God Of War Ragnarok Hands-On Preview
How do you succeed a Game Of The Year winner? That single question has presumably long tormented the team at Sony’s Santa Monica Studio as they slaved away on the sequel to 2018’s best title. In that time, the team have had to contend with a pandemic, internal delays, and an unhealthy amount of external questioning and pressure; but in spite of it all they’ve pushed on and finally, God Of War Ragnarok is upon us. Thanks to PlayStation Australia I’ve been playing Kratos’ latest adventure, and based upon the 5 hours that I’ve played and can report upon for this preview, it seems clear that Kratos’ newest adventure, while very familiar in some respects, also seems poised to elevate the 2018 GOTY to new heights.
The older, PS2, and PS3 era games blew players away from the immense size, and incredible scope – you couldn’t avoid the games’ gravitational pull as it drew your eye with explosive action, gratuitous violence, and a plot that while huge in scale, was alsoas subtle as a brick. While many core tenants of the older God Of War titles were present in the 2018 entry, subtlety, something the prior games lacked became of vital importance. God Of War 2018 still had loud and ultra violent moments, but it also possessed moments of calm, of control, and of depth in the game’s tamer moments. The stakes of God Of War Ragnarok have risen however, with the battle between Kratos, Atreus, and the Nordic Gods, not to mention a vengeful witch, all coming to ahead, but its the balancing act of the huge scale combat, and the sombre, more emotionally draining moments that Ragnarok executes upon better than ever before.
There are subtle changes everywhere – the power shift between Kratos and Atreus is shifting. The boy is embracing his Giant heritage and is rapidly growing, he’s also embracing his growth and is becoming more independent; that petulant side we briefly saw during God Of War 2018 hasn’t returned, but he’s simply maturing, and making his own decisions, even if some of those are still hasty and are endangering both himself and his father. With the help from Mimir, Kratos is learning this too, and has had to learn to apply a softer approach to how he’s responding to Atreus’ actions lest he lose him completely.
The changes to the combat are subtle as well. Kratos’ Guardian Shield is damaged significantly early in the piece, and this forces some changes in combat with the trusty Brok and Sindri being able to create new shields, but also, none of them are quite the same – you’ll need to learn the new intricacies of your new hardware, and outfit yourself according to your needs. This approach extends to both Kratos’ Leviathan Axe, as well as the beloved Blades Of Chaos as you choose the upgrades you wish to apply to best suit your play style. With the two iconic weapons themselves, you can even use their inherent elemental strengths to your advantage in combat in other ways that you could previously. The Leviathan Axe is imbued with an ice element, while the Blades of Chaos are fuelled by fire, and you can exploit enemy weaknesses with these respective weapons in fun ways.
In God Of War 2018, the drive with gear was more simple, just get the gear with the biggest and best stats, but now, there are finer differences in how these tools and upgrades work, so you’re not only looking to develop the biggest and the best gear, but also the gear that best suits the needs of the job ahead. The overall combat experience feels the same, but the subtle changes present in the game make the combat tick in different, more thought-provoking ways than it ever did nearly five years earlier.
In the mid 2000’s God Of War II successfully managed to bottle what made the original 2005 game so phenomenal, and somehow improve upon it. Nearly two decades on, and it seems as though Santa Monica Studio has managed to replicate the magic. I’m incredibly excited to push on beyond this first five hours, and I look forward to presenting you more information when the review drops on November 4th.