God of War Ragnarök review (PS5)

God of War Ragnarök, this season’s most eagerly anticipated PlayStation exclusive, has arrived. Does it manage to live up to and even surpass the 2018 hit? We played the PlayStation 5 version to find out.

It’s hard to imagine that Kratos has been with us for almost eighteen years now – God of War launched in a year that also saw Resident Evil 4, Psychonauts and the first (!) Guitar Hero come out. And while it feels like a lifetime ago, those first titles were some of the defining games of the PS2 and PS3 generation, and God of War did the same for the PS4 when it reinvented the franchise four years ago.

When it was announced that God of War Ragnarök wasn’t going to be the PS5-exclusive that we initially assumed, we were a little disappointed. Was Ragnarök not going to push the bar higher like God of War did in the later life stages of the PS4? To a degree, it feels like that’s indeed the case, but that doesn’t mean that the visual fidelity of Ragnarök isn’t the best that we’ve seen in the series thus far. That’s especially true in “fidelity mode”, but it still feels like the game goes for polish rather than adding spectacle through set pieces and overwhelming bosses – the kind that impressed so much in the original trilogy, a few console generations ago.

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In that sense, Ragnarök is much more like the 2018 game, although that’s not a bad thing – it just means that game is similarly character-driven. Kratos himself is the prime example of this, as he’s no longer just the angry screaming warrior of old but someone who’s been through a lot and has a multi-layered personality. What he’s gone through has shaped him, and Ragnarök does a great job of bringing this across, especially in conversations with others you encounter and travel with.

There’s still great combat and the occasional puzzle, but the RPG elements and crafting that were part of God of War both return here, making that game a much better starting point than the original games from previous console generations. That’s also true for the story, which picks up three years after the last game ended – with Atreus now having gone through puberty. His relationship with Kratos has grown along with him and is still a central element here, though Ragnarök features a larger cast and story scope with several other well developed characters. A side effect of that is that Kratos meanders through the central storyline a bit in order to fit in other narratives and objectives, but ultimately that mostly just means a longer game and more excellent gameplay to enjoy.

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I’ve always considered (some of) the puzzles in God of War games to be a bit immersion-breaking and, and those in Ragnarök are no exception. Some of them fit into the story in an organic way, but others feel more like roadblocks meant to help pace the game a bit. I wouldn’t go so far as to call them frustrating, but unlike the many memorable (boss) fights and conversations, I don’t think I’d list any of them among my favorite moments in the game either.

Much of Ragnarök will feel familiar to those who’ve played the 2018 game, but that’s also why they’ll not want to miss out on it. Despite familiar mechanics and even enemies, it’s bigger and prettier, and even though it doesn’t raise the bar to a truly “next gen” entry in the series, it’s a fantastic sequel that’s essential for fans of Kratos.

Score: 9.2/10

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