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  • keananpucci

God of War Ragnarök: The Good, The Bad, & The Beautiful

Updated: Oct 1, 2023

Santa Monica's sensational sequel to the masterful reboot brought me along an emotional journey, but the most consistent emotion I felt was awe.

Rage being a close second.

God of War Ragnarök was my 2022 GOTY. It's clear that everyone, from developers to the cast, poured a tremendous amount of heart and talent into this. The dynamic combat, epic missions, and intense narrative beats of GoWR are masterfully designed. Even the quicktime events drip with enough gore to redeem the mechanic slightly. With a scope this massive, it's incredible how consistently polished and varied the content is.

Beyond The Critical Path

Despite completing side content as much as possible on my way to Ragnarök, I also found plenty more to do afterwards. I completely missed most of The Crater my first time there, and upon returning, new minibosses and loot surprised me around every corner.

These more open areas held gorgeous, sprawling loops of exploration and adventure. Shoutout to Brett Moody on the Player Investment Design team! I hope I get to play so much more of your outstanding work.

I successfully killed/liberated all the ravens this time, a feat I didn't accomplish in 2018's GoW. The boss battle and runic attack payoffs made them absolutely worth it.

Danielle Bisutti gave a truly incredible performance as Freya. I teared up when she tore at the world tree roots and reunited with Chaurli. However, Freya had very little open world dialogue after Ragnarök in my playthrough, and I wondered if I missed out on dialogue with Atreus. Battling Gna and completing other side missions with Freya certainly added to her arc, but I spent hours traversing the realms without a single murmur from Freya or Mimir.

The fact that I exhausted the nearly infinite amount of extra dialogue is probably a testament to how much time I spent soaking up every detail of these breathtaking environments. I'm not one to normally spend much time in a game's Photo Mode, but I kept finding myself doing just that in GoWR.

Best of all, these realms are brimming with life. GoWR feels like the ultimate theme park at times. Then, the more I completed its thrilling rides, the more I found serene moments when backtracking through formerly chaotic battlegrounds. Everyone's efforts to clean up the realms are actually successful, with few enemies being able to respawn. Instead of this making my completed save file feel empty though, it became a beautiful walking sim with a Musphelheim combat option. I could watch the simulated snow of Niflheim or all the different creatures of Vanaheim for ages.

Plus, usually my curious axe throws were rewarded with reactions from squishy glowing lizards and suspiciously tough crabs alike. I followed one crab in particular in Musphelheim, who seemed to be on his own murder spree. Considering the Leviathan Axe can't make a dent in this killer crab, he might be GoWR's hardest boss.

Hack and Slash...and Dodge and Summon and Juggle and Command and Snipe and Parry and Dismember and Block

Combat is a brutal power fantasy ballet. This improvement of GoW's finely tuned system is easy to learn and rewarding to master. I loved whipping between agile and staggered moves as a huge cast of enemies forced me to utilize every part of my arsenal. Min maxing Kratos's gear to massively buff a variety of playstyles and deliver lore accurate beat downs is beyond fun.

While I could go on and on about all the incredible features of GoWR's combat, it did fall short in a couple of ways for me. Executioner's Cleave was hands down my favorite move from GoW, and Serpent's Snare just doesn't quite fill those shoes. I still use the Grip of the Fallen Alchemist because of how often I hold R2 into an enemy, but I miss the old oomph.

I also almost never used triangle mechanics besides with the spear. This made many endgame skill upgrades less impactful than I would've hoped. Turning into a spear gatling gun and detonating impaled bosses helped immensely, but otherwise I found this new subset of moves forgotten in the heat of battle.

The bosses of GoWR are not easy adversaries though, and each had me adapting to their unique move sets and weaknesses. Bosses like Thor and Gryla put new spins on combat. The fallen Valkyrie Queen Gna and ghostly Beserker King Hrolf Kraki felled me many times, reminding me of the days I spent learning Sigrun's deadly moveset in GoW 2018.

God of War and Anti-War Sentiment

First off, the other most violent anti-violence game I've played is Spec Ops: The Line, which inspired my capstone project. Love that game and this one, but GoWR doesn't seem to be using these themes as intentionally.

Alfheim’s history and narrative rubbed me the wrong way to be honest. It reflects a bigger struggle between everyone's brutal actions and the narrative's new anti-violence morals. Kratos and Atreus have now wiped out war-crime-level populations of elves while fighting both sides of a war, with a very disproportionate level of remorse.

They've also slain countless beasts and creatures like magical poachers because...the animals were in the way? When a major arc is all about choosing to be more merciful, compassionate gods, why am I still killing everything?

It's not like I want GoW to turn into a non-violent kingdom sim, but the combat sometimes felt unjustified with this thematic dissonance.

Also, Freyr absolutely has a white savior complex with the elves.

Okay rant over. Here's some funny moments from my playthrough:

The game froze while I was taking a picture of a grave by the wolf pen, so I quit out. It didn’t fully crash. I was able to reopen it, but the screen was still frozen on the grave. ~ooOoOOo~

Of course The Last of Us/God of War crossover would have infected bears.

If this had activated a secret boss fight I would've lost my mind.

So there's my experience with the good, beautiful, and (relatively) bad parts of God of War Ragnarök. If you're also obsessed, I highly recommend Rob Meyer's lecture at NYU, which dives into the combat and gear design. It was an incredibly inspiring talk with some hilariously rambling questions asked afterwards, which are not in the recording. I asked how combat designers collaborate with narrative designers to pull inspiration from Norse mythology. He said that weapons and combat styles are inspired by the myths, but it has a much larger impact on story than combat.

Afterwards, they had a merch stand with a certain GoW 2018 prequel comic book. This one is set in Egypt, and many fans are speculating Egypt is Kratos's next arena. Whether or not I'll be hacking and slashing Horus and Set, I absolutely cannot wait to see where this incredible franchise goes next.

Thank you so much for reading! I wrote this as a tribute to the incredible work of art everyone at Santa Monica Studios created. It would be an honor to work with you all one day. I'll be playing a PS5 NG+ playthrough soon, and I can't wait to experience every moment all over again.

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