Tuesday, March 5, 2024

Microreview [Video Game]: God of War Ragnarök: Valhalla by Santa Monica Studios

Out with the new, in with the old.

Upon receiving a mysterious invite, Kratos and Mimir row their way to the shores of Valhalla. Old characters resurface. Friends who were once foes discuss the possible meaning of the invite and the dangers that await Kratos and Mimir inside of Valhalla. Meanwhile, I’m wondering how Santa Monica Studios got away with releasing this content five days after its announcement and at no cost to the player. That’s right, the story and combat-focused add-on to one of the best games of 2022 and one of the best action games in current memory has free additional content. It’s time to reinstall the game and add this DLC to your download list.

My initial doubts upon hearing that Sony's Santa Monica Studio was releasing a free rogue-lite DLC for God of War Ragnarök were two-fold. One, it’s combat-focused and I wish they would just move on to the story of their next game, and two, it’s free and probably a cheap add-on. Well, I’m glad to say that I was fully proved wrong on the second worry, and completely reassured on the first. Valhalla is a worthy add-on to God of War Ragnarök in every way, from combat to story-telling, this is one of the few pieces of DLC that I’m glad a developer made (I have a thing about single-player DLC: I generally dislike that it exists).

The DLC is both combat and story-focused, ensuring that players returning for either aspect are satisfied (though this is significantly more combat-focused than story). This isn’t some little thank you to the fans for supporting the game, this is a full closure of Kratos’ character arc from the two reboot games, and for other characters as well. Some valkyries make appearances and add to the narrative, along with Mimir and Freya. Kratos’ reflection of self and his past actions are not only observed and resolved here, but they are also a wonderful throwback to the past. While events from Kratos’ past are brought up occasionally and glossed over in the main games (due to Kratos’ reluctance to speak deeply about it), those events are now put on full display and dissected for the character’s growth. Mimir also experiences growth in Valhalla, as do some others that I’ll leave the player to discover and experience. The only thing missing is our favorite boy (I hope he’s doing okay out there).

’s systems take inspiration from other rogue-lites, but from 2020’s Hades specifically. If you’re going to be inspired by a story-based rogue-lite, Hades is the one to look to. More story is revealed through each attempt through Valhalla, creating a desire to start one more run for the sake of the narrative. But also, the combat. The combat was wonderful in God of War Ragnarök, and it’s even better here. At the beginning of each run, you focus on a build with a specific weapon of your choosing. From then on, the rest of the run will allow you to focus on that weapon and its upgrades. You are still free to use the other weapons and their runic attacks, but all upgrades and perks will be tied to a specific weapon.

Swapping between weapons is a breeze and creating combos with them is just as, if not even more, satisfying than in the main game. You can choose to increase burn damage with your Blades or have automatic frost awaken at the end of a finisher on your Leviathan Axe. Continuing combos through evasion is a great choice, or adding realm shifts contingent upon other actions creates more opportunity for extra damage. The builds aren't quite as complex as a full rogue-lite like Hades, but it’s still fun to experiment and move through the arenas. While Kratos rides on Zagreus’ coattails, he still pays tribute in a meaningful way that makes this add-on worth someone's time.

Considering the breadth of enemy choices in God of War Ragnarök, Valhalla had a lot to pull from (and it does). Many of the enemies from the main game will make an appearance, and that includes boss battles as well. I cycled through quite a few times and still found enemies I hadn’t seen in the mode before. Kratos also encounters some baddies from his Greek days, adding a bit more nostalgia to an already nostalgic trip down memory lane. The game lasted significantly longer than I anticipated, and I was sad when I realized that I had encountered all the story elements and lines of dialogue that the game had to offer, but that just reinforced how much I enjoyed the game in the first place.

I’ve been playing Valhalla (when I have the time) for the last two months. It shouldn't take anyone who is playing consistently that long to beat it, but it still offers quite a bang for one’s non-existent buck. Santa Monica Studios could have easily charged fifteen to twenty dollars for this DLC and it would have still reviewed well because of the amount of quality content that it provides. It is free to download and accessible to owners of the original game. More than being free, it is an essential add-on to the God of War franchise and a worthy follow-up to God of War Ragnarök. So, if you haven’t yet, what are you waiting for? Have I mentioned that it’s free?


The Math

Objective Assessment: 8.5/10

Bonus: +1 for giving a great reason to reinstall the game (and for being free). +1 for additonal character arcs. 

Penalties: -1 for absence of father/son dynamic that is a staple of the reboots. -1 for limited random combat arenas.

Nerd Coefficient: 8.5/10

Posted by: Joe DelFranco - Fiction writer and lover of most things video games. On most days you can find him writing at his favorite spot in the little state of Rhode Island.