I was beyond thrilled when IconEra's very own @Bryank75 offered me a free code of God of war Ragnarok to play. As a general rule, I am not normally one to buy new games on release as one; my backlog is rather immense, stuff you Sony for all those cheap bargain sales, and two; that seventy entrance point is a tad too high in terms of financial spending. Outside of rare treats like my beloved Diablo franchise which I can say after playing Beta I am extremely excited for, I don't really get the chance to play a lot of new game releases.
On finally downloading the game, which by my third-world country connection, (namely England) it took me the best of three days to finally complete it, I then dropped my sweet arse down on the couch and started to play.
I remember fist-pumping the air and shouting out "Hell yer " as the God of War Logo booted up front and center onto my television screen, sort of what I imagine to be a similar experience when @Dr Bass scores on his weekly grab-a-granny night out.
For reference purposes ‘The Last God of War’ was one of my absolute favorites games of the last generation. I have extremely fond memories of it with its incredible setting and characters, and killing that absolute Bitch of a boss, the Valkyrie Queen.
So with all that in mind, I found myself slightly perplexed as my expectations for the new game did not meet my personal hype levels.
To be absolutely clear here, I found the first twenty hours or so hours of general gameplay a bit of a letdown.
Now before people run at me with pitchforks and chuck dog poo through my letterbox, (typical Liverpool supporters) let me be crystal clear and say this from the out start, God of war Ragnarok is an excellent game.
The game looks great, the characters are all well acted and the side-quests etc are all of the highest standards, but unlike other fluff pieces that reward games with perfect scores of 10/10 in the hope of getting a nice gaming chair, I am not one to be swayed so easily.
There is an old proverb that states ‘Familiarity breeds contempt’ and for me that sums up God of War Ragnarok's initial 15-20 hours or so.
To be honest, the first twenty hours felt like I was playing the old God of War, to put it mildly, a glorified DLC of sorts. I mean this is not a bad thing in retrospect, but i expected something new, something more fresh.
To me, nothing had really changed in the game. Yes, there was a really sad moment in the first few hours of the game regarding a family pet pooch, stuff you Santa Monica for that scene.
Besides that tear-jerk scene, there is also a meet and greet in your local cabin with Odin and Thor which felt like it had more in common with an episode of the Sopranos than it did with a couple of Asgardian gods, but after that, a feeling of Deja vu began to set in hard and fast with me.
-The cast of the crew was still too familiar with that ever-annoying teenage kid that I really wanted to slap silly, and by slap I mean knock his block off.
-Kratos was still that overbearing over-protective parent that wants everybody back by ten and tucked in for the night.
-Then you have that Mr condescending head himself Mimir, with his none stop cries of Brother BROTHER BROTHER.
-Characters like Brok and Sindri although still fan favorites had lost some of their enchanting banter spark with scenes like ‘I just touched something Dirty and I want to gag’ feeling slightly stale in the comedy antics this time around.
-Environments although beautiful were also extremely linear in their design philosophy. My first question in the first couple of hours of gameplay was, "How many bloody logs do I have to keep picking up to get to open up the next path?" more importantly, why is Kratos putting the damn things back in exactly the same spot so I have to lift them all over again when I backtrack through the same area again.
Ok, we all know why those tree logs are in the game there but it does get a bit tiresome sometimes.
One of the loudest sighs I made was in finding a magic chest less than a minute away from the starting cottage location, I remember thinking to myself “Why is this here, and more importantly why has it not been found and opened up yet, what the hell have these wannabe heroes been doing out here for all this time, it cant be exploration by the look of this.
I was also getting annoyed with the over usage of puzzles at the beginning of the game, I understand that they are part of God of War's intricate DNA but I felt like I was running into sections where kill a few monsters, then having to figure out some asinine puzzle was like a part of a checklist of repeat and repeat again, to make matters worse it was actually beginning to grate on me.
One thing I hated about the early sections of a mining environment section was in its water/freezing puzzles. Does the fate of the universe really rely on me figuring out how to open and close some gate, after half a dozen times of doing this, i was like hell's Bells not this shit again, I just wanna smash stuff.
I remember being stuck on one particular puzzle for about thirty minutes, the issue was not in the puzzle's complexity but rather that I was overthinking it. For some unknown reason I treated the puzzle like it needed the cerebral fortitude of Sherlock Holmes to solve it, when I finally cracked it with ‘Doh, throw axe here to make stuff freeze I was like, sweet Jesus Dean, you really are one stupid son of a gun.
The terrible truth was, after about twenty hours of playing the game I was totally fatigued and at one stage was seriously considering just putting the whole thing down.
I remember taking a quick gander on the icon era's public Discord channel and seeing a couple of my good friends mainly @Dodkrake @arvfab and @Gediminas chatting about the game, be all accounts those three musketeers were actually having a total blast.
At one stage I was beginning to think "Oh no Bryank is absolutely going to Ham at reading this review" (I think that's what the cool kids say now these days.)
Well as lady luck would have it, my persistence in playing the game was about to change and with it I found out that God of War is literally a game of two halves.
Firstly the positives of the game finally begin to shine through, and just like a pale English man sunbathing naked on a busy Spanish shore, (@TubzGaming on his usual holiday) they started to come through in spades.
On reaching the Lake of Nine I found some really imaginative level design at play. Hidden paths, secrets treasures routes but more importantly, the ability to explore at will with little or no restrictive routes in play. Through the aid of my trusty wolf-drawn sled I could actually see vistas in the distance and more importantly, transverse to them. These open areas felt like a breath of fresh air, with open scope and exploration finally superseding those narrow pathways of the past.
The scalability of the environments in terms of height and breadth really started to become apparent too with Kratos and co-climbing to high viewpoints that would not feel out of place in a movie like Legends of the fall. (One of my favorites movies ever)
A few screenshots of the Beauty of God of War
Locations like the great wall of Asgard, see picture below, gave a true reflection of just how gigantic this world is.
Admit it @rofif, those screenshots rock.
Graphically the game is spectacular, considering that this is one of those “Held Back” cross-generation games, it is staggering to think what the power of the Ps5 console will deliver once its full unbridled power is released.
Characters also take a turn for the better with the first meeting of a delightful new character call Angrboda. This character is not only charming but wonderfully well-acted too. I can still remember reading a thread about her introduction to the series with a section of people being rather worried that she was just being included for the sake of so-called “Diversity.”
Without being too politically correct here, (fuck politics tbh), I can attest to the fact that the person playing Angrboda is a wonderfully gifted actor. I enjoyed her interactions with Loki immensely and liked her somewhat playful persona to no end, saying that, the section of Ironwood, the area where she inhabits went on a little bit too long for my personal taste.
Second on the list of excellent characters is lovely Freya, a woman of strength and revengeful scorn. Once again her character is excellently portrayed, although I did find her forgiveness a little bit quick in terms of pacing as she forgave Kratos a bit too rapidly for snapping old Balder's neck.
I had similar feelings to the pacing of the recent television series The Last of us. In its defense, there is only so much time in an episode to get the story through to the viewing public, as a result some scenes might feel rushed or forced to a point. To me Freya went from an Extremely Angry vengeful woman with I want to burn you alive to REM'S Happy Shiny People in just the space of a couple of hours.
-Thor is a fantastic Ginger behemoth of a man who can not hold his drink, torn between wanting to be a good father and being basically abused into doing his father's nefarious bidding. He is a somewhat sad version of the all-too-popular character, it's an interesting take on him.
- Lady Sif, Thor's wife or Asgard's First God Milf is stern and beautiful in her appearance.
Thrud, the last remaining member of this dysfunctional family, is a spiky little wanna-be Valkyrie who at one stage I thought might end up being Loki's first love crush but I totally got that wrong. (Should have read the Damn Wiki)
But it was with my climbing ascent to the village of the Gods that I met up with no other than Heimdall. A truly sinister character in his founding. This snotty-arsed douchebag is not only cruel in action but menacing in his approach. His whole persona was done so well that i actually took pride in killing him, it is a true testament to someone's acting skills if they get under your skin like that.
-Side note (Can anyone explain to me why Loki did not turn into a bear when he was threatened by Heimdall on the edge of the cliff? I thought at that stage of the game he had no control over his ability and with it, it would automatically trigger when he was under threat or great stress.
-Lastly is Odin, which to be fair I have slightly mixed feelings about in terms of his portrayal. I found his performance to be slightly off from how I would have liked or imagined it to be, I wanted him to be more in line with Edward Longshanks, if you remember him from the movie Braveheart.
Truth be told, all of the game's characters are fantastically played with the acting and dialogue being second to none. To put it bluntly, we are taking Oscar-equivalent performances all over the place here.
Many of the game's characters will also escort you on your adventures, sharing personal stories of past events, I found these titbits to be really interesting in adding depth or fleshing out their sometimes misunderstood personalities,
The characters also have a whole range of interesting abilities that you are able to turn to in the heat of battle. The dwarfs for example, have a variety of explosives gadgets that can be hurled around to blow up and stun advancing monsters, while Angreboda has a set of skills that I can only describe as a jet of exploding rainbow paint wash.
-Angreboda's spell weaving reminded me of yet another favorite game of mine, that being the original Horizon Zero Dawn. There is a section in that game where Aloy visits a pool of water that is being used to dye clothing fabric in. Those colors are some of the most gorgeous hues I have ever seen in a video game. (Hopefully, someone can remember that scene)
-A slight negative I found within the characters is that I would of loved to have actually played them instead of them being a tag-along sidekick to me, perhaps this will happen in a future DLC.
Take these three examples below
-Just Imagine playing as the ever-deceitful Odin, sulking around the halls of Asgard, manipulating, gas-lighting realm leaders into doing his bidding.
-Or play as Thor, perhaps visiting brothels, trying to chat up the Valkyries, or simply participating in feats of strength such as arm wrestling or throwing large pieces of timber around like those crazy Scottish people do.
-Or playing as Sif as she sets up her only fans page, wait never mind that last piece of thought.
Away from the game's wonderful characters, we have its music. Not much to say here personally, as all of it seemed to deliver the usual high-quality orchestral moments of visiting epic vistas or pumping out that menacing sound of chest-pounding drum beats right before you engage an enemy in an epic battle. All in all, very good stuff here.
Now with the games appetizers out of the way, let's move on to that Mitichin stair main course.
No spoilers here, but the telling of this fable might simply be the best thing about God of war Ragnarok.
There are so many touching moments within its story, from tender moments of self-reflection to personal loss and forgiveness. The game is a complete emotional roller-coaster from start to finish and it has you strapped into the front row of the traveling cart.
The writers have truly excelled in this area, not only managing to create a work of art but in some respects, they have created a new medium of storytelling, this is not just a game anymore, it is an art form.
As for some of my favorite moments in the game, these mainly revolve around some of Kratos's simple reactions. From a sharp turn of his head to a menacing glare in his eyes, there was even a scene where he made a low-level sounding grunt signifying his dissatisfaction about something. There is true weight and application to some of these interactions.
To sum the writing up, if this game was a book, it would not look out of place on the New York best-selling times list. I say this now and with full confidence, God of War Ragnarok's story is worth the price of its admission alone.
Sidequests add yet another sparkling facet to the game, just like the main story they are all excellently written and add not only variety but depth of personality to the already larger-than-life God of war universe.
Not trying to spoil it, but you're going to have a whale of a time with some of the side quests.
Now with all that out of the way, here are some thoughts on what I personally see as by far the best feature of the game.
I remember once being told that God of War is nothing more than button mashing experience, to the person out there who said this, I hope your doing well but an apology now. (Slap)
The combat for a better use of words is simply sublime. The original game's combat was fantastic in its own right but somehow the magicians of Santa Monica have not only managed to improve it but have basically one-upped it. It is simply ludicrous what they have achieved here.
Every move, every thrust or parry has a snappy responsive timing to it, switching between different weapons and skills sets, avoiding attacks, parrying with your shield, and all at the same time taking full advantage of gifts of graces makes Kratos an absolute monster in combat scenarios.
Besides the outlandish feel of combat, we also have executions. Some of the dismemberment are so brutal at times, it makes you question if you are actually playing God of War or Mortal Kombat. I can tell you there were many a time when I was sat there, giggling, laughing, saying WTF was that, it really is fantastic stuff in its showing.
-Weapons are as per usual represented by the Leviathan axe and blades of Chaos (don't fix what is not broken) and you also get to use a new weapon called the Draupnir spear which truly feels at home here in Kratos already the most magnificent arsenal.
Pro Tip here ( use this weapon + the legendary armor set that adds % damage to detonations to make easy work of that Berserker fight and the two witches)
(side note) Executions variety.
I did find an over usage or rather repetition when it came to the execution of dragons and drakes within the game. Every single kill, I think there were about ten of them in total boiled down to the same shoot three arrows, stab with a dagger and then watch Kratos rip the beast's head in two. (It's a very small negative here, but I wished there was more variety in those kills)
As for the difficulty of the game, I played it all on the default setting and will say the challenge feels just about right, I am soon to be fifty, in April to be exact, and my reactions and eyesight are not anywhere as good as they used to be.
The bosses themselves are very fun and interactive and in most cases have multi-stages to complete them, not once did I feel frustrated except for a boss called the Maven which I found in the Library zone location. I went to this optional boss a little bit too early in my play-though and she give me a particularly hard time as I just could not seem to work out how to consistently parry her timings, eventually, I decided to just avoid her attacks altogether, and with that, I walloped her pesky arse.
End game content.
Once you finally finish the game it's off to fight the Berserkers
Dotted all around the realms are a series of tombstones that need to be activated by the use of a sword's hilt.
These Berserker foes can go from a good hard fight to I feel like I am fighting the incredible hulk. They are the pinnacle of God of Wars' combative foes.
I believe there are a total of twelve encounters and once all are defeated you gain access to the Berserker king who is basically a huge meat shield that has access to everyone one of the other Berserker's skills before him.
Some of the later Berserker fights in the game will have you feeling like you are banging your head against a brick wall with some of their attacks capable of one shoting you if you are not paying attention.
To be fair my biggest struggle came with the two Berserkers bosses known as Bodvar the Fierce and Starolfr the Trouble-sin. You fight these two at the same time and I must have easily died over one hundred times before I finally bested them. These guys give me flashbacks to what my ancestors of old must of faced when those pesky Vikings raided our good old English shores to kill our monks, steal our treasure and rape our goats.
To you Scandinavian people out there, mainly @PropellerEar and co, I want my reparations and I want them now.
Unfortunately I missed the first few minutes of the recording but should give you some idea of what these two were like.
As for the final Berserker boss, I found him slightly easier than the previous two Berserkers as I believe I had come to terms with learning all of his attack patterns. I was basically Neo in the matrix, in tune and inflow with my surroundings. ( I still died thirty times fs)
On a slightly negative note, I will say that some of this content is probably too hard for the casual gamer, I can not state this enough, these fights are incredibly difficult to master.
Just for reference, @arvfab did the entire game on the hardest setting, which included all the berserker fights, he is either the world's most hardcore gamer or he simply does not have a life (Sorry bud, what I give with one hand I must take away with the other)
I eventually finished up in a place called Muspelheim to complete some fun combat quests, then finally, I turned my attention to the new Valkyrie queen.
Pro tip here, don't attempt to do her at a low level. I first engaged her when I was level seven and was basically wearing rags, the fight lasted about one second, it really was a brutal put-down.
God of War Ragnarok took me approximately 65 hours to complete, which included several hundred deaths on those insane Berserker trails.
When I finally decided that I had enough of the game, I still had some basic stuff to finish like finding some ravens, scrolls of lore etc. I like challenges but could not be bothered searching or doing mundane tasks just to complete a trophy. As for the value proposition of this game, it works out to be about a dollar for an hour of gameplay.
For the quality of entertainment on display, the Stella storytelling and the sublime combat, I am going to recommend this game as a seventy-dollar purchase, As a somewhat cheap bastard this declaration grates on me slightly but it is a testament to just how good and how fantastic the quality of this studio is.
Some points that affected the overall score of the game.
-I played, the game using the 60 fps option, I did not experience any slowdown in my play-through, and no crashes etc, saying that I did see around 30+ bits of pop throughout my journey. I usually sit close to my television and although not jarring to the overall experience of the game, it was extremely noticeable to see parts of the scenery load in late.
-Some repetition in backtracking, some unclear objectives within the map area that I had trouble navigating to. I remember trying to visit an area on the map that kept telling me that there was an undiscovered event within it. I spent over an hour trying to locate this area only to find out later that the location was only available to the player after completing the main story mode of the game. I wish I had been informed of this insight earlier instead of running around like a headless chicken for so long
-Muspelheim quest reward items are obtained by doing certain arena sequences. Do the left pillar, then the right, then the middle and you get a pair of boots, do it in another sequence you get a pair of gloves. Seriously whoever thought this should be shipped off to Alaska. For the love of God Santa Monica, just make some extra damn portals at the spawn event and be done with it all.
-Monster encounters in regards to diversity are much improved from the original game with a host of new mobs to fight and slay, however I still think they could go further as I found an overabundance of the same monster type in certain locations.
God of war review 92%
Magnificent story telling at its best.