For a game about a whirlwind of fire and blood that ends the world, God of war Ragnarök it definitely fades away. The ending to Santa Monica Studio’s latest chapter, out now for PlayStation 4 and PlayStation 5, is as satisfying as it is thematically sound. It also misses an opportunity to do the brave thing, resulting in a creative blunder that, in my mind, holds up Ragnarok back from greatness.
[Ed. note: This post contains full spoilers for the final act of God of War Ragnarök.]
Just so we’re on the same page about what I’m referring to: Kratos lives, which, whatever, is fine. After the credits, however, you continue to play as him. It’s less good! God of war Ragnarök had a chance to do something really unexpected with its ending: it could have put you in Atreus’ shoes. Instead, picking up after the credits with Kratos on another fully paid-for killing spree across the Nine Realms, Ragnarok it’s based on the “keep killing everything in sight to find trinkets” formula that has defined big-budget video games for a generation.
To be clear, I mostly enjoyed it God of war Ragnarökit’s finishing. The final chapter is a flurry of twists, turns, and indulgent if illogical deus ex machina moments. Watching Kratos, Atreus, Freya and their allies storm Asgard is truly epic by its original definition, fit for a dude named Homer to read – a feeling that is further underscored by composer Bear McCreary’s orchestral arrangement. Switch between playable characters at key moments during the climactic battle, a microcosm of the changing perspectives that define him RagnarokThe Act of Interrupting: Reinforces the journey the characters have taken throughout this game. The final fights against Thor and Odin are insane, especially that part where Atreus snaps a prop from the 1994 film The mask in half. And the closing moments, when the heroes escape through a portal created by Angrboda as a now literally giant Surtr smites Asgard with a sword that would make Cloud Strife jealous, is legit stuff.
Part of the reason it’s the stuff of screaming, though, is that you go into the final battle anticipating Kratos’ death. After all, quite a lot foreshadowed his death. At the end of God of War (2018), Kratos sees a prophetic illustration that he believes is a prediction of his own death, and intentionally hides it from Atreus. Some chapters in Ragnarok, Atreus learns the same prophecy; that’s kind of the whole triggering event of this game. So for two hours of intense battle sequences, you’re waiting for this big, dramatic thing to happen. He never does.
Why not? Because Faye – Kratos’ wife and Atreus’ mom – apparently destroyed the real prophecy, which portrays Kratos as a revered ruler of the nine realms. As for the original prophecy, which depicted an old man dying in the arms of Atreus, Odin’s death in this game looks strikingly similar. Both are called “father”, if we are to share hair, and both have beards. It’s an incredibly subtle connection that slips on a technicality.
Just before the credits roll, Atreus realizes he has to be somewhere. Remember how, at the very beginning of the game, you learn the true fate of what happened to the giants? And how they were confined to a pile of marbles that look a lot like the 2009 indie comedy anime Cold souls? They need help, it seems, and—this is the key—Atreus says he has to do it himself. Father and son embrace, resulting in Kratos actually hearing his son for perhaps the first time ever. Then Atreus scales a cliff and disappears.
You find yourself playing as Kratos, accompanied by Freya, who sets to work cleaning up the post-war mess in the realms. Go around, he finds and eliminates “pieces of Asgard”. This basically means that you spend your time hunting and killing small contingents of Asgardian soldiers; because of Reasons, they apparently can’t be convinced that Asgard has definitively lost the war. You can also find and fight 12 extremely challenging ghost soldiers and kill them forever. Oh, and you can track down Odin’s last remaining lieutenant and, imagine, kill her. For a guy who’s finally found the goddamn peace and quiet he craves, Kratos certainly spends a lot of time on the battlefield.
A Better Alternative: The endgame was a key opportunity for God of war Ragnarök pull a Red Dead Redemption and cast as Atreus for postgame. He is a fully playable character in Ragnarok, complete with skill tree, customizable skills, and combat toolkit. Some people (hello) even find it preferable to control over the slower, bulkier sire.
Under this hypothetical, the endgame questline would instead see you assisting the giants, rather than eliminating the rest of the Asgardian army. These missions may even take place in the same locations! Any lingering artifacts? No problem: In one of the best visual gags in the game, Atreus has shown that he can open chests without any problems. As his father, Atreus even has the benefit of the bottomless inventory space that comes with being a god. Also, I’m sure an arrow is just as good at taking out pesky green crows as Kratos’ spear.
In retrospect, it stands to reason that Kratos was never going to die or even be hung up on a nail, at least not permanently. There are too many 100% incorrect meters to complete in this game, and you as a player have invested too much time into beefing up Kratos’ stats and armor. Plus, in such a lucrative franchise, you have to leave some room for sequels. (In 2021, developer Santa Monica Studio said Ragnarok it’s the end of the “Norse saga”, but he specifically didn’t say it’s the end of the series.)
God of war Ragnarök it’s ultimately about trying to reinvent yourself on a fundamental level, to set an example for your children and anyone else who follows in your footsteps. But in its final minutes, the game inadvertently claims how damn hard it is.