I felt so spoiled at the start of the last year, being able to play through God of War and Ragnarok back to back. I was ready to sleep on the entire series just because I’d never touched the IP before but I’m glad one of my good mates pushed me to play it. It feels kind of strange then to do something similar to kick off 2024, putting some time into the Valhalla DLC for the game. Whilst I was drawn in with the idea that it’d just be some semi-mindless beat ’em up action, Valhalla also brings with it several deep, personal stories that serve to keep Kratos’ journey moving forward.
PLOT SPOILERS FOR GOD OF WAR RAGNAROK BELOW
It’s been some time since Ragnarok, Kratos vowing to assist Freya and her newly established council in rebuilding the devastated worlds and maintaining peace. That hasn’t been easy however as the potential of returning to godhood, something that brought so much pain in his life, wears heavily on him. It’s then he receives an anonymous invitation to come to Valhalla. Finding the gates locked Kratos forces his way in and is immediately stripped of his weapons, his powers also greatly diminished. Falling shortly in combat later he’s confronted by Freya and her valkyries who, after a brief back and forth, allow him entrance. Kratos’ journey towards confronting his past, present and future begins as he toils through the halls of Valhalla.
I normally wouldn’t comment on the graphics of a DLC but it’s been a hot minute since I played anything on my PS5 and, hot damn, are God of War’s visuals good. The attention to detail is just incredible, something that’s readily apparent in any of the in-game cutscenes. This is only made the more impressive by how rock solid the performance is, never missing a beat even when I was swamped with enemies dripping in status effects. I have no notes and it’s made me track down another PS5 title to play as I’m starting to feel like I’m missing out playing on my PC.
Never thought I’d say that.
The game warns you that this DLC is meant to be played after you complete the main game and it’s pretty clear why. You effectively start out as a fully upgraded Kratos, with all weapons and abilities unlocked (something I’m pretty sure I didn’t do). These are then all set to zero essentially and to get them back you have to go through a roguelite experience to grind them back out. The game has a standard loop you’ll go through, one which takes a couple initial runs to fully unlock. Once you’ve done that you have a whole host of procedurally generated levels, challenges and upgrades laid out before you that you’ll collect on your road to the finish line. The game puts forward a bunch of challenges and side quests to unlock the permanent upgrades, encouraging you to vary your build and play style in order to earn them. Just as you get stronger so do the encounters, ensuring that you’ll never quite be the unstoppable wrecking ball that some roguelite experiences allow you to get to.
If you’re a min/maxer like me then you’ll quickly identify that the best thing to do is to focus on building out a single weapon, juicing it as far as you possibly can. The trouble here is that, just like in the original game, there are certain enemies that require you to switch to a certain weapon in order to break a shield or defeat them. Now this wouldn’t be a massive issue but it does mean that certain weapons are a lot more viable than others. Take the Leviathan Axe for instance, whilst it’s no slouch there are a non-zero of enemies you’ll encounter that require the Blades to break their shield. At earlier power levels this isn’t too bad, but having to do that in some of the later encounters means you’re going to be in a fight for a lot longer as you chip away at that shield. You can try and mitigate this with augmenting other weapons with a runic attack or two, but given you have limited upgrade slots it does take the wind out of your sails a bit.
Which is why I found the most success with going all in on the Blades of Chaos as I could reliably pop most of the shields that showed up whilst also building for an insane amount of damage. I’ll admit that I didn’t really bother trying with the spear that much though, so it’s possible that there’s some viable builds there too. Really this is the fate of most roguelite experiences anyway: there’s always going to be a build that’s just above the others, even if it’s just by a few percent. So I don’t really count that as a negative but it was one of those things playing in the back of my head, especially when the game keeps reminding you to switch things up all the time.
Where Valhalla really slaps though is in its story, diving deep into Kratos’ history from his time before coming to Midgaard. Since I hadn’t played any of those games it was great to get some insight into Kratos’ previous actions and how they have affected him. It’s also told in the way I love: being delivered as your playing the game, not requiring you to read blocks of text or jump out of the core game loop to experience. Each run through unveils more about Kratos’ past, as well as building out many of the ancillary characters further. The climax of the main story is thoroughly well deserved and puts the IP in a great spot for another instalment in the future.
God of War: Valhalla is a fantastic way to return to the series. It takes the game’s best core elements of its story and combat and delivers them to you in a nice juicy morsel. Best of all it’s free, something I don’t think anyone expected, meaning there’s absolutely no reason to not dive into it. Whilst I’m sure we’re a long way away from the next God of War title suffice to say that it’s in a fantastic place with what Valhalla has done and I can’t wait to see what comes next.
God of War Valhalla is available on PlayStation 4 and PlayStation 5 right now for free. Game was played on the PlayStation 5 with a total 6 hours playtime and 44% of the achievements unlocked.