An hour into God of War: Ragnarok, and you’ll have already battled two gods. First up is Freya, who attacks your sledge as a hawk, trying to break Kratos’ neck with falling trees and avalanches. Next is Thor, with whom you take part in an epic, multiplanar smackdown that requires you to unleash both your inner rage and your trusty Leviathan Axe to smash him into the ground.
Welcome back to God of War.
In the latest instalment of the franchise, we rejoin father-son duo Kratos and Atreus three years after the events of God of War. This ended with Kratos killing a fair few gods and earning the mortal enmity of the goddess Freya, as well as Thor and Odin to boot. Oh, and Atreus was also revealed to be Loki, the person destined to bring about the Norse apocalypse, Ragnarok.
This time around, Atreus is a teenager and determined to find out more about his world-ending destiny – and Kratos is urging caution every step of the way.
But if fighting were required (spoiler alert: it is, a lot), at least the gameplay makes damn sure you’re going to have fun doing it.
Kratos operates with pretty much the same set of weaponry as in previous games – the Leviathan Axe and his ultra-hardcore Blades of Chaos. They both have a pleasingly different feel when you use them on the field of battle. They can also be upgraded over the course of the game with runes to suit your playstyle (for instance, whether you prioritise Strength over Defence).
Atreus still has his trusty bow, but he’s definitely more of a warrior this time around, with his own special attacks and new magic powers. However, apart from one or two scenes, you don’t play directly as him. Instead, he operates as a passive agent, helping Kratos out with puzzles and combat.
Fighting aside, one of the greatest strengths of this franchise is its rich lore, and it’s no different here. Kratos and Atreus’ relationship is sketched here in fine-line pencil, as beautiful and nuanced as ever: so much so that whilst playing the game, you become just as invested in their mutual growth as the amount of enemies you can nuke with your magic shield (more on that later).
Atreus is just coming into his powers (one unintended rampage early on serves as a cautionary tale that he still hasn’t learned how to manage his emotions). Meanwhile, the weathered Kratos has seen it all and is reluctant to jump straight into a full-scale war against the pair’s main enemy, Odin. And then there’s the graphics. As expected, Ragnarok is a serious PS5 showcase, where the details – the way the light reflects from stone or leather – are almost as dazzling as the screen-filling gods and monsters. It’s spectacular in the big moments and totally immersive when the action takes a breather.
For the full effect, play through headphones for the 3D audio and enjoy the thwack and thunder through the Dual Sense controller as Kratos punishes his foes. Sony has also pulled off a miracle on PS4, with a version that still manages to look magnificent while avoiding glitches and epic loading times.
Which is good, because as Kratos, you’re going to be doing a lot of exploring. Unlike in the previous game, you’ll be able to access and explore a whole nine realms, each with their more-or-less unique character.
Svartalfheim is a stunningly rendered vista of azure lakes and craggy mountains. Meanwhile, Alfheim is a land of deserts and gorgeous, hidden temples populated by creepy, blank-masked Light Elves.
As you might expect, there are also more types of enemies to test these skills out on as a result. There are a stunning five different difficulty settings (ranging all the way from Give Me Mercy, the easiest option, to Give Me God of War, the hellish one) meaning that even 20 hours in, I was still finding new ways to take down monsters.
That’s because the game also offers seasoned fans new things to experiment with. There are more runic power-ups, new special attacks, and then there is your ever-handy shield, which has been kitted out to be more offensive than ever before.
Being somewhat lacking in nuance, I opted for the Stone Wall shield, which absorbs the energy from blows and reflects it back at the attacker. However, the Dauntless shield will convert the energy of a perfectly timed parry into a devastating blow that will smash an enemy to the ground.
There’s a lot of pressure that comes with this latest release. God of War has been around a long time, and Kratos is as iconic a figurehead for PlayStation as Masterchief for Xbox.
With Sony refusing to create an Xbox GamesPass-style deal for its AAA games, it’s gambling on the fact that fans will be keen to pay big bucks (£62.99 on Amazon, for instance) for its big games and for its PS5 console to boot.
On the merits of God of War, they can rest easy. This game isn’t perfect. There are a few niggles with the climbing mechanic – having to laboriously climb down cliffs rather than jumping off them onto the ground below, for example. Meanwhile, frequent portal-travel means you spent more time wandering around Yggdrasil than anyone really wants to be doing. Plus, while the graphics are fantastic, Atreus’s face sometimes looks rather too blank or 2D than it should do.
But on all the essentials – the gameplay, the story, the world-building – it hits the nail on the head every single time. All hail God of War; we’re glad you’re back.