A World of Possibilities
The release of God of War in 2018 brought with it a game design feature that truly impressed players – its semi-open world. As they guided Kratos and Atreus through Midgar on their boat, they had the chance to discover hidden areas, tackle sidequests, and confront new adversaries. As the game progressed, more and more areas in Midgar became accessible for exploration.
Now, with the upcoming release of God of War Ragnarök, Santa Monica Studio has taken this aspect to a whole new level. Having played approximately seven hours of the sequel, I can confidently say that the studio has doubled down on the exploration element. In fact, I’ve spent so much time on side exploration that I’ve barely scratched the surface of the main story.
While many aspects of God of War Ragnarök might feel familiar to returning players, it is the exploration that has undergone the most significant evolution. This newfound freedom allows players to tackle side objectives right from the beginning of the journey, granting them a deeper immersion into Kratos’ world before diving into the heart of his adventure.
A Divine Challenge
After a few introductory scenes in the realm of Svartalfheim, Kratos and Atreus embark on a journey using a boat similar to the one they had in the first game. As I rowed across different parts of Svartalfheim, I couldn’t help but notice the wealth of optional activities available for me to engage with.
There was no shortage of sidequests to undertake. One such quest involved shutting down three gantries scattered throughout Svartalfheim, which proved essential in reducing pollution in the realm. These gantries presented a variety of puzzles, often incorporating hydraulic lifts. Kratos had to rely on his frozen Leviathan ax to hold gears in place with ice while leaping across massive rocks, replicating a mechanic from the first game.
Additionally, I encountered a new type of puzzle that required freezing geysers to create pressure, causing water to gush out elsewhere and activating a turbine. This, in turn, opened gateways to the next area, adding a refreshing twist to the puzzle-solving experience.
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The game strikes the perfect balance with these puzzles – not overly complex, yet challenging enough to keep players engaged. At times, I found myself momentarily stuck, unsure of the next step to progress. For instance, I hadn’t realized that I could freeze water gushing out of pipes using the Leviathan ax. Once I discovered this solution, the rest of the puzzle fell into place. There were moments when I had to resort to trial and error, such as throwing my weapon at an object, to activate Atreus’ dialogue hints, which provided valuable guidance for solving the puzzles.
Fortunately, accessibility options are on hand to assist players during such moments. God of War Ragnarök builds upon the excellent accessibility work seen in games like The Last of Us Part II and Horizon Forbidden West. I particularly appreciate the option for Kratos to automatically pick up every item, including health stones, resources, and loot, which removes the tedium from the game and allows players to tailor their experience to their liking.
My personal favorite accessibility feature, the high-contrast mode, makes a return in Ragnarök. It enables players to adjust various aspects of the game to apply contrast, making it easier to identify interactable objects and solve puzzles. In my case, I set the color blue to highlight interactable objects, ensuring that I never got stuck for too long.
A Voyage of Conversations
Boat banter was a highlight in the previous God of War, and I’m thrilled to report that it returns in full glory for Ragnarök. Kratos and Atreus engage in casual conversations about various topics while sailing around, providing players with invaluable insights into their evolving relationship. Even if interrupted by docking at a shore, the duo remembers their discussions and picks up where they left off once back on the boat. It’s a simple yet effective way of reinforcing the bond between father and son.
I particularly enjoyed the conversations with Mimir, the God of Wisdom. His vast knowledge of Norse mythology brings valuable context to the game’s world-building. From the game’s onset, Mimir accompanies the duo, and his witty and entertaining dialogue adds depth to the overall experience. One interaction that stood out to me involved Mimir humorously suggesting that Kratos could use his Blades of Chaos as kitchen knives. Kratos rejects the idea, explaining that the blood on the blades would spoil the meat. Mimir’s nonchalant reaction of “Ah OK, carry on then!” perfectly captures the humorous exchanges that sprinkle the game’s downtime.
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Such conversations breathe life into God of War Ragnarök, infusing the world with personality. There were moments when I deliberately postponed docking my boat, just so I could revel in the crew’s ongoing conversation.
As for the story itself, it is still too early to determine the full impact of Ragnarök – the catastrophic event predicted to bring about the demise of numerous Norse gods, with Kratos and Atreus positioned at the center of it all. Atreus’ insatiable curiosity drives him to seek ways to prevent Ragnarök. He has matured since the last game, evident in his noticeably deeper voice. This growth reminds me of the transition between Square Enix’s Kingdom Hearts and Kingdom Hearts II, where the protagonist’s voice actor experienced the changes of puberty. While Atreus still displays moments of defiance towards his father, his demeanor exhibits more patience and composure.
The true extent and outcome of God of War Ragnarök’s narrative remain shrouded in mystery. To uncover its secrets, I will eventually need to rein in my urge for exploration and venture further into the story.
A World Waiting to be Discovered
I am genuinely thrilled by the early opening-up of God of War Ragnarök’s world. The exploration aspect shines brightly, offering numerous delightful surprises. Players can expect an array of fresh puzzles, complemented by familiar elements from the previous game, such as the Nornir chests that challenge Kratos to ring bells with his ax within a time limit to unlock them.
Combat, too, opens up early, granting Kratos immediate access to both the Leviathan ax and the Blades of Chaos. This expanded repertoire of options sets the game apart and sets the stage for an exciting and distinct experience compared to its predecessor – one I eagerly anticipate conquering.
God of War Ragnarök will launch on November 9 for PS4 and PS5.
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