2013’s The Last of Us was the vanguard of a new subgenre of game: the Dad Game. It’s a game where you play as a parent, ideally one defending their child as you go on dangerous adventures. It’s easy to yank that emotional reaction out of the player with a setup like this, after all, and it’s no surprise that plenty of Game Awards bait have taken this tack in recent years. That doesn’t mean these games are bad, though, and with God of War Ragnarok, we’ve got a great chance to see how Dad Games can actually be pretty solid in their own right.
Years after their first adventure in 2018’s God of War, Greek murder aficionado Kratos and his kid Boy…er, Atreus are living through the descent of Fimbulwinter on the realms. Midgard, their home realm, isn’t spared and the snowy downfall that heralds the end of all things is causing our heroes quite a bit of consternation. Between that and the ongoing attacks they’re experiencing from an old foe, things aren’t going so well for our heroes. This all changes, though, when it becomes clear that they’ve left some dangling threads that might lead to an answer to Fimbulwinter.
That might be a bit more difficult than it sounds, though, and make no mistake: the dangers Kratos and Atreus will face on this adventure make the mythological battles in 2018’s God of War seem like a joke.
Ragnarok’s similarities to its predecessor are especially clear if you’ve played Sony’s recent PC port of 2018’s God of War. As in that game, you’ve got a Resident Evil 4-style over-the-shoulder camera combined with a focus on intense melee combat. The tight camera means that you’re reliant on partner characters to warn you of incoming attacks, adding that little nip of emotional blackmail that makes modern story-based games work. You have to like Atreus! He’s keeping you from dying and having to reload! That’s how that works, right?
Kidding aside, the formula that worked back then still works today. Kratos is armed with a variety of weapon options, from the boomeranging Leviathan Axe to the baddie-slashing Blades of Chaos to the new poke-poking Draupnir Spear, not to mention his significant capabilities while unarmed. Mixing and matching your gear to the fight at hand is the key to victory. The Blades are great at taking our swarms, the Axe is a solid choice for ranged combat thanks to its chuckable nature and the Spear…well, it’s a little less useful, but it certainly looks cool.
There’s plenty of light RPG elements to go around, so you can unlock new attacks and upgrade your gear’s stats in order to get the most out of your goodies. You can improve your damage, the power of your special runic attacks, your defenses and more. Complete enough sidequests and you’re bound to get everything you want. Watching the numbers get bigger is a great way to tickle the ol’ dopamine centers and does a lot to maintain Ragnarok’s feeling of progress.
Indeed, Ragnarok is all about progress. That’s kind of the main theme of the game, so much so in fact that it bleeds over to the gameplay. Case in point: this game absolutely cannot stand when players take too long to complete a puzzle. It drives the characters insane in fact. They won’t hesitate to tell you exactly what to do to solve whatever switch-flipping, block-pushing challenge is placed in your way. This might sound like a great way to keep the narrative flowing, and in some senses it is, but there’s definitely a little bit of satisfaction that’s lost in the loop here.
It’d have been preferable if you had half a chance to figure out what’s going on for yourself, but that’s not what we’re doing here. Instead, you’ll solve the puzzles as your told, ideally step off the beaten path to collect loot and rapidly return to the series of fights and plot that makes up the lion’s share of this adventure. You’ve got runic attacks! You’ve got crafting materials! There’s currency to go around! Get those chests open and get to work!
Kidding aside, it’s hard to argue with how well God of War presents its combat and narrative. While also available – and beautiful – on the last-gen PS4, Ragnarok is a game that truly shines on the PlayStation 5. If you thought it’d be hard to top the majesty of the 2018 take on God of War, well, you haven’t seen anything yet. Pair it up with a nice 120hz compatible OLED display, like the lovely Samsung S95B, and you’re bound to have a beautiful time. It’s all that and more thanks to the PS5’s fantastic haptic feedback.
All things considered, God of War Ragnarok might be one of the premier experiences on the PlayStation 5. The mix of high-octane combat, fascinating story segments and, uh, puzzles make for a fantastic combination. Fans of the 2018 reboot are already onboard and newbies might want to check that one out before moving on here, but even an hour with God of War Ragnarok makes it easy to see that this is one of the high points of modern gaming.