Everyone has skeletons in their closet, some more literal than others. Just over a year after God of War: Ragnarök released, we get a full epilogue in the free DLC, Valhalla. Just reducing this to a simple expansion is a massive injustice, as this is an incredible addition that granularly explores Kratos’ deepest thoughts on his previous life.
Writer’s Note: As this is an epilogue to God of War: Ragnarök, we will be spoiling the base game.
Developer & Publisher // Sony Santa Monica Games, Sony Interactive Entertainment
Platform // PlayStation 5
MSRP & Release Date // Free, December 12, 2023
Reviewed On // PlayStation 5
Kratos Has Some Strong Concerns
Valhalla opens well after Ragnarök’s conclusion. Kratos receives an unaddressed letter beckoning him to a distant shore. He obliges and brings Mimir, the living head and his best friend.
The two discover the location holds the door to Valhalla, the Norse afterlife for those who died in battle. As they delve deeper and deeper into Valhalla, they openly explore their trouble pasts and what they should do now. Some Valkyries, led by Freya, catch up to them and further explain how Valhalla drives its entrants to look deeper and deeper into themselves.
Kratos and Mimir’s time gets introspective. Kratos followed the letter partially to avoid answering Freya’s invitation to a council for rebuilding the realms. Mimir needs this time because he unintentionally alienated his romance partner, Sigrun, during a romantic moment.
Valhalla’s writing improves upon Ragnarök’s already great story, namely avoiding the latter’s inconsistent pacing issues. Additionally, the game blends its traditional story pacing into roguelite’s normal storytelling structure. Some roguelites technically do let players beat the game on the first try, but it’s so hard that it’s nigh impossible.
Valhalla, however, decides to show the next story beat and restart the player’s run after completing each main section for the first time. This setup gives players a healthy stream of plot and information that drives them to rush back in and do better.
Overall, Valhalla reaches similar heights to 2018’s God of War.
Anyone concerned about feeling out of the loop should not worry. Kratos summarizes the various moments they highlight throughout Valhalla before Valhalla does its recontextualizing.
Kratos’ story in the Norse Realms highlighted how he currently feels about his past, but never fully examined it. Valhalla does that to incredible affect without any retcons.
Roguelites Fit Kratos Imperfectly
For anyone who hasn’t played video games like Hades or The Binding of Isaac, Valhalla brings God of War to the Roguelite genre. Players start from the very first level, clear individual rooms of enemies, and form a combat build with rewards from each room.
As you progress through the game, the player can unlock buffs for Kratos’ individual stats and weapons. Kratos can use his three main weapons (the Leviathan Axe, Blades of Chaos, and the Draupnir Spear). Additionally, players can get occasional resupplies to health and rage if they get through the right room.
As a roguelite, God of War‘s gameplay fits very well within the genre. Many roguelite games use action-driven combat to create a fast-paced experience like Valhalla does. With these buffs, you can create continually powerful, easily broken builds.
Valhalla also puts a twist on the second major section. Instead of choosing your next room based on its door’s insignia, you end up in a multi-level maze with smaller arenas, some special rooms, and a timer. As the timer gets through each of its stages, the arenas’ fights get harder across the maze.
One point to mention: the first room always rewards you with a weapon specific buff. That buff only supports one of Kratos’ three weapons and directs Valhalla to prioritize buffs for that weapon. You can find Runic Weapon Attacks (special attacks that recharge and can be upgraded) for all three weapons in Valhalla to fill each one’s Light and Heavy attacks, just to be clear.
While Roguelites do sometimes force the player to choose a specific weapon out of an arsenal, prioritizing one weapon in Valhalla is a missed opportunity. Players can always use each weapon but can only get non-Runic Attack upgrades for one per run. It drives the player to prioritize one weapon over the others and doesn’t support a balanced build option.
Even though Valhalla plays very well, this playstyle restriction left me wanting a bit more in the wrong way.
New and Old Meet Seamlessly
Valhalla combines Kratos’ past both in location and sound. The expansion’s first section replicates Norse Realms and monsters from Kratos’ memory. After ascending past that section, Kratos moves onto Greek locations (see the maze mentioned above).
The enemies, locations, and music come straight from the original trilogy. Furies and cyclopes run rampant, special doors lead to arenas for the Aegean Sea and Desert of Lost Souls, and the music harkens to an older, PS2 time.
When playing Valhalla, I experienced no technical issues. No bugs, no framerate slowdown, nothing to take me out of the moment. Everything felt clean and seamless.
Anyone who grew up playing those games gets their big nostalgia rush here. Those who didn’t still get to see an excellent Greece that fits Valhalla’s needs.
A Perfect Cap on the Norse Games
Kratos started the Norse games running from his past and hiding it from others. Valhalla ends with him accepting it and guiding him towards a better future.
Sony Santa Monica developed Kratos’ into an emotionally mature parent. The roguelite gameplay meshes nearly perfectly with God of War.
However, the biggest point that must be said: this DLC is free for anyone with Ragnarok. Sony could have easily charged $10 – $20 for this. Even if Valhalla was half as great as it already is, that “price-point” automatically earns a checking out.
God of War experienced a renaissance since 2018. Valhalla marks a perfect cap on that story.