Not long after the rollicking credits (and platinum-ing) God of War Ragnarok was released last year, I longed to pick up developer Santa Monica Studio’s Norse mythology. While I admit I would have liked a more flamboyant finale worthy of the name “Ragnarok,” I’m satisfied with how the story wrapped up, so I’m not looking for new story material just yet. With Kratos and Atreus traveling through mythical lands and a new line of gods, I was fine with waiting years down the road. But I want some reason to return to its beautiful world, adrenaline-inducing combat, and top-notch characters.
When PlayStation revealed Ragnarok’s Valhalla DLC, I was immediately excited. Free DLC dropping a week after the game features a new roguelite creation on top of the game’s already stellar battle? Sign me up! With that trailer off, I fully expected Valhalla to be a roguelite mode to take part in most of Ragnarok’s combat. However, after three hours with the DLC, I was blown away. Not only is it a full-featured roguelite mode starring Kratos and trusty companion Mimir, excellent arenas and provocative upgrades and strategic decision-making, but it’s a story I never knew I wanted.
Spoilers below for the first few hours of Ragnarok’s Valhalla DLC
Valhalla begins immediately – there is no bridge between Ragnarok and the end of this DLC. It’s just Kratos and Mimir heading towards Valhalla in a small boat. Unlike other depictions of this mystical realm, like in Assassin’s Creed’s Valhalla, the Santa Monica studio doesn’t paint it with sunshine, rainbows, gold, ales-a-plenty and ritual. Instead, it’s a spooky land of fog and mysterious baths. And, as you soon discover upon entering its doors, it transforms depending on who enters it. In this instance, I can only imagine it’s a nightmare for Kratos. All nine Norse realms come together to create battle arena after battle arena, with pockets of exploration for Kratos to adventure on his mind-against journey.
Here the purpose of Valhalla becomes clear. This isn’t a new DLC to give players a chance to experience the game’s combat in a roguelite style (it certainly does); After experiencing the events of Ragnarok in 2018’s God of War, and the Greek entries before him, this is an opportunity to provide a glimpse into the mind of Kratos. In the modern games, we see Kratos coming to terms with his new life, his son, and his role in this Norse world. Those adventures only touch on his history, mainly to compare how far he’s come, but in Valhalla, Kratos must come face-to-face with his past choices.
He encounters the sun god, Helios, who Kratos infamously beheaded shortly after receiving help from the deity in 2010’s God of War III.
It’s been tormenting Kratos all these years, we learn, and Valhalla is pushing him to come to that decision, Helios, and how he might handle that kind of conflict today. With the introduction of Helios, Valhalla brings Kratos to the Greek fields for battle, where he battles new enemies (for the Norse entries in the series, at least) legions, minotaurs, sirens, and more.
The most fascinating thing for me, having not yet played the Greek God of War games, is that I’m getting a glimpse of what those stories did to Kratos. After loving God of War and Ragnarok, I was satisfied with the parts of Kratos history they touched on and didn’t feel like I needed more. But now, a few hours into Valhalla, I’m thoroughly enjoying these touchstones of his past that I’m receiving, and it’s painting the Kratos I know in a new light.
I’m getting all this extra story stuff, it’s an excellent epilogue to the events of Ragnarok in a way I didn’t mention here, plus the well-crafted Roguelite spin free on one of my favorite combat systems this generation is almost staggering. Don’t get me wrong – it’s free and I’m glad it’s delivering so much “new” to a game I already love – but PlayStation could easily charge for it.
If anything, it colors the publisher’s decision to charge $49.99 (or $9.99 to upgrade if you already own it on PlayStation 4) for the upcoming remaster of The Last of Us Part II, which includes Roguelite No Return mode, a little more painful. As someone primarily interested in the remaster for the new roguelite mode, having already beaten the campaign twice, I’m questioning whether the $9.99 upgrade fee is worth it when Valhalla is offered for free in the same vein.
But that’s a discussion for another day.
It’s not debatable that Ragnarok’s Valhalla is more than just roguelite DLC; It’s an essential theme for the God of War series and Kratos’ journey thus far.
Are you playing God of War Ragnarok’s Valhalla DLC? Let us know what you think about it in the comments below!