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By Kimari Rennis
There is no better way to celebrate the end of finals and a brutal semester of college than by playing high-quality and satisfyingly violent video games. With my finished homework, a PS5, a brand-new TV, and a little Christmas budget, I bought a day-one copy of God of War Ragnarök and waited. Why? Because I planned on savoring the experience by playing and finishing God of War 2018 on the hardest difficulty.
It was Christmas Eve when I finished God of War 2018 in preparation for its long-awaited sequel. It was dark and cold outside and I felt even colder as I saw the crisp splash art for Ragnarök when I inserted the disk. The summer-y waters of Midgard that I had just finished exploring had frozen over. The world serpent’s body is partially buried under the thick glaciers. Atreus is visually older, standing tall next to his father.
The first hour of God of War Ragnarök tells you everything you need to know about the story. When Freya attacks Kratos in the opening sequence as he and Atreus make their way home, I’m instantly reminded that Kratos killed her son Baldur, and after all these years, that grudge still runs rampant in her. When Atreus goes missing in the middle of the night and he turns out to be the monstrous bear Kratos almost kills in self-defense, I’m reminded that Atreus is also a God and as he’s gotten older his surprising powers have started to show. When Thor, the God of Thunder, shows up at their home and sits down with an unnerving nonchalant attitude, we are reminded that we killed both of his sons and his brother. When Odin arrives soon after, the All-Father, we are reminded that Kratos is the Greek God of War and that neither he nor his son belongs here. When Odin asks for peace and for Atreus to stop his search for Tyr, Kratos promptly says ‘No’ and our journey for Tyr and Godly disobedience begins. With the enemy at their door and around any corner of the woods, all Kratos and Atreus can do now is fight as Ragnörok looms and Fibulwinter rages on.
From those moments alone I could feel the depth and layers of each character. Even as Kratos finally agrees to help his son find Tyr so he can understand his purpose, there’s the lingering air of distrust he has with Atreus and everything he hid from his father. Even I was left questioning Atreus’ intentions as we don’t know what was said between him and Odin when Kratos was fighting Thor. God of War Ragnarök explores the murky waters of being a father dealing with a teenager – and being a god hunted down by other gods.
Alongside the story, combat is the shining jewel here – Ragnarök is diligent in providing an even better experience than the first game. In God of War Ragnarök, both the Leviathan Axe and Blades of Chaos can be charged to do extra physical and elemental build-up damage. Charging your weapons mean taking a minor pause in combat, and staggering your attacks so you can start a much more lethal combo. Charging heavily rewards players for taking a step back, finding an opening to charge, and using a different range of attacks rather than spamming the same combo as you could in God of War 2018.
Speaking of rewards for using a different range of attacks, the skill trees for the Leviathan Axe and Blades of Chaos have been completely revamped. In addition to purchasing skills with exp, there are now trackers attached to each skill you have equipped. When you use a skill a certain number of times, its rank increases giving you the opportunity to make it more powerful. Not only does this make players want to test out all the skills they equip in battle, but it can also reward players for seeking out their own combos and play styles.
Another change in God of Ragnarök’s combat, which was disorienting for me at first, is the introduction of shield types. Rather than the one, all-purpose shield, Kratos had in God of War 2018, Ragnarök asks players to equip a shield with unique perks that best suit their play style. The reason why I’m not a big fan of the shield types is that my overconfident self chose a shield specialized for parrying so when I got ganged up on by a group of bipedal lizards on the “Give me God of War” difficulty, I died about 20 times because I couldn’t get the parry timing right. The downside to the shield I chose was I couldn’t reliably block a series of heavy attacks, so I was always knocked off balance and hit even harder.
While I’m not a fan of this change, I am appreciative of it because it goes to show that God of War Ragnarök allows for more control over your gameplay. Combat is more free-flowing and satisfying while still remaining brutal and punishing. So in the near future when I do nail the timing with the parrying shield and can follow up with my specialization with the Blades of Chaos. Another player, could use the heavier shield to make Kratos into more of a juggernaut and then follow up with their most powerful Leviathan Axe skills. There are multiple ways to handle an encounter and multiple ways to play the game which I think is the kind of change God of War 2018 needed. God of War 2018’s combat was structured more like a pipeline so toward the end of the game, everyone molded into one kind of player; you fish for the parry and use your most powerful combo and decide whether ice or fire is more effective. God of War Ragnarök is less restrained, making it a brief breath of fresh air. I just need to find the shield that works for me.
Although I chose to play on the highest difficulty, I was blown away by the accessibility options available. Alongside aim assist and your choice of difficulty, you have the option to make vaulting automatic. You can customize movement controls and text, and even alter the colors of the game to make it playable for those who are visually impaired. All of these options are made available without belittling the player. You can enjoy God of War Ragnarök however you’d like and still have a high-quality experience.
In God of War 2018, there were moments while playing on hard where I’d get so annoyed from dying that I’d stare off into the distance as if I was on an episode of The Office and Steve Carell’s Michael Scott was annoying or offending everyone. The last game took pride in overwhelming the player with strong enemies even though the equipment you had mainly geared towards one-on-one combat. Getting hit once in a boss fight likely meant restarting the fight mere seconds later after dying. While you still get hit extremely hard in God of War Ragnarök, for me, I almost look forward to dying. Whether it is the changes to the UI, combat, and evading mechanics, dying feels like an opportunity to learn rather than another minor annoyance. Where I used to silently roll my eyes whenever I had low health, in Ragnarök, I only feel my adrenaline take off as I adapt to whomever I’m fighting. Ragnarök gives me more options to conquer the battlefield.
I felt this the most when I fought Thor for the first time at the beginning of the game. When Kratos declined Odin’s offer of peace, Odin calmly gave the word, and Thor launched both of them into a remote area in the mountains to fight. Every time Kratos was bashed with Thor’s hammer due to my minor mistakes, I felt my brain go into overdrive so I could be better. I played as if my life depended on it, and on the hardest difficulty, it meant even more to me when I memorized his attack patterns and was able to differentiate when to evade and when to roll. Having low health was my window to prove Thor wrong. And when I finally repelled him, I felt alive.
God of War Ragnarök is more than just an action-adventure game. It’s an interactive cinematic experience and a testament to the power and future of AAA games. Games like God of War Ragnarök are high-end, 40+ hour-long, action movies that we the players can take part in and explore. While I may not be able to change the ending, the sequence of events, or the words that the characters say, Kratos and Atreus’ stories become intertwined with my own simply because I’m playing the game. That’s what makes it so powerful and memorable. That’s what keeps me coming back for more.
Senior intern Kimari Rennis, who has been with NYVGCC for many years, is a junior at NYU’s Game Center.