Game of the Year 2022: GoW Ragnarok vs Elden Ring | #reviews
Updated: Dec 9, 2022
This is one of the first years in a while where the competition for Game of the Year has included two games that I have thoroughly and almost equally enjoyed. Elden Ring opened up this year of gaming for me and wowed with its incredible sense of discovery, the customizability of the experience, and the massive sense of scale within its titanic world full of evil beasts and fantastically mangled men and women that needed to be slain by the Tarnished. Throughout the year everyone I knew, including myself, had no doubt that this experience could not be topped. All of us were still making the assumption that God of War’s anticipated sequel would be pushed yet again to next year due to some non-specific reason, a common occurrence for any AAA title in the last 5 to 10 years. And even if it did come out, how could a sequel developed within 4 or so years and running in a variation of the same game engine of its predecessor impress us more than that of a world created by two of the top creative minds of our time, Hidetaka Miyazaki and George R. R. Martin?
But I think it exceeded expectations, so much so that I believe God of War: Ragnarok is the clear Game of the Year of 2022.
That’s not where this piece ends though, because I would like to try my best to prove objectively that Ragnarok is simply a better and more complete, polished package than Elden Ring and deserves the award.
So how do we do that? How does one bring objectivity to a conversation of preference? The answer is, you probably can’t. But in the same vein of today’s game reviewers like IGN, Gamespot, and Polygon, I’d like to break things down in a few different categories that most of you reading will be familiar with.
The first category is what everyone notices first, Presentation. This is how the game is packaged including the UI, the visuals, the world it tries to build through those immaculate images, and how all this together translates into what it makes the player feel.
The next category would be one that everyone notices second, during the tutorial all the way to the point where these types of Open World games, for lack of a better phrase: “open up”. That is Gameplay. How have the developers given you control of the character? What did they do to ensure a level of immersion within the moment-to-moment experience of the game? Do the actions you take and their related animations make you, the player, feel like the hero you see on the screen? For me this category would also include the options the game gives you to fill your time through exploring the world and completing side missions, uncovering the world’s secrets, and keeping you playing after the credits roll.
The final category is my personal favorite, Story. All Open World games worth their salt must include a story that acts as the driving force behind the player’s motivation to keep them coming back for more. Why am I following this guy around for hours on end? Why am I wasting time sitting in front of my TV or at my desk with a controller in my hand? Players who enjoy these categories of games must be given a reason to continue exploring until they find that next clue of where to go (assuming there’s no waypoint guiding you) or push through frustrating boss battles and encounters when they could easily just turn off the console and walk away.
Let’s begin with the dark horse of this analysis and discuss the heavily stylized and incredibly original world of Elden Ring. From its classic FromSoftware “Start Screen” which is a 2-click entry into the game, with each button sounding an ominous bell toll of sorts as if you can hear the bell of your inevitable demise(s) being rung before even beginning the actual game. From there we are introduced to our character creation with each class selection inspiring an entirely different type of protagonist, depending on what story the player wants to tell. For me, I took a Samurai into the Lands Between. Hoping to create my own story of a lost Eastern warrior, a Ronin on a journey of self discovery in an unknown land full of unthinkable dangers. Immediately, or at least after a brief loading screen you are dropped into the world to face a sudden, and nigh unbeatable threat who kills you for the first time moments after loading into the game. Death is a recurring and integral part of any FromSoftware experience so this is no surprise, and once you rise again in a dungeon beneath the giant Lands Between above you and are greeted with a nearly invisible tutorial that you can easily miss (as I did). After making it out of the dungeon your experience is almost totally up to you. Where you go, when you go there, and what you’ll find is totally driven by your own whims. Want to go fight a dragon? Sure. Spend 4 hours trying to kill a man on horseback who continually lunges at you from 20 feet away with his enormous lance? Go for it, Tarnished.
Juxtaposing this opening sequence with that of Ragnarok, one is immediately struck by the cinematic nature of what composes most of the God of War experience. The menu itself slowly fades into the beginning of the story as Kratos sits on a rock in a cave, snow falling behind him as he holds the bag that used to contain his wife’s ashes. From there we learn about “Fimbulwinter” and some of the events that have been happening since we last left this father and son duo after the conclusion of the last game. The next hour or so is spent learning about the changes in Atreus and Kratos’ relationship, Atreus has his own goals now. He wants to find Tyr, he wants to learn more about the world around him and try and leave his own stamp on the impending Ragnarok that Fimbulwinter is prophesied to precede. Our duo is very quickly attacked by Freya, the scorned mother of Baldur that Kratos killed and we learn that she is absolutely not over it. Kratos and Atreus then meet Odin and Thor in their home and they’re told the Asgardians are prepared to forgive all the blood that has been spilt, including that of Thor’s own sons, as long as they agree to stop the search for Tyr. Eventually the introduction into the game leads us back to the beloved dwarf brothers, Brock and Sindri, who give our protagonists the ability to travel the realms once more and the journey begins with Kratos begrudgingly accepting his son’s quest to find and free Tyr from Odin’s imprisonment. This is where the freedom in Ragnarok’s open world first shows itself, giving the player the freedom to go to Svartalfheim, the realm of the dwarves where Tyr is rumored to be imprisoned or maybe explore Midgard.
Already there are stark contrasts between these two experiences, Elden Ring is built upon player choice and fully embraces its RPG elements hoping that the player will make their own version of their protagonists’ journey through exploring the world and stumbling upon the path to becoming the next Elden Lord. Whereas Sony Santa Monica is primarily interested in telling its mythological epic and focuses it on several characters who were all fully fleshed out in the previous God of War experience. This is where Ragnarok has an unfair advantage because of its focus on walking us through something that feels linear and dynamic at the same time.
This divergence continues throughout each experience. Elden Ring is driven moment-to-moment, for a majority of the game, by the player’s intuition and internal monologue. Whereas Ragnarok is driven by these supremely fleshed out characters’ relationships, wants, and goals. Where you go, what you do, and how you achieve it feels more in your hands in Elden Ring which could generate a sense of power and omniscience within the game. “I want to see what’s going on with this massive walking island” or “let’s follow this path and see what happens”. Sometimes you’re simply not strong enough to face whatever challenge unfolds once you get there, but you’re welcome to spend hours doing whatever you like if you are driven by a sense of purpose in that moment to complete that task. That loop of exploration, discovery, and facing the consequences (or being rewarded, depending on what you find) was central to the Elden Ring experience, however Ragnarok had a similar loop that occurred between each main story beat. Typically these moments were accompanied by Mimir or Atreus straight up saying, “we don’t have to do that just yet, we could just explore.” Which is a little heavy-handed, even for this God of War fangirl. But I see the need for adding these lines of dialogue in, because the pull forward in the Ragnarok narrative is somehow so strong that you need the reminder of “I have a choice on how to move forward.” So when it comes to the idea of choice in each game, I feel that Ragnarok balanced its compelling storytelling and character motivations within the same framework of moment-to-moment decision-making that composes most of Elden Ring, but it did not have to rely on a players’ creativity to justify each choice, which makes Ragnarok an inherently more complete experience. If the effort and goal of voting a Game of the Year is supposed to highlight the amount of work that went into creating the experience, we cannot deny that Ragnarok is a more complete game in this regard even if this gap was created purposefully due to the nature of what Elden Ring is.
I played God of War Ragnarok for around 40-50 hours and not once did a frame stutter or the game crash. The incredible detail, massively beautiful landscapes, and seamless animations that filled the Ragnarok experience were gorgeous throughout my entire playthrough. Each character spoke through a beautifully realized character model that captured each actor’s emotions perfectly and even in combat the player could feel those performances coming through. Discovering each new realm and what it had to offer was such a blast because of how the developers made everything feel distinct and massive in scale without overblowing that scale to something overwhelming. Vanaheim, Svartalfheim, Midgard, Asgard, Jotunheim, all of these realms serve very specific purposes for each character and point in the game when we visit them. Each realm is suffering its own version of Fimbulwinter and that manifests itself differently in how that area is presented and how its tasks unfold. There used to be a time in video games where developers kept making their open worlds bigger and bigger without realizing that size isn’t everything (thank goodness) and it’s about what you fill that world with, the substance of it that is important. So if you have a giant empty world, that sucks. And if you have a world that’s too small, it also sucks. God of War strikes a nice balance between these two and gives us plenty to do within each realm to force us to explore every nook and cranny and properly rewards us with something interesting to do, to see, or to collect. Getting around the world is also important and this game is full of walking, riding in a boat (sometimes flying in a boat), or commanding sleds led by wolves or other more mythical beasts. These moments of traveling from A to B are filled with substantial dialogue between Kratos and his small band of fellow travelers. Not to mention that this game ends with one of the coolest ending sequences I have ever played through in a video game as Kratos and his allies fight their way into Asgard to kill Odin, with only the likes of Mass Effect 2 rivaling it.
The design of Ragnarok’s enemies, the developers’ take on the Norse gods, the giants, the dwarves, they’re all impeccable and purposeful and fit directly into the world that has been crafted around our angry Spartan. I mean, who doesn’t wish that Chris Hemsworth was a drunk of a father like this Thor (played by a super underrated actor, Ryan Hurst, in the game) in Thor: Love and Thunder instead of the haphazard father-daughter relationship that was contrived for us in that film. Or Odin being represented as a super-powered fast talker who could convince a tree it could fly instead of a general of war as we’ve seen in the Marvel movies. Sony Santa Monica deftly combined the facts of these mythological figures we have garnered from their legends with the world of God of War, a world where all gods exist within the relative time and place in which the people in that world are actively worshiping them.
Elden Ring took me around 80 hours to complete and then a few hours after that in New Game+ before I put it down forever. There were moments of genuine awe when uncovering new locations. Prime examples: first walking in to discover Leyndell while hearing those crazy trumpet enemies playing their instruments, or the introduction to General Radahn sitting atop his tiny horse on a massive battlefield flinging spears at us from his precarious looking perch on the horizon, or the nightmare-inducing (at least for someone whose #1 fear is tornadoes) of the ruined city of Farum Azula. FromSoftware’s games are known for creating a constant ominous vibe as you traverse through the world and Elden Ring is no exception. From the open plains of Limgrave that make the player feel as if they’ve stepped onto an active battlefield in the wilds of a European hillscape, to the tremendous underground cities and tunnels that contain Lakes of a red substance known as “rot”, Elden Ring puts us in terrifying situations full of equally terrifying and powerful enemies. The world is huge and interspersed across it are things to kill, people to help, and people to help until it’s time to kill them (lolz). Everything in this game is about getting stronger and being able to kill new threats that you come across, very similar to all of the other games in FromSoftware’s catalog. Getting around the world is made easier due to the introduction of a magical steed, Torrent, but it still takes some time to get from place to place if you decide to make that trip on foot, otherwise you can fast travel to any Site of Grace (which was my preferred method as the game went on because this place is huge). As a player’s reliance on fast travel increases, the likelihood of uncovering Elden Ring’s secrets goes down so if you want to see everything you have to ride around in silence exploring which nooks and crannies actually house something significant or if it’s just another rabbit hole that leads to nothing or to nowhere. The world changes at a certain point in the game when you are forced to light the Elden Tree on fire, this opens some new sections of the map and creates an Ashen Capital version of Leyndell that must be explored before getting up to the Elden Throne and challenging the Elden Beast with your Elden sword upon your Elden shoulder. Names, visual cues, a couple of cinematics where you talk plot with your maiden, Melina, brief dialogue scenes that preface most boss battles, and item descriptions are the only clues a player has as to why they are in the Lands Between and what their objectives currently are. This purposefully obtuse delivery of the overarching story is one of the reasons many players enjoy FromSoftware’s games and that inherent oblique nature of the game is one reason I wasn’t as connected to it as I was to a game like God of War. Holding them side by side, it’s hard not to imagine that this is a choice made out of convenience as a developer. A convenient choice which can be retroactively justified by leaning into it and saturating the experience with a lack of direction because the player has that much freedom in guiding the narrative.
Elden Ring’s creature and character designs are all impeccably executed with standouts including Blaidd, an imposing figure that stands a head or two taller than your character and looks like a sentient werewolf. The aforementioned General Radahn, a man who lived his life for war and became exceedingly proficient on the battlefield, so much so that he became a one-man army all on his own…with his tiny little horse to carry him into the thick of it. And, as the first main boss battle pretty much everybody encounters, we have Margit the Fell Omen, and we all know what a piece of shit he is. But that cane-wielding monstrous man is so well designed both as a figure that can strike fear into a player’s heart when eyes are laid upon him as well as a properly executed first challenge whose moves are telegraphed and easily countered once a player has put in his own requisite amount of time with the fight. I do not see myself as a “casual” player or someone who just picks up games willy-nilly and plays them at a surface level. I try desperately to unlock secrets and work to understand the world around me, but Elden Ring is still a mystery to me. Beyond the idea that I am a Tarnished working to overthrow the current establishment and become the next Elden Lord to rule over the Lands Between, I am driven by no other purpose. Am I killing all these crazy guys because I need to get past them to enter the next area? Or are they trying to keep the status quo? Is this like a Crackdown situation (crazy reference to make right now, I know) where I have to rid the lands of the leader’s Lieutenants and other followers before I am strong enough or they are weak enough for me to fight them? Only after finishing the game could I, through the help of several online resources, answer all these questions. Does that make me a failed observer or does the game fail to properly deliver the answers to these questions? My brother would say it’s the former, but I would hope that someone out there would agree that a little work could have been done to assist me in the process of completing the game to answer the questions I have posited here.
At this point, let’s take it to some final comments. God of War has the edge for me over Elden Ring in Presentation because of its focus and attention to detail in building the world we explore as players, putting those details out in the open so as not to hide them behind a veil of obscurity and entwining its story within how the world and its realms are represented to give us a complete and entertaining experience. I mean…it’s presented in one shot guys, eat your heart out Iñárritu.
Wow. I’ve already talked a lot about these games all from the perspective of their Presentation and that part of this analysis has most definitely included more aspects of these other 2 topics than I originally intended, but I think that just speaks to how tightly all of these aspects are woven in both of these incredible games. But let’s take some time to focus our efforts on objectively figuring out who takes the cake for Gameplay.
If we look back on where God of War started, the gameplay used to be its biggest focus. Creating a sense of scale as Kratos, then just a super powerful Spartan demigod that served the god of war, Aries, by using his Blades of Chaos to kill Hydras and other Grecian mythical beasts. The first 3 games were all about huge, bombastic set pieces that used quick time events during the big moments to showcase incredible visuals when felling these monsters and at the same time giving the player a sense of ownership over executing these ridiculous sweet-ass moves. I would say Ragnarok has found a happy medium between the more plodding nature of 2018’s God of War combat and the combat in those games of the PS2 era. Killing and dismembering enemies in Ragnarok is as fun as it has ever been. The animations that flow flawlessly from one move to the next, even when switching weapons. The weight of the axe is still impressive as Kratos heaves it and then summons it back. I was especially surprised by the introduction of the Draupnir Spear to Kratos’ arsenal and used it about as often as I could once I unlocked it. You can test your combat skills in the Crucible, which returns from 2018’s God of War and instead of fighting Valkyries you find scattered through the realms you fight Berserker’s which are trapped souls of great warriors that you find represented by tombstones in the ground at various points in the world(s). All of these options to test your combat skills is nice to have, due to some changes in the arenas in which you encounter enemies as Sony Santa Monica has added more verticality and they want you to be on the move with Kratos lashing up to ledges and returning to crash down on whoever didn’t follow and that’s a difficult paradigm shift to easily adapt to. Alongside all of these changes to the combat in the God of War series we are also given a lot of time to play directly as Atreus this time around. I found it quite a compelling experience to be given the reins of the Ghost of Sparta’s son as he got up to his own hijinks in this game. No matter who you’re playing as, the goals remain the same. You must dodge, parry, and strike accurately to avoid being swarmed by enemies and overwhelmed by the many different enemy types in the world. After hours of fighting, you start to understand the rhythm of combat and can easily find the right combination of weapon attacks, runic attacks, and weapon types to stomp out the bad guys in a varied and satisfying flourish.
(Disclaimer: I will NOT be focusing on the idea of death / losing progress due to failure that is inherent in all FromSoftware games. There is no parallel within God of War and it neither added to nor took away much from my experience throughout my time in Elden Ring.)
The growth of FromSoftware as a developer can also be seen in the additions and slight modifications they made to their combat system. As in all of their games, you can simply get a big weapon or a sword and a shield and go through the Lands Between slicing and parrying your way to victory. But this time around the game encourages more players to explore magic abilities and what the game calls “Weapon Arts” to add some variety into the combat. Like a lot of people, my first playthrough was a Bleed build that heavily leveraged the “Bloodhound Step” weapon art which allowed my character to teleport himself small distances and avoid attacks. This was a nice new mechanic that could allow you to build an elemental meter (i.e. fire, ice, blood, etc.) to, once it was full, do huge extra damage to a boss or random enemy. These new additions to the game gave me a lot of options to switch things up when I was stuck on a tough boss (looking at you, Malenia) or if I couldn’t get through an area without dying. But the depth of customization doesn’t stop there. Some enemies would drop their own weapon arts or spells and after a certain point in the game, you are allowed to completely “respec” your character to go from a hulking tank of a Knight in heavy armor to a magic-wielding Wizard who could rain death down on his enemies from above. No game I’ve ever played has allowed me to do a complete 180 midgame before and this level of freedom is a huge reason why a lot of players continued to play Elden Ring after the credits rolled. They created builds of Darth Sidious, Saitama from One Punch Man, among so many others just based on all of the combat options that are available to you by the end of the game. This enormous freedom of customizing the Elden Ring experience brings with it the need to balance what the player is capable of with the difficulty of the game itself. In some cases, I have seen players create unstoppable Weapons of Mass Destruction with some of these character builds. Builds that straight up break the game. I’m not saying this is a bad thing, because it feels purposeful that at the end of everything you have enough spells and resources to craft a supreme badass that can easily demolish anything they come across. Which would make New Game+ a walk in the park for anyone willing to do the research.
In conjunction with the combat, the various side quests that keep players busy between main story beats in both games are comparable and while God of War’s side missions feel like they’re part of the bigger whole (i.e. helping Mimir re-right a past wrong or going to rescue Bigir after he seemingly sacrificed himself to save you), Elden Ring’s side quests are, at the top of their form, very engaging self-contained stories that play out through the entirety of the experience. In order to remain objective and give both games equity in this analysis, I would like to isolate two side quests, one from each game, to decide which one would take the cake in this subsection of scrutiny.
For Ragnarok, I’d like to focus on Mimir’s side quest chain in Svartalfheim. Mimir tells us a story in passing as we are exploring this realm of his misdeeds in the realm of the dwarves, in which he convinced them with Odin’s help to allow the Aesir to mine valuable resources from their realm for the "greater good" and with a not-so-subtle threat of violence if they didn’t agree to these demands. Also in passing, Mimir asks if Kratos could make time to right these wrongs. It appears that the mining equipment the Aesir installed has left the realm full of dangerous pollutants that make the air hard to breathe, which is made worse by Fimbulwinter. Now at this point a marker is placed on the map and the player can, as I did at first, ignore it. But after a few more minutes of exploring, I was reminded again due to an offhand comment one of my compatriots made about the air of the realm and the guilt that Mimir felt at being the cause of the realm being in its current state. So I followed the marker and began to destroy the mining rigs. This resulted in me uncovering several more side missions I had previously missed, along with finding some collectibles on the way and all the while I was still working to help out my “closest friend” (literally - because he’s on my belt). With all these balls up in the air, I never lost focus. I never felt overwhelmed and I knew what to do next. Once the mission chain was completed and the beast in the middle of the bay in Svartalfheim had been properly freed, Mimir was ever so grateful that I dedicated my precious time away from stopping the end of the realms and took time to help him out. While the objectives of this side quest were simple and straightforward, the meaning behind it multiplied my willingness to participate in the face of the greater stakes of the impending Ragnarok.
In Elden Ring, the side mission I found most affecting was that of Millicent. For a brief moment let us all abandon our public-facing compassion and agree on a moment that we have all experienced. Walking in a city, looking up at the buildings towering on either side of us, and suddenly a word from a person sitting on the ground covered in dirtied clothes and cardboard tries to grab our attention. In most cases, not all, but most times every single one of us just continues looking forward and walks by this person and it’s mostly because we’re distracted by everything else around us. That’s how you meet Millicent. She’s lying on the ground in the Church of the Plague just moaning away about the misery of her situation. If you’re like me, you probably didn’t care about this random NPC at first. Mostly because you weren’t sure how you could help. After some Google-ing I realized I already had what she needed and followed the online forum’s instructions. From there I learned that she needed help retrieving…something? So I had to continue following the online guide and got her a new prosthetic arm she could use, which felt nice to be able to help her! And I thought after that, we’re done right? No sir. The online guide walked me through several more steps that took place at points in the game I had not yet reached and once I did, I had to pull up the guide again to remind myself where to look for her. Long story short, this culminated in me providing assistance with her fight against her 4 sisters who…I guess wronged her or some shit? It didn’t matter, it was a hell of a fight and one that I was driven to win because it meant the completion of a side quest and I felt like I briefly understood the purpose of me performing the several other tasks it took for me to get here. Once I killed them all, yes it was mostly me Milly. I rested at a nearby Site of Grace and returned to find her dying. So I guess I failed?
In both games, the tasks I had to complete felt meaningful. Both games allowed for me to feel like these quests were a part of the bigger world around me, even if they didn’t help me with completing my main objective. Yet again, we run into the issue of FromSoftware’s purposeful decision to hide things it wants you to be completing behind its Veil of Obscurity (I’m coining this now). So inherently, by design, the God of War side quests are a more enjoyable experience because I didn’t have to look up a guide to understand what and why each step needed to be completed. And again, God of War proves that you can have compelling side quests that are tied tightly to the main narrative without punishing players who skip them as optional as they can always be completed later.
So it seems that God of War takes the cake on this category of judgment as well, probably to no surprise for anyone reading. But there is a solid reason. Every piece of the gameplay and the side quests Sony Santa Monica developed ties back to the story, the characters, their relationships, and makes you feel purpose and feel immersed while taking every step forward. Elden Ring is plagued again by its “Veil of Obscurity” which blocks me out of whatever task it wants me to complete, making me turn to others on the internet for each step, and keeps me from caring about anything that’s happening beyond the shallow notion of checking another box of completion that, you guessed it, I have to keep tabs on myself.
We have arrived. I get to postulate on the ways each of these developers have told their stories and drone on about how incredible Cory Barlog is, while being as verbose as possible in my prose, droning on endlessly, each sentence running into the next until the end of time.
…not really. I’ll keep this section pretty short because, based on everything else in this piece you know for a fact that Elden Ring’s story did NOT pull me in or fully engage my interest but I’d still like to do a short outline of events and speak to the positives and voice any criticisms.
Elden Ring is a story full of “lore”. All of Miyazaki’s games are full of “lore”. The cynical interpretation of this means, the world tells its own story and the characters you meet, including yourself, are just small pieces of the larger picture. In a lot of the FromSoftware games, with Sekiro being an exception, some of the most important events to happen to these characters happen before you were introduced to them and the result of those events turned them into the insane, over-the-top, terrifying beasts or mutated versions of themselves that you have to fight. Your main objective as one of the Tarnished is to collect the Great Runes across the Lands Between, bring those to the Erdtree and use them to repair the Elden Ring. Once you start collecting Great Runes and make your way to the Erdtree for the first time you find that the way is blocked and after you kill Morgott he tells you, “ain’t nobody getting in here”. Now you, at Melina’s behest, go to find the Flame of Ruin (or the Frenzied Flame for those whose characters might fall on the side of the Chaotic) in order to burn the tree. Some other stuff happens but it culminates in you killing an Elden Beast which is the last protector of the tree and the remains of the Elden Ring. Effectively, based on your choices, you can see any of six different endings. I got the one where I became Elden Lord. Seeing my guy, who started as a lowly samurai, sitting atop the throne and beginning his rule over the Lands Between was pretty cool. But since I was a “basic” player, the context of all of my actions leading up to this was lost on me. This doesn’t make this a bad story, it’s actually pretty compelling looking at it in this context and has all the trappings of high fantasy that I love when dedicating my time to reading the likes of Brandon Sanderson or Mr. George R.R. Martin himself. But the developers did not take the time to create a protagonist for me. They foolishly left it all up to me to create that backstory, maintain it throughout the story, endlessly scour the landscape for people to meet and side quests to obtain, and left me to get lost in the minutiae of exploration and combat forgetting the fact that I am part of some fantastical quest in a land far from our own.
Ragnarok is a totally different story. (pause for laughter)
God of War 2018 surprised us all by taking one of the most two-dimensional characters in gaming, Kratos, a spurned Spartan who spent 3 games screaming at and subsequently killing the gods from Greek mythology, and told a heartfelt story about a father navigating what it is to be a parent in the face of losing his partner. In this sequel, I thought they’d lean into the mythology and this would be a standard story, retelling the events of Ragnarok as they’ve unfolded before but Kratos would take the role of some known mythological figure, like Surtr, and we would find out he was always meant to kill Odin…or something like that. But instead what we got was a nuanced story that covered several things: a person changing themselves for the better by listening to his child. How can Atreus lose himself in his anger as Kratos has many times before but also control it? It covers a father learning to accept his son as a man and learning how to let him go and follow his own path. They play with the idea of fate, a theme explored before and something that is very familiar to God of War fans, and assert that “choice” is the number one thing people can do to avoid their supposed fates. Kratos choosing not to kill Thor and Odin in the end was an amazing 180 degree flip for him as a character, but they made it make sense as he was actively choosing to understand his enemies before making a judgment that would inevitably result in their death. It’s a story that makes you believe that people can change, people are not static representations of their current actions but they are a pool of endless possibilities that can shift from moment to moment if they are willing to listen. How does a VIDEO GAME cover this type of material, give us bone-crunching, exciting combat, AND tell a story focusing on Norse mythological figures that doesn’t feel like a simple re-telling?
I have no idea, but they did it.
This is the final straw that makes my Game of the Year 2022 God of War: Ragnarok. The absolute mastery that went into crafting this epic experience of a video game had me hooked from the moment it opened all the way to its exciting conclusion that left me crying into my hands as we see Kratos trust and love Atreus enough to let him go explore the realms and try to save the giants, and then we bear witness to Kratos finally being shown a future for himself where he is no longer seen as a monster.
Elden Ring is a fantastic game and I do believe it takes some of the ideas introduced in games like Breath of the Wild and the rest of the FromSoftware library of titles and combines them into a breath-taking, challenge-filled, and singular experience. However, God of War: Ragnarok is the one that will stick with me longer because it took the time to make me understand why every step I took mattered. The specifics of each moment in the game, even simple moments where I may have stumbled into a dragon pit and had to sacrifice an animal to summon the drake and subsequently kill it, were elevated by the context of the characters and their surrounding stories. This for me signifies a more complete and polished experience and THAT is what needs to be rewarded when discussing GOY contenders. The work that goes into these games is what needs to be highlighted. FromSoftware did a hell of a lot of incredible work to build Elden Ring, but Sony Santa Monica went farther and that is why they have my vote this year.