God of War: Ragnarok Is as Fun to Play as It Is to Read

I’ve gotten a bit further in God of War: Ragnarok. I’m still only about halfway through the game, I think, since I’ve been distracted by things like getting adequate sleep, other video games, and a new book release, but I’m enjoying myself. I’ve had a few issues in combat,specifically with the game responding sluggishly to my controller inputs, but I’m also hypersensitive to input lag thanks to my work as a software tester and my sort of high-precision style of gameplay. Other than that, and a couple weird moments where the camera got pushed somewhere useless when I dodge an attack near a wall, it’s been a fun, enjoyable experience. Even when I’ve been fighting some really angry ghosts who keep kicking my ass to the point where I’d just give up on the fight and start over if I got hit a single time before I got said angry ghost to half HP. All-in-all, the game remains just as fun as the first one and while I do miss some of the combat mechanics I used frequently in the prequel, there’s plenty of new and fun combat mechanics for me to use in this one.

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Initial Thoughts on “Dad of Boy 2: Dad and Teen” (AKA God of War: Ragnarok)

Spoilers for the first two or three (depending on how quickly you play, I suppose) hours of God of War: Ragnarok. There’s nothing in the paragraph below this one, but most of the post dicusses the events of the intro to the game and what happens immediately afterwards. Honestly, if you’ve seen through the opening credits of the game, then you’re probably good to keep reading. If you don’t care about spoilers, then carry on regardless. There’s enough information in the post below that you won’t need to have played the game to get it.

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Love and War

Bennel slumped down at the table with a sigh of relief. As his pack clattered to the floor and his cloak settled down around his shoulders, he put his head down and heaved another sigh against the surface of the table.

Tem placed one of the drinks they carried in front of the young warrior priest and clapped him on the shoulder with their now empty hand. “Rest, young one. Rest, eat, and drink! You have earned a taste of life’s pleasures after a battle such as that.”

Bennel winced as Tem’s hand slapped against the still-healing hole in his shoulder. “Careful, you rock monster. Magic might patch up wounds quickly but they still take a long time to fully heal.”

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Revelation

Roger wasn’t much for animals. They didn’t like him and he didn’t like them. Every dog he’d ever tried to pet had either run or bit him. Cats clawed him and even birds pecked him.

Which is how he knew something was wrong when he woke up with a mouse sitting on his nightstand.

“Go away” he said. It didn’t move.

“Scram.” Roger sat up and waved at it. It washed its whiskers.

Roger eyed the clock and then looked out the window. It was past eight but still dark out. Odd. Roger watched the mouse carefully as he stayed outside arm’s reach of the mouse while getting up.

He grabbed his things and headed to the shower without taking his eyes off the creature until he left his bedroom. Stayed facing him the entire time.

When he came back, it was still there. He combed his hair in silence, still watching the mouse that moved only to rub its whiskers.

When he couldn’t take it any longer, Roger stepped forward, grabbing a book off his shelf. “Get out of here now or I’m going to smash you!”

The mouse paused for a moment, and then resumed rubbing its little face.

Roger moved to the bed, put the book down, and picked up a pen. When he poked the mouse, it squeaked and then continued washing its whiskers.

Roger bent over to look at it and whispered half to himself. “What the hell are you doing, little guy?”

“Distracting you” said a small voice behind him. By the time he started to spin around, the horde of mice was crashing over him.

The last thing he heard as darkness swallowed him was a small voice saying “At last, the prophesied hero has fallen. Soon, so will all the other Humans.”

Tabletop Highlight: Slogging Through Open War

I’ve always been interested in the idea of a D&D campaign focused around participation in a war. A lot of “classic” D&D campaigns usually include participating in a war, but that’s often tangentially. In version 3.5, the recommended method for including players in a war setting campaign is to give them specialized missions. Stuff like being a strike team sent to seize an important asset, protecting important figures, or capturing important enemy figures. There’s a feat that can be applied to building an army, called “Leadership,” but it is one of the feats that can be most easily abused by an unscrupulous player and all it really does is provide a character with a small army of a few hundred people.

What I’m looking for is to make the players participate in the actual war itself. Giant, sprawling battlefields filled with magic and mighty heroes like something out of an anime. Great battles with terrible consequences for all the poor souls who survived the battle. Rules of conquest, for conquerors and the conquered. The important moments and decisions that are the only things that separate success from failure. Diplomacy to end wars and failure diplomacy to start them. I want something enormous in scale that dice alone don’t really support all that well.

I’ve tried making my own rules. Role-playing through plan making sessions, mixing in a few strike missions to give them something immediate and impactful to do before sending them off to roll a bunch of dice to emulate a day’s worth of combat. Trying to send them into large encounters to have them act as a rallying force to either break through enemy lines or patch up their own lines. Showing how much difference a bard can make by letting them affect as many allies as can hear them over the din of battle and then watching as the relatively minor boost literally turns the tide. Watching the bloody hell that is a wizard or sorcerer unleashed on a battlefield of basic soldiers. The problem has always been that it inevitably breaks down into some rather boring math. There’s no real tension or suspense since the end is pretty much decided from the outset.

For instance, the tank in my current campaign has over 100 HP (the “average” human warrior has 8) and his armor class (how hard it is to hurt him in combat) is 27. Most average human warriors who appear on the battlefield are going to have a spear and a +2 bonus to hitting things and will do 2-9 damage per hit. Which means that, when they roll their die to attack, they will never get a high enough number to hit. If you’re using “natural 20’s” as “critical hits,” then that hit automatically beats whatever AC it’s up against. Statistically, my current campaign’s tank will get hit once out of ever twenty attackers. On the flip side, the same character has a +20 to hit, can hit more than once, and does a minimum of 8 damage per hit. He’ll hit the average warrior every time and kill them every time. If we assume the tank never gets healed, gets hit once every twenty attacks, and is in a position where he can only get attacked once per round of combat (which lasts six seconds), then he’ll get hit once every two minutes for an average of 5 damage, which he’ll be able to do for about an hour before he needs to stop or dies. If he has any kind of protection from damage, which he’d be sensible enough to get in this scenario, he can easily get it down to an average of 2 damage a hit, which means he could keep going about two and a half hours without a break before being overwhelmed. With the healing he can do on his own, he could get himself another hour, at least. With a little pre-planning and the right allocation of magic, he could double all of that, for six hours of fighting and killing. During all this time, he’s killed almost 2,200 enemy soldiers.

The numbers sound nice, but that’s just a talk through of what happened. I could tell him that he did those things, but they wouldn’t really mean much to him because there was no real risk to him and he did nothing terribly exciting. He just slaughtered a bunch of mooks. The same is true of archers. They can stand behind the tank and, with the right boosts, kill a target for every arrow they get to fire. Right now, if the tank’s ally did that, he’d kill almost 5,000 people and that’s without taking a single hit point of damage. After he did that, he could take the tank’s place and then fight for about four hours, bringing his total up to just over 6,000. Throw in a wizard of the right kind and he could probably double that number, over the same ten-hour period. Only the rogue wouldn’t have that level of combat efficacy, but you could easy send him to go kill officers because not even luck will save them from his sneaking abilities. He could easily kill one or more officers or important figures every five minutes. In ten hours, that’s 120 officers or leaders. That’s most of the army’s command.

Throw it all together and you’ve got a pretty typical D&D party taking out an entire army on their own. But it’s boring as hell and there’s no real tension. It’s just numbers on paper. I want more than that. I want to give them a reason to be excited about victories, rather than have them be a foregone conclusion. I want them to feel real fear as they figure out if their character will live or die. Unfortunately, as you can see here, having to chop your way through a bunch of mooks even when you’re already beat up isn’t a big deal. The only tension comes later when you have to fight the guys giving the orders.

Matthew Colville is producing a book for the fifth edition of D&D that’s supposed to include rules for warfare. He apparently uses them in his own games and, after seeing the internet’s response to some of his home rules, he’s now going to share them with us. Having not actually watched any of Colville’s games, I don’t know much about his rules. I’d really like it if they had solutions for the problems I’m facing because I sure as hell don’t. All I’ve got is math and one-off missions that miss the true scope of a war.

In the mean time, I’m going to just stick to large, unwieldy encounters segregated by rooms in towers or castles in lieu of effective warfare rules. It makes it a lot easier when it’s just a bunch of waves for the players to beat down.

 

Dad of War: The Classic Road Trip

While I never heard the classic line, “Are we there yet,” I did hear almost every single other variation of that thought while taking turns playing through the new God of War game with my roommates. My first experience with a road trip reference was when the game had just finished the opening sequence, as Kratos, the player character, and his son, Atreus, set out from their home. After a hunting trip and a brutal fight between Kratos and the game’s main villain, Kratos and Atreus head out to sprinkle Faye’s, Kratos’ wife and Atreus’ mother, ashes on the highest peak in all the realms of Norse mythology. Barely even a minute’s walk from their cabin, Atreus asks how much further it is until they get there. Classic.

Despite the fact that this game is the latest in a sequence of God of War games characterized by brutal, bloody fights that Kratos hacks his way through, this one takes a much more nuanced tone, in both combat and plot. There are still moments where you must brutalize a swarm of enemies before you can move on, but the swarms are smaller and the combat is focused much more on combos, abilities, and defensive style fighting, such as parries and dodges. Kratos is still every bit the badass he was in the other games, but one of the major themes of this game is Kratos attempting to control the rage that once defined him. He no longer uses the Chaos Blades he is known for, instead wielding the Leviathan Ax that previously belonged to his wife. It is clear that, as part of his move from Greece to the undisclosed parts of the Norse realm, he set aside much of his past in order to build a new life. This is a main part of the story, so saying anything further would be a spoiler. Instead, I’m going to end by saying that you really get an in-depth look into the character of Kratos, the god of war who tried to leave his past behind but now must come to terms with it as it begins to impact his present.

Since Kratos’ entire past is kept a secret beyond such details as the fact that he wasn’t born anywhere near where the game takes place, his son has very little idea of who his father is. Early dialogue and cutscenes show that Kratos clearly loves his son, but keeps him at arm’s length and is not terribly supportive or affectionate with Atreus. When Atreus is upset about his mother’s passing, Kratos does little to comfort him. After Atreus kills his first human, Kratos gives him the direct but not terribly helpful advice to “close your heart to it.” Atreus is a young boy and Kratos is entirely unsure of how to interact with him. Given Kratos’ past–the death of his first wife and son is what set him on the path to eventually become the god of war he is today–it makes a certain amount of sense that he would have trouble connecting with Atreus, at least in a way that Atreus desires given that he is not being raised in the Spartan culture that Kratos was. The very first extended gameplay you get beyond a few action cutscenes and walking bits is Kratos taking Atreus on a hunt for the first time. He starts it out by asking if Atreus was taught to hunt, making it clear he hasn’t been very involved in Atreus’ upbringing.

At the same time, it is made very clear that Kratos loves Atreus dearly, even if he has difficulty showing it. He tries to reach out to his son, to comfort him, but hesitates. He hides the scars on his arms from the world by keeping them wrapped in bandages, so it makes sense that he’d be afraid to touch his son for fear of hurting him since that’s all he’s used his hands for since his first family died. The first time he gives into his once-defining rage is when the main villain has gotten Kratos stuck in a crevice and says that he’s going to go check out what Kratos is hiding in his cabin. The villain doesn’t know it, but Atreus is hiding beneath the floorboards of the house and Kratos absolutely loses it when the villain inadvertently threatens his son. You see it again and again, and he even says it as you walk around the world in the later parts of the game. He would do whatever it took to keep Atreus alive. Throughout the game, as they walk around and go on adventures together, it becomes clear just how much Kratos loves his son and, as they start to get to know each other, how close they will become as they learn to understand each other. This was my favorite part of the game, watching a father and son bond as they traveled for a common purpose.

Speaking of their common purpose, the game sets up the classic God of War arc. It does an excellent job of re-framing the Norse mythology is a way that lends itself well toward the “kill all the gods” pattern of the past God of War games. The Norse gods are, for the most part, depicted as unrepentant assholes who keep stepping on the other races as they do whatever pleases them. Some of them are pretty messed up by their upbringing, like the villain, but most of them are simply jerks. While the game is focused around Kratos and Atreus being hunted down by the main villain for reasons that aren’t made clear until the end–and even then it’s all supposition on the part of Kratos and Atreus–the story makes it clear that there is much more to come. There’s even a secret ending that hints at what the sequel will hold. If the sequels are all as good as this one, I eagerly await them.

If you want a good RPG with a lot of fun fights, excellent character development, a fun plot, and a gorgeous world full of a variety of activities, I definitely suggest picking up God of War. The kicker is that the game was only released on the PS4, so you also need access to one of those. I don’t know that the game is worth buying a PS4, but I think it’s a good enough reason to upgrade to a PS4 if you need a new blu-ray or DVD player as well.