“God of War” fans had to wait a whopping 4.5 years for the sequel “Ragnarök” – and thus for the first Playstation 5 offshoot of the successful series. How does the war god Kratos fare in his second adventure with son Atreus? We’ve already played through the game – and reveal without spoilers what Sony has done well and what not.

Everything begins where it left off. The Fimbul winter feared in the predecessor “God of War” has arrived and the nine worlds are changing. For the home of war god Kratos and his son Atreus, that means snow and ice – lots of it. But said winter is not only ice cold, but is also considered in Norse mythology as the first of the four catastrophes that herald the downfall of the gods, called Ragnarök. So the game’s title pretty much sums up the direction in which it’s going. Again gods have to give up their place – and again Kratos is involved more or less voluntarily.

Important information first: “God of War Ragnarök” is an independent game that works wonderfully even if you don’t know the predecessor. A summary is available for new players in the start menu, which sums up the events of the first part. Emotionally you go into the game a little more distantly, but there is no lack of necessary background knowledge. There are also no advantages from older saves from the predecessor. As far as the equipment is concerned, you start almost from scratch, which noticeably surprises the dwarves who stood for hours at the forge in the predecessor.

Visit to Winter Wonderland

At the beginning of the game, things are initially homely. We accompany Kratos and the now teenage son Atreus in their native Midgard, where the two have largely withdrawn from world events despite the harsh winter and still live in the hut that served as a sleeping place for the two in the last part of the series. The severed head of the storyteller Mimir, which has been part of the inventory since “God of War”, has also moved in.

“God of War Ragnarok” really gets going when – again – there’s a knock on the door. Anyone who played the predecessor knows that uninvited guests at the wooden hut usually cause problems. Same this time. Again it is the gods knocking, again Atreus and his father set out to save the world. More is not revealed at this point.

Already in the first minutes of the game – and continuously until the bitter end after about 40 hours – you immediately know why “God of War” has so many fans and why the game was so longed for. “God of War Ragnarök” consists of wonderful storytelling in every sequence, the characters are believable and especially in the second part of this story the title lives on the relationship that you could already build up with the characters in the predecessor – above all, of course, Kratos and son, Mimir and the two dwarves Brok and Sindri.

Real Characters

The close bond comes from the fact that the stories of the characters and the events in the world are so well told. Kratos remains the grumpy warrior who finds it extremely difficult to show any emotion other than anger. Nevertheless, he takes his role as a father very seriously and feels a very special form of love for his son. As in the predecessor, the rampage struggles with his past and doesn’t really want to go back to his old role all the time, but the world forces him to do so.

The son Atreus, probably now a picture-perfect teenager, also struggles with himself and the world – because the obedient and mostly obedient son has now become an independent person who is often guided by his emotions and makes life difficult for the father . Parents assure us that the depiction in the game is extremely understandable and largely corresponds to the real facts.

Supporting actors like Sindri, Brok, the squirrel Ratatöskr and many familiar faces, which we don’t want to go into detail here, also play their roles perfectly. So much can be revealed: Even with the greatest antagonist of the story one can sympathize at times – the motives and intentions of the characters are so believable.

Everything serves a purpose

Incidentally, the same applies to the story and the missions themselves: Everything that Kratos, Mimir and Atreus experience and (should) do makes sense. At no point does one have to wonder why it is now absolutely necessary to get item A from dangerous cave B in order to bring it to character C. The common goal, even if its actual course remains uncertain up to the last minute, skilfully spans the story and motivates us to continue.

Even the side missions are affected by this – because of course there is again a release for countless Odin’s ravens, super difficult fights for particularly good equipment and cracks in the world, from which sometimes more than just a bag full of raw materials comes out. Almost all of it is woven into the main story, providing further information or explaining why things are the way they are. If the game were a movie, it would be a blockbuster.

And yet… a little annoying

Perhaps the greatest weakness of “God of War Ragnarök” is the gameplay. Because in the usual manner, the paths between the exciting conversations and breathtaking worlds are paved with tons of insignificant opponents. This does not mean the imposing boss fights or special encounters with the mostly wonderfully designed monsters of the different worlds, but the small groups of enemies that unnecessarily delay the process.

Smaller monsters await every five meters, which – after all with different companions – have to be cleared out of the way. It is unmistakably the old recipe of the “God of War” series, which unfortunately has aged quite badly and does not want to fit in with the otherwise wonderful and mature story. The constant beating has simply worn out, less is simply more.

Especially since you can hardly avoid a fight, because the monsters are part of the hose levels that make up a large part of “God of War Ragnarök”. Without clearing the paths with one of the three weapons (yes, three!), you can’t go any further. Titles like “Elden Ring” do it much better and show how it’s done. More selective fights and significantly reduced encounters would do the game very well. And if the constant banging should be required, then please optional and adjustable via switch in the settings.

The combat system itself hasn’t really evolved either. Enemies use colored rings to indicate how best to react, and new skills can be unlocked as you gain experience and upgrade your weapons. But: “God of War Ragnarök” also works with random button mashing, at least on the low levels of difficulty, so that many combo abilities are never really needed. The fights are too frequent and repetitive for that. You want to get it over with, not develop it.

The puzzles in the game, on the other hand, are okay, and there is not always a solution that opens up immediately. Here the game makes the exact opposite mistake and reveals after just a few seconds unsolicited comments from the companions what the solution could look like. This is useful in situations that you can’t handle anyway due to a lack of equipment, but is annoying if you just wanted to give yourself a break to think. The time span can be adjusted in the settings, but the default value is too short.

Graphics festival on Playstation 5

The compatibility with the Playstation 4 is also a bit of a shame – because the version for the newer generation of consoles suffers from it. In particular, “God of War Ragnarök” does not fully exploit the possibilities that the Playstation 5 controller actually offers. Apart from the very rare resistance of the shoulder buttons, a bit of sound from the controller and constant vibration, the versatile instruments of the Playstation 5 are not operated. Anyone who has played “Astros Playroom” or “Returnal” will notice that there was still a lot of room for improvement.

In terms of graphics, on the other hand, there is nothing to complain about. God of War Ragnarök looks absolutely fantastic on the Playstation 5 and runs buttery smooth. There’s an option to slightly change the resolution, frames per second, and image quality, but the console handles beautifully at the highest setting and doesn’t show any weaknesses. On the Playstation 4, players naturally have to accept cuts, only three modes are available here, 4K or 60 FPS are not possible.

Conclusion: Absolute must-buy

It is done. “God of War Ragnarök” is finally here and it should live up to 90 percent of what fans expect. The father-son story of Kratos and Atreus is wonderfully told, the deep dive into Norse mythology is like a movie. The scenes are beyond reproach, the characters quickly grow on you (even more) and the inner conflicts of important people are told in a comprehensible way. Towards the end – even without spoilers – a tear could flow.

Technically, the game gives almost everything, the implementation on the Playstation 5 is wonderfully successful – even if due to the downward compatibility with the Playstation 4 not all the stops of the new controller generation are pulled out.

The only flaws, the combat system and the many, many unnecessary monster groups, are more or less due to tradition. That’s how “God of War” has always been, that’s how it will stay. Although it’s not clear what direction a potential successor might take. That was very predictable at the end of the first part of the Nordic branch – after “Ragnarok” it’s not.