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God of War Ragnarök Preview - Spoiler-Free Impressions from the First Five Hours

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The biggest question no one wants to answer about God of War Ragnarök is what happens next? God of War (2018) fully acknowledges everything that has already happened in Kratos’ story, while establishing a fascinating new direction for the series. The narrative offered a fresh perspective on Kratos’ difficult life and his attempt to build a new one, and somehow managed to end with a satisfying conclusion, while also leaving plenty of thread for fans to discuss and theorize over the course of four years. I’ve played the first five hours of Ragnarök and can already answer a surprising number of these questions. I don’t want to ruin this story experience (and I won’t), but I’d be happy to share if I think you’re excited for the next chapter.

The short answer is yes, you should definitely get excited. Ragnarök picks up pretty much where the last game left off, and the adventure kicks off strong in a tradition that goes back to the first God of War game in 2005. The opening quickly showcases great production values ​​from expert animators and artists with multiple sequences reminding me why it took years to create these epic experiences. Both new and old characters appear and performances remain some of the best video games have to offer.

The one-shot camera also returns and immediately proves its worth. In the previous game, it excelled at making the player feel like they were living the adventure in real time in a fully realized place. That remains true here and even pulls in new tricks to present the story in unique and meaningful ways.

The combat of the first five hours is mostly familiar to previous experience, which is not a complaint. The story of God of War may be the element you think about and buy into for a long time after seeing the credits, but what keeps you busy right now is the war. Unlike the 2018 game, Kratos starts with a larger arsenal and it feels great to throw and retrieve the Leviathan Ax again.

One of the few common complaints with the first game was the lack of enemy diversity, and the team at developer Santa Monica Studio openly addressed this criticism for the follow-up. Even if I only played for five hours, I believe I’ve killed more types of enemies than the entire first game, and fought more mini-bosses with unique defeat stats and designs. Not every new enemy is exciting – I’ve killed a lot of one-hit running lizards – but I appreciate the variety, especially with larger enemies.

I’ve also come across a few new mechanics that Kratos can use to pick up parts of the environment like rocks and small trees and deal massive damage quickly. The addition of these perimeter weapons is a minor touch, but uprooting a tree and using it as a baseball bat turned out to be fun.

I hope I made it clear, I won’t ruin anything about the story, but an unexpected event for me so far has been the dialogues. Mimir joins you from the very beginning this time, not halfway through the previous game. The relationship between the three men (Atreus is no longer “The Man”) feels like a tough dad, a gifted but over-enthusiastic boy, and a smart uncle who gives good advice. The familiarity of continuing professional friendship was locked even more this time. The result of these three overlapping personalities is often unexpectedly hilarious. Kratos is the ultimate straight man with zero tolerance for joy, and Mimir is a headstrong designed to tell stories and jokes. I clung to each word spoken more than I did in the previous game.

This startling humor also extends to a diary where Kratos takes notes about the journey and provides details about characters you may have forgotten. For example, in one introduction, Kratos talks about Brok. He won’t admit that you like him, but is willing to write “I find him an acceptable friend”.

So far, God of War Ragnarök lives up to the unfair expectations we place on its imposing, pale shoulders. The first five hours of the game are impressive but also feel like the surface is barely scratched. Now it’s under my feet. I remember the returning cast, getting familiar with the newcomers, and getting into the habit of parrying again with my shield. Now I’m ready to see the rest of the journey and can’t wait to see what happens next.

For more on God of War Ragnarök, check out the hub from the moment we unveiled the game on our cover.