After years of waiting and a delay or two, God of War: Ragnarok hits the PS4 and PS5 on Nov. 9. It’s one of the best games of 2022. Ragnarok features dazzling realms and exhilarating combat, but its greatest strength may be its story. The relationship between Kratos and his son Atreus is the foundation of this tale, which sees the pair tackle the spectre of Ragnarok — the end of days.
Anyone can enjoy the game’s stunning graphics and thoughtful puzzles — and anyone who can stomach the violence will enjoy its combat. The story, however, will require some brushing up on ancient history. Players of previous games may need some reminders on key plot details before diving into the new blockbuster, and those new to the franchise will absolutely need to know the 411 before entering the cataclysm of God of War: Ragnarok.
God of War: Ragnarok is great but, trust me, it’s dense. (Read our God of War: Ragnarok review here.)
Kratos was originally from ancient Greece, right?
He sure was. Though God of War: Ragnarok takes place in the Norse realms, Kratos’ first adventures were all rooted in Greek mythology. He started out as a regular Greek warrior dude but, facing near death amid a brutal battle, he called out to Ares, the god of war, with an offer. Give him strength, and Kratos will forever be in Ares’ debt.
Turns out, selling your soul to the god of war is a short-sighted move. Kratos, with the Blades of Chaos seared around his wrists, is put to work — and by work I mean “ruthlessly plundering villages.” Ares deemed Kratos a good but not great super-soldier, so hatched a plan: If Kratos killed his wife and daughter, he’d be free of ties to the mortal world and would become the coldest of killers. So Ares tricked Kratos into murdering his own family. Pretty awful boss, that Ares — thankfully labor laws have come a long way since ancient Greece.
Ares’ plan works, for a while. Kratos serves the gods dutifully for a decade, but is haunted by nightmares of his family’s death. He demands Athena, the goddess of wisdom, remove his nightmares, and she gives him an offer. If Kratos kills Ares, who’s gone rogue in recent years, she’ll cleanse Kratos’ brain of his nightmarish past.
Thus begins Kratos’ god-killing ways. Over the course of the original God of War trilogy, Kratos kills Ares and takes his place as god of war, is betrayed by Zeus and sent to the underworld, murders Hades to get out, learns Zeus is actually his dad (!), demolishes the entire Greek pantheon and eventually kills Zeus. God of War 3 ends with a vista of a chaotic, godless horizon.
Pretty heavy stuff.
How did Kratos get to Midgard?
Short answer: He walked and sailed. About 100 years separate God of War 3 and 2018’s God of War — more than enough time to reach a new land the ol’-fashioned way.
Having wrought chaos and killed so, so many people, Kratos wanted a new life. As revealed in the Dark Horse God of War comics, Kratos fled Greece after the events of God of War 3 and roamed the foreign Land of the Pharaohs — Egypt isn’t that far from Greece, after all. Kratos tried time and time again to rid himself of his Blades of Chaos, but every time he went to sleep, he’d wake up to find them returned to him.
Kratos wants to leave his old ways behind, but is tormented by the unshakable Blades of Chaos. He meets an old man who tells Kratos that he’s the answer to the locals’ prayers: They’ve been threatened by two Chaos Beasts, and destiny has sent Kratos there to slay the fiends. Kratos is still a massive downer at this point and says he just wants to be left alone. He’s confronted by the Chaos Beasts, but refuses to use his Blades of Chaos. He manages to kill one, but the other, larger one knocks him unconscious.
The old man reveals himself to be Thoth, the Egyptian god of wisdom. Between Thoth and Athena, who has a habit of appearing to Kratos in visions, Kratos is convinced to not run away from his destiny. He wakes up, grabs his Blades of Chaos and slays the beast. That allows him to move beyond the Land of the Pharaohs.
After his detour through Egypt, Kratos walks and walks and walks. He finds himself in the northern Norse lands. He lives in solitude for 75 years, according to the comics, during which time he works on his anger issues, trying to purge himself of the memories that still haunt. After that time, he meets a woman called Faye. She teaches him to open up his heart, and the two have a boy together. Kratos names him Atreus, after a Spartan soldier Kratos battled alongside many years prior.
Is that where God of War 2018 starts?
A little bit further on. We don’t ever get to know Faye, as she dies right before God of War 2018 begins. This is what precipitates Kratos’ mission in the game. Faye’s last request was that he spread her ashes from the highest peak in the nine realms. Simple, right?
The quest is complicated immediately when a strange man knocks on Kratos’ door. He confronts Kratos, and the two brawl. But the fellow is immune to pain, though Kratos is able to temporarily do away with him by snapping his neck and rolling him off a cliff. We soon find out that the man is Baldur, the son of Odin. Odin is the all-father of the Nordic gods, the Zeus of these lands, making Baldur a god too.
So Kratos and Atreus go off in search of the highest peak in the land, but with Baldur following them for unknown reasons. Kratos is uneasy about his son joining him — Atreus has a strange illness that often makes him weak — but allows it anyway. The Blades of Chaos are conspicuously absent, as Kratos and instead wields the Leviathan ax, a weapon given to him by Faye.
They soon meet The Witch of the Woods, a kind lady who nurtures the local wildlife. She helps guide them through black mist blocking the ascent to Midgard’s peak. When they get there, they find Modi and Magni, sons of Thor and grandsons of Odin, questioning a one-eyed man who’s stuck in a tree. After they vanish, Kratos and Atreus chat with the tree prisoner. He’s Mimir, the so-called smartest man alive and former righthand man to Odin.
Mimir reveals that where they’re standing is not the highest peak in the nine realms. The highest peak is actually in Jotunheim, the Land of the Giants. Those giants, having faced genocide at the hands of Thor and Odin, blocked all travel there. Typical.
Wait, why was Mimir stuck in a tree?
As noted, Mimir used to be an adviser to Odin and ambassador to other realms. Odin proved to be a hard guy to work with, though. The Giants prophesied Ragnarok would see Odin killed, which made him one paranoid all-father. Odin had Thor go on a Giant-killing spree, which is why there are no Giants walking about.
Mimir got on well with the Giants, so much so that they took out one of his eyes and replaced it with a Bifrost that allowed him to travel between realms with ease. Seeing Mimir’s close relations with the Giants, Odin began to suspect betrayal. He imprisoned Mimir in the tree on Midgard’s peak for all eternity — until Kratos and Atreus arrived on the scene.
How do Kratos and Atreus get into the Land of the Giants?
Mimir says that he knows a way in, but that his body is trapped. He proposes an obvious solution, getting Kratos to decapitate him. From then on, Mimir’s head dangles from Kratos’ waistband as he provides all sorts of history and exposition about the Nordic realms.
With Mimir’s help, Kratos and Atreus gather the equipment needed to reconstruct the portal into Jotunheim. Unfortunately, just as they get the portal all set up, Baldur reappears and spoils the party. Another brawl breaks out, and the portal is destroyed. Great.
Mimir has another solution, but it requires them to retrieve his other eye, which is actually a Bifrost that permits interrealm travel. To get it, Kratos and Atreus travel inside the belly of the last giant, the world serpent Jormungandr.
They manage to achieve this and are able to reopen the portal to the Land of the Giants. A bunch of crazy stuff happens in between all of this, and you should know about it all.
What kinda crazy stuff are we talking about?
Mimir reveals the Witch of the Woods to actually be Freya, a goddess. We find out that Freya is the ex-wife of Odin and the mother of Baldur. Baldur is invincible because Freya, having seen a prophecy that Baldur will one day die a needless death, put a spell on him that makes him impervious to pain, or any other sensation.
Meanwhile, Freya revealed that Atreus is sick is because he’s a god who thinks he’s a mortal. The solution is for Kratos to stop hiding their divinity from Atreus, but Kratos doesn’t heed the warning. Kratos and Atreus do battle with Magni and Modi, a showdown that leaves Magni dead. In the scramble, Atreus faints and goes lifeless. To save his son, Kratos has to travel to Helheim and retrieve a troll’s heart. Because Helheim is ice cold, rendering his ax useless, Kratos retrieves his Blades of Chaos from under their Midgard shack. This is the best scene in the game. It rules so much.
Kratos goes into Nordic hell, slays the troll and revives Atreus, then finally tells his son that they’re both gods. They’re attacked by Modi, who Kratos bests. Atreus kills the wounded Modi, earning the ire of Kratos, who says there was no need to kill the clearly defeated foe.
After Kratos and Atreus retrieve Baldur’s second eye from the World Serpent, they fight Baldur again. A mistletoe arrow that Atreus previously acquired pierces Baldur’s invincibility spell, allowing him to feel pain and die. Kratos and Atreus beat him down, but Freya stops them from killing him.
But Baldur, angry that Freya’s spell restricted him from not only pain but any earthly pleasure, starts strangling his mother. To save Freya, Kratos kills Baldur. He puts him in a chokehold and, before snapping his neck for real this time, utters “we must be better than this.” So in the end, Baldur did indeed suffer a needless death.
The mother isn’t grateful at all about her life being saved. Freya swears she’ll get vengeance on Kratos if it’s the last thing she ever does.
So what happens once Kratos and Atreus reach Jotenheim’s peak?
Kratos fulfills Faye’s dying wish, scattering her ashes from Jotenheim’s peak. Despite all the brutal killing, he’s actually a really nice guy.
Before they get to the peak, however, Kratos and Atreus find a mural that provides some startling revalations. First, the Giants prophesized their journey long ago. Their adventure is depicted on the temple walls exactly as it happened. It revealed that Baldur wasn’t after Kratos, he was after Faye — because Faye was a giant. That makes Atreus part giant, part mortal and part god. What’s more, Atreus is named on the mural as Loki.
After Atreus scampers off, wind blows and reveals a final part of the mural, a section Kratos sees but Atreus doesn’t. It shows Atreus mourning over the dead body of Kratos. Kratos grunts, as he does. As they’re returning home, Mimir says Baldur’s death has disrupted the natural order of things. Fimbulwinter, the great winter that precedes Ragnarok, has begun 100 years early.
That’s not a bad omen at all.