Image: PlayStation / Sony Santa Monica
After what feels like years of hype and trailers, the next entry in the God of War franchise finally arrives on November 9. And ahead of God of War Ragnarok’s launch on PS4 and PS5 next month, I’ve been playing the game for review. And while I can’t talk about everything, I can share some early impressions of the first few hours. It’s mostly good news, as Ragnarok plays a lot like 2018’s fantastic God of War. But I’m a bit concerned about the balance between narrative and action in this highly-anticipated sequel.
The basic setup of Raganork is this: About three years after Kratos and his son went on a wild adventure in 2018’s original game, they find themselves in a deadly, awful winter that will likely end in Raganork aka the end of the world. Kratos’ son, Atreus, was revealed to be half-giant in the last game, and is in fact Loki. Atreus’ hunt for answers eventually causes some problems and trust issues between Kratos and him, leading to the duo (and talking head, Mimir) being forced to go on another realm-hopping adventure.
Screenshot: PlayStation / Sony Santa Monica
First, the good news! If you liked that last game and its combat, you’ll be happy to hear that Ragnarok is more of that. So yes, throwing the axe and recalling it like Thor from the Marvel films is still amazing and feels wonderful. And this time around, you start out with the firey and iconic Blades of Chaos, which were a late-game unlock in 2018’s God of War. Now, these chain swords that first appeared in the classic PS2-era God of War games are just a part of your toolbox right away, letting puzzles and combat encounters get more complex sooner.
For example, one puzzle had me freezing geysers while using the blades to rip open metal doors to control the flow of water, letting me spin a big wheel and progress forward. Another time, I was attacked by enemies who had ice shields that blocked all damage until I burned them away with the fire blades. But I could still use my axe to chop up smaller enemies, so the fight became a dance between the two weapons.
G/O Media may get a commission
I appreciated the way God of War Ragnarok quickly begins mixing up enemies and puzzle elements early on, forcing you to switch between both your trusty ice axe and your fiery chain swords. In the early hours of the game, nothing seemed too hard, but I also wasn’t bored either, even on the default difficulty. Likewise, the boss fights in the early game are just hard enough to keep you on your toes, but not too hard as to be a barrier for most players. They are also some of the coolest bits in the first few hours, with a fight between Kratos and a large bear being one of my favorites.
Screenshot: PlayStation / Sony Santa Monica
However, some might be upset with the opening of the game, which is fairly slow. Outside of an exciting and chaotic sled escape at the very start of Ragnarok, the opening hours of the game are very cutscene and narrative-heavy. This stuff is good, with the writing and acting continuing to impress just like in 2018. Ragnarok doesn’t pretend like the last game didn’t happen, letting Kratos have more moments where he can be a little soft or caring. Meanwhile, Atreus strikes the perfect balance between a grumpy teen and an earnest young man. Still, even if all the writing and acting is great early on it does feel like a little too much talking and not enough chopping. I suspect more impatient players will be wondering when they’ll get to swing their axe again during the first hours. Oh, and be prepared for some sad moments involving animals. Yeah, the opening of Ragnarok is a bit of a bummer.
Thankfully, once things get going again—-after a very intense fight against a very powerful person—-Ragnarok kicks into high gear, quickly setting up some stakes for this next adventure. I’m genuinely excited to see how things will play out after these opening hours, especially as the game is starting to show how Atreus might not need his dad anymore and Kratos isn’t handling that very well. After watching them grow closer to one another in the last game, it might frustrate some to see them starting to drift again, but I like it. Atreus is a teenager now, after all, so the next logical step in Kratos’ dad journey should be dealing with the cranky teenager. Good luck, Kratos.
I’ll have more to say in my full review of God of War, but for now, after a few hours, I’m definitely excited to see and play more. My early criticism of too many cutscenes seems to be fading as I move deeper into Ragnarok, while the combat continues to feel wonderful and heavy. If Ragnarok can stick the landing and pull off a satisfying ending, it could end up being something very special for PlayStation owners when the full game is released on November 9 on PS4 and PS5.