One of the PlayStation 5’s best experiences is totally free
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Featured Image Credit: Sony Interactive Entertainment, Sony
Last year was, on the whole, a rather quiet one for Sony’s PlayStation 5. It’s impressive that the console saw record sales given that Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 and Final Fantasy XVI were the brand’s only major full releases.
That being said, it was a stellar year for first-party expansions. The first landed in April, and that was the excellent Horizon Forbidden West: Burning Shores. It easily remains my favourite DLC of the year, with what is one of the most impressive final boss fights I’ve ever had the joy of playing. The open world, as we’ve come to expect from Guerrilla, was so beautifully and exquisitely realised. Sat atop a Waterwing, the seamless transition between dipping below the sea’s surface before soaring high up above the clouds remains totally unmatched by anything else I’ve played.
While Burning Shores retained my yearly top spot, a surprise first-party expansion did almost pip it to the post. I had a couple of guesses about what we’d see announced at December’s The Game Awards. God of War Ragnarök: Valhalla wasn’t one of them but oh my, what a treat to end the year on.
Take a look at God of War Ragnarök Valhalla in action below.
Admittedly, it was rumoured that Santa Monica Studio was working on an expansion to Ragnarök. Then again, no one expected it to suddenly drop with only a week’s warning and for it to be free. December does fall during the season of giving, I guess. If you haven’t yet dived into Valhalla, I implore you to. While, yes, it is somewhat annoying to reinstall Ragnarök given that it’s an absolute whopper of a game, it’s oh so worth it.
Valhalla adds something invaluable to the God of War franchise. Until the release of Valhalla, the series very much felt like a tale of two halves. There’s the hack n’ slash original trilogy and then there’s the Norse saga which saw the franchise switch over to an action-adventure formula. The latter, as we all know, was treated as a soft reboot. While Kratos’ journey continued on, albeit with new game mechanics, the 2018 narrative was crafted with accessibility for new players in mind.
I’ll happily admit that 2018’s God of War was personally my first experience with this franchise. I was a mere single-digit age back when the original game released, so it simply wasn’t on my radar - mainly because at that age, I didn’t have a game release radar. While you’re reasoning may be different, I know I’m not alone in joining the party in 2018. Perhaps the PlayStation 4 was your first Sony console, or maybe you were always deterred by the hack n’ slash gameplay.
Regardless, Santa Monica’s plan to draw in new players clearly worked. With the release of God of War, Kratos quickly became one of Sony’s most famous and lucrative icons - something that only grew and intensified with the critically-acclaimed launch of sequel Ragnarök. What the Norse saga did quietly create though was a split fanbase. There are those of us with very little knowledge about Kratos’ history, and then there are those who enjoyed the original trilogy and perhaps feel that there’s a depth of information that’s crucial to Kratos’ character that’s been largely ignored in God of War’s ‘modern’ era. Enter Valhalla.
Valhalla is the bridge that the series so desperately needed, blending the old with the new in a way that’s beneficial to both long-time and new players. Set after the events of Ragnarök, Valhalla sees Kratos arrive on the shores of the titular realm after having been invited by a mystery host. Advised by both Freya and the Valkyries, Kratos sets out to best Valhalla’s trials, quickly learning that its looping formula is a test of both his physical strength and emotional resolve.
I’m always a tad dubious when I hear the word roguelike, which is how you'd likely describe Valhalla’s combat. By all means, not everyone will feel that way but I personally tend to avoid anything that verges on being too repetitive. I needn’t have been dubious about Valhalla. While, yes, you will embark on what are essentially several permadeath runs culminating in a boss fight, Valhalla offers up a formula that’s so much more interesting than ‘survive or die’.
The expansion will certainly satisfy those of you who are after a combat challenge - particularly given the limited arsenal and tactical choices you’re faced with - but what appealed to me is the fact that these combat encounters were closely tied in with what is a very personal journey for Kratos - and I should say, mild spoilers lie ahead.
In order to defeat Valhalla’s trials, Kratos must do so much more than defeat a physical ‘big bad’. He must defeat his internal demons and while we’ve seen the character face up to several of these internal struggles across both God of War and God of War Raganarök, there are plenty that remain unresolved from the hack n’ slash days. Let’s face it, in terms of emotional growth, Kratos has come a long way and suddenly, Valhalla becomes the glue bringing together the old and the new iterations of the character.
Throughout our time in Valhalla, players will venture to Greece, encounter Helios, fight Undead Legionnaires, and even wield the Blade of Olympus. It’s a trip down memory lane for both Kratos and long-time fans alike. Yet for those of us who are newer to the series, it’s a gateway to understanding this character more deeply. Regardless of how many franchise entries you’ve got under your belt, you’ll come away with something new.
Valhalla doesn’t simply cameo elements of the original games, depending on fan-service nostalgia à la modern day Star Wars. It revisits people, places, and events from Kratos’ past from the lens of the much more emotionally adept post-2018 Kratos, interweaving these with the franchise’s modern day gameplay mechanics.
By the time you wrap up the Valhalla DLC and feast your eyes on that final shot, you’ll most certainly come away feeling satisfied. Whether that satisfaction is thanks to a sense of understanding or closure depends on how long you’ve been with the franchise. Bottom line though is that Santa Monica Studio has crafted an expansion that could so easily have been a somewhat polarising nostalgia dive and yet manages to be beneficial and enjoyable to all players.
With the release of Ragnarök, the door was closed on the Norse saga. With Valhalla, we gain a more finite sense of closure on the Greek saga. With Kratos now totally unbound by his past, I cannot wait to see what the future has in store.