God of War Ragnarok impressions: Family matters

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The upcoming God of War Ragnarok is Sony’s crescendo for 2022, launching on November 9. I played the first few hours of Ragnarok on PlayStation 5, and whoo boy, if that was anything to go by, this sequel is going to be a doozy.

There’s a lot I can’t say because of spoilers, but the first thing that struck me was that Ragnarok is arrestingly beautiful. Kratos and Atreus’s Midgardian home is beset by the snows of Fimbulwinter, making it an even more bleak place than it was before, and it looks amazing on PS5. During the preview period, the two also visit Svartalfheim, home of the dwarves. Its festering marshlands and populous city of Nidavellir are visually distinct from other series locations. When we first arrived in the realm, both Atreus and I stopped to gasp.

The combat is also improved, with Kratos’s signature weapons — the Leviathan Axe and the Blades of Chaos — available right from the start. Kratos has several more moves at his disposal he didn’t have at the beginning of the last game, and he has more enemies upon which he can use them. I played on the medium-ish difficulty and found the combat relatively easy to pick up and learn, though I would like to play against harder enemies before I pass final judgment.

There’s an early battle between Thor and Kratos that’s particularly satisfying to play. The gameplay’s speed tune-up is most noticeable here. It’s not a hard fight by any means – if anything, it seems like Thor is playing with his food. But it’s absolutely stunning to watch, especially as Thor is the first character to give Kratos a real run for his money in a while. I’m not going to go into detail, since I think it’s something everyone deserves to experience for themselves.

Kratos and Atreus: The dynamic changes

One thing that always struck me as odd about God of War 2018 was its selective memory with regards to the preceding games in the series. It’s not a full reboot — Kratos is the same individual across the whole series. But out of his many, many acts of violence in the original games, the only one to which the 2018 title overtly refers multiple times is his killing of his father, Zeus. I understand why — Kratos’s disastrous “relationship” with his father is the reason he treats son Atreus the way he does, as he desperately wants Atreus to break this cycle and be better than he was.

What the game fails to mention is what started the whole mess. Him simply stating “I killed my father” to Atreus is leaving out a lot of complicated backstory that would put that act in context. The one crime Kratos with which has historically never squared himself is his rage-induced killing of his first wife and his daughter. The end of the 2018 game implies he’s made peace with it, but he doesn’t tell Atreus that. And, if the opening hours of Ragnarok are any indication, he still has not mentioned his firstborn to anyone.

At the beginning of Ragnarok, multiple other characters are on Kratos’s case because of their children. Freya is angry at him because he killed Balder. Thor is angry with him for killing Magni and Modi. Even Atreus, now a teenager and much less intimidated by his father than he used to be, has some opinions on Kratos’s skill as a father. If they really wanted to hit Kratos with an uncomfortable truth, any of them could easily point out that Kratos is only one-for-two on not murdering his own offspring (so far).

Something about the increased tension between Atreus and Kratos makes me wonder whether that particular fact will finally come up in conversation. It definitely feels like something is going to cause a break between the two. I look forward to finding out the further into the journey we go.

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