By Harold Goldberg
God of War Ragnarök begins with seconds of secret sounds before you see anything. Is it the sound of a snowstorm, the sound of embers in a fire, the chipping away at soft rock? You see the burly Kratos in a cold cave, dutifully making arrows over a fire, cutting the tips into fine points. He looks tired, worried and a feeling of trepidation comes over you.
You’re soon on a sled powered by wolves as Kratos drives Atreus to their stave. You engage in a brief fight with a persistent, colorful enemy through the cold and snow. It’s exhilarating and tense. Loss feels imminent. But you win.
On their modest home turf, you’ll encounter one of the most touching, heart-rending moments you’ve felt this year in video games. Honestly, it’s terribly sad and, if you’ve been close to death as I have this year, it hurts to witness, hurts bad.
Add to this a verbal altercation between Kratos and Atreus. That, on top of more sadness, is stunning. Atreus believes Kratos is hiding, not only from enemies, but from life itself. I don’t think Atreus wants a grand life of parties or even meals that fill the stomach. He just wants the truth – and that’s not nearby.
There’s a touching but foreboding Kratos dream sequence soon, and the word “hiding” is again bandied about. The feeling of loss in the first half hour. What feeling protected versus overprotected means. What losing and running away mean in the face of danger. When is freedom a danger in itself?
You’ll take time to consider this heaviness. It’s the narrative that beckons me to stay around for the rest of the game. Realistic environmental PS5 graphics are ever present, but they don’t get me going after 30 years of writing about games. They’re expected to be realistic and they do their job. Cold weather and cold hearts move together like lovers. But really, those first minutes are about faces, the subtleties of humanity and what we have to endure during nasty, brutal lives that are sometimes too long and sometimes too short. The acting will tear you up, rip you up as no weapon can. I expect the rest of the game will do the same.