Boy, you are finally ready
GOW Ragnarok has been out for over a month, but I took some time to reflect and take stock of what it’s passed on to me about narrative.
I had very high expectations, which I discussed in this article. Since the first trailer, I’ve been flying, and after more than an hour of playing the game, I’m still high as a kite.
But let’s get straight to the point.
My intention is to write a series of reflections and considerations about the narrative part of the game, without getting into deep about gameplay or graphics.
I warn you of two important things (actually three): this article contains SPOILERS; if you haven’t played Gow Ragnarok and Gow of 2018, I recommend you read it again once you have; if, on the other hand, you’ve played it all the way through or don’t mind spoilers, welcome and enjoy reading.
Second, I will not discuss technical aspects, but only the story and all the reflections that have resulted from it.
Finally, this will be a longer article than usual.
The main themes that came to mind after playing this game were human relationships (family and friendship), vengeance, and war.
Lone wolf or pack wolf?
We used to tag along with Kratos on his solo adventures. Deprived of his loved ones, beginning with his brother, he proceeded alone, independent, and almost devoid of humanity.
However, in 2018, we came to terms with the introduction of an important figure: his son Atreus, who began to travel with our hero. Not to mention Mimir, who joined the two shortly after.
So, as a lone wolf, Kratos came to terms with these two new figures and began to share his spaces, then his thoughts.
Although Kratos and Atreus are essentially a family, it is with this new chapter that the concept of family takes center stage.
New figures come together to form a real group of people, who go from being simple friends to living in the same house and behaving accordingly.
The dynamics are typical of a family: there are moments of meals, jokes, and laughter, followed by quarrels and subsequent repairing chats, often at the expense of the closest friend, who, as a brother, leads the subject on duty to reasoning.
Even if these are the typical traits of any family, still this is a very odd one.
And here is one of those messages that I particularly liked: GOW Ragnarok teaches us that a family is formed through deep relationships, experiences, coexistence, and shared problems that we must solve together, not necessarily through bloodline.
But, as in any family, the pain of loss usually leads to the abyss, and here comes the disintegration, with everyone going their separate ways only to find themselves after a long time with a change so radical that they can’t recognize each other anymore, finally forgetting the wrongs and misunderstandings. We don’t know if this will happen in GOW Ragnarok; we can only guess.
– KRATOS AND ATREUS
Our heroes, who are now two because we will be able to play with Atreus (who is no longer just a sidekick, but a character in his own right), have a solid and, in some ways, quite healthy relationship.
But let’s take a closer look.
We have a widower (for the second time) and an adolescent boy, his son. There was no room to delve into specific themes in the Gow of 2018, because Santa Monica had to set up the entire structure: let us enter the new world, introduce us to new characters, and get us used to this new Kratos, so different, but so damn effective.
Atreus is still a child in the previous Gow. He barrages her father with questions, to which he almost always responds, “I don’t know!” or shuts him down completely. Kratos retains some of his most recognizable connotations, such as impatience and aggression.
With GOW Ragnarok we find that not only Atreus contributed well to dull this, but also Faye (well, I guess I’m not the only one who has already understood this since 2018) so Kratos frequently scolds the little boy by limiting his space, and if he doesn’t, he punctuates concessions of trust and affection in a very prudent and parsimonious way.
However, when the player feels the urge to lay hands on the brat – who hasn’t tried to kick him, raise your hand – Kratos displaces us and uses a calmness and restraint that we didn’t think he had to manage the child’s behavior.
Perhaps Kratos has all this patience because Atreus is still young. On the other hand, we know that even the youngest Kratos was good with children and was very affectionate (I’m referring for example to his daughter, Calliope, and Pandora).
Atreus, however, is now no longer a child, he is a boy; yet the father’s attitude is the same: a little obtuse and difficult, but extremely caring and protective, indeed, even more than before, because now he knows he can rely on his son he raised as his own little soldier, and whom he always answered “Yessir”.
He is his most valuable asset; he’s more important than his own life, and this feeling is what any self-respecting parent may sense in reality.
Because, in general, Kratos has always been deeply human, and that’s the aspect of him that worked right away. Kratos is a god, but he, like all the deities of this Pantheon, has flaws and characteristics that are common to humans.
So he’s angry, vengeful, and unscrupulous, partly because of how they raised him, and partly because they took away everything he loved. And what happens when a person is deprived of everything that matters to him? He loses interest in life, both his own and of others. Nothing has value anymore, and nothing will ever have it. Valuing something involves pain, which a man who is too young to process and accept simply rejects.
Kratos instructs his son from the start to “close his heart” to remove emotions, empathy, and, most importantly, pain. Atreus tries, but he never really succeeds, and it is just when Kratos understands that closing his heart is not the solution, also thanks to Faye‘s previous contribution and his subsequent memory, that he comes to see his son as an adult and accepts to learn from each other and not just act as a guide and a “general”.
The two’s relationship can be turbulent at times, especially when they both want to save each other’s lives, resulting in disagreements, misunderstandings, and outright quarrels.
Kratos refuses to be separated from his son, now that he has discovered his humanity through him. Atreus, for one, feels compelled to grow and do so on his own.
Only in the end will they realize that they are necessary but not indispensable to one another. The man can also receive and give affection from others, and the boy finally feels mature enough to continue his journey alone.
– ODIN AND THOR
The Aesir are a dysfunctional family, but both Odin and Thor immediately present themselves as charismatic and extremely fascinating figures.
Thor is portrayed to us as a subject skilled in battle and nothing else, and it is the father who believes this. The treatment Odin reserves to his son is at times degrading, especially because we eventually learn how much the God of Thunder is capable of loving, being loved, and understanding and being understood beyond his own limits.
Odin not only treats Thor harshly, but also with contempt, and this has caused Thor to treat his sons, Magni and Modi, who were both killed by Kratos and Atreus, in the same manner.
Reason why he could have been resentful, but after the initial scenes in which he presents himself as an avenger (and only in the face of a possible refusal of Odin’s offer to our heroes), we will see him not only cooperative, but even friendly.
Of course, we’re talking about a man who has been destroyed from within, whose self-esteem has been crushed by the cruel cynicism of a father who knows how to behave diplomatically, but not with him.
This has made him less inclined to sweetness and civility, which however he reserves without hesitation for his wife Sif and his daughter Thrùd.
Odin is a charming, unscrupulous, and, dare I say, heartless strategist. His only interest in him is to raise himself and pursue his personal goals, which he shares with Atreus, with whom he may be able to form an almost authentic relationship.
Loki (Atreus) is the son that Thor will never be for Odin, and perhaps it is the refusal of the All-Father, to the detriment of his biological son, that finally opens the eyes of the young Loki, who realizes that gaining knowledge, however noble and important it may be, cannot imply the annulment of all affection and the oppression of anyone who intervenes.
New friendships are born, some are recreated and ceased within this title, and I believe this is the most important theme, perhaps even more than Family.
– ATREUS AND SINDRI
Atreus is a teen with the same needs as any other boy his age. He needs to explore, to broaden his understanding of himself, but most importantly, he needs to make friends.
Sindri and Atreus became true friends before the beginning of the game.
Sindri is the friend who keeps you in the game so that your old man doesn’t find out about your escapades caused by the adolescent itch, and by doing so, you even risk to put him in danger.
However, the truth is presented to us in a different light: Atreus’ secret escapes are the result of his thirst for knowledge and desire to solve bigger problems.
But is that true, or is it the other way around? Perhaps, beneath the veneer of a just cause, there is a still slightly childish whim and the arrogance of believing that he is old enough to make his own choices, contrary to his father’s will, almost by bias and not so useful after all.
Atreus constantly raises doubts and questions, and it will be Sindri who will highlight this enigmatic and ambivalent aspect of him, when, full of grief for the tragic event that defines our characters – and us – he will say things that only appear to be a little unfair, blaming his young friend for everything that happened.
– KRATOS AND BROK
This game has some really touching moments, almost all of which are due to Brok and his story arc.
I’ve already warned about spoilers, so anyone who has read this far knows that Santa Monica has decided to sacrifice this very character, possibly to save Kratos, who we all thought was doomed due to the prophecy, which will later turn out to be different than how it was interpreted.
Either because it is his swan song, or because it was well written from the start, Brok is one of the most interesting and beautiful characters in history in this chapter.
Brok is a good guy, perhaps the best of all, with an exuberant and passionate personality. An authentic and sincere character who prefers to say things to people’s faces but has the sensitivity to recognize when silence is appropriate.
Brok, who is always available and, like his brother, a true problem solver, is undoubtedly the one who most successfully won Kratos’ heart, earning his respect, trust, and, finally, his affection.
I think it’s the first time that Kratos has referred to someone as a “friend” and, let’s face it, the moment in which he does it is decidedly moving, especially since no one yet knows, much less imagines, that Odin will soon take the life to our “blue one”.
God of War has almost nothing left of its predecessors, which raises the question of whether this is a good or bad thing.
In previous titles, the family was a constant torment, a symbol of remorse, and trusting relationships were always functional to higher purposes, never completely disinterested.
We are now on a more human, contemporary level. There is a lot of history, but it is only visible in the scenography. Everything is comparable to current dynamics. The individual who desires self-determination but is forced to live in groups in order to survive and, more importantly, to live in dignity. The sense of warmth and reassurance experienced during moments of conviviality is severely damaged, leaving us with a bitter taste.
Santa Monica tries to complete the circle by reintroducing the theme of vengeance, the engine that has powered GOW’s narrative dynamics since the beginning.
Only the 2018 title is an exception, as there is no room for vengeance for almost the entire duration of the game. In the end, however, the signs appear and the theme is sown once more: Baldur’s revenge on his mother and the latter’s revenge on Kratos.
But Kratos and Atreus make a vow: they will be better and abandon the path of revenge.
– KRATOS AND FREYA
Freya is still reeling from her son’s death at the hands of Kratos. She has vowed vengeance and does everything she can to ambush and attack the father and son.
They bear this “annoyance” with regret, only dodging her attacks or defending without ever resorting to violence.
It may appear that resolving the issue is impossible, but when higher needs or goals emerge, disagreements can be reduced.
Atreus tries unsuccessfully to enlist Freya in the fight against Odin, who is regarded as a threat to all kingdoms.
Kratos, on the other hand, having something to offer in return, strikes a deal with this mother who refuses to accept peace and wishes to kill the man who took her son away from her.
Kratos and Freya’s journey together is not only a matter of reconciliation, but also a chance for self-discovery. When they confront each other about being parents, they realize their mistakes and reach a tipping point, culminating in an almost sensational reunification.
Kratos learns how to interact with Atreus, realizing he has to give him more space and trust, while Freya learns to forgive Kratos, his brother Freyr, and herself.
She even spares Odin, the character she probably hates the most.
– EVERYBODY AGAINST ODIN AND ODIN AGAINST EVERYBODY
There comes a point when one has to wonder: who is the bad guy?
Normally, everything is relative, and this appears to be the case, but then Odin does things… In a nutshell, unforgivable.
The murder of his own son is, in my opinion, the worst thing he’s done, but everyone already despises him, so…
However, one wonders if they are not better off in Asgard because they follow the path of the All-Father, until this nice and distinguished politician decides that government is not for him, and that personal (but very personal) matters are more important than those of the company, for which he would be responsible, in theory.
And it’s not just Asgard; Svartalfheim, Vanheim, and other worlds are all under his control, and they can’t take it any longer. Perhaps it’s because he’s gone, more than anything else.
He is a god (a Father) who is absent, narcissistic, and easily distracted.
If there is one thing you will never forgive a god for, it is his absence. Better to be vengeful than uncaring.
And then there’s the past… Many people, both old and new, want to kill him.
Odin, for his part, doesn’t care a little, he is convinced that he can put them all on his knees.
He is, in fact, the embodiment of the concept of vengeance.
And if even Sindri succumbs to the call of this feeling as present as it is fought, we will know how unforgivable Odin is.
In all of this, it should be emphasized that the Father and Son keep their resolutions and keep all of their promises. Do they, by chance, want a round of applause?
Odin fails miserably in his battle with the universe. He simply desired to be left alone, exploiting everyone for his own personal gain.
He is simply the wrong man for the wrong job.
Aside from the fact that it feels more like camping than war preparation, the tension is palpable.
Was Ragnarok avoidable? Apparently not, because Brok needs revenge. Everything else could have been overlooked, but if you touch the family…
Avoiding ruminations on fate and the possibility of shaping it for one’s own use and consumption (especially if one discovers what it is about), war is waged, and it is thus time to prepare.
Boy, are you ready?
The boy is ready, but he has reservations. The last step that separates him from his childhood is when he asks his father to sleep with him: “the last night in which I can feel safe, after which I will be alone.”
So far, so good; everything is in order. Even if it appears to be a boy scout camp or a gathering of old acquaintances, there is tension (a lot of tension). I’ll say it again: there’s a lot of tension. They were masters at this.
But here’s where I’m disappointed: Ragnarok, the end of everything, the war (which is only the beginning of everything), is staged at a breakneck pace that confuses you.
Is this the result of war? Do you forget what happened after such an experience, to the point where everything is rushed, approximate, and, in this case, not very incisive? So, if it has to be represented realistically rather than descriptively, is it better to let the emotions speak?
I don’t know, I’m still thinking about this.
Every time I think Santa Monica messed up (in this game), I visualize and understand why certain decisions were made. Will I be trained? Perhaps, but not by much.
I’m nitpicking because my admiration and love for them are unconditional, but I also have a highly critical spirit.
Even now, the theme of friendship appears to be almost as important as that of war: pre-existing relationships are emphasized, and new alliances are formed. There are those who strengthen their position and those who repent and forgive.
War is not met with the expected sense of anguish and fear, and what I don’t understand is: did they prefer the more fairy-tale and family-friendly aspect, or did they truly not want to deal with such an emotional mass?
We’ve arrived at the sore spots.
The story begins with a bang, and we are immediately introduced to a slew of new characters. What I liked best about them is that they all appear to have been written with great detail and care, making them very interesting.
However, after a while, a legitimate question arose: how long will this title be valid? Is this the final chapter, or does Santa Monica intend to give us one more?
Unfortunately, there is no third chapter for this Norse saga, and despite GOW Ragnarok’s length, all of these open narrative lines close abruptly, which is a real shame.
Ragnarok, as previously mentioned in the chapter on warfare, is depicted too quickly. The initial battle in Rhodes of God Of War 2 from 2007 already appears to be much more exhausting and complex, to say the least…
Among the many new characters introduced in this chapter, the first must-see is Tyr, the catalyst for everything that occurs, and the one for whom our heroes set out on an adventure, despite Kratos’ desire for retirement.
As we all know, the Tyr who joins the Family is not the real Tyr, but Odin in disguise, spying on and keeping the plot against him under control.
However, I’m pretty sure that the All-Father has given a fairly accurate portrayal of the Norse god of war, perhaps relying a little too heavily on the fearfulness he developed following his imprisonment, but retaining his peculiarities so as not to raise suspicions in those who might have recognized him.
Tyr’s character disappointed me the most, not because he does everything he can to avoid the fight, even watching the others fight without moving a straw to help them, but rather because of his faintness.
Anyone who has played the game past the main ending knows that we eventually meet him (in Niflheim) and, let’s face it, he doesn’t elicit as many emotions as I expected.
Already from the 2018 title, I envisioned a magnificent Tyr, unquestionably with a humanitarian and fair spirit, but not so lacking in character depth. What a pity.
Angrboda, another important character who starts with a bang but fails miserably, convinces herself that he no longer has any use after completing her predestined task of meeting and instructing Loki (Atreus). In short, she makes a big deal out of the fact that she is convinced she must end her existence isolated from everything and everyone, and then we find her everywhere, with a huge smile on her face, as if she had never had paranoia in her life.
The feelings and intimacy between Angrboda and Loki, on the other hand, are very tender, and it seems a bit sad that the boy goes away alone, leaving the girl to care for not only his wolf, but also everything else, including his father.
Freyr, on the other hand, is Freya’s jackass brother who sacrifices himself to demonstrate that he is more than just a jackass. His sole purpose is to demonstrate Freya’s ability to forgive. He, too, had all the makings to being a good character.
Lunda, no matter how nice and funny she is, can’t compensate for the absence of Brok and Sindri, and every time she runs into her in the shops at the end of the game, my heart aches with sadness and nostalgia.
Heimdall, the new villain (obviously excluding Odin), ends up similar to Magni and Modi, with little narrative participation and a quick and uncomplicated death. In terms of characterization, he had enormous potential.
Thrùd, perhaps, is the only new character who, despite being given a somewhat limited space (but you understand, because otherwise, there would be no more endings), ends up being somewhat more complete, particularly in terms of her family relationships, both with her father and with her mother. With the latter, for example, there is a lovely reconciliation and the birth of a solid all-female alliance that exudes strength.
There’s also a nice selection of different animals, but I think I’ve already bored you enough, so I’ll stop here.
Closed quickly, full of clichés, and with the knowledge that this title marks the end of the saga, GOW Ragnarok causes me to reconsider my initial enthusiasm.
With a clear mind, I don’t consider it a flop (it wouldn’t have been anyway, even with the flaws I highlighted), but the disappointment was palpable at the time.
This haste to close the many paths taken has also made rational judgment concise on what now makes perfect sense to me, such as the Atreus‘ ending.
I’m not going to question the fact that he chose his own path, distancing himself from his father; it’s an unavoidable result of his maturation. I was taken aback by how quickly and sloppily this resolution unfolded.
In any case, I believe that not dwelling on the consequences of his actions is the most accurate way to express the peculiarity of this character.
Sindri’s precise highlighting of Atreus’ ineffable nature (accentuated by the duality he finds himself managing) is perfectly consistent with the figure of Loki, described as ambiguous, manipulative, selfish, and above all opportunist.
But is our boy really that way? They leave us with a near-certainty of doubt, making him a far from insignificant character.
Kratos, on the other hand, definitively concludes his narrative arc here. He is a character who has resolved his conflicts and has nothing left to offer, so it is natural for him to give way to his natural heir.
We’ve all grown fond of him, God of War is Kratos, and vice versa, but putting him in the role of protagonist no longer makes sense.
It is an iconographic game with many meanings that deals with universal themes and is thus always current.
Although some were disappointed by the almost imperceptible change from the previous title, or by some narrative choices, I believe there is a lot to say and explore about this game, but more on a narrative level than anything else, which they have already accustomed us to in 2018.
Because it’s true, not much has changed, there’s nothing particularly notable, it’s a continuum that takes us back to the previous one’s conclusion, in short, everything is just bigger and more complex while also being more concise and hasty. We can travel to more places and do so more easily, leaving room for other dynamics.
However, GOW is a true revolutionary in his own right, even more so when compared to his immediate predecessors. It is the true link between gaming and cinema, as demonstrated by The Last Of Us. Santa Monica has filled this title with Easter Eggs that are also clear tributes to Naughty Dog, with whom it has undeniable affinities, not only in terms of quality, but also in terms of the desire to create the perfect hybrid of two audiovisual products that had to intertwine sooner or later, filling on the one hand the purely passive aspect of one and the content and aesthetic aspect of the other.
I’ve gone on for a long time, and if you’ve made it this far, I thank you, but I must confess that I wrote much more succinctly than I would have liked.
There is always so much to explore and think about in God of War that it’s difficult to talk about it without risking writing a novel.