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Hands-On with the First Few Hours of God of War Ragnarök
Post by Steve Farrelly @ 12:00am 22/10/22 | Comments
We've been playing a review build of God of War Ragnarök and have been able to put together impressions based on the first few hours. Read on for our full thoughts...

Be warned, Dear Reader: this impressions-slash-hands-on-slash-preview is beholden to content restrictions. And that’s okay. What I can say that relates to these restrictions without stepping over the line is that God of War Ragnarök is a story and lore-heavy offering, and Santa Monica Studios doesn’t want us to spoil that for you; I don’t want to spoil that for you. That said, it’s important to relay cadence and to temper expectation. Which feeds into this nugget: if you’re a veteran of God of War (2018), particularly recently, pay attention…

You might just pick up on a few things.

Out of the Midgard gate, God of War Ragnarök is very much like God of War. To a degree that could border on ‘mirrored’, if you were to look closely. Cadence is an interesting thing here as it speaks volumes about those expectations, and it’s clear after just a short amount of time that Santa Monica Studios has wholly settled on just what makes this refreshed God of War angle and setup work. To that end, Ragnarök is an incredibly familiar experience; epically so, in some parts. Even in the early game.

It also doesn’t forget the past. It assumes you have an idea of what’s already transpired familial-wise, and isn’t afraid to just dump you neck deep into its snow-drenched depths. In fact you kick things off kind of where you left them at the end of God of War, but also where you started them -- at home. However, the staves that have long protected Kratos and Atreus digs aren’t as up to snuff as they once were and now undesirables are making their way to you -- Raiders, mostly. Other signs of life, finally, though quite mad and angry.

"You might just run into someone willing to have a decent conversation with you...”

An aspect I bemoaned about God of War was its apparent lack of life that wasn’t just out to kill you. And while in the early game the Raiders are in fact actually out to kill you, it’s kind of nice seeing some human faces out and about. But more than that it's a hint that in Ragnarök you won’t always be swinging Leviathan about, or wailing those Blades of Chaos of yours by the chains trying to start fires. You might just run into someone willing to have a decent conversation with you.

Since your feats in God of War a harsh winter has bitten Midgard called Fimbulwinter, and has come seemingly at the death of Baldur. What’s more is Freya hasn’t forgiven you for the death of her son, despite you having saved her life and things are kind of, well, not as good as they could be. There’s a moment early on in the game when Kratos sits on his bed. He looks tired, but not, you know, sleepy tired. Rather, he’s weary and downtrodden and aged. He’s as defeated as Atreus in understanding the “why?” of it all. At the passing of his love and Atreus’ mother, Faye, not all was understood, let alone revealed, and in this moment Kratos bears all of that, in each line in his face and tucked into the bags under each of his eyes, the weight of it all is very real.

"This is the story of a father and son dealing with loss, and as it did in the first game, it comes through in Ragnarök in spades...”

Before things kick off in proper God of War gameplay fashion, Santa Monica Studios goes above and beyond to remind us all this is the story of a father and son dealing with loss, and as it did in the first game, it comes through in Ragnarök in spades.

As mentioned above, there’s a certain tempo here that mimics that of the last game, but for fear of breaking a promise to the studio, and because we try to be a spoiler-free site, all I’ll say is your first foray back into one of the nine realms isn’t too far off, and it kicks off at an obvious place that was sorely missing in the first outing -- Svartalfheim, home of the dwarves.

"About two thirds into the Svartalfheim jaunt I started to think I’d been trolled a bit by the studio as the steep jump in challenge had me on the back foot...”

It’s in Svartalfheim that the mirror to the first game gets put away and instead what we’re given is something akin to the first game’s Lake of the Nine, in smaller (heh) form. There are quests galore in here, and brilliantly designed pockets of the world full of environmental and traversal puzzles, backed by challenging combat and a steady release of varying enemy types. In God of War Ragnarök there are five difficulty options that start at Story, then go on to Grace, Balance and No Mercy before capping off at Give Me God of War. I chose the latter as I Platinum’d God of War and consider myself a fairly good hand at it, and will say that early on things felt pretty dang easy. Almost too easy. However, about two thirds into the Svartalfheim jaunt I started to think I’d been trolled a bit by the studio as the steep jump in challenge had me on the back foot, but it was also at about this point that I started to look more deeply at the available RPG systems, realising I had a handy Sindri available to juice me up with the best gear and upgrades available to this point.

As was the case in the first game, the two dwarves are back and aside from having a fairly big part to play in most of the game’s story, they’ll also help you with your kit. You’ll collect resources from the game-world and let the smiths get to work on whatever items you want either crafted or upgraded. It’s a fairly rudimentary system, though the deeper into the game you go the more depth there is to uncover with sets and combinations of things. And as was the case the first time around, you largely micro Kratos, and only invest a little in Atreus. Both have Skilltrees similar to the first game and these you can do from anywhere in the game, but for gear you’ll need to find a handy pop-up store featuring our favourite Forged in Fire: Svartalfheim Edition champions.

"About two thirds into the Svartalfheim jaunt I started to think I’d been trolled a bit by the studio as the steep jump in challenge had me on the back foot...”

It's important to highlight that you'll have your Blades of Chaos from the outset, which does help in proceedings. As part of that whole 'sequel' tilt the game is on... you know, being a sequel and all. (It would have been weird not having them.) What this means is you'll be fighting fit with fire and ice right away and the game teaches you to combine the two and to think tactically about how that works -- for example, applying frost to leviathan and inflicting Freeze on an enemy means switching over to the Blades of Chaos will now deal more damage, and vice-versa (there's a slight delay in weapon switching though, and if you've left Leviathan in something, you have to wait for it to return to your hand, so there's risk-reward involved). You can also direct Atreus' arrows again, though in the early throes he only has so many and they feature a cooldown, so you can't spam the enemies, which is fair.

Speaking of enemies, the baddies even in the early part of the game can be pretty smart and difficult. Nightmares return and are just super annoying, while other enemies will climb up the environment to gain a height advantage on you and attack you with ranged abilities while you're mobbed by their buddies. It's still in keeping with what we played in God of War, but I'd argue it has gone to another level here, especially once you're in the thick of it in Svartalfheim.

Once you’re out in the world and can freely explore and tackle *most* things in the order you see fit, there’s a lot of familiarity. Nornir (rune) chests rear their puzzled heads again, as do Odin’s ghostly green ravens. There are other resource chests and mini-bosses out and about to tackle, while various bits of lore will come into play -- some just to merely flesh out the world, while others can spark quests or events. Mimir and Atreus maintain the same chatty disposition of the first game, serving up plenty of exposition and information based on where you are, what you’re doing and sometimes even when you’re not doing anything. The whole thing is like you never left the Nine Realms in the first place and everything is back just as you remember it.

Unfortunately we’re only allowed to talk about Svartalfheim from an impressions perspective, and we’ve tried to keep the story info lite-on to avoid spoilers, so this is about all you’re gonna get from us until review time. Just know this -- God of War Ragnarök is incredibly familiar, but more in the sense that the game wants you to treat this as a direct follow-on. Remember, according to the game and its myriad denizens -- you were *just* here.

Stay tuned for our full review of the game at 3AM AEDT Friday, November 4.

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