Ragnarok’s Trailer Makes Me Worry The PS4 Is Holding It Back

Sony’s State of Play earlier this week ended with a big, blockbuster trailer for God of War: Ragnarok. As I wrote about in the immediate aftermath, I wasn’t overly enamoured by it. There are a few reasons why – I didn’t love the first game as much as others did, finding it to be frequently technically impressive but often strained and and sluggish in its narrative, overly relying on quotable lines and selling you on the idea of good storytelling rather than actually providing it. There’s also the fact we’ve seen gameplay from God of War before, and this was just an advert – even including a literal advert for a God of War controller. I’m interested enough in what Ragnarok has to offer, but the State of Play reveal (that revealed very little that we don’t already know) didn’t do it for me. Watching the trailer back though, there is one moment that stands out: Atreus shooting the moon. This feels like it could be a major part of the game narrative and presentation, but only if the PS4 doesn’t hold it back.

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Consoles are expensive and, perhaps more to the point, difficult to get your hands on right now. There needs to be a grace period of games releasing across both generations, and with the pandemic interfering with the console rollout and, as a consequence, most game launches for the past two years, I’m not sure whether we’re out of that grace period yet. I also don’t think it’s worth interrogating the technical side of what God of War: Ragnarok can do from the trailers alone – we’ll need the game in our hands first. However, Atreus’ moon antics seem like the sort of thing the PS5 was sold on. Like the rifts in Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart, they’re the kinds of things you can do easily on the PS5 but were technically impossible on the PS4. Triangles or something, innit.

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I’ve embedded the trailer below, but let me explain the moment in more depth. Atreus and Kratos stare up at an eclipse and Atreus, seemingly growing more confident in his godhood, slowly takes his bow and aims at the eclipse. When he lets his arrow loose, one of his wolves leaps into the air majestically, bursting through planes of reality to somehow reach the moon and, chasing it, manages to curve the moon out of the sky, brightening up the world as the sun shines free again. For a trailer full of bluster, clashes of metal, and the same gruff ominous sentences posing as dialogue, Atreus’ moment is one of quiet solitude. It’s whimsically fantastic against the roars of masculinity. By far the standout moment in the trailer both aesthetically and narratively, it left me wanting more in a way all the sound and fury of Kratos did not.

But it also left me with questions. Is this a one-off narrative beat, a moment that will be imbued with a higher sense of importance by the story swirling around it? Is it just a demonstration of Atreus’ powers with no real narrative purpose beyond his own character growth? Is it a gameplay mechanic that can be used at various times to enhance our journey? It feels as though it should be the latter, but I worry it’s one of the first two. Being able to use Atreus’ abilities to change the skies and open up new areas on the fly in exactly the sort of hyper involved, load-times-don’t-matter gameplay we were promised on the PS5. Thus far, none of PlayStation’s big exclusives bar Ratchet & Clank have used it that much. Even Returnal, which was PS5 only, didn’t play around in the mechanics that much, it was just faster.

It’s the kind of moment that would be much easier to get excited for if I thought it might actually matter, but with the game still on PS4, it doesn’t seem smart to get my hopes up. Ratchet & Clank was a cosy platformer with a neat gimmick, while Returnal was niche and relied on the PS5’s power for speed alone. We don’t have a blockbuster title to show off what the PS5 can do, and unfortunately, we’ll have to wait until after Ragnarok to find one.

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