Even by AAA requirements, God of War Ragnarök is a colossal sport. It interweaves tales of fatherhood, legacies, and cataclysmic occasions in a semi-open world replete with issues to do. However in Valhalla, its free DLC, Santa Monica Studio boils fight and journey down to a a lot less complicated formulation. In pulling from Hades’ strategy to storytelling, God of War Ragnarök: Valhalla weaponizes repetition to engross you in its roguelite narrative, drip-feeding you deeper information of the Ghost of Sparta and the characters round him with every successive run.
Valhalla, launched on December 12, serves as each a brand new roguelite mode and a story-centric epilogue. Not like the upcoming No Return mode in The Final of Us Half 2 Remastered, through which the novelty lies in taking management of beforehand unplayable characters, Valhalla places us again in Kratos’ footwear. This new realm takes a form that displays the psyche of the particular person coming into it, displaying dream-like depictions of acquainted locales and acquaintances. For Kratos, it’s much less about his relationship with Atreus or the occasions of Ragnarök, and extra about confronting his sadistic outdated self, accounting for previous actions, and discovering decision with a large forged of returning characters.
No, this isn’t the primary time that we’ve seen references to the protagonist’s genocidal onslaughts again in Greece. The cutscene the place Kratos recovers his Blades of Chaos in 2018’s God of War served as the sport’s emotional linchpin, and he’s usually telling tales from these occasions to Atreus, Mimir, and Freya in boat-centric conversations all through the sequel. In Valhalla, although, Santa Monica Studio is in a position to discover Kratos’ previous with out the gravitational pull of a wider, apocalyptic plot. It’s primarily a remedy session for one of video video games’ bloodiest protagonists.
Structurally, you start every run at The Shore, a hub space the place you should purchase upgrades, communicate to characters after fulfilling aspect duties, and select your beginning tools earlier than your subsequent foray. Valhalla’s Nordic setting however, the similarities to Hades are instantly obvious. A listing of challenges — use completely different runic skills, defeat enemies in a sure method, to title a pair — rewards you with in-game forex. Rooms usually permit you to choose between a number of doorways, every with an emblem indicating which reward sort awaits on the opposite aspect. There’s even a Chaos Boon equal: You’ll be able to choose a Burden of Valhalla that debuffs you for the subsequent few rooms, however grants you a robust perk or runic assault should you survive.
For all of the preliminary pleasure, it steadily turns into clear that God of War Ragnarök doesn’t have sufficient weapon selection to act as a completely fledged roguelite. All three weapons (every of which has its personal discrete ability timber) are totally unlocked from the beginning. Most of the runic skills are drawn from the bottom sport’s pool, so that you’re certain to see acquainted abilities. However the reward methods in place — each in phrases of narrative discoveries and character development, as Kratos’ stats have to be manually upgraded — are main me to experiment usually.
Earlier than runs, you select a protect sort and a rage means. I’m used to parrying, so I at all times go for a protect that enables for snap reactions. Like Hades, nonetheless, one possibility in every class is highlighted at random, growing the financial rewards you’ll accrue must you select stated protect. With every subsequent smackdown I partake in, Valhalla’s bite-sized arenas exhibit the strengths of the fight within the base sport. Sure, new enemies and unlockables are an enormous consider introducing novelty to current methods. However there’s a sheer sense of amusement, and problem, if you’re unaware of what enemies you’ll face within the subsequent room, and the way the instruments you selected initially will both flip the tide in your favor or add to the stress of a run.
On the coronary heart of all of it, Santa Monica Studio’s most direct ode to Hades is that progress doesn’t happen solely if you sort out a foremost goal or defeat a boss. Even if you fail a run, you may count on a brief dialog or a brand new cutscene to unfold if you’re again at The Shore. You’ll want to sort out sure thresholds to see the hunt line in full, of course. However every run is a step in the appropriate path nonetheless.
I’m unsure how lengthy Valhalla can be in a position to keep the magic. After eight hours and over a dozen runs, nonetheless, its spell on me has but to put on off. Not like Returnal’s Tower of Sisyphus mode, which was constructed on a basis already predicated on loops, Valhalla is condensing a gargantuan AAA action-adventure. But, by leaning into the strengths of Hades, Santa Monica Studio has achieved a a lot snappier tempo, permitting for a private journey to flourish free from the shackles of prophesied occasions.
Valhalla acts as each an epilogue for Ragnarök and a delicate prologue to the occasions that may unfold within the inevitable third sport. Nevertheless it doesn’t really feel tacked on. As a substitute, it supplies an atypical breather from overarching narrative tasks and dense areas to comb. As AAA video games proceed to pursue grandiose scale, this less complicated, but equally wealthy construction stands by itself. I hope extra studios take discover of the significance of permitting smaller tales to blossom. For now, I’ll take refuge in Valhalla — earlier than Kratos’ subsequent odyssey engulfs me in spectacle and padding as soon as extra.