In the modern generation alone, Kratos has come full circle. Once having famously declared that “The Gods Of Olympus Have Abandoned Me,” the Ghost of Sparta has renounced the cycle of vengeance and betrayal that existed in the Greek realm, traveling far from those shores to Midgard to just live like a man. However, as he conferred to his sone Atreus in the 2018 series continuation, “There are consequences to killing a god,” and the specters of past sins aren’t entirely set to leave him be.
God of War: Ragnarök takes both premises and puts them in the spotlight as the Norse realm-ending battle, foretold in the paintings the father-son team found throughout their previous adventure, draws near. Also foreshadowed in 2018’s secret ending, both Thor and Odin have come for blood-debts, balancing out the power field between the Greek God and company.
Much different from the MCU’s version of the thunder god, Ryan Hurst’s Thor carries his own demons from actions past while attempting to be a family man and unleashing his rage onto Kratos, both defending his homeland from ruin and avenging his son’s deaths. Richard Schiff’s Odin, while in the same position as the Olympus pantheon’s Zeus, is everything the last big bad wasn’t. The All-Father is played with such cool calculation and even presence that the part of me wanting to avoid the coming war would occasionally buy into his moderated messaging. Christopher Judge and Sunny Suljic once again impress as Kratos and Atreus, with their chemistry tighter than ever before as the duo goes through the son’s growing pains and search for himself, pressed against the path foretold and the one he fights to avoid personal disaster on.
*Warning: Mild Spoilers*
The one huge aspect in the game that I should have expected, but not to such a vast extent, is its focus on family. Beyond the mythos the franchise is built on is a story about a man troubled by unforgivable actions, whether that forgivness is self-denied or pressed on by the world that continues to burn his nickname, “Ghost of Sparta,” into his mind like the red line that already adorns his body. Thor, without as much detail at first for his exploits, is held up to Kratos like a darkened mirror, as he as well is tortured by his own actions, something we see Odin in particular not allow him comfort from. Allowing the two to reflect on one another, each having to come to close terms with their action’s effects on their partners and offspring, adds an additional layer, especially in the way Kratos’s temptations of his previous life are thrust in by the potential incoming war. For a once terrifying figure players savaged Olympus with, getting to experience the changes Kratos tries to maintain and evolve into humanizes the character in ways players will think about well the trophies are all earned.
The world is as graphically rich as ever, with each visited locale from the previous entry being radically morphed by Fimbulwinter, the immediate prelude to Ragnarök in Norse mythology. Midgard is snowed in, Alfheim is buried in sand, and those are just a few surprises that await returning players, not even including entrance to realms previously inaccessible, like the dwarven domain of Svartalfheim. Once again entirely open world as the game progresses, there are side quests abound that sweeten the world’s lore for anyone aiming for the fullest experience after concluding the 25-to-30-hour main conflict. The difficulty will keep players on their toes from the start to when the credits roll, and if you thought the Valkyries were tough, the new mini-boss challenges will more than keep you coming back with both evolving strategies and a mountain of resurrection stones.
Full of twists and turns, along with a couple moments that really hit home when it comes to family, Ragnarök not only lives up to the God of War legacy, but manages to surpass it, highlighting not only our protagonist’s journeys, but in also allowing the supporting cast chances at growth. Be warned, this is not a stand-alone title, as it builds directly off 2018’s foundation, but taken together, God of War: Ragnarök has the potential to shine as one of this generation’s greatest games.
[An abbreviated version of this review appears in the December edition of the Charlotte Gaymers Network’s Newsletter]
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