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God of War Ragnarok review: Kratos’ PS5 debut looks glorious, but isn't god-like
Kratos returns for a sumptuous albeit familiar sequel that could have been so much more
Update: PlayStation Plus Premium members can now enjoy a God of War Ragnarok trial that lets you experience the first three hours of the game. Any progress you make will carry over if you purchase the full game, along with any trophies you unlock.
After hours of snapping necks, dismembering bodies, solving puzzles, and flying into fits of unbridled rage, one thing became patently obvious during my time with God of War Ragnarok… the Ghost of Sparta’s potential has been hamstrung by the aging PS4.
That’s not to say God of War Ragnarok isn’t a glorious-looking game – the bombastic set pieces and incredibly detailed cutscenes do a fine job of repeatedly hammering home that fact. And the game’s powerful story hits just as hard as you’d hope, with many of the eccentric cast returning with sublime voice acting in tow.
But it’s impossible to ignore that God of War Ragnarok feels like a safety-first sort of sequel, with refinement over reinvention being the main goal, and with cutbacks made to ensure the game runs well on PS4, as opposed to harnessing the power of the PS5.
For better or worse, it’s also instantly familiar, which some players may be relieved to hear – after all, there’s nothing worse than when a developer completely loses sight of what made a game so special in the first place.
Platform: PS4, PS5
Release date: November 9, 2022
However, I couldn’t help but be disappointed by the lack of surprises Kratos and company had to offer, and I had trouble shaking the feeling that I was retreading the same steps albeit over slightly different terrain. I wish more risks were taken, as it certainly feels like an expansion of the 2018 PS4 game.
If God of War Ragnarok was a PS5 exclusive, there’s no doubt in my mind that developer Sony Santa Monica could have been more ambitious. The game’s animation director Bruno Velaquez has stated that Ragnarok is basically an enhancement of what came before and doesn’t utilize the full capabilities of the PS5 hardware. And yeah, that’s glaringly obvious, sadly.
But conversely, there are over 100 million PlayStation 4 consoles in the wild, compared to just 25 million PlayStation 5 systems. It makes total business sense to make the game cross-gen, much like we saw with Horizon Forbidden West and Gran Turismo 7, and I’m happy for those gamers that get to see how Kratos and Atreus’ story plays out.
God of War Ragnarok doesn’t quite do enough to make it into our best PS5 games list, then, but it comfortably earns an honorable mention for its best-in-class story. Read my God of War Ragnarok review below to get a better idea of what I loved (and hated) about the Ghost of Sparta’s return.
Score: 4 out of 5 🏆
How I tested God of War Ragnarok 🧪
I sunk almost 18 hours into God of War Ragnarok on the Give Me Balance difficulty when first publishing this review. I’ve since rolled credits on the game, which took just over 20 hours and completed various sidequests.
I stuck with the game’s super-smooth high frame rate mode, but there’s also a 40Hz quality mode for those with compatible displays. I’ve always preferred better performance than a slightly higher resolution.
I played the PS5 version of God of War Ragnarok on an LG CX 55-inch OLED, which is a 4K/120hz HDR display. I used a pair of SteelSeries Nova Pro Wireless headphones during my playthrough and chose the balanced audio setting.
A review code of the game was provided by Sony Interactive Entertainment.
What I liked about God of War Ragnarok ❤️
😭 The evocative story. God of War Ragnarok’s story is just as powerful and heart-wrenching as the first game. Kratos’ continued struggle to keep Atreus safe and Atreus’ teenage impulses make for gripping viewing, as the two push the boundaries of their relationship throughout the game. Trust is the underlying theme, but I’m not going to spoil any of the story beats because they’re easily the game’s strongest aspect. It’s best to go in blind, so do all you can to avoid the spoilers which have already flooded online.
🤗 The game’s cast of characters. From the familiar faces of Mimir, Brok and Sindri to newcomers like Tyr and Thor, God of War Ragnarok’s characters are all believable and convincingly portrayed. I never felt the urge to skip through any lines of dialog and didn’t find any of the cast irritating or feel like they were needlessly shoehorned in.
🤯 Spectacular set pieces. Developer Sony Santa Monica has outdone itself with some of the game’s set pieces. There are some truly jaw-dropping moments, most of which culminate in a gruesome death for one of Kratos’ opponents. It’s not just the flamboyant and action-packed moments that deliver, though. The close-ups when Kratos is struggling to control his emotions are as equally powerful.
👊 Generally satisfying combat. While God of War Ragnarok’s combat can’t quite compete with the likes of other third-person action games like Bayonetta and Devil May Cry, the visceral carnage and explosions of particle effects that occur during every encounter keep fights compelling. Upgrades let you unlock more moves and combos, which lets you mix things up during battles. You’ll also need to use the right tool for the job against certain foes.
👍 Three graphic modes. One of the benefits of God of War Ragnarok being a cross-gen title is that the PS5’s power can be used to deliver more graphical options. Like The Last of Us Part 1, you can play the game at 30fps at 4K resolution, or opt for 60fps at 1440p. Those with HDMI 2.1 compatible displays with VRR can also enjoy a 40Hz quality mode and a high frame rate mode for an even more responsive experience.
🔑 Metroidvania-style elements. I’ve always enjoyed unlocking new weapons and abilities as a game progresses to return to previously inaccessible areas. God of War Ragnarok will tease you with places or chests you can’t reach until you have the right equipment, and I always find it satisfying when you can finally come back once you have the appropriate gear.
📖 Story recap. It’s a simple addition, but God of War Ragnarok lets you recap the events of the first game via a simple video. It’s nice to see a developer consider players who may have skipped the first game, and I also enjoy how each save file provides a brief summary of where the story is in the game.
🏺 Hours of collectibles await. You’ll smash your fist through hundreds of chests as you collect loot in God of War Ragnarok, but there are also favors to complete and trials to best that will test your combat skills. Odin’s pesky ravens return and will require a steady aim and a keen ear if you’re to kill them all. There’s plenty to do once the credits roll.
♿️ Amazing accessibility options. Just like in The Last of Us Part 1, the accessibility options in God of War Ragnarok are worth celebrating. There’s a slew of different settings that can be toggled and tweaked, lowering the barriers to entry for those who may struggle to enjoy games due to complicated controls or troublesome visual settings.
What I disliked about God of War Ragnarok 💔
✋ The PS4 has clearly held the PS5 version back. The way load times are masked in God of War Ragnarok is perhaps the biggest culprit. Just like God of War (2018), you’ll still be waiting for areas to load as you run through the Yggdrasil tree until a door appears. You’ll also have to shimmy and crawl through countless tight spaces, all to achieve a more seamless experience. We know that the PS5’s SSD is capable of so much more, and yet it isn’t utilized at all – other than letting you respawn into battle a bit quicker than before.
🤨 It’s all too familiar. God of War Ragnarok provides a whistlestop tour of many locations you’ll have visited in the first game. Those memorable moments like when you first set foot in Helheim don’t hit quite as hard the second time around, which is only natural, but there’s no denying some of the wow factor of 2018’s God of War is lost in this fairly straightforward sequel.
🤔 Deja vu. You’ll also encounter the same foes you’ve torn to shreds countless times, like the Drauger, and Kratos will even mount and kill trolls in the exact same way he did before. Yes, they look and act slightly differently, but even the newer enemy types do little to mix up the game’s core combat.
😖 The inventory UI is rather overwhelming. You’ll find plenty of loot and gain thousands of experience points as you play through the God of War Ragnarok, allowing you to upgrade your weapons, armor and abilities. However, unlike God of War (2018), I found Ragnarok’s new UI to be far more confusing. Navigating through the various tabs never felt natural, and I kept forgetting how certain upgrades functioned. There’s just a lot going on, particularly as you progress.
🪲 There were more bugs than I was expecting. Perhaps this is the fault of Sony’s first-party titles always being of such high quality, but God of War Ragnarok feels like it’s coming in a little hot. The developer has already dropped a few updates during the review period to squash bugs, and a day-one patch is planned that will improve things like the game’s audio mix. The game isn’t in bad shape by any means – this isn’t a Cyberpunk 2077 situation. But I did encounter a few visual oddities and immersion-breaking glitches during my playthrough. (Update: several post-launch patches have addressed most of these issues.)
🎮 The DualSense feels underutilized. I was hoping the DualSense’s haptic feedback and adaptive triggers would get more of a workout in God of War Ragnarok, but they’re fairly uneventful. You’ll feel a little resistance during some context-sensitive moments, like hacking through some ice with your Leviathan Axe, but I never found myself surprised by how the DualSense’s feature set was used. A shame.
😩 Too many quick-time events. Yes, God of War has always had quick-time events (QTEs), but perhaps it’s time to move on from bashing the circle button every now and then when prompted. The game’s glorious cutscenes can stand on their own without telling the player to mash R1 to beat a boss to death. QTEs felt novel when they were first introduced in Shenmue on the Dreamcast, but they don’t add anything in 2022.
Should you buy God of War Ragnarok? 🪓
✅ You want to know how Kratos and Atreus’ story ends.
✅ You thoroughly enjoyed the gameplay mechanics in God of War (2018).
✅ You’re after a meaty single-player experience.
❌ You’re expecting an expansive sequel that takes some risks.
❌ You didn’t click with the first game.
❌ You want a game that truly shows off the power of the PS5.
Update: A day-one patch is now available for God of War Ragnarok, so make sure you download it before you play. The update promises to squash over 150 bugs, tweaks the DualSense’s haptic feedback, improves the game’s audio mix, and fixes several potentially game-breaking issues like inaccessible areas or boss fights not spawning.
You can check out the full patch notes on Sony Santa Monica’s website, but be aware of story spoilers such as info on quests, the enemies you’ll encounter, and some of the abilities you’ll unlock as the game progresses.
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First published: November 3, 2022
Updated: February 14, 2023