The 2018 reboot of Santa Monica Studios' mythology crushing series worked out better than even they could surely have imagined. An older and more emotionally mature Kratos found a whole new lease of life, both in reality and in-game, as God of War literally grew up with its audience. The change in tone was absolutely key to this renewed success, and yet the game managed to retain its legendary identity.
Kratos and Atreus' journey was typically grandiose and shook the very foundations of the Norse Gods. It brought on the fury of the Aesir and set in motion a series of events that would lead to the fabled Fimbulwinter and even Ragnarök itself. With so much at stake then, it's hard to imagine that it can all be wrapped up in a single sequel rather than a full trilogy, but that's what God of War Ragnarök aims for with a compelling story from beginning to end.
- GOD OF WAR // RAGNARÖK -
Already deep into the 3-year winter, the game throws you straight into the action with a truly amazing first hour that is packed with epic combat, movingly tender moments, and brilliantly entertaining encounters with some of the main cast. The game sets itself up for a phenomenal journey and doesn't disappoint, perhaps other than a somewhat hurried finale!
The tight over-the-shoulder combat is a particular highlight with iconic weapons such as the Leviathan Axe and Blades of Chaos naturally returning, while various new items and abilities bring extra dimensions in both offensive and defensive ways. Not to mention the fact that there are some fascinating playable character and companion combinations that really shake up the gameplay.
- KRATOS // FREYA -
In fact, the whole cast of characters is pretty exceptional, and Santa Monica's portrayal of the Aesir is nothing short of inspired. With all of The Nine Realms also now available to explore, it is a better game than its predecessor in almost every way.
Despite that though, Ragnarök is still more of a case of refinement than a totally new experience. PS5 owners may benefit from the likes of higher resolution and haptic feedback, but don't expect a full generational leap. This is still a PS4 game at heart, as the abundance of load-enabling gaps and crawl spaces will attest.
- EX-SQUEEZE ME // KRATOS -
It is the refinements that make the difference though, and if this is to be considered a PS4 game, it's an incredibly good one. Unfortunately, the news is not quite as good when it comes to the photo mode, especially considering that it arrived a full 4 weeks post-launch.
Many were hoping that we would see the same sort of refinement and incremental improvements but, not only does Ragnarök's photo mode remain largely unchanged from that of the 2018 game, it also fails to address some major limitations and even loses a couple of features.
It may not be the end of the world, but it surely feels like a step backwards!
You insult me holding back like this...
Key Photo Mode Features:
Manual focus & aperture control
Wide range of facial expressions
Colour filters with vibrance & saturation
Photo Mode Implementation:
This isn't just an entitled expectation of fancy 3-point lighting and innovation, and I completely understand that any new or updated features – photo mode or otherwise – require time in development, but it's not unfair to say that this photo mode came as something of a disappointment. Especially from a PlayStation Studio.
Against a backdrop of an ever-growing art form, and photo modes becoming a much more established and expected feature, here we have one of the most anticipated games of the year struggling to offer what virtual photographers need, let alone what they might wish for.
Fate only binds you if you let it. Do what is necessary...
Let's start with the features that have actually been removed, namely the shortcut button access and the character focus lock. With the touchpad now otherwise engaged, and even the customisations for that eschewing any photo mode option, getting into the camera tools is done by pressing ☐ on the pause / Options menu, while the lack of focus tracking leaves users needing to manually refocus after every camera movement. It is quality of life stuff that just makes this a photo mode that is less user friendly, especially when these are features that were previously present.
- GOW RAGNARÖK // PM CONTROLS -
The real killer though has to be the camera range. While the movement itself is excellent with free-camera truck, dolly, and crane paired with 360° pan & tilt, it cannot be fully lowered to ground level and is restricted to an area of a little over 3 metres from the playable character. Such a tiny bounding sphere was a problem in 2018 and is verging on being unacceptable 4 years later, it may even suggest a lack of awareness about how a photo mode camera is used.
So where did the time go, why the 4-week wait? Well that is a good question and, aside from simply making sure that everything is compatible with the new game, there are a few new features to speak of and by far the biggest addition comes in the form of character facial expressions.
- GOW RAGNARÖK // FACES -
Kratos now has 28 distinct emotions to choose from, and there are another 26 for Atreus, but the feature has also been enabled for other characters and companions too. Though not quite as many to choose, you can now alter the faces of Freya, Brok, Sindri, Angrboda, Tyr, Thrud, and even Thor to make them happier, angrier, or just downright weird looking.
The available colour filters have been enhanced too, with both Vibrancy and Saturation adjustments added for each one in addition to the overall filter intensity. It is something that gives much more versatility to the colour toning, although it is worth noting that these adjustments are individual to each filter rather than being applied in general.
- GOW RAGNARÖK // PHOTO MODE UI -
Of course, all of these changes can be found via the re-worked UI which ditches the solid boxes and moves the tabbed menus up to the top-left of screen. It's an elegant design in parts, but the decision to cover 50% of the screen with a dark vignette to aid readability is a real pain, especially considering that no settings can be altered while the UI is hidden.
Making changes can also be frustratingly slow at times too, as the UI seems to wait for each haptic pulse to conclude before making the next action. As an example, I managed 28 impatient button presses while trying to move the logo back through its 9 positions!
One saving grace here at least, is that it is possible to reset the settings per tab, so don't get stuck cycling back through all of Kratos' faces, just hit Δ to reset the character tab.
- KRATOS // NIFLHEIM -
It may seem like it is mostly criticism for the Ragnarök photo mode then, but it is certainly not all bad. The available options can still do (almost) everything they could before, and there is undoubtedly the potential to deliver some great shots.
Camera options include the counter-operational Field of View and Focal Length settings so that you can work in either lens or pure viewing angle terms, and roll is practically unlimited with a range of ± 180°. Depth of field control is also excellent thanks to precise manual focus that can be set to the centimetre, and true f-stop aperture values.
- GOW RAGNARÖK // DoF -
One annoyance is that the section for this is erroneously called "Shutter" despite having nothing to do with a shutter (Aperture or Lens would be closer), but the results are great none-the-less. Wide apertures (small f-number) create a shallow depth of field, particularly at longer focal lengths, that gives a softly defocused background and foreground with just a little circular bokeh on distant lights. Combine this with an 85 mm focal length, and you can expect some fine portrait opportunities.
Much like in God of War (2018) actually, this is where the true strength of the photo mode lies. The camera range severely limits the wider scope, but the high quality character models make it a joy to work up close and in detail. A subtle film grain and vignette can make things look a little less "perfect", and a few movie & tv inspired aspect ratio crops are ready to lend an extra cinematic feel to the presentation.
Don't try to shoot Ragnarök as a journey, imagine it as a movie and the photo mode will do more for you...
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Even before the photo mode was added, it was not hard to see the potential that Ragnarök has to offer. With a very similar art direction and even greater levels of detail to enjoy, much of what made the 2018 game popular for virtual photography applies again here, and photo mode is still a tremendous way to engage with the art of Santa Monica Studio's game.
- GOW RAGNARÖK // ANGRBODA -
Just as before, the lovingly crafted environments are magnificent to behold, with entirely new realms to discover and even the returning ones looking dramatically different after the onset of Fimbulwinter. Water has turned to ice and layers of deformable snow cover the terrain, but not everywhere is a winter wonderland.
The effects of the seasonal shift are actually reflected differently in each location and, along with places like the intricately industrial Svartalfheim and beautiful depictions of both Vanaheim and Asgard on offer, there are a truly varied and almost always stunning series of mythical environments to explore.
- GOW RAGNARÖK // REALMS -
Of course, the potential here is about way more than just environments, and not least because each one is replete with its own native monsters and wildlife. Enemies are beautifully designed, and the fully voiced cast of characters make great subjects for any virtual camera, especially when you see them turn up in different outfits depending on when and where you are in the game.
Above all though, Santa Monica have done an especially good job with the Aesir. The newly introduced characters could easily have been a series of cliché bosses that brought vengeful combat and aggression, but Odin and his kin are much, much more than that. With engaging personalities and interesting backstories, you may well find yourself liking several of the supposed enemies, and not only as photographic subjects.
- GOD OF WAR // RAGNARÖK -
Maybe it is not without a touch of irony then, that combat is one of the areas that this photo mode is least suited to. The tight restrictions make it challenging to capture more than one character in a single and well-composed frame, and the via-menu access makes catching the right moment a clunky affair.
Keep the focus on individuals though, and you will soon appreciate the high quality character models that every character is rendered with. In fact, a desire to avoid lowering the LoD on them could even be a factor behind limited camera range.
- GOW RAGNARÖK // COMBAT -
It is hard to fully recommend a photo mode that is in some ways inferior to its own predecessor, let alone many of its modern peers, but there is still something about shooting God of War that holds appeal. As a game Ragnarök is outstanding, and although the photo mode limits the range of photographic styles at your disposal, it is still very well suited to capturing detailed portraits of the game's impressive character models.
This recommendation comes mostly on the back of the available content then, so take the opportunity to grab some shots of Kratos and friends, but also don't be afraid to tell Santa Monica Studio to "be better".
Full Feature Set:
Access & Control
Photo Mode Access: Options menu + ☐
Camera Movement: Free camera with bounding sphere Horizontal Pan: 360° Vertical Tilt: 360° Roll: ± 180°
Field of View: 17 - 100° (± 1°)
Focal Length: 15.0 - 120.0 mm (± 1 mm)
Camera Roll: -180 to +180° (± 1°) Depth of Field: Off / Custom
Focus Distance: 0.21 - 100.0 (± 0.01)
F-Stop: f/1.4 - f/32 (28 stops) Film Grain: 0.0 - 10.0 (± 0.1)
Exposure: -10 to +10 (± 1)
Filter: None + 12 presets
Filter Intensity: 0.0 - 10.0 (± 0.5)
Vibrance: -100.0 to +100.0 (± 1.0)
Saturation: -100.0 to +100.0 (± 1.0)
Vignette: Off / On
Vignette Intensity: 0.0 - 10.0 (± 0.5)
Vignette Falloff: 0.0 - 10.0 (± 0.5)
Border: None + 10 presets (incl. 21:9, 4:3 & 1:1)
Logo: None + 9 positions
Kratos: Show / Hide
Companion: Show / Hide
Other Characters: Show / Hide
Kratos Face: Default + 28 presets
Atreus Face: Default + 26 presets
Other Character Faces: Freya, Brok, Sindri, Angrboda, Tyr, Thor & Thrud
Hide UI: Yes
Game Menu Settings
Disable HUD: Always on, always off, dynamic
HDR: On / Off, Brightness, Contrast
Favour Resolution / Favour Performance