As the prophecies (aka, Sony’s vast marketing machine) foretold, Ragnarök is coming. Yesterday, Sony’s Santa Monica Studio announced a November release date for its upcoming action game God of War Ragnarök. Maybe you’ve found yourself itching to replay its predecessor, God of War. Over the past few weeks, I’ve been doing so and lemme tell you: New game plus does not do it for me.
A few months after God of War’s initial 2018 release, Sony added a new game plus mode to the game. Like most similar modes, you can start a fresh save file with all of the skills and gear you earned over your prior playthrough. Enemies are scaled up in difficulty to match your abilities. From the perspective of pure power fantasy, it’s a blast and, to a certain extent, God of War’s new game plus makes replaying it feel like playing through a totally new game.
It also doesn’t make a lick of narrative sense.
Yes, yes, say what you will about “ludon********* dis*******” or “playing games inherently demands a suspension of disbelief” or whatever. I’m not new here, and at the risk of opening a whoooole other can of worms, I generally agree. But God of War is an exception.
Spoilers for God of War (2018).
God of War cold opens with longtime protagonist Kratos swinging an ax into a tree. He’s living sequestered in the woods. He’s rocking a ZZ Top beard. He has a son, a precocious, kind-hearted kid named Atreus. Most notably, the Blades of Chaos, Kratos’ signature weapons from the original trilogy, are nowhere to be seen. Clearly, a lot of time has passed.
The crux of God of War’s story revolves around Kratos and Atreus delivering the ashes of Faye—spouse to Kratos, parent to Atreus—to the highest peak in all the realms. It’s not long until Atreus comes down with an urgent, life-threatening sickness, the cure for which is located in the land of the dead, Helheim. (Though the original trilogy was inspired by Greek mythology, the 2018 entry pivoted to Norse canon.) Kratos’ ax is useless against Helheim’s cannon fodder; he’ll need a different weapon.
The scene is a tour de force. It’s worth watching in its entirety:
Good stuff, right? But here’s the red flag: When you start a new game plus in God of War, you start with the Blades of Chaos already unlocked. Kratos is literally wearing them in the very first scene (along with whatever armor you had equipped at the end of your first playthrough).
That’s not a “spoiler,” per se, nor does it ruin any plot twists; if you’ve played the game, you know Kratos digs up the Blades of Chaos. But it totally defangs the game’s most emotionally impactful moment. It’s also just…weird.
Following the news, first reported by Bloomberg last month, that God of War Ragnarök would likely come out in the fall, I decided to replay its predecessor. I initially started with new game plus. Having the Blades of Chaos from the very start just didn’t feel right. And since God of War forces you to commit to a game mode from the start of a save file (in other words, you can’t move from new game plus to new game minus), I had to make a choice. I knew the Blades of Chaos would bother me. I couldn’t continue.
It’s not like playing on the vanilla mode is a pain in the ass, at least personally. God of War is, after all, hailed as one of the best games ever, and deservedly so. It’s reached a level of acclaim that’s only clarified with time. Four years later—with my understanding of combat and knowledge of puzzle solutions covered in a thin layer of mental dust—replaying God of War almost feels like playing a totally new game, even without the new game plus.