God of War Ragnarok lacks a narrative hook. It’s highly dependent on knowledge of the previous game’s events and existing character dynamics, and even the main menu recap does little to catch up those who haven’t recently replayed the 2018 reboot. After a brief intro that familarises us with existing mechanics we have a tussle with Thor before being let loose into the realms. Kratos and Atreus aren’t really working towards anything except the lingering yet abstract threat of Ragnarok, and this uneven pace might be the journey’s biggest weakness.
I’m not the only one to complain about Ragarok’s middling speed. I’m a sucker for a slow burn, just take a look at the fanfiction I read every night and you’ll figure that out, but even stories that deliberately take their time and wait for all the pieces to fall into place need a final destination for us to strive for. Atreus’ controversial tussle with fate just isn’t doing it for me. It could have done with appropriate setup, but that’s thrown aside in favour of dry optional quests and semi-open environments that inspire nothing but tedium.
After reuniting with Brok and Sindri we are immediately thrown into Svartalfheim, a dwarven realm said to be housing an imprisoned Tyr in need of saving. You fight some lizards, open a simplistic puzzle chest, and grab a boat before sailing the open waters. It’s formulaic in the worst possible way, largely because there isn’t enough reason yet to care about the events that are unfolding. Kratos and Atreus talk about the stakes of
Ragnarok and the cavalcade of enemies they have to fight, but the circumstances that underpin them were never justified in a dramatically poignant way, so I’m left to go through the motions until that moment comes.
I’m ten hours into the campaign and that moment, whatever it is, has not yet arrived. There have been many excellent battles and thrilling set pieces, but nothing is yet to match the personal significance of carrying ashes to the highest mountain in all the realms. Until that time comes, all the once compelling side content will feel like distractions pulling me away from a greater purpose.
God of War Ragnarok wants to mimic the narrative prestige of The Last of Us while also giving us freedom to explore and build up our characters through quests and loot, meaning that most environments have a few trivial tasks and hidden pathways with chests to open and cute riddles to solve. It also becomes predictable, like a puzzle being assembled with multiple parts that will eventually build to a narrative crescendo.
It feels like it was pieced together in the wrong ways, and not nearly enough time was spent in the opening act making us care for the trials and tribulations to come. Atreus’ dog died, but I hardly knew him and the boy’s acting wasn’t good enough to sell the moment’s heartbreak, while we have a fight with Thor only for him to disappear for more than ten hours before we see him again. The idea of a distant threat is amazing, but not if the character isn’t developed and doesn’t have any real intention to stop us beyond just being a bit angry about everything. Right now it isn’t good enough.
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