gaseous for Fimbulwinter. We're told not all realms are affected the same way. This is also the realm where you'll get a taste of the game's thinking on puzzles, which for now dealt a lot with the physics of water power. Ah, that dwarven engineering.

This is an action game after all, so the airtight combat system from the first remains intact. You can still do all the stuff with the Leviathan Axe and the Blades of Chaos (yes, they're still around — Kratos just has them hanging at home), but there are a couple of new wrinkles. For the ax, you can hold Triangle to "frost" it up and add a little extra juice to your next swing. For the Blades, you can tap Triangle repeatedly to swing them around and heat 'em up before striking (I see you, Devil May Cry). You can also take a running sprint off ledges and attack foes from above. Perhaps I needed to revisit the first game more, but combat feels a lot faster, smoother and more visually hectic here. This is especially apparent for the first few major boss-style encounters. It also feels a little more brutal when it comes to finishing blows, which are still faithfully triggered with the right thumbstick. One example is facing off against a half-horse huntress who used a bow made out of a pointed tree branch … which Kratos then used to impale her. I'm curious to see what else is in store as the enemies become more diverse, and fearsome.

I'll leave this preview by noting something that pleasantly surprised me: This game is funny. There's a sense of heart, charm and humor that wasn't always present in the last chapter, and it is very welcome. The humor isn't Taika Waititi-silly. It's more like "don't tell the elf" in The Lord of the Rings. Atreus has clearly gotten more comfortable dealing with his dad, along with Mimir and the two dwarven brothers. I probably chuckled and laughed more at the exchanges among them in the first few hours here than I did the whole first game. Kratos telling Sindri, "I do not need a snack," feels classic. Atreus mocking the tone of his father's voice to his face won't get old. By contrast, there are a couple of touching, gut-punching lessons about life and death mixed in during the game's earliest moments. The sight and sound of two scared and mourning bear cubs are still fresh in my mind.

That said, I'm looking forward to seeing where God of War: Ragnarok goes next. This first chunk of the game focused on the search for Tyr, the Norse god of war, and sets the table for an even grander adventure than the first. Will it make the impact that God of War II made on me all those years ago? It's off to a good start.

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