God of War Ragnarok review — PS4 end times herald PS5 best times

By Kes Eylers-Stephenson,

This is our God of War Ragnarok review — the direct sequel to the iconic critical darling God of War (2018). Developed by PlayStation Studio Santa Monica, Kratos and Atreus' latest action adventure for PS5 and PS4 is exceptional.

God of War Ragnarok mimics the myths it orates on PS5 and PS4. At first, it seems familiar and comforting, if a little well-trodden, before slowly it unfurls into something genuinely enrapturing. This God of War (2018) sequel and continuation of the God of War series has a narrative that resonates like the booming sound of Gjallarhorn. Other layers of the myth are just as exceptional, it has gameplay as irresistible as a sirens-call, graphics and art direction that sing on screen like Bragi, and a pulsing emotional core that connects every element like Yggdrasil, the world tree. Santa Monica Studio has given the PS4 the perfect action adventure to end its life, while simultaneously crafting a most enticing first chapter for the PS5's library. God of War Ragnarok elevates the series to new mythical heights.

This review was written and scored using the PS5 version.
God of War Ragnarok reviewGod of War Ragnarok review

God of War Ragnarok's tale is mature, measured, and magnificent

God of War Ragnarok is a direct sequel, and thus takes those father-son dynamics that worked so well between Atreus and Kratos and matures them. This forms the beating heart — a narrative that will entice you from the first scene to the final moments. As Fimbulwinter dawns, marking the opening stages of Ragnarok end times from Norse myth, our pair of heroes grapple with fatherhood and teenagehood while Asgardian politics begin to tangle around them.

Ragnarok begins surprisingly slowly and, in fact, about 10 hours in I thought I knew exactly what I was getting — an extension of the first game with a great story, though little in the way of evolution. This all changed after a few big and bold creative decisions allowed the narrative to pick up exponentially, using complex themes of maturity to, indeed, mature itself as a video game. I have out-loud sobbed with Kratos and Atreus, lay on the floor laughing at madcap scenes, and been awestruck at the (expensive) scope to which the story expands. Rest assured, I will say no more other than the fact that the main narrative is exemplary, detailed, and always has another little yarn to unspool.

God of War RagnarokGod of War Ragnarok is set in the end times... also, snow

On your adventure, you will see all of the vastly different nine realms, battle more beasties and enemy types than I care to count, and upgrade every armour piece, weapon, and rune. Through it all, superb dialogue between Atreus and Kratos will ground the adventure. If I have any narrative complaints here, It’s that the humour doesn’t always land, and that there is a certain point at which the MacGuffin reliance becomes a bit much. There are a few mildly irritating exposition dumps, and it annoys me that Norse gods have American accents, but I'm aware that's my problem — these are all mere puddles next to the vast lake that is the best-in-class dialogue and narrative design. The core trio of Christopher Judge, Sunny Suljic, and Alastair Duncan deliver performances that totally embody our stoic and rage-suppressed God of War, independence-craving Atreus struggling with his prophesied role as Loki, and the surrogate uncle and smartest man alive, Mimir.

If that beating mass of story forms the heart of this video game beast, then the limbs that draw from that narrative and carry it are the incredible supporting cast. From grieving Freya, former wife of Odin (read our Norse gods guide!), to the roguish All-father himself; the armourer dwarves to an altogether different rendition of Thor; and to every other creature and character you meet along the way — utterly fantastic. With these characters, you will see main missions and set pieces that are truly sensational, all threaded together by a one-take camera shot that helps give you a sense that this is a saga of epic proportions. There are literal moments in which I audibly gasped at the creativity and beauty with which the main narrative was presented — every second is a dream come true. Immediately, this is one of my favourite games ever in large part thanks to the constant newness of the main missions.

God of War RagnarokGod of War Ragnarok has Kratos and Atreus at the core

Finally, a shout to composer Bear McCreary who gets his own paragraph for a sensational score after resuming duties from his masterclass on the first game. This time around it's a bit more tuneful, with his trademark hurdy-gurdy finding fantastic riffs to underline every narrative beat. It's a bit like a cross between McCreary's work on the pirate TV show Black Sails and John Lunn's score to The Last Kingdom — though, that can be explained by the vocals provided by Eivør in both Ragnarok and The Last Kingdom. This is the auditory narrative ingredient that really helps the game find rhythm under the new game director Eric Williams, who is taking up the crown left by Cory Barlog, who took up the helm from David Jaffe. Superb work.

God of War Ragnarok gameplay is sensationally satisfying, again

The story gives Ragnarok a heart and the characters give it movement, but the gameplay holds all the muscles that make this beast of a game operate. Combat is as heavy and satisfying as ever, with the recallable Leviathan Axe remaining one of the best weapons in video game history. The swish of throwing the axe followed by the clunk of it landing back in Kratos' hand is so satisfying it makes me Ragnarok every time. The sound design and game both work in perfect harmony... it's just so good. You have heavy attacks, light attacks, and modifying buttons so you can vary existing moves. The enemies you fight are creative and there is a massive amount of variation here. It works to literal perfection and, if you played the first game, expect more of that continued third-person action heaven.

God of War RagnarokGod of War Ragnarok's armourers are back in fine fashion

There is a selection of upgrade trees for weapons, armour (chest, wrists, and belt), runes, relics, and movesets that are only ever as elaborate as they need to be. You can get bogged down in the stats and numbers if you want to — during the hardest fights on harder difficulties, you will have to — but it is accessible to newcomers. More impressively: it is addictive. You can upgrade specific moves by using them enough, meaning you can fight really technically by targeting specific moves you know will do certain types of elemental damage. Rune summons are visually stunning and cause mass damage — I don't know how the PS4 is going to cope with some of the particle effects on screen — and help vary your encounters. You will also have a companion with you who can help you out with arrows and a bit of magic. This combination is deeply addictive and there is zero fat on the bone, unlike the sometimes superfluous systems in Horizon Forbidden West. It all mounts to another best-in-class display of the talent working in this game’s combat and player progression development teams — plus, the HUD is minimal and uncluttered. Take notes, certain other video game developers.

God of War Ragnarok builds on familiar excellence

It's a good thing combat works, because you will be fighting a lot across the main story and side activities. The game uses that semi-open world structure alongside Metroidvania-style exploration that you will be familiar with if you have played the earlier entry. Complex corridors will feed you through the world, suddenly opening out into massive areas that are freely explorable — much like the Lake of the Nine you travelled freely by boat in 2018's God of War. The glorious world presents puzzles and battles in absolutely breathtaking locations. Everything on offer is varied and gorgeous, displaying a mastery of the environment and level design. New locations pop with ideas that freshen up Asgard, Vanaheim, Alfheim, and Midgard along with the other realms. Old locations are given a fresh coat of paint and won't keep you too long — the team knows you are familiar with them. New locations literally hide away five-hour chunks of side content; these areas you could bypass completely if you wanted to (don't). The architectural style is through the roof everywhere you go, giving everything a feeling of these places merely existing (just wait until you see the home of the dwarves!). Extraordinary stuff, though this now more evidently lived-in world forms a double-edged sword that makes the unexplained absence of a local populous throughout felt more in some locations.

God of War RagnarokGod of War Ragnarok exploration is fantastic fun

Ragnarok’s activities — the senses of this video game beast, if you will — are varied and polished, but a little trite. Side missions often provide intrigue without a direct story, though you'll certainly get a taste of that laced throughout too. Background detail and snippets of tales and facts about the world help give every quest a life of its own. There are collectables abound, here. Nornir Chest puzzles require you to break three runic totems in the environment, and there are plenty of raiders and beasts to kill. Some of the collectable hunting does show its wear this time around, however. Smashing chests over and over is fine, collecting things is fine, decapitating hidden ravens is fine — with a lack of easy access to some locations, however; it can become tedious when you are backtracking through linear corridors. I just wish there was a touch more going on with some of the more generic collectables, or at least a way to mark the less interesting stuff out on the map (so you could get it done and dusted faster).

God of War Ragnarok — Trophy Tactics

The God of War Ragnarok trophies are really solid and follow The Last of Us Part 1 trophies in being a nice, comfortable list. There are no missables and all you will have to do is finish the content available. That means you can play without ever needing to look at the list or reveal any of the story spoilers contained within. A blind run is something I highly recommend you do.
Where the game stretches its absurd trunk-like legs are the unique missions. There are often one or two 'big creature' things to do, like in the first game. These happen in those sprawling open areas and will fill you with joy as you make the digital cute thing happy. Alternately, it gives you the satisfaction of hunting down a massive beast and taking it on in a fight that makes you feel like a muscled hedgehog facing up against a carnivorous horse. If you have played the God of War games in order, you know the series carries a heritage of intense, scale-defying bouts, and while Ragnarok might not quite have the biggest fights, they are definitely more complex than ever. Then there are the really hardcore 1v1 battles that are structured much like 2018's outrageous and increasingly-difficult Valkyrie fights. Like those Valkyrie fights, it brings out the best in your combat. So, trust me when I say after a few failures I spent time staring at my radiator in a crazed state hoping for answers in its warm, comforting glow. "You are weak, boy," Kratos would say in my head. Back into the fray, then, you goading Spartan god — I will prove you wrong.

God of War RagnarokGod of War Ragnarok has you fighting all sorts of creatures

God of War Ragnarok performance on PS5 and PS4

Let's add a few facial features to this God of War Ragnarok character we're creating. This game will max out your PS4 and on PS5 it absolutely soars. The art direction is so good that you often miss the fact that these are some of the most graphically lush environments and the crispest lighting effects I have ever seen. The crunching of snow or the way light looks like it is melting ice... oh, gods above. I played in performance mode for absolute 60fps smoothness and it still looks unbelievably good. I tried the graphically intensive modes and again, you won't be disappointed — the lighting would make Mjolnir blush. No frame drops happened at all and I had no crashes, but I did have a few glitches with mission objectives that were resolved by restarting the app. In fact, I didn't see any companion glitches, any tricky character-environment catching, or anything else besides. This might be one of the cleanest games I've reviewed of late — I hope it proves so in the launch phase, too.

If I have any 'gripe' with God of War Ragnarok, it's that this is definitely a PS4 game that just so happens to have a better port on PS5. I cannot imagine a third-person action adventure achieving more on last-gen hardware. Ragnarok is it — the peak from which we can spread the ashes of the PS4's realised potential. When playing on PS5, the load times are non-existent and the hardware clearly blisters through the imposed bottlenecks. These would allow the PS4 to keep up with Ragnarok's impressive and complex world, but it's devastatingly noticeable after 20 hours on PS5. Squeezing under a rock or waiting for dialogue to finish so your portal can open (even though you have seen it load in a literal second when there is no dialogue) becomes frustrating.

God of War RagnarokGod of War Ragnarok has Loki and Atreus battling for attention

It's pure gamer greed on my end, but it's clear the PS5 can produce much more than the PS4 is capable of and the last-gen version obviously hampers level design and exploration. Watching Kratos and Atreus arbitrarily climbing through a hole for 30 seconds at a time is the first time I've truly felt the cross-gen era needs to be wrapped up if we want the PS5 to flourish and show us something new. What could Santa Monica have done without the old hardware? I don't really care when I am looking at one of my favourite games ever and am just grateful for how good it is, but I am now excited to move past some of these limitations.

So, don't get me wrong, this is a fantastic game that stands with Returnal and Ratchet & Clank Rift Apart as one of the best PS5 games despite it's cross-gen status. Indeed, it would arguably beat out 2018's God of War to be amongst the best PS4 games if it hadn't launched on PS5, too. God of War Ragnarok is better than the other games in the series to my taste, using the bones of 2018's game to perfect and expand on the story, gameplay, and exploration with exemplary craftsmanship. As Atreus and Kratos mature, the game itself does the same.

God of War RagnarokGod of War Ragnarok features two lads, just being dudes, just being guys: you know?


Summary

Like a familiar Norse saga, God of War Ragnarok starts slowly, but Santa Monica Studio suddenly explodes into dramatic form and new mythical heights by the conclusion. While the limitations of PS4 game development are more evident than the other cross-generation PlayStation exclusives, it marks the perfect send-off to the past era of PlayStation. From the emotionally resonant and gripping yarn that reflects on mature themes, to some of the best combat in video gaming — this is an action-adventure that will define the closing sentences of PS5's opening chapter. Kratos and Atreus' new adventure across the Norse realms is one of PlayStation's best. So, sit down by the fire, sharpen your thumbsticks, and listen to this extraordinary tale.
9 / 10
* Kes survived Fimbulwinter for 46 hours in total and — despite sobbing with emotion for three of them — unlocked 28 of 36 trophies. The boy entered, but didn't master, some of the harder fights — the boy must not be sorry, but be better. The review code was provided by Sony.
Kes Eylers-Stephenson
Written by Kes Eylers-Stephenson
Editor Kes is our resident expert in PlayStation and Sony news. He writes about PS5 exclusives like Horizon, The Last of Us, God of War, and Death Stranding 2 using experience from years of playing PlayStation games. He also covers PS Plus and trophy news, as well as his favorite games — The Witcher 3, Assassin’s Creed, and some indie gems — before an evening swim.
Hide ads
View discussion...
Hide ads