God of War: Ragnarok - Game of the Year? Full Review (Spoiler free)
Courtesy of Sony

 

Reviewed on PS5. Review copy provided by PlayStation.

Spiel Times Reviews - Spoiler-Free

God of War Ragnarok is here and God, how we have waited. With bated breath and wonder in our minds thinking about where God of War would go after the incredible journey we witnessed in 2018. And with God of War Ragnarok, Santa Monica continues that journey.

So before we start with the review of the game, I’d like to tell you about my journey with the franchise and game.

(As mentioned above, this is going to be a God of War Ragnarok spoiler-free review. I’m going to try to be as spoiler-free as possible, without revealing anything about characters, plot points, etc.)

God of War has been a franchise I’ve always been a fan of. From playing the OG title at a friend’s house on a PS2 and then the sequel as well. Then having my mind blown with God of War 3 on the PlayStation 3. Followed by God of War 2018 which just absolutely mesmerized me.

God of War 3 was a game that helped me claw out of my own hell so to speak. I remember playing it during a particularly rough time and it really helped me get over that hurdle and keep pushing.

God of War 2018 was a game that just gripped me like crazy from start to finish. It’s one of those rare games that I’ve actually replayed more than a handful of times.

The story, the character interaction, and the writing are something that I didn’t expect out of a God of War title. But it surprised all of us and made us fall in love with Kratos again. And who knew, having a side-kick who was a kid wouldn’t suck.

So safe to suffice, God of War Ragnarok had big shoes to fill.

While I was incredibly excited about the game, the game didn’t seem to have too many showcases or marketing to build that hype for the game. Which some people thought was a red flag but I was confident it was a calculated decision.

Why else would you not showcase an absolutely iconic franchise and milk it for what it’s worth? If it was bad, you could make some quick bucks with the pre-orders before the game drops (We know games that have done this).

So I started the game with optimism in my heart. And the experience after that was truly out of this world. So let’s talk about it.

Story, World, Character

Again, to reiterate, I’m going to keep this spoiler free. Nothing about the game will be spoiled here. Simply because I want people to experience the story of this game on their own. It’s incredible from start to finish.

Speaking of start, the game starts off running. It expects you to have played 2018 (there is a recap too) because it just jumps right in. No slow intro to building a story here. It’s incredible action and cool set pieces one after another. The first 2-2.5 hours are action-packed and move at a breakneck speed that will leave feeling absolutely pumped for the rest of the game.

And the rest of the game does hold up. The story is satisfying, the way it is told is once again immaculate and the acting is just phenomenal. The actors have done such an incredible job expressing their character’s emotions. It left me in absolute awe on so many occasions.

And if you enjoyed the banter in the reboot, you’re going to love it here as well. And thankfully, the game doesn’t suffer the fate of most Marvel films. Where quips reign supreme and serious situations are absolutely ruined by a joke.

The game does incredibly well at letting ambient sounds fill the silence after heavy or serious moments.

It allows you to take it all in and process what occurred moments prior. This just adds to the tension and drama. It pulls you into the story even more because you’ve likely to have the same thoughts in your head as that of the characters.

While I do wish certain things were explained more or wish more time was spent on that particular section, it really pales in comparison to the incredible moments the game seems to keep throwing at you.

Try to go into this game as spoiler-free as you can because to me it felt like it kept one-upping itself throughout the game. You think the story has peaked but then it does it again. And again. Aaaand again.

As a final note, the game took me about 46.5 hours to beat while doing most of the major side content and taking my time exploring. And the side content in this game is plentiful. And unlike 2018 where they felt like fetch quests for loot or a small tidbit, the side content in this is actually quite good. The reward is usually worth it and even has big set-piece moments and good character or lore payoffs.

I would highly recommend doing side missions if you can because they are worth it and add so much to the game. I had an absolute blast doing them and I still have more left.

Improvements

While the story is an absolute gold mine, I was worried that the game might feel the same as in 2018. One of the more common complaints about 2018 was how repetitive boss fights felt, the lack of actual proper boss fights, and also the lack of enemy variety.

I can safely say they’ve thoroughly improved all of that and more. I barely saw repeat boss fights and even the very rare ones that did tend to have different mechanics in their fights.

Exploration is also much faster now with quicker vertical movement and with a level design that seems to flow better. It’s not obvious but when you go through these areas, they seem less tedious to go through. Less slow crouched walks/ ledge walks.

You can very quickly tell that a lot of budget went into this game. From the story to the side quests, the polish and improvements are apparent very early on. It takes what made 2018 so good and really polishes those aspects.

Combat

And one of the aspects that are improved is the combat. Combat while fun and hard-hitting wasn’t too deep or diverse in 2018. Meanwhile, combat in God of War Ragnarok is significantly more fun. There’s just more depth to combat. From the regular moves to being able to “Master” certain moves to improve them, to having more options in your build.

Combat felt more akin to some sort of fighting game where I could mix and match combos with my weapons, runic abilities, and of course, BOY. And thanks to the variety in builds, you can really tailor your combat experience to you. Want to try complex chains with weapon switches? Go ahead.

But combat is still challenging. I played on Give Me Balance which is “Normal” and enemies pack quite the punch. Even with some good gear and high DEF and VIT stats, I would very quickly get to critical health if I wasn’t careful in combat. I don’t remember this happening as frequently in 2018. But in God of War Ragnarok, you need to be aware of the enemies, your abilities, and the levels. Sort of like DOOM Eternal.

And thanks to quicker mobility and improved level design, combat is also more engaging. You can try and leverage the cover and height advantage and thin corridors to your advantage, Or, you could also not pay attention and have enemies just outplay you in fun ways.

Visuals and Audio

Onto the audiovisuals. I played this using a PlayStation 5 on an LG CX 4K OLED TV with HDR. And good Gods, this game looks breathtaking. The game absolutely loves throwing good vistas and views at you.

The art and visuals are so polished. It’s not a Demons-Souls-like presentation but it is clean, diverse and just such a joy to look at. The amount of detail that’s been put into the environment is astounding. From animals to small creatures, the flora, the particle effects, and other volumetric effects help add atmosphere to the scene. It is masterfully done.

The game has 4 visual modes:

  • Fidelity @ 4K 30fps
  • Fidelity @ 4K 40fps
  • Performance @ 1440p-2160p Dynamic Res 60fps
  • Performance @ 1440p-2160p Dynamic Res unlocked fps(What I played on)

I did notice some frame drops in the Performance mode, especially super early in the game. But it was rare. The Fidelity mode @40fps also felt like it was dropping frames. The image did feel like native 4K though and was quite clean. However, the fluidity in the unlocked performance mode is unrivaled and the game felt buttery smooth.

I do have one complaint though, and it’s that the game lacks a photo mode. I don’t know if this will be added later on but I would have loved a photo mode.

In terms of audio, it’s a treat for your ears. Weapons sound great, enemies have distinct and clear audio cues, and environmental sound cues are also unique enough.

But for me, the standout has to be the musical score. I genuinely can’t wait for it to be released. The music for every level, and every moment feels perfect. The way leitmotifs for each character’s theme are used and played with is quite cinematic.

And the ambient music is also so good to listen to. Some have a sense of magic and wonder. Some have a denser, colder feel. There was one track in a particular track that made me think of the Firelink Shine music from Dark Souls 1.

I am so looking forward to The Game Awards this year because we’re in for a musical treat. When the GOTY medley plays, the God of War music is going to sound absolutely majestic.

Final Verdict

Yes, I mentioned the GOTY medley. Because God of War Ragnarok is going to be a GOTY contender and it might just be my personal GOTY, overtaking Elden Ring. And I think there are multiple reasons for that. The narrative is so strong with great direction and writing being key. The gameplay is improved upon and also just makes the experience that much better.

God of War Ragnarok is a must-play. There are no two ways about it. It is one of the best games out there. So I hope for your sake you don’t get spoiled and enjoy the game for the first time like a lot of us reviewers did and the way the devs wanted you to experience it.

You’re doing a disservice to yourself if you abstain from this game because this game is so hard to put down. 5 more minutes would turn into an hour or two because who needs sleep really?

Score: 10/10