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A Deep Dive Into God Of War Ragnarok’s New Combat Mechanics

In my preview for God of War Ragnarok, I wrote that the sequel is more of the same, but in a good way. Ragnarok has more refined systems and enhanced gameplay over its predecessor, and while nothing it does is particularly profound or game-changing, there are still some notable improvements worth celebrating. In particular, the variety and complexity of combat has increased to the extent that individual playstyles emerge and build crafting is possible. These were underdeveloped systems in 2018’s God of War, and while it’s too early to say whether or not they reach their full potential in Ragnarok, I’m enthusiastic about advancements either way.

The most apparent refinement in combat is the new interplay between the Leviathan Axe and the Blades of Chaos. Both weapons have their advantages and disadvantages, as was the case in the previous installment, but now there is much greater incentive to swap between them and chain together longer combos that involve both weapons.

The differences between them have been accentuated both in their attacks and because of the increased enemy variety. The Blades are faster, dishing out damage quickly in lots of small increments, so they’re great against swarms of enemies with small health pools, like the tadpole enemies appear in Svartalfheim, the realm of the dwarves. They are also well equipped for grabbing flying enemies and pulling them in for a quick execution.

The Axe, on the other hand, is your stronger, slower weapon. It’s great for tearing down enemies with big health bars and focusing on one target at a time, but it also has a much longer throwing range than the blades, so it's useful for taking out snipers and targets at long range. You can also toss the axe out to freeze an enemy, isolating them to give yourself more room to fight while you switch to your blades and thin out the horde.

These differences were mostly true in the previous God of War, but new enemies and combos help give each weapon a strong identity. The unofficial third weapon, Kratos’s bare hands, is better at increasing stagger bars, which makes it a superior option against enemies with a lot of health that you want to subdue quickly with a finisher. To be as effective as possible against all the different kinds of enemies you’ll be fighting at the same time, you have to read the battlefield and make quick decisions about which weapon is going to offer the most power and utility at any given moment.

Furthering raising the skill ceiling is the changes to elemental damage and status effects, which is also wear build crafting comes into play. Permafrost and Immolation, the status effects related to ice and fire, were poorly explained and underutilized in the last God of War. Building status effects on enemies was difficult, inconsistent, and didn’t have much of an impact. Now, you can use abilities that are designed to stack status effects quickly, and the effects are far more powerful.

Both weapons have a new charge up attack that imbues them with an elemental effect. If you hold triangle with the Axe out it will become covered in permafrost and your next attack will add a massive amount of the status effect to your enemy. As you upgrade the Axe, you’ll unlock new abilities that pair with this charge up, allowing you to fling ice at a group of enemies, among other attacks.

The Blades have similar abilities. You can rapidly press triangle while they’re equipped to spin them around faster and faster, then throw them out to burn your targets. Like the axe, this ability can be further upgraded to attack more targets and unleash more burning effects.

Like God of War (2018), Permafrost slows enemies and Immolation gives them a damage-over-time debuff, but new to Ragnarok is a damage bonus you get from the opposite weapon. A frostburned enemy will take extra damage from the Blades, while an immolated enemy will take extra damage from the Axe. Applying and managing these debuffs while maximizing your damage by swapping weapons is an incredibly effective tool if you choose to use it.

I’m not deep enough in to claim this definitively, but the gear you wear seems like it will have a bigger impact on the way you engage in combat, or at the very least, the way you ought to be engaging in combat. Both Rune abilities and relics are back, and I’ve seen gear that reduces cooldown and improves the damage of these abilities. You can also build into your runic stat to improve your ability to apply status effects, as well as the amount of damage enemies take while suffering debuffs. Of course, raw strength is still an option if you just want to pummel your foes, but I suspect engaging with all the different tools Ragnarok offers will lead to a more satisfying combat experience.

Ultimately it’s not that different from God of War (2018) – which describes the sequel as a whole pretty succinctly – but these refinements go a long way in making build crafting and combat more personal and, hopefully, more engaging.

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