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God of War: Ragnarök | No War 3

Nov 07 - 17:18, by Jed7

God of War: Ragnarök | No War 3 In 2018, Santa Monica achieved the feat of moving Kratos, a Greek hero, in the setting of Norse mythology, sacred land of the Scandinavians and the Nazis, sticking a kid in his paws in order to humanize the adventure without sacrificing the legendary brutality of the god of war. Four years later, the little Atreus has molted and the studio is about to close the adventure in a sequel that you won't understand if you haven't played the first one, so be warned.

There is neither evil nor good. The gods are not good; they are not evil. They are sometimes greedy, angry, generous, perfidious, merciful. Like mortals, they are the playthings of a destiny that doesn't care about anything and takes with it lives, loves, friendships, grudges and pathetic revenges without distinction. No one, god or mortal, escapes his fate. This is what the great ancient myths say and repeat, throughout the tragedies. There is no good and there is no bad in the Trojan war, there is no moral, only men and gods carried away in a whirlwind which is written in spite of them.

The modern world has constructed its myths differently. There are good guys; there are bad guys. Free will is a supreme value. Everyone, man or god, chooses his destiny. The value of an existence is defined by a succession of decisions. Everyone is responsible, everyone can change, everyone must change in the course of history. There is no prophecy that holds, no destiny whose strings hinder the hands of the actors. God of War, set in an ancient mythology, is written in the manner of a modern myth. Kratos is a gentle god of war. He can change, become a good father. Odin, on the other hand, is an evil god. At some point, someone will have to beat him up, not because it's fate, but because morality dictates it.

Baldr is watching.God of War: Ragnarök is a game whose writing, by its quality, has no equivalent in its genre, except for Naughty Dog. Each character is carefully developed, each story arc is divided into several acts, each element of the plot finds its place in a beautiful choreography whose rhythm is skilfully calculated, between tension, gravity, humor and intimacy, written by people who obviously know their job. For its second and last episode, Santa Monica wanted to improve everything from its previous game. The narration has not been forgotten. Far from it : it occupies, even more than yesterday, a dominating place in the adventure of Kratos and his son, through hours of dialogues always perfectly integrated.

Once again, Santa Monica has left nothing to chance so that the smallest brawl becomes a party.
Unfortunately, God of War: Ragnarök is also, and this is perhaps the only reproach one could make, a terribly modern game in its writing, where good and evil are quite clearly defined and where the endings are easy to anticipate: those of acts, chapters, and even sentences spoken. All this wouldn't be so serious - and in fact it isn't so serious, as the form is so well mastered - if God of War didn't have as a backdrop the ancient mythologies, the grounds of all tragedies. The intrusion of modern writing based on the choices that define individuals sometimes sounds strangely anachronistic in a setting where fate should govern everything. No matter. Santa Monica has succeeded in a challenge: to deliver, from a rather silly premise, a story written with a talent that we rarely see in a game where the main interaction consists in wielding an axe to slaughter abominations by the hundreds. It's already prodigious.

To Thor and scream. First and foremost, and although it tries to hide it, God of War is an action game. Its dozens of hours of dialogues that follow the quest of a father and son lost in the Nordic pantheon, its finely sculpted plots, its always breathtaking and spectacular staging through a long uninterrupted shot-sequence, even during loading times even during the character changes, even when Kratos is sleeping, don't change anything to the fact that God of War is, above all, a game where a barbarian of 120 kilos of muscles breaks the bones, tears off the limbs and cuts off the heads of all those who stand in his way, in an orgy of blood and guts as beautiful as a firework. Once again, Santa Monica has left nothing to chance so that the smallest brawl becomes a party.

Not much has changed, though, compared to the 2018 version. Everything is simply a little more fluid, a little more brutal, the enemies are more varied, the arenas more vertical. Overall, the principle remains the same: chain small and big moves, special abilities, unleash his rage or ask Atreus to shoot an arrow. Improvements are made on the bangs, through more varied situations (the introduction of a new playable character, for example), but the attention to detail this time results in a result that is close to perfection, where treacherous attacks and a free-for-all seem much rarer than in the previous game, and where the player feels in full control of all the blows he throws.

Watch out, Loki is sleeping. Most importantly, with the bricks already laid in 2018, the Santa Monica developers were able to focus on making it bigger and better, beefier, everywhere, all the time. Every corridor is an opportunity for a little hidden puzzle. Each semi-open area leads to a side quest that will take you to another corner of the nine kingdoms, which in turn will open the door to dozens of other quests, items to find, optional bosses to face or dialogues between Kratos, Atreus and Mimir. Where the first God of War, once finished, could leave the impression of having stuck a few valkyries to kill, this one, like an Elden Ring, hides a large part of its content for a much larger and more varied result than its predecessor.

Still technically impeccable (in performance mode on the PlayStation 5, the 60 FPS are of an insolent constancy, whatever the nervousness of the action), almost devoid of the slightest bug, God of War: Ragnarök is still as beautiful as ever, with its icy lakes, tropical forests, sandy deserts or erupting volcanoes. But perhaps that is the least of its surprises? Yes, God of War is beautiful. We knew that. Yes, the music is magnificent. We knew that. Yes, the direction is great. We knew it. Not that it is not, once again, a tour de force. There is, quite simply, a limit to the improvement of a result that was already almost perfect only four years ago.

Valkyrie, Kratos crying. To a certain extent, and even more so with this second episode, Santa Monica's God of War is to action games what Mad Max: Fury Road is to films of the same genre: the proof that it is possible to make a simple, brutal, mainstream and visceral work without taking the recipients of these works for fools, by daring to make radical artistic bets. The radical choice of this God of War rests above all on this sequence-shot that never stops and for which the directors spend their time to find tricks of direction which, more than allowing a magnificent fluidity of the action, forces them to shake up what a video game can do: Kratos looks at himself in a mirror, the reflection becomes the real Kratos so that, in a return movement of the camera, the subject passes to Atreus who looks in this same mirror.

This kind of detail, which the game is full of, is not a detail. It's those things that make God of War unique, not just doing what everyone else is doing, but deliberately getting in the way to find solutions that are the foundation of its originality. Even if the game relies on mechanics very familiar from action games or Metroid for its progression - a new item allows to unlock previously inaccessible areas - it never does it for nothing and gives the impression of having constantly asked itself what the game could get out of such mechanics, whether it's the crafting that incites to constantly go and look around, the puzzles that make the adventure breathe or the experience points that allow to tame the abilities progressively. Each element, in the general harmony, seems to have been conscientiously thought out.

The road to ragnarök. Is God of War: Ragnarök perfect? In a way, yes. Everything it tries to do, God of War does perfectly. The fights are impeccable in their brutality and feeling, the camera is never taken in error, the balance between puzzles, arenas, dialogues and boss fights has nothing to envy to an Uncharted, the variety of enemies and available content maintains a renewal that lasts for the thirty hours necessary to see the end of the game by not straying too far from the main storyline. The criticisms to be made to this God of War can only come from the tastes of each one.

Each element, in the general harmony, seems to have been conscientiously thought out.
But God of War: Ragnarök, too, could have been something else. With his radical choice of direction, he could have gone even further, reduced his ambition to tell a story of paternity and, like in Mad Max: Fury Road, concentrated on the essential, in a deluge of violence and energy. He could have used his mythological setting to deliver something else than a scenario which, despite an impeccable writing, does not finally leave the beaten track to which American films and series have accustomed us. Basically, God of War remains just an action game, despite all its perfections. But, when the only possible criticism, after having played such a game, remains: "It could have been another game", it means that, in the end, there is not much room for criticism, except for the one needed to applaud Santa Monica and the way, in only two episodes, the studio knew how to carve its own statue in the pantheon, a statue that is worth all the ancient gods.

With its second episode, Santa Monica closes the northern adventure of Kratos by improving in every way a game that was already close to perfection in its genre in 2018. Brilliant by its direction, visceral by its fights, varied, beautiful, moving, funny, long, rich: fortunately the adventure ends there. For a third episode, there was simply nothing left to improve.

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by Jed7 Dec 06 - 08:42

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