Sony Santa Monica’s upcoming God of War Ragnarok was arguably the peak of Sony’s presentation a few days ago. Legions of fans had been waiting for information for the game since the “Ragnarok is Coming” reveal last year. The game certainly looks great, and fans are generally excited to see the conclusion of the Norse saga that started in 2018. However, there is some concern that the game looks samey in terms of its visual presentation and gameplay mechanics.
To be completely fair, it’s not that God of War Ragnarok looks visually bad by any means – but that it does fall short of what many fans may be expecting from the game. Much of the visual make-up – rendering techniques, post-processing pipelines, and art direction seem to be a natural evolution of what we have already seen in the first game. All in all, it looks a lot like God of War 2018 on the PS4, but that just might not be as bad as many might think of it.
God of War Ragnarok was supposed to be a cross-gen title from the beginning, and development has to be done keeping in mind the technical limitations of the comparatively weaker hardware. Developers generally tend to get the game running comfortably on the minimum spec machine, and then work for better visual fidelity on the higher-end variant. God of War 2018 is arguably one of the best examples which showcased the peak of the PS4’s technical capabilities which obviously doesn’t leave a lot of room for improving the core technical framework and visual feature set for a sequel. This is precisely why the lighting, character models, environments don’t have stark changes from the original; unlike the jump from say The Last of Us to Part 2.
But again, God of War Ragnarok isn’t a slouch by any means – it looks like a proper AAA game that’s pushing for the cutting edge in terms of visual presentation. There’s a ton of detail in the environments, character models, alongside impeccable attention to the facial animations and writing which all contribute to the overall presentation in a plethora of ways.
A problem with being one of the best studios in the industry is that fans can sometimes have unrealistic expectations – which is unhealthy for both the developer and the fanbase. Game development is a daunting task, and pushing through to the finish line in such unprecedented circumstances is an achievement in enough itself. Many studios – including Santa Monica itself – have found themselves in a rock and a hard place for delaying their games, and adding another burden of being the best-looking game on the market on top of it all is too much to handle. Studios like CD Projekt Red and even 343 Industries have found themselves on the shorter end of the stick when it comes to the technical quality of their titles, although Halo Infinite has improved a lot since its original showings. Of course, given the current scarcity of information on how the game will utilize the processing power of the PS5, and Santa Monica’s penchant with creating games within the genre, it gets to have the benefit of the doubt that God of War Ragnarok – despite the many difficulties the team may have encountered during development – would be a smash hit.
Santa Monica has made the right decision to streamline the more technical aspects for God of War Ragnarok in favor of new and interesting gameplay ideas. Much like in the visual department, God of War Ragnarok‘s combat also looks to be a natural evolution of what fans saw with the original. God of War 2018 has one of the best melee combat systems, which took a ton of work and fine-tuning over a long period of time to get it right. Everything from the sharp rumble of the Leviathan Axe throw to a powerful chain of strikes from the Blades of Chaos has a carefully curated balance to it, which contributes to God of War‘s outstanding combat system in interesting ways. Building up on top of that for the sequel is a challenge that Sony Santa Monica has taken upon themselves, and I think it’s more important to deliver new avenues for gameplay in a sequel rather than trying to cram exponentially more polygons in a single frame – although the latter is certainly appreciable too.
From what’s seen in the trailers, there’s a new form of traversal – Riding Sledges. As the game and the narrative proceedings escalate towards Ragnarok, Fimbulwinter will freeze the Lake of Nine to ice, which will, of course, render boats useless, although there are some scenes that indicate it will still be usable at least in some places. But for other places, Kratos and Atreus will have to resort to other techniques of traversal for the time, which is where the sledge-riding mechanic comes into the equation. The trailer also shows Kratos battling Baldur’s mother Freya aboard the sledge, which hints at a greater usage of the mechanic in both boss fights and set-pieces.
There’s also a general improvement to the combat as well- with the most notable addition being the ability to grab onto ledges using Kratos’ Blades of Chaos. In addition to being useful in general combat sequences, this new mechanic could also be used in platforming and puzzle sections which could definitely use some variety and improvements from the original.
With Brok and Sindri returning to assist the father-son duo in their adventures, it wouldn’t be far-fetched to imagine that the trailer is only a hint of the additions that are to come in God of War Ragnarok. Sony Santa Monica has shown a great amount of skill for crafting a dynamic combat system using the close to the shoulder camera perspective, and there’s a high likelihood that God of War Ragnarok will take those developments further.
Of course, the most endearing part about this Norse saga is the story. Fans are already looking forward to the myriad of twists and turns expected from the sequel. Sony Santa Monica’s twisting of the Norse myths to reach the conclusion is an enchanting aspect of its storytelling, and fans are naturally excited to witness Ragnarok in all of its Norse glory.
Thus, what can be pieced from the gameplay reveal is that graphics are only a part of Ragnarok’s presentation, which while may look a bit stagnant to some is perfectly fine by all means. Given how hard getting a PS5 has been and will be for the foreseeable future, it’s great that fans of the original can enjoy the game on the PS4, with noticeable visual improvements likely being offered to those who manage to procure the PS5. Taking all aspects of the presentation into account, God of War Ragnarok is shaping up to be a worthy follow-up to the original – which is reflective in the general consensus surrounding the discussion for the game. Concerns surrounding somewhat of an underwhelming graphical presentation are valid in a way, but shouldn’t dampen any hopes or excitement for the game. In the long run, however, gameplay is king, and Ragnarok doesn’t seem like it will disappoint. We are at least a year away from the game’s release and we don’t even know what more the developers have up their sleeves.
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