In late 2022, I earned myself a little bit of infamy for not giving God of War Ragnarok not nearly the same amount of praise as it was getting for just about every other publication. Heck, even the dang Game Awards had it at the top of their picks! To me, a gigantic fan of the first reinvention of the franchise, it felt like a fairly big step back in terms of overall enjoyment, not only gameplay-wise, but also for its story, focusing too much on Atreus and spinning its wheels when it came to Kratos’ development as a character.
Thankfully, something special came along to make me give God of War Ragnarok another chance, and in that, get my wish and then some. Valhalla, a free piece of downloadable content for the game was announced shortly before its release last month, and it’s exactly what I wanted out of the base game all along. In sum, Valhalla is a roguelike mode for Ragnarok. Okay, cool your engines, I’m with you on not liking how just about every game is getting into that particular genre post-release. Even The Last of Us is jumping on that bandwagon with its upcoming remaster of the second game, right?
However, differently from a mere addition that just has us play through combat arenas just for the sake of partaking into more combat and inflate the overall playing time of God of War Ragnarok, Valhalla plays it by the Hades guidebook, delivering delicious slices of story in between every run. And it’s just not any story: it’s bad boy Kratos’, exactly what I wanted for the base game.
Not only that, it dives into his backstory and deals with all the suffering and harm he did during the older games on PlayStation 2 and 3, examining his pathos as a character that has certainly gone through quite a journey over the course of the series. 2018’s game might have given Kratos a clean slate in which to rebuild his life, and the 2022 entry lightly continued on that path, but it’s Valhalla that goes back around and expertly sews his wounds through the language that a Spartan truly understands: violence.
The DLC begins with our pale friend and his talking head friend Mimir on a boat, rowing towards the foggy depths, shortly after the end of God of War Ragnarok. There’s not much of a reason given to them being there, outside of mentioning an invitation letter. Upon hitting shore, the pair notices that Kratos’ gear reverted back and he’s feeling rather weak. Approaching the rather alluding door ahead, combat begins.
But when our boy hits the dust, the duo is back to where they began, and with a visit of Freya and the valkyries, reality starts dawning on them that they are in fact, in Valhalla, the viking’s interpretation of the afterlife, where a warrior gets to continue fighting on and partying out when they’re dead. For Kratos, he only gets half of that order, with a side of having to relive past traumas and getting reacquainted with old friends.
After all, the former god of war has had a lot to answer for over the decades. And having made up for his past sins building a new life and helping rid the world of Odin’s machinations and dealing with his own son’s issues as a father figure and example of how bad things can get when one simply follows their destructive impulses, Kratos’ mind is in conflict.
Every run in Valhalla ends with a new piece of story, be it a few lines of dialog or more direct development, depending on your performance in battle. And between every attempt, you get to pick new starting skills and gear slots that are made even stronger with each room you clear, much like Supergiant Games’ fantastic and much loved game.
While I would gladly talk more openly about what does in fact get dealt with in this DLC, it’s something that should be discovered organically and not be spoiled. In fact, the less I allude to, the better, since coming into Valhalla knowing as little as possible about its premise helps make the impact of what it brings all the better.
As someone who’s quite enjoyed all that the first game in this reboot delivered and had to deal with its sequel’s many issues as a result of expectations not being met by the end product, I have to say that this new piece of free content is absolutely what the PlayStation 4 and 5 hybrid needed.
Those on a similar path to mine should most definitely give God of War Ragnarok another shot and partake in Valhalla as it’s much more than a mere combat arena add-on that Sony Santa Monica hastily put together in order to try and breathe new life into the game coming into its second year of existence. It’s true, honest to God, great story and character development by combat, which say what you will about the games, it’s one of their stronger elements.
This is, to all extents, reason enough for me to see God of War Ragnarok in an entirely new light, which is saying a lot considering my disappointment with it when it was first released. And I’m not talking about that in the same way I touched upon Cyberpunk 2077 and its revolutionary patch, since Valhalla doesn’t reinvent all that’s passable about the base game.
The DLC works because it gives for free what was missing in Ragnarok, and if it was served behind a paywall, we would be having an entirely different conversation here. For what it is, Valhalla is easily one of the best implementations of roguelike narrative elements to a game I’ve seen since Hades and those who’ve played and finished the base content would be remiss not to boot it up.