Since its 2005 beginnings, the God of War franchise has always been about launching players into the huge, brutal action of a man waging war against towering beasts and massive mythological gods.
The first handful of games focused on the man/god named Kratos seeking revenge for his murdered family against the Greek deities of Olympus. God of War, 2018’s reboot, set the now older Kratos on a journey of grief (while battling Norse gods along the way) with a young son from his second marriage in tow. And now God of War Ragnarök finds a scarred, weathered, wrinkled and more introspective god-killer once again facing Norse deities (Thor and Odin) while he and his now teenage son, Atreus, slash their way toward a war to end all things.
Kratos’ primary talent is still beheading and gutting enormous creatures and laying waste to magical beings. But with that 2018 reboot, he’s now also a father who’s, in a sense, guiding his son through a coming-of-age journey while also reflecting on the ravages of his own past choices.
The game story begins with a wily Odin, and the man-mountain god, Thor, requesting that Kratos stay out of Ragnarök: a preordained event leading to great carnage. Kratos, now older and wearier, would like nothing better. But the explorations of his god power-curious son, whom some have begun calling Loki thanks to some newfound magical abilities, won’t let that choice stand. And so, Kratos and Atreus wade into a quest soaked with the blood of their many powerful enemies.
Gameplay wise, this latest God of War continues to make battling and questing more realistic and gritty, as compared to the bombast and show of older games. And even though the overall story deals with broad, fantastical feuds between Norse gods in mythical realms, the quests also regularly turn to the emotional bonds between a father and his son as well as the deeply personal feelings of other characters.
Many of this edition’s new gaming mechanics focus on a faster tempo and new Kratos skillsets. Gamers play as Atreus, too, and apply his unique skillsets to the battle mix.
When looking beyond the battle gore, we find a surprisingly tender tale here. It speaks of familial ties and grief; the feelings of not only Kratos and Atreus but others around them. And in the end, this is a tale of a father—albeit an angry, brusque and death-dealing one—preparing his son for the torments of life while learning to let go of a boy who has become a man.
Visceral and realistic gore, death dealing (and more gore) abounds.
Battles with centaurs, trolls, dragon creatures, Valkyries, giant wolves, magical monstrosities, wights and powerful gods are frenetic and intense. Gamers use a wickedly sharp axe, chained blades, spears, arrows, fists and feet to bloody, hack and rip open their foes. Kill moves also slow the action and focus in on brutally graphic punctures and neck-hacking dismemberments. Blood spurts regularly and profusely.
The foul language spurts freely, too, in the form of f- and s-words and uses of “b–tard,” “a–,” “d–n” and “p–ck.” And there is some mead-swilling here, too. One character is often drunk.
With its newly thoughtful side, God of War: Ragnarok isn’t exactly the same as the bombastic and brutal God of War games some may remember. But it’s still a very savage and bloody quest.
After spending more than two decades touring, directing, writing and producing for Christian theater and radio (most recently for Adventures in Odyssey, which he still contributes to), Bob joined the Plugged In staff to help us focus more heavily on video games. He is also one of our primary movie reviewers.