Santa Monica Studio Somehow Outdoes Itself With ‘God of War: Ragnarök’ – Review
2018’s God of War was in a race by itself—the narrative beats and high points of creative director Cory Barlog’s vision to bring the series into the world of Norse mythology was a gorgeously potent endeavor. There is more than enough praise for that studio. And yet, more roses need to be thrown their way for God of War: Ragnarök.
What should have been a victory lap felt more like an all-out sprint from a sequel looking to prove yet again that this story matters—though the point was already driven home 17 years ago. It’s a testament to the Santa Monica team’s commitment from the start of the God of War series. Kratos brings back his brood and stoicism but with more complexity in the latest title. His relationship with his son wavers between concern and frustration, but the stakes are finely tuned to the needs of the narrative to keep us immersed in their bond.
To see Sunny Suljic grow alongside Atreus, awkward teens and all, gestures to Richard Linklater’s 2014 film Boyhood, filmed from 2002 to 2013 and featured actors who grew up on screen. The poignant connective tissue keeps us engaged—Kratos clinging to the back of a rickety sled mushed by a pair of wolves while a vengeful foe makes no effort to hold back their rage. The climax here is the prospect of losing his son, which is painfully present in every plea and shout Kratos unleashes in the opening sequence.
Matt Sophos, Richard Gaubert, and the creative team at Santa Monica keep the narrative central to the experience—the addition of new defensive options, the extensive upgrade system to Kratos and Atreus’ weaponry, and the quality-of-life changes that streamline the experience still stand second to a triumphant story. Signature moves added to weapons expand the combat experience to include a sort of “choose your own” combat style when engaging with enemies, and there are many.
Enemy variation is immediately introduced within the first couple hours of play, a feature the design team seemed eager to incorporate following the criticism of the 2018 title. And the cast of returning characters accentuates the tonal shifts in the narrative: Brok (Robert Craighead), Mimir (Alastair Duncan), and Sindri (Adam J. Harrington) provide enough comic relief to go around, but they also serve as charming stand-in uncles to Atreus, ready to keep Kratos in check even in the face of his mounting frustrations with his son.
The new faces introduced shine brightly in God of War: Ragnarök. Ryan Hurst’s pompous and dryly humorous Thor provides a tense juxtaposition to the furious God of War. When Richard Shiff’s Odin shows up, the mood works only at the mercy of these massive figures bringing pure chaos. The more profound exploration of Norse mythology, with a sincere performance by Laya DeLeon Hayes’ Angrboda to Suljic’s Atreus and Usman Ally’s quirky Durlin, comes together in one of the richest PlayStation titles of late.
God of War in 2018 was about parenthood, and the same still rings true in Ragnarök, but Atreus stands up for himself and highlights the story of children, expectations, and a yearning for knowledge; the themes pair well with Midgard as a backdrop. God of War: Ragnarök is an extension of the original story of grief, fear, and pride, and it takes the emotional potency of its predecessors and drives home a need—a need for this story to exist.