God of War: Ragnarok - The Hardwired Review
A Sequel Fit For a God
WACO, Texas (KWTX) - Reviewed on PS5 - Released: 11/9/22 - Platforms: PS4 & PS5
Modern triple AAA games are choked full of diluted content. Collectibles, fetch quests, meandering side activities, and vast, sprawling but mostly boring open worlds. There’s some part of our brain that’s told us an open world game has to be a map littered with boring, anti-fun things to do, just to justify the money and time we spend playing it. On top of that when I see “AAA game” I think, wow this game will either be an expertly executed piece of art at the height of its craft, or this will be the single buggiest game I have ever played. While the most profitable game franchise in the world is putting this out
Sony Santa Monica is hitting the high bar and delivering in spades. God of War Ragnarök isn’t just a sequel, it’s a part of a two piece epic unlike any gaming has seen. A masterclass in story telling, bring engrossing world building, immersive dialogue and some of the best combat in the business. I’ll be avoiding talking too much about the story so as to not spoil anything for any one but I plan to return to the topic at the start of next year on why I love Kratos’ journey so much. Because this game is truly something special, a nearly perfect game from every aspect, and fitting cap to this God of War story.
You know, I spent hours in the opening area running around aimlessly while playing almost all the Assassin’s Creed games? Not because I was having fun, no, because the game had me do mundane task after mundane task. Refusing to unleash the fun until I hit the title sequence almost 2 hours in. Now, lets look at the first hour of God of War Ragnarök, you are pursued by Freya who unleashes avalanches in a wolf pulled sled chase, outrunning the forces of nature, Atreus must once again deal with grief, we meet Odin and Thor, THEN YOU BATTLE THOR IN ONE OF THE COOLEST OPENING FIGHTS EVER...and that’s the first hour. I mean from the very first frame Ragnarök draws you back in with outstanding acting bringing more kick and emotion than some games have in their entire runtimes. Kratos’ only goal is to protect and prepare his son for a war he hopes never comes. And you can feel it with every line from Christopher Judge’s excellent performance. Their home no longer safe, they set out together once again, to seek answers and safety. This is what I love about this game, it doesn’t waste your time, even when things feel slow, there is always something happening. The dialogue when you are traversing builds deeper the lore of the world. Standing around near the vendors or other allies often reveals unique interactions. Everything builds the story. There is so much lore to uncover here, side quests that build character development better than some TV shows do in an entire season and gorgeously realized worlds that glow and glisten with pure artistry. Details down to subtle parts of Atreus’s outfit give meaning to how lived in this world is. Returning characters like Freya and Sindri get real moments to shine delivering incredibly acted moments of character depth. The common themes pulling them together as conflicting ideals drive them apart. All set in the single most awe-inspiring, detail packed game environments I’ve ever seen. It’s a good thing this game didn’t ship with a photomode or I’d have spent hours doing that and this review would never come out. But more than anything, God of War marries all this story telling with gameplay and sound design that is compelling and thrilling all the way through.
In the interim 5 years since God of War released in 2018, action adventure games have been swinging for the fences when it comes to combat. Ghost of Tsushima with it’s stylish, Kurosawa inspired swordplay, Devil May Cry 5 with it’s rhythmic cluster of specialized moves and even Sekiro offering some of the hardest boss fights I can think of. Which is why, it is astounding is how good the base combat for God of War is, a satisfying combo of brutal weighty strikes, mixed with one of the most gratifying ranged combat systems ever devised in the Leviathan axe, offering lots of freedom while never falling into clunkiness. Then you add in the tools you get along the way in this game and combat has opened up even more, offering a frenzy of flashy attacks but never getting you stuck into a scripted sequence. You have versatility and control that grant you some excellent improv opportunities while still delivering cinematic moments. One of the best improvements here is in enemy variety. As Kratos and Atreus roam the nine realms, each one introduces new threats that then get added into the mix of enemies, keeping combat fresh throughout the entire game. Remedying the first part of the common complaint that the first game reused enemies too often and lacked enough original boss fights. That second part though, Sony Santa Monica took that part personally, because this game contains enough unique and bastard hard boss fights to fill out two or three God of War games. Each one culminating in some of the most challenging combat in the series to date. Honestly the only place I was let down was that I never got to wield a particular weapon and that the games traversal system feels a bit dated.
Not that that matters when exploring is so immersive and enthralling. Like I said before this games graphics and art direction are on another level. Fimblewinter has set in and you can see and feel it’s effects everywhere, snow encroaches on every inch of Midgard, Helheim is as cold and depressing as ever, Svartalfheim is like an industrial complex built into a beautiful oasis, Vanaheim’s overgrown world of nature entangled with the manmade structures drenched in vines and deadly neon colored plant life offering. All offering some of the most beautiful scenery yet which acts as an excellent backdrop for the beautiful moments of growth from several characters. Each realm brings a unique aesthetic and all of them are just eye wateringly beautiful. I mean just look at this view. These locations go beyond environmental storytelling, they are the story. Characters interact with them as though they are co-stars, treating their history and mythos as personality traits. All of this driving your want to see and learn more about them. Which is what makes the side content here so unbelievably good. Instead of a meandering side quest where some random guy asks you to bring him like a pig or some shit, Ragnarök offers glimpses into characters that have real meaning. Freeing giant beasts, undoing past sins and making up for lost time. Not a single one of these quests is a wasted moment. Most games have pacing that’s like “dude your friend is about to be killed and the bad guys are gonna take over the world! Hurry! But also, don’t forget to try out this fun RC Car driving game or this chicken Tekken mode.” but God of War incorporates the main story into every aspect of it’s design. There’s never any rush because to a certain extent YOU are in control of the pacing and helping people ultimately serving your end goal. Hands down the best side quests I’ve ever played.
Look a lot of this story may on paper sound familiar but I promise you the way it’s delivered makes that paper seem like an idiot for suggesting this game is anything less than exceptional. During all of this story though one thing stands out as being above the bar, and that is the performances. Not a single character/actor in this game isn’t giving it their all. Christopher Judge brings stoic passion to Kratos as he grapples once again with fate and having teenager, meanwhile Sunny Suljic delivers a fantastic turn as an older and yet somehow more optimistic Atreus who just wants to have the answers her seeks. Danielle Bisutti screams back into action as the scorned Goddess Freya, bringing some of the most devastatingly emotional moments of the opening acts. Even characters who weren’t given much development solo in the first game bring their A-game acting chops as both Brok and Sindri offer nuanced performances showing some real range. But you want to talk range, man Odin being played by Richard Schiff of West Wing fame isn’t even something I knew I wanted until I had it. His combination of ominous power and quirky sarcasm works on so many levels. Like you know you can’t trust him but man is does he make a compelling argument with the way he speaks. Backing up all this hardcore acting is a system of excellent camera work, fantastic animations and sound design that sells every footstep.
Speaking of sound the last thing I want to touch on is Bear McCreary’s gorgeous orchestrated soundtrack. After hearing the opening theme all the way back in the 2016 reveal of God of War I knew McCreary was a perfect fit for this universe. The Gregorian style chants provide gravitas to every scored section, combat music is intense as strings ramp up the speed and aggression all while backed by McCreary’s signature worldly influenced instrument choices. Powerful brass instruments impact with thundering percussion painting this picture in perfect timing. I cant get enough of how truly beautiful this soundtrack is. Blood on the Snow in particular hits me right in the heart.
God of War Ragnarök is the kind of game that comes along once every few years. A rare gem crafted by powers at the height of their talent, unfolding it’s story of defiance in the face of prophecy like a intricately woven but intimately made tapestry. Bringing it’s all star cast so many opportunities to explode and shine as you wind towards what the game wants you to believe is an inevitable conclusion but one who’s actual ending culminates in a glorious unfurling of set pieces delivering one of the most memorable stories in modern gaming. All of this mixed with expertly crafted combat, enthralling worlds full of captivating stories makes Kratos’ journey in Ragnarök one you won’t want to put the controller down for all the way up to the final moments when you can sit back in your chair and say “now that’s podracing”. God of War Ragnarök is the new bar for storytelling in the medium and earns it’s rank as a 10 out of 10 Masterpiece. A nearly perfect achievement of technology and art.
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