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What does God of War: Ragnarok have to do to outdo its predecessor?

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It is now two years since the aura of God of War: Ragnarok began to permeate the PlayStation line-up, first making his debut in front of the general public with a small teaser and then exploding into a series of long sequences capable of teasing the imagination of fans.

The new video game from Sony Santa Monica, scheduled for 2022, currently represents the absolute most wanted among the first party productions of the Japanese house: in the end will it be able to keep itself above expectations?

Collecting the legacy of extraordinary success is a very difficult undertaking within the confines of any medium, and it is even more so in that of video games: among all the software-houses that have known great international success, very few have prove capable of maintaining the very high standards set by their blockbusters. Bethesda went into crisis after Skyrim, CD Projekt stumbled after The Witcher 3, Bungie after Destiny, Blizzard after Heartstone and Overwatch.

God of War of 2018, directed by Cory Balrog and masterfully staged by Sony Santa Monica, is a video game that was able to win the GOTY of The Game Awards, but above all to sell 20 million copies in little. less than three years, which were excellent even for an exclusive linked to the PlayStation flag.

But, more importantly, God of War has managed to revive and place a legendary franchise that has disappeared for years at the center of the media stage, adapting its forms to the new needs of the market without sacrificing an iota of the original identity. There is probably no transformative sequel – in the history of film, video games, and even music albums – that has managed to have the same impact as Kratos’ evolution as a father.

New bosses, new enemies, new weapons, new areas – will that be enough?
God of War was a universally acclaimed title regardless of the small flaws that punctuated it. Most cited? Without any doubt the repetitiveness of the secondary bosses and the scarcity of the roster of the main ones, where the only mythological opponents of Kratos and Atreus could be identified in Baldur, in the sons of Thor Magni and Modi as well as in the commander of the Valkyries Sigrun.

Except for these trifles, the cinematic odyssey represented by the journey of Kratos and Atreus to the heights of the giants of Jotunheim has undoubtedly set new standards in the field of videogame narrative, at the same time building a world strongly close to the pure and simple soul. action that had characterized the epic of the ghost of Sparta.

Having said that, the question is very simple: what does God of War: Ragnarok have to do to overcome the ambition of its predecessor? How do you improve a video game that has revolutionized the structure of the saga to which it belongs, leading it to new heights, especially now that the powerful novelty effect has worn off?

“More of the same”. This particular phrase is a cross and a delight for millions of gamers all over the world, because just as there are people who can’t wait to find themselves in front of a bigger and better variant of the beloved work, there are just as many who do not like the repetitiveness and the mechanical overbuilding that is marking contemporary productions.

When the first in-engine sequences of God of War: Ragnarok emerged, more of the same once again entered the vocabulary of fans. And how to blame them? What is shown seems to outline an experience very similar to that experienced in the intersection of worlds at the base of Midgard. But is he really bad?

God of War: Ragnarok
The meeting between Tyr and Kratos will finally take place in Ragnarok: two gods of war in comparison.

The most obvious thing to do in these cases is to look to the past. God of War 2 was an infinitely superior title to its predecessor: in David Jaffe’s debut work, for example, there were only four bosses, namely the two variants of the Hydra, Medusa, Pandora’s Warden and the god of Ares war. The sequel, for its part, managed to stage fifteen different boss fights that against all expectations culminated in the battle against Zeus, dramatically increasing the variety of situations, relics and opponents present along the path of Kratos.

It is evident that the second chapter must assume a pivotal role in the economy of a trilogy, regardless of the medium to which it belongs. The Empire Strikes Back, The Two Towers, Mass Effect 2, Halo 2, and so on: each of these works provided the guidelines for the narrative conclusion while enhancing the entire offering of the opening chapter, dragging the public even deeper into the mechanics that governed their respective worlds.

Which brings us to the burning question: will it be enough for God of War: Ragnarok to triple the number of bosses, increase the number of worlds visited perhaps by adding the kingdom of Asgard to the plate and insert some new weapon to exceed the expectations of fans? When you find yourself once again treading the snows of Midgard looking for the best method of opening a chest, will the news be enough to diminish the feeling of already seen?

There are several fairly credited theories regarding the content of God of War: Ragnarok. Many derive from the interview granted by Cory Barlog to Easy Allies, in which the creator of the series was able to speak in “full spoiler” mode of the first chapter by touching two fundamental elements of this trilogy. The first, of course, concerns the “foreshadowing” that emerged from the final sequence of the game regarding the hypothetical death of Kratos.

It is no secret that fans have glimpsed in this new trilogy the desire to put an end to the story of the ghost of Sparta: many think that the character of Atreus / Loki was introduced to collect the inheritance of his father following the his heroic death eventually becoming the architect of Ragnarok.

The first trailers have already shown some new settings
The first trailers have already shown some new settings …

Replacing a protagonist is a very difficult undertaking but certainly not impossible, especially if the narrative construction is able to provide a sufficiently solid foundation to support the passing of the baton. Is it possible that God of War: Ragnarok is the title destined to mark the disappearance of the most famous god of war in the world of video games?

The second element discussed in the past by Cory Barlog and which became the protagonist of the most accredited theories that emerged from the community concerns a particular feature of the narrative of God of War, one that could completely distort the meaning of the hypothetical disappearance of Kratos: we are talking, in fact, time travel.

Although there are no actual references to time travel mechanics in Norse mythology, there are several segments in the Santa Monica work of 2018 that seem to suggest their presence. Above all, the story of the World Serpent shines, a creature that we know descended from Loki himself and suddenly appeared in the immense lake in the center of Midgard.

In fact, Mimir himself tells Kratos that during the battle of Ragnarok Thor will strike the Serpent so violently that it sends it back in time. All these elements, together with the mural that can be glimpsed in Jotunheim towards the end of the plot, have convinced fans that time travel is destined to become a central element in the trilogy, giving an unexpected sense to many sequences of the work.

If Kratos were to really die, a time travel would actually allow the authors to exploit his figure anyway. Many wonder why Thor never intervened in the course of Kratos and Atreus’ adventure, and the answer could lie precisely in the fact that he has already been defeated “in the past” by the pair of protagonists. Similarly, the figure of Tyr, who we know to be present in Ragnarok, has not yet made a direct appearance and remains considered dead or missing, so a possible encounter in the past is absolutely not to be excluded.

but the game map must necessarily remain that of Midgard, at least at the beginning.
… but the game map must necessarily remain that of Midgard, at least at the beginning.

Probably the main reason why time travel theory has come so far lies in some elements of game design, and above all the game map and the semi-open-world structure. Setting the sequel in the exact same lands in which the previous chapter took place, adding just a few destinations to the Bifrost, would in fact constitute a triumph of the “more of the same” from which one could easily escape by crossing the veil of time. Having the player visit the same setting in different historical eras is a technique that has shone in many successful video games, from Pokémon with its Kanto to the entire Chrono Trigger.

However, the fact remains that, based on the information we have received so far, it is quite difficult to imagine God of War: Ragnarok as anything other than a “bigger and better” variant of its predecessor, which is a continuation of Kratos’ journey. and Atreus characterized by a marked increase in the number of opponents, maps, weapons, as well as elements and characters drawn from Norse mythology.

But if once making a work that was simply larger and more refined than the previous one was enough to make fans happy, today both times and the perception of the video game have changed significantly, to the point that those that were the fundamental qualities at the base of a successful sequel are sometimes perceived as critical. The phrases “it looks like a first episode DLC”, “it’s not next-gen” and “it didn’t twist the formula” have become very popular mantras among critics and fans.

However, there is one last element related to God of War: Ragnarok that is worth considering, because it probably represents a unicum in contemporary marketing: when God of War hit the shelves at the time, no one had the slightest idea. what was hiding on the other side of the screen.

Contrary to the practice adopted by many triple A video games, Santa Monica Studios showed practically nothing before the launch: we did not know of the existence of the various kingdoms such as Alfheim, we did not know of the presence of the Blades of Chaos, even we did not know that the map would take on a metroidvania-style open-map structure.

Thor in versione powerlifter secondo God of War Ragnarok.
Thor in versione powerlifter secondo God of War Ragnarok.

Here, these difficult marketing choices – difficult because hiding key elements of a production you risk losing potential audience – have led the work to become a gigantic surprise for those who trusted it. A bit like it happened in Elden Ring, a title of which relying on official materials it would have been almost impossible to guess the actual gargantuan dimensions and the raw amount of content.

If you think about it, God of War: Ragnarok is doing somewhat the same thing: he shared information with a spoon, he immortalized some artwork, he showed short gameplay sequences and it is highly probable that – if not postponed too – he will become soon protagonist of a State of Play that will raise the curtain on the early stages of the adventure pad in hand. Then? What will actually be hiding behind the gates of the most anticipated sequel of the year?

Sony Santa Monica’s latest work will undoubtedly represent a moment of great impact in the economy of the ninth generation of consoles: in addition to being, probably, the last great first party embroidered around the cross-generational philosophy, it will allow us to understand definitely what the fate of direct sequels in the contemporary video game market is.

Will it be possible, as was regularly the case up to ten years ago, to be able to affirm again that “the second is clearly better than the first?”.

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