By Zach Chaney
Special to InReview
God of War: Ragnarok is one of the most conflicting gaming experiences I have had this year.
I’m going to try my best to thoroughly explain my concerns about the current state of the God of War series. Just for background information, I have played every single God of War game except God of War: Betrayal which is a phone game — I have no interest unless it’s ported on a proper gaming system.
I played Ragnarok on the Show Me No Mercy difficulty. I almost didn’t pick that because this series is notorious for having spongy enemies, however I heard that the game was too simplistic on the lower options so I ultimately picked what I believed was the safest option for a challenging but not overly tedious experience. I finished the game around 25 hours without completing side missions, which is something I’ll get back to later.
This will be a spoiler-free review with some very minor combat spoilers. This review is critical, though I have positives points to make because overall this is a good game, though I have plenty of concerns with its design. Some story aspects will be mentioned, but nothing that should ruin the game for first-time players.
God of War is one of the few video game franchises that had an interesting story to me. The third God of War had an incredible conclusion that sticks with me to this day. The 2018 game was okay in this department, with the characters being very creative in design and very engaging. The story around them is extremely safe and unfortunately formulaic.
Ragnarok is worse in this area with exposition that I personally do not care for. I despise an over-explained and simplified plot because I don’t get a chance to process possibilities and figure out what’s happening on my own. Whenever something happened it was usually after an exposition dump that leads to a scene becoming widely predictable. To close out this section, I wasn’t satisfied with the story and I felt it took the safest direction possible. The most I got out of it was the immersive character reactions and development.
Another thing that bothered me was how the main antagonist was established. The entire run of the game makes this villain sound so terrible yet we hardly ever see heavy despicable traits in him, though he is manipulative.
On to the gameplay, which is the most important aspect for me. A game can have a terrible story but if the gameplay is good then I simply don’t care what they do otherwise. The combat mechanics are most definitely an improvement over the last game, however, the encounters themselves suffer from the same formula repeated several times which made fighting tedious especially when enemies are health sponges. Most boss fights also lack the “wow” factor except for the duo fights and a few cinematic-focused bosses that are strikingly well thought out in comparison.
The encounters I found the most atrocious were the ones that requires excessive striking instead of properly calculating enemy behavior due through game design, including enemies that do not complement each other at all. For example, in one fight I would be focused on a larger enemy and get randomly flanked by something behind Kratos. Of course you can use the characters’ warnings, the attack indicator or cautionary rolling, but with such a large blind spot it’s not engaging enough to properly navigate the battle to your advantage sometimes. Thankfully these specific scenarios didn’t happen very often but when they did it made the game feel very stale and unsatisfying for me.
The level design started out very strong, but deteriorates. The use of elevated platforms really helped out with fights that contain enemies that do not properly complement each other in a standard arena, so I’m not sure why the developers designed certain encounters in such a mundane manner when they had a good formula to work with and expand upon. The endgame gets even worse with straight paths to fight enemies that didn’t immerse me in battle. I’m also sure that they wanted you to run past certain areas due to the amount of accessible platforms.
One battle in particular felt broken due to a certain mechanic not working 100% of the time which created terrible RNG. It was the second time I saw the fight formula within the hour with the only difference being a cinematic event.
Here’s another example that I can get more detailed with — the main gimmick with it is to gain control over one of two ogres and basically dominate the entire fight with that ogre. To get to that point, you must juggle around enemies which usually requires running to gain a proper visual. Unfortunately, the enemies involved are very aggressive, so you can’t fully place concentration on the ogre at all times. This forces you to excessively use cool down attacks, rage attacks and arrows to achieve a stun event for to ride its back.
Is this a difficulty option or a design issue? I would say both, as it can be fixed by elevating the platforms to properly space out the smaller aggressive enemies. This, when executed properly, could gain a stun event. With that said, I don’t know how well controlling the ogre would work on elevated platforms as there are few comparable examples in the game.
Let’s get into the things I appreciated a lot about the game. I really enjoyed the gameplay when the arena and enemies complemented each other well. If it was consistently satisfying and entertaining then I would be a lot more enthusiastic in this review. Some boss fights were an absolute blast cinematically which is what the series is still incredible at. I didn’t despise all of the interactive cinematic moments. There was one that I really loved that I wished had better fights in between sections which is the formula the game sticks with for the most part. This cinematic in particular was very thrilling with very interesting visuals and one dialog exchange between two characters that really stuck out to me just due to the threatening immersion of the scene.
There are other scenes like the aforementioned cinematic but they are a lot shorter in scale and not as memorable. Animations that occur after engaging a stun event are such a treat to watch and sometimes make grinding through encounters worth it just to see the many variations. I found myself focusing more on aggression just to get them, though I wish there was a beneficial combat reward for doing so like combustion or simply throwing an enemy. The addition of Guard Breaking was an interesting mechanic to utilize where you need to double tap block when blue rings appear in order to interrupt an attack or break an enemy’s guard which added an intriguing aspect in combat. I wish there were more new battles ideas especially to make the more tedious encounters less mundane.
There’s a change in gameplay that starts fairly early on that some players may find jarring but I actually preferred it at times in combat. It also contained the slowest parts of the game so it was bitter sweet from my perspective. If this became the new normal for future games then it wouldn’t bother me combat wise however if this amount of cinematic fluff and constant hand holding is involved then I’ll just simply pass.
The soundtrack of the game is once again incredible and used extremely well. It wouldn’t surprise me if I added some tracks to my personal playlist to listen while driving. Aesthetically the realms are pretty memorable however the maps are still atrocious to look at and I don’t know why they went with such a bland look which makes navigating through a level a bore.
I really do appreciate the faster travel time since this is built for the PlayStation 4 — we’re not quite yet in the realm of Demon’s Souls‘ instant loading speed.
The presentation is some of the best I’ve seen gaming ever and I’ll definitely be looking up specific cut scenes on YouTube just to rewatch them. The acting is incredible with cut scenes that had me instantly on the edge of my squeaking seat.
Another thing that this series has always perfected is character design. Each one’s personality is unique and adds flare to the story.
Back to the game’s issues; I’m sure most are aware that the constant hints from characters cannot be disabled unless you toggle off the subtitles and mute the television. The puzzles are elementary, yet the game thinks we’re incapable of thinking on our own. The only puzzles I slightly enjoyed were the symbol chests that required some observation and timing. However once you’ve seen one, you have seen them all especially if you played the 2018 title.
My biggest gripe is the constant filler of slow walking and fetch quests that’s basically the same mission for several hours in the middle of the story. During this time there was no fresh combat concepts revealed to keep things interesting. If this entire section of the game was removed I wouldn’t miss it and the game would be better paced. Perhaps a lot of my concerns could be resolved by playing on the Normal difficulty, but I didn’t want to risk a boring first half due to simplistic encounters.
There was one moment that made me feel like I was in the immersion of the pre-2018 games, but the buildup went nowhere. This happens several times in the main story where it teases something interesting and leads to the most safe and predictable outcome. There wasn’t one moment that surprised me and continued to keep me fixated on the story because of how averse to risk it was.
God of War: Ragnarok has very important life messages for the world to hear — over and over. Personally for me the story didn’t go anywhere interesting or risky and I’m not excited for its continuation. I’m glad the series is still successful and that players love it, however it has turned into a genre that doesn’t interest me anymore. Next time instead of spending seventy dollars, I’m going to watch a YouTube playthrough instead, but only if the story looks interesting.
I’m giving God of War: Ragnarok a price rating of $45 without taxes.