Writing a spoiler-free Ragnarok review is difficult, but not because you might think. I wish I could say I had to be careful not to spoil the story, which is full of so many twists and unexpected twists that revealing those details would spoil the experience, but it didn’t. The big surprise in Ragnarok, the things I can’t say directly, are all about the gameplay. Revealing what happened to character A at a critical moment is actually far less detrimental than explaining what you did to the controller when it happened. Ragnarok is bigger than its predecessor, offering more variety, but at the expense of a cohesive and fast-paced story. That would be a good compromise for many, but the strength of God of War’s 2018 narrative and stakes makes me expect more from the sequel than Ragnarok has to offer.
God of War (2018) ends with a major revelation that puts Kratos and Atreus’ entire journey back into context. When the two finally arrive at Jotunheim to lay Faye’s ashes, they discover that she is one of the last giants and that Atreus is actually Loki, who had prophesied to lead an army against Ahmad in Ragnarok. Sgard and Odin, and Kratos was doomed to die in defense of his son – though Atreus didn’t know it. The prophecy is in effect now that Baldur is dead, and when we catch it at the start of Ragnarok, the three winters before Ragnarok have ravaged Midgard, turning it into a cold, Desolate wasteland.
Now in his teens, Atreus’ jotunn magic begins to develop, and he is eager to learn more about the history of his people and who he really is. He is torn between two identities: champion Loki and Kratos’ son Atreus. Although Kratos only wanted to protect his son and prevent him from going down the same path he took – the road of war – he reluctantly agreed to follow Atreus on his journey to find who he was.
This journey — and all the detours along the way — takes Kratos and Atreus on a vast journey across the Nine Realms, to new and familiar places, for important and sometimes confusing reasons. Each realm has its own distinct visual identity, just like before—from the coastal dwarven city of Svartaffheim to the lava-spitting lava lava of Muspelheim—but now they’re more expansive and detailed. An undeniably huge budget has been spent on the artistic direction of these environments, which is often breathtaking. I’d feel guilty if I didn’t take the time to stop and rotate the camera in each new area just to appreciate all the work that went into making these locations and making them feel real. Only Uncharted 4 can match Ragnarok’s stunning vistas and action scenes, and if it involved a PC with super wide support, I’d happily spend dozens more hours redoing it all.
I can’t stress enough how much to watch. 2018’s God of War actually has a main quest center in Midgard with multiple linear realms/optional arenas, while God of War has Ragnarok in almost every realm and has a full side quest of the open area. Once you’ve completed the linear story portion of each area, you can choose to stay and explore for a while. Like Lake Nine, these optional areas are vast and require a boat or other vehicle to explore and can take anywhere from two to six hours to clear completely, provided you have the required skills and unlock upgrades to be able to access all Content is not at all.
There’s a side quest at the end of the game that takes you to an optional area as big as all the other realms, but it’s also possible to complete the story without seeing it. I’ve seen some sources estimating that Ragnarok takes 70 hours to be 100% complete, but that seems low to me. I have 60 hours and only three quarters of the time.
Ragnarok has tons of open-world content with the touches of linear gameplay, which is a remarkable feat, but it’s close to AAA bloat. For each quest that leads to an emotional moment and a beloved character’s catharsis, there are five unfinished lonely ghosts who need you to find their missing tube socks. When so many places feel like they’re being built purely to play games and waste time, it’s hard to get every little story involved, and writers have to follow it to find the narrative reason for where it should be.
It’s perfectly understandable for side quests, but the main story has the same quality. It’s as if the developers decide all the places you’re going to and what you’re going to do there, and then reverse engineer a narrative that loosely connects all the events. The looming threat of Ragnarok doesn’t have as much of an impact on our heroes’ actions as you might expect, and due to the sheer size of the game – and your companions’ constant reminder to slow down and explore if you wish – you’ll never really be sense of urgency.
As Kratos wanders from one event to the next, the individual chapters feel sporadic and disconnected from each other, reacting to each situation while largely playing the passenger in his own story. There isn’t any big reveal tying it all together this time around, and while it’s not without tender moments and well-explored themes, there are too many detours for a simple, straightforward conclusion.
From a gameplay standpoint, I got more out of Ragnarok than I expected. It manages to consistently introduce new systems and game mechanics from start to finish, keeping combat and exploration always fresh and exciting – you can read the most in-depth combat analysis here, in my preview, and in this non-exhaustive Deep dive. Gear had similar progression issues to 2018’s God of War, but now you can actually create complex builds with cool synergies that feel impactful. The places you go and the variety of enemies you fight against are incredibly diverse, and your choices in combat are far more complex and meaningful than in the previous game.
These tweaks and improvements make Ragnarok a great sequel, and a longer run will please the “time investment = value” crowd, but the journey from Faye’s final resting place to Ragnarok’s final battle isn’t It would have been okay to be as calm or fulfilled as he was.
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