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God of War Ragnarok: what you need to know before playing

After four years of waiting, God of War Ragnarok is almost ready. And if you’ve been looking forward to Kratos’ latest adventure, you can rest easy. In our review of God of War Ragnarok, we gave the game 4.5 stars out of five and said it was an “exceptional experience”. [and] arguably the best work from Santa Monica Studios.” Like its predecessors, God of War Ragnarok is a captivating adventure with a complex story and deep plot. Which means if you haven’t played the series in a while, you might need to brush up on what’s already happened.

In our article, “Every God of War Game, Ranked,” we broke down the relative merits of each game released to date. The article also reminded us that while there have been four “core” God of War games, there are actually only nine, and (almost) every single one of them can contribute to the story. With that in mind, here’s an introduction to the history of the God of War series as a whole. Whether you’ve been following the franchise since the beginning or just started playing God of War (2018), here’s what you need to know before playing God of War Ragnarok.

Keep in mind that this part contains major spoilers for the God of War series leading up to Ragnarok, but does not contain spoilers for Ragnarok itself.

Greek cycle

god of war 3

(Image credit: Sony Interactive Entertainment)

Although God of War (2018) was a soft reboot of the franchise, everything that happened in the first eight games is still part of the continuity. Back in 2005, Sony released God of War for PS2 and introduced the world to Kratos, the Ghost of Sparta. In this groundbreaking action game, players will discover the story of Kratos, a Spartan general who made a terrible deal with Ares, the god of war. As a pawn of Ares, Kratos unwittingly kills his family and vows revenge. Eventually, Kratos defeats Ares and becomes the new god of war.

However, Kratos’ divinity does not last long as Zeus strips Kratos of his powers in God of War II (2007, PS2). Kratos swears bloody revenge on Zeus (notice the trend?) and climbs Mount Olympus, cracking down on other deities and demigods along the way. Eventually, Kratos finds out that he is actually Zeus’ son, which is why Zeus is so determined to kill him. Zeus throws Kratos off Mount Olympus, but Kratos enlists the help of the titan Gaia and begins to rise again.

God of War III (2010, PS3) ends the Greek cycle when Kratos and the freed Titans climb Mount Olympus to defeat Zeus once and for all. Kratos works with the blacksmith god Hephaestus to retrieve Pandora’s box, the contents of which could apparently kill even Zeus. Kratos’ quest to destroy Olympus wreaks havoc across Greece, and though he eventually manages to kill Zeus, he then turns his sword on himself. (The wound is not fatal, as we will learn later.)

The PS2/PS3/PSP will also have some additional products. In 2007, God of War: Betrayal was released for mobile phones, but it doesn’t make much of a difference to the story. Kratos kills the Greek god C-lister named Ceryx. I had to look for it too.

However, God of War: Chains of Olympus (2008, PSP) and God of War: Ghost of Sparta (2010, PSP) were far more substantial. The coach passes before the first game; last, between first and second. The Chains of Olympus pits Kratos against the goddess of the seasons, Persephone, and tells us a little more about Kratos’ relationship with his murdered daughter, Calliope. Ghost of Sparta is another family story centered on Kratos’ estranged brother Deimos and how the Greek gods shaped them both.

God of War: Ascension came out for PS3 in 2013 and is another prequel that sees Kratos fighting the Furies. The gameplay is strong, but nothing much happens in the story, although it does foreshadow the relationship between Kratos and Zeus a bit.

Scandinavian cycle

God of War (2018) picture

(Image credit: Sony)

Prior to the release of God of War (2018), there was God of War: A Call from the Wilds, a free text adventure that could be played on Facebook. You play as Atreus, the son of Kratos and a Scandinavian woman named Faye, as he learns to hunt with a bow and arrow. It’s fun entertainment, but not absolutely necessary for myths.

However, God of War (2018) on PS4 requires a more thorough analysis of the plot. This is because God of War Ragnarok is a direct sequel and draws much more on Norse story elements than old Greek ones.

After killing most of the Greek pantheon and nearly killing himself in the process, the older and calmer Kratos retires to a mythical version of Scandinavia where he lives with his new wife Faye and his new son Atreus. When Faye dies, Kratos and the young Atreus must travel to the highest mountain in the land to scatter her ashes. But in doing so, they attract the attention of the Scandinavian god Baldur, and Kratos has to start the cycle of deicide again.

Although repeating the whole story would take too long (see God of War Wiki (will open in a new tab) for a full breakdown), there are a few important plot points to keep in mind for Ragnarok. First, throughout the game, Kratos and Atreus seek help from a forest witch, who turns out to be the Vanish goddess Freya. Baldur is Freya’s son, and in an attempt to keep him out of harm’s way, Freya unwittingly cursed him. The complex relationship between them largely determines the plot of the game.

On their way to the mountain, Kratos and Atreus draw the scorn of other divine personalities, including Magni and Modi. These ruthless warriors are the sons of Thor, the Norse god of thunder. After a series of tense confrontations and one climactic battle, Kratos and Atreus kill Magni and Modi and realize that sooner or later Thor will appear to take revenge.

Along the way, Kratos and Atreus befriend other prominent characters in Norse myth, such as the blacksmith dwarves Brok and Sindri, the talking head Mimir, and the colossal Jörmungandr, also known as the World Serpent. They also hear stories of the vicious and cruel Odin: King of the Norse gods and father of Baldur.

After Kratos and Baldur finally engage in divine combat, Baldur attempts to kill Freya. Kratos kills Baldur before he can do so, though Freya would rather die than see her son harmed. She vows revenge on Kratos, but lets him and Atreus go for now.

When Kratos and Atreus finally reach the top of the mountain, they learn that Faye was actually part of the Jötnar, a mythical race of giants, and that her full name was Laufey. They also learn that she gave Atreus another name: Loki.

Where does God of War Ragnarok begin?

god of war ragnarok

(Image credit: Sony)

In our God of War Ragnarok preview, we covered the first hours of the game. Several years have passed since the events of the last game. Kratos and teenage Atreus must survive Fimbulwinter, which has covered the ground in snow and robbed them of their powers. They fear that Ragnarok, the sunset of the Norse gods, may be next, and that one or both of them may die.

Freya and Thor are still out for blood. One is still working in the shade. And Faye could foresee the fate of Atreus, which Kratos knew nothing about.

If you want to know the rest, you’ll have to play the game yourself – and we highly recommend that you do so.

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