5 hours in, God Of War Ragnarök is a welcome, well-crafted return to a modern classic – The A.V. Club

Every Friday, A.V. Club staffers kick off our weekly open thread for the discussion of gaming plans and recent gaming glories, but of course, the real action is down in the comments, where we invite you to answer our eternal question: What Are You Playing This Weekend?
[Note: This is a pre-review, first impressions piece about the first few hours of God Of War Ragnarök; it contains a few light story spoilers about the opening hours of the game, but I’ve gone pretty sparing, even there; certainly, there’s not much here that Sony hasn’t revealed in the game’s trailers. Primarily, this is a piece for people who want to know, on a fairly basic level, what the game is like, without getting any story ruined for them. Our full review will run on November 3. Phew!]

At no point, during the first five hours of God Of War Ragnarök, does Kratos, the titular god of war, shout “Boy!”
That’s worth noting, I think, because it’s been four long years since the release of the last God Of War game, the franchise’s nigh-miraculous 2018 revival—i.e. more than enough time for it to decay from something alive in the head and hands into the base stuff of memories and memes. “Boy!”, delivered from Kratos at regular intervals to his son, Atreus, was a big part of the mental footprint of that game, a barked command more suited to a general’s treatment of his soldiers than any kind of filial address. God Of War 2018 contained many a hard-fought battle, but the un-“Boy!”-ing of Kratos—the steady loosening of two decades of nigh-comical rage and nu metal-scored angst into something resembling a relatable human being—was its fundamental, and most impressive, struggle, and Ragnarök honors it by not rolling back that clock.
A gift for literally everybody.
Gifts under $20, $10, and even $5. It’s Wish, the catch-all shop for all of the above.
We come back to Kratos and Atreus (still voiced, with exceptional skill, by Christopher Judge and Sonny Suljic) three years later, as they emerge from a period that’s not hard to view as their own very brutal, very chilly version of Pandemic Mode. Fimbulwinter has fallen across the land, see, a magical, apocalypse-signifying cold snap that has Atreus curious about the much-ballyhooed Ragnarök—and Kratos desperate to keep his son away from the machinations of the local gods, enforcing a rigid sort of cosmic quarantine on the bo—uh, teen. Unfortunately, said deities (led by Norse head honcho Odin, played very much in Toby-from-West-Wing-mode by Richard Schiff) have no problem making house calls—again—kicking off yet another father-son road trip through the Norse-derived Nine Realms to deal with the fallout.
If all of that sounds pretty familiar, it should: Ragnarök, for all the earth-shattering portents of its name, is very much a proud and measured sequel to God Of War 2018. Same road-trip structure, same father-son focus, same extensive lake-boating—once you ditch Midgard for some warmer climates, leastways—same compelling, but not overly complicated, combat. (Including sticking to its guns on the first game’s decision to keep the camera locked tight to Kratos’ back in fights; you’re still going to be relying on Atreus to call out attacks headed your way from off-screen, a nice bit of imposed team-building from the devs, that builds on all the work done to make the kid feel genuinely useful in the first game.) It looks quite a bit nicer, and the game is overall a bit chattier, since your allies (notably, the talking severed head Mimir) from the first game are now very much in play from the start. But this is a sequel that’s interested in continuation, not revolution; Santa Monica Studio isn’t out to reinvent a game that people very much enjoyed the first time around.
My one caveat is an admittedly obnoxious one: Like that first entry, I feel moved to note that what Santa Monica has made here is very much a video game in big-budget blockbuster mode. If, like me, you’re the kind of crank who enjoys a little friction in his games—maybe even a little outright obtuseness—then the steady, gentle forward motion toward the next objective, the next bit of story, the next series of Zelda-ish puzzles that come with a little reward that’s been exactly calibrated to deposit the exact right amount of dopamine into the player’s brain, might rankle a little. But this is, as noted, a crank’s complaint: Video game too smooth? Get better problems, self.
The fact is, if God Of War 2018 worked for you—and if you don’t mind keeping an early eye on DoesTheDogDie.com for reasons I’d probably get yelled at for disclosing in more detail—then there’s no reason that Ragnarök won’t, too. It’s a sort of platonic sequel, at least from what I’ve played so far: More story, more world, and, of course, way less “Boy!”

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