Please forgive the God of War Ragnarok spam: I’ve now finished the game and I’ll drop a few spoiler-tagged thoughts now I’m wrapped up.
Shorter, non-spoilery version: an extremely impressive sequel in that line of Sony first party singleplayer games that I’m mostly a sucker for. I think it does a lot right in picking up the father-son dynamics of the first game and running with them to interesting places now that Atreus is older, as well as massively expanding the world, lore, and most importantly cast of its predecessor. It’s kind of wild how in God of War you could almost count the characters with speaking roles - never mind major roles - on one hand, and in Ragnarok… well, that’s for the spoiler tag.
It’s by no means a flawless game; at times the hugely expanded scope felt like it got away from it and I wondered if it could find its way back to the core of the story (but it always did), some of the plot beats and/or characters they were attached to didn’t quite land for me, and for such a big budget, prestige presentation the minor technical hitches I ran into here and there really stood out (even though they never caused any major grief). But mostly my takeaway is simply one of being blown away by the performances, delivered in ever more nuanced voice, motion, and facial capture and being genuinely moved by more than a few character interactions and story turns.
Now, spoilers. Proper end of game, don’t read this unless you’ve finished it (or don’t care) spoilers. I think the thing I’ll be grappling with in digesting how much I actually liked Ragnarok will be the extent to which it was a story about Kratos, and the extent to which it was a story about Atreus. The easy answer is “it’s both, stupid”, but there’s a fascinating interplay between the mechanical reasons that Kratos remains the primary protagonist while Atreus arguably gets the narrative spotlight even though you play as him for far less of the total runtime. I do think they managed to strike a balance that worked though, and I was constantly surprised by the way, just when I thought I was going to roll my eyes at some contrived reason for family discord, one or the other of them would reach out to the other - often Kratos, less trapped by his grief of the first game, but also Atreus, usually after doing some (entirely understandable) stupid teen thing and then coming home when he realises his mistake.
I thought loads of the new characters were brilliant - Richard Schiff’s aging mobster Odin is stellar, but I loved spending time with Thrud and Angrbodr, got watery-eyed over Fenrir’s arc (multiple times. he is the largest, goodest boy), and enjoyed what they did with giving Thor some nuance and pathos to mirror Kratos’ journey, only cut short. Less impressed with Freyr who just never really landed for me, which made his final sacrifice feel hollow. It’s a shame because on the other hand they do spectacular work turning Brok and Sindri into another emotional pillar of the story, two comic relief characters who by all rights should not be able to carry that weight, and yet I was gutted by Brok’s death and staggered by the performance behind Sindri’s loss and rage.
A thing that I’m still curious about, after the game builds it up so much, has to be the fate of Kratos - so long is spent debating prophecy, whether people can change their fate. I was reasonably sure he’d survive just because I was expecting the game to be structured the same as 2018 where you continue playing after the credits and, bluntly, you’d need the skillset and equipment Kratos has. I’d wondered if, just maybe, another character would step into that role (as Freya did for Atreus). I came up with theories like that Kratos would die in battle and ascend to Valhalla and that would be both a way to fulfil the prophecy and see him return to Asgard unscathed. After the Norns describe destiny not so much as seeing the future as people being so predictable, I wondered if the game would make a big show of Kratos not being predictable, of refusing to kill - and now I think about it and rehash it here, I suppose he does offer mercy to both Thor and Odin. I guess I just find it remarkable that after all that, his survival goes so unremarked upon, but Atreus makes such a hasty exit maybe it got lost in the shuffle. Thematically, I do think I’m okay with Atreus going on his hero’s journey alone, and it’s obvious what they’re doing as Kratos watches him leave and become independent, but I can’t help but feel it’s kind of a rushed moment for the sake of that shot of him leaving when it would probably feel more natural for him to stay and just know he was going to search for the giants next.
Anyway, sorry for the long post/stream of consciousness reaction, it’s a game that left me with a lot of thoughts and desire to talk through scenes, share jokes (there is one from Mimir that absolutely killed me when I realised what he was asking where he prompts Kratos about his past and if he ever took part in a tournament, and it turns out he’s referencing PlayStation All Stars Battle Royale), and dig into what drove certain characters and narrative turns. Good stuff. I don’t think it can unseat Citizen Sleeper as my GOTY but it’s definitely in the top five for this year. Now, to get back to Return to Monkey Island and Horizon Forbidden West to see if they’ll make the list.