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God of War Ragnarök’s first hours are pure comfort violence

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The early hours of God of War Ragnarök thrust me right back into the story of Kratos and Atreus in the most comforting way possible, picking up immediately after (or rather, overlapping with) the “true” ending of 2018’s God of War. Now, with somewhat lower stakes — it’s just that the world’s about to end — and with time still healing their grief-induced wounds, Kratos and Atreus set off to face the inevitable. Everyone they wronged in God of War is coming to claim their pound of flesh, leading the father-son duo to set off for answers and allies in the coming battle.

There are emotional stakes, of course. Freya has not forgotten the death of her son Baldur in the first game, nor has Thor glossed over the slaying of his boys. But even in a doomed world covered over with ice, various gods coming for Kratos’ head, and early moments that may be difficult for pet owners to watch, Ragnarök is still a much breezier adventure right off the bat.

It helps that the melancholy arc of the previous game feels mostly resolved. And I want answers about Atreus’ past, too, so my motivation to revisit the familiar world, characters, and gameplay of God of War — a game I played thoroughly enough to earn its platinum trophy — matches the boy’s.

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Kratos parries the attack of a ravager enemy with a large round shield. Three other ravagers stand ready to attack nearby in a snowy scene from God of War Ragnarok.

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Image: SIE Santa Monica Studio/Sony Interactive Entertainment

It also certainly helps that God of War’s perfectly tuned gameplay loop — the smoothly flowing cycle of exploration on foot and by boat, visceral combat, light puzzle-solving, platforming, treasure collecting, and weaving through mazelike structures — returns seemingly untouched in Ragnarök. The furious violence is back, and just as satisfying. There’s much to do, but I do not feel overwhelmed. Developer Santa Monica Studio gives me plenty of stopping points during play, but anytime I’ve completed a quest or a combat encounter, I’ll think, “Well, let’s just see what’s over there.” This is pure comfort food; Ragnarök is rarely, if ever, punishing in its early hours, and solving its clockwork puzzles feels smooth and just challenging enough.

There’s been no shortage of spectacle too. An early battle between Kratos and Thor uses the power of Mjölnir in awesome ways, hurtling Kratos through the skies of Midgard and down again in a drag-out, god-on-god brawl.

Kratos starts with both his Leviathan ax and his Blades of Chaos this time around, but the effects of Fimbulwinter, the precursor to Ragnarök, have dulled his combat skills. I’ve spent some time leveling him and Atreus up, reacquiring the flashy, satisfying ice- and fire-based powers of the first game. Unlocking all this stuff feels a bit like chasing the dragon of the previous God of War, and I’m hoping that the mid- to late-game hours will have more surprises than the first five-and-change that I’ve played. (To the game’s credit, those five-ish hours have breezed by, and there have been a few intriguing twists that the embargo restricts me from discussing.)

It’s also been a pleasure to spend more time with Sindri and Brok, the Dwarf brother blacksmiths who gave 2018’s game much of its comic relief. Sindri is a particular highlight — his propensity for showing up anywhere at any time breaks up the Kratos, Atreus, and Mimir dynamic precisely when the game needs it.

Dwarf Blacksmith Sindri inspects the string of a bow while Kratos and Atreus observe in a scene from God of War Ragnarok set in the town of Nidavellir.

Image: SIE Santa Monica Studio/Sony Interactive Entertainment

God of War Ragnarök, like its predecessor, is also extremely easy on the eyes. Across icy vistas, sulfuric lakes, and Dwarven mines, I’ve seen incredible attention to detail in these rich, lifelike game spaces. But I’ve also been surprised at the return of load-masking, squeezing-through-narrow-gaps moments while playing it on PlayStation 5 — presumably a byproduct of Ragnarök also coming to PlayStation 4. At this stage of my playthrough, it does not look nor feel all that different from its last-gen yet beautiful predecessor. In other words, it doesn’t yet strike me as a next-gen leap forward, or a system showcase like PS5-exclusive games Demon’s Souls or Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart.

None of that will stop me from seeing Kratos and Atreus’ adventure through. Or exploring every nook and cranny of Midgar, Svartalfheim, Jotunheim, and the rest of the realms. Or spending hours chasing down every single one of Odin’s ravens as I check off everything in my list. And if there are Valkyries in this one, I’ll eventually bash my head against them too, until I come out on top. Sure, I want to see God of War’s Norse duology come to its conclusion, as I’m invested in the story. But it’s the comforting, polished gameplay of the first few hours that already has me hooked.

Count me in for however long it takes.

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