It’s not often where 4 years would feel like a short space of time.
But with a pandemic spanning 2 of those years and the energy of FOMO multiplied by hype, the run to Ragnarök was as swift as a thrown Leviathan axe. After its arrival, fans have found themselves satisfied once more by the continued story of Kratos, the former Greek god of war. I was lucky enough to sit down with Mihir Sheth and Denny Yeh, two of the combat leads for the game, and talk with them about the title and more.
To clarify, I was joined by other media outlets who definitely asked more thought provoking questions. But that’s not my bag, baby. Well that’s not exactly true to be fair, as I did have such questions ready like:
“Kratos has, notably, wielded an array of weapons throughout his tenure. But in Ragnarök it almost seems like ‘choice’ has become his primary weapon as he tries to step away from being a god of war. Is this to do with Kratos seeing themselves as a weapon and are therefore trying to resolve this conflict around them being a god killer?”
Yet I couldn’t bring myself to ask it amongst the ones already asked. You see, I like to bring brevity to moments. Especially ones filled with the headiness demanded of an action-adventure title like Ragnarök. While questions around voice acting, keeping the franchise fresh and making sure the companions felt like a distinct experience for players, I leaned into something a little more dear to me: “I spent roughly 8 hours in 2018, trying to beat Sigrún the Valkyrie Queen. This was pre-patch so I didn’t have any of the talismans which made it easier, yet I already beat G’Na and King Hrolf Kraki within a couple of hours.”
“Do you guys think I’ve gotten better at the game or was it the Platinum from Elden Ring which helped me defeat these end game bosses?”
As you can see, this is a based question. We also love external validation like any creature inhabiting this world. But for me, it spoke to a tumultuous time of trying to defeat Sigrún after a bad day at work. A core memory created, as I needed some form of success to feel like I had done so that day. Technically I did, but the day also became tomorrow.
A kindness was offered as Denny took on the question: “You have definitely gotten much better at the game”. Thank you combat designer Denny Yeh. “One challenge with Ragnarök is we definitely want players of all types to be able to experience it”. A true professional, Yeh then took it further from the perspective of their own creative experience.
“We want players to be able to approach Ragnarök regardless of whether you have had experience with the past game or not.”
And this resonates in the Ragnarök experience for players. “You know, there’s a little recap in the the beginning of the game where you can get a story recap” says Yeh. “And if you wanna experience just the story and be more of a completionist, you play the easier difficulties. If you want to be challenged, you try ‘Give me God of War’. And there’s a lot of things which have changed with the difficulty levels. This is both in terms of the damage you take and the damage you deal. But also more importantly the patterns and moves these enemies provide you.”
“And that’s what these different experiences are about. Testing you and making you feel like you understand the combat system. Hopefully no matter what player you are, once you overcome these challenges you’ll feel like you did a great job. You’ll feel like you have accomplished something that you know was worth partaking in.”
This speaks to me and my finally defeating G’Na after 2 hours. This somehow still felt comparable to Sigrún’s 8 hours, but I digress. Taking the chance to add a supplementary question, I asked:
“Will the Storm of the Bifrost be nerfed?”
For me, I felt this particular rune buffs Kratos immensely. While it takes a little bit of time to setup, the payoff for its activation is worth ten fold. Mihir Sheth took this opportunity to step in: “There’s a lot of stuff in this game. One thing you may have noticed in the end game is that we’ve really opened that stuff up. And we’re excited to see what players build! What things will people try? We’ve seen so many different permutations of builds and powers and things players can do. So for us, we’re excited to see what players will put together because there’s a lot of different combinations.”
Yeh adds “We love hearing stuff like that. We love hearing about all sorts of things in the game, and it’s always different based on the player. Someone will be like “Oh, this this move or this piece of gear was just insanely strong.” And we want that because we want each player to gravitate towards certain things and embrace them. Like Mihir said, a lot of our focus is with player expression and expanding those options for the player.”
“You might find things which surprise you though. You might have thought they couldn’t compete with Storm of the Bifrost, but actually it’s a kind of on par.”
We continued around the table with more brilliant questions asked. But I knew at the next opportunity I had, that there was only one question I could ask of the devs.
“Can you guys tell me where the final chest in Freyr’s house on Vanaheim is? I need the guide!”
A lot of players won’t have the reviewer experience. Our games can have the trophies hidden, along with a few other options, and when you want to hunt them it can become a little tricky as guides are yet to be released.
“OH! And can I also get your guys best “BOY!” impersonation?”
“I thought you were a pro gamer. What happened?”
Thank you for the continued validation, combat designer Mihir Sheth. A valid response. Don’t worry gamers, I did end up getting my Platinum trophy. “As for the second question, both Denny and I will really make everyone sad with our impersonations.” Yeh adds “That’s why we have the voice actors we were asked about earlier. We have people like Chris Judge on the team, right? We can’t even compete with them!”
They take the question in jest as intended, and we all laugh about it. I also knew my question about the chest was a success, as the Marketing Manager for PlayStation NZ audibly groaned when I asked it. This means it truly passed the test of cringe within this space.
We thank the team for their time, as they use the World Tree doors of Microsoft Teams to head to their next location. During our time with them, you could sense the pride they had in what they managed to pull off with Ragnarök. As we turned to different media to try to escape the real world difficulties we faced during the pandemic, we forget that the team did the same while making this game. The majority of it being made from within their own homes, virtually managing the production of a title which had huge pressure on it due to its pedigree.
But Santa Monica Studio took it in stride and released one of the best games of 2022.
Hopefully the next 4 years will be a bit more gentle on them, as they no doubt look forward and think on what they hope to create next; Whether it’s another story of a father and son or something else completely new. I don’t know, but I feel Thrud of Thunder has a nice ring to it.