#160: All connected

In a game of so much muscle, it's the connective tissue that stands out the most.

Hello Hit Points crew! Here’s this week’s free edition. Earlier this week, paid subscribers got to read about publishers trying to juice a game’s Metacritic score by cherry-picking which outlets get review code; you can read it now, and unlock the full Hit Points archive, with a seven-day free trial.

I’m only a few hours into God of War Ragnarok, but have already realised my mistake. I thought it was a PS5 game that was also available on PS4. In fact, it is the opposite.

This is no bad thing, necessarily; it is just a question of expectations, which I have hastily had to recalibrate. But I was certainly struck by how old-fashioned the biggest game of the season feels at times, despite its high-gloss finish. Kratos and Atreus inching through cracks in the cliffside, from the latest modestly sized puzzle chamber to the next cramped combat space. A punch-up with enemies who politely spawn two or three at a time, then an slow walk-and-talk while the next area streams in.

These are features, of course, not bugs. The makers of a cross-gen sequel to a rapturously well-received game were never likely to tinker that much with so successful a formula, especially when their hands are tied by the need to support a last-gen console. But I was nonetheless a little disappointed to load up a £70 game, on a console I paid £450 for two years ago, and find something that, resolution and framerate bumps aside, feels pretty old hat.

Yes, I could have been better prepared for this disappointment, had I paid enough attention. I didn’t read many reviews. That’s partly a hangover from my Edge days, when I didn’t really care what anyone else thought of a game, and partly the fact that I spent embargo day being grumpy about graphics modes. I was quite struck by Polygon’s take on the game, however, which compared it to a Marvel movie. I took this to mean it was an attractive, engaging, expensively produced rollercoaster of a thing that would rather wash over me. There would be quips, I expected (and I was certainly right about that).

But after a few hours in Ragnarok’s company I have come to reassess that comparison. It is not that this game specifically is like a Marvel film; rather, it is that Sony’s firstparty output in general is a sort of videogame version of the MCU. God Of War, Uncharted, The Last Of Us, Horizon: these games form, in their way, a sort of connected mechanical universe. The connective tissue, while not as blandly overt as in the Ubisoft open-worlders of years past, becomes more visible with each new game that features it, and it is rather losing its appeal. Ah, a climbing section, is it? A sort-of-hidden path containing… yes, crafting materials, of course. But how are we to traverse this high wall? It is taller than both of us combined! The bigger of us could give the smaller a boost up, you say? Capital idea!

The game that 2022’s Ragnarok reminded me most of during my briefer-than-planned session with it last night was 2009’s Uncharted 2. You know when you come, in these games, to a fork in the road? When you immediately realise that one of its tines continues the critical path, and the other leads to a treasure chest or some other form of collectible? While I appreciate this is intended to reward the curious, explorative player, all it does is seed within me an immediate anxiety about picking the ‘wrong’ one and missing out on some goodies. Uncharted used to do this all the time. Ragnarok does it constantly. It drives me gently potty.

It also sits rather at odds with a more recent addition to Sony’s firstparty style guide: the constant, abject terror that you might fail to understand exactly what you are supposed to be doing, at any given moment, for more than about three seconds. Earlier this year, Horizon Forbidden West solved this absolute non-problem with the protagonist’s constant outer monologue. Here, we have Atreus. He patronisingly spells out the solution to a puzzle you’ve barely looked at; he races ahead to show the way, like a GTA game’s GPS writ gangly teenage flesh. Yes, this is in part a narrative manoeuvre — look how independent your little boy has become! They grow up so fast! — but it means Ragnarok casts you, this legendary slayer of gods, as a grumpy, wantonly destructive toddler. Useful in a fight, no doubt, but not someone you’d trust to read a map, or solve a puzzle. You’d only try to eat them, dear. Let me show you how it’s done.

My biggest issue with Ragnarok, however, is my own lack of time. I knew from the little I’d read on embargo day that it is an enormous game that has a bit of a pacing problem, and an enjoyable early Thor fight aside, it opens slow. This is a poor fit with my lifestyle at the moment. I am busy by day writing a modestly popular newsletter, and playing games I’m consulting on. I am trying, and actually mostly succeeding, to get to bed at a decent hour each night. Yesterday evening I stuck Ragnarok on for 20 minutes, and nothing really happened. Should I give it another 20? What if nothing happens then either?

Earlier this week I was listening to a recent episode of The Back Page podcast in which the hosts revisited the God Of War series (with the exception of Ragnarok, which they hadn’t played at the time of recording). One of them made the point that you could play the first three games in the series in their entirety in less time than it took to complete the 2018 reboot. He pined a little for the breathless pace that used to define the series.

That started ringing in my ears last night as Kratos and his uppity boy-satnav inched carefully through a crevice, then climbed a wall helpfully painted with Norse symbols. Almost immediately a friend messaged me to say he’d just played a setpiece a few hours deeper into the game (he is childless and had taken launch day off, the bastard.) He said it looked incredible, but all he’d done was hold up on the stick. My mind drifted elsewhere.

I had a thought. God Of War III was remastered for PS4, right? That’s the sort of thing that ought to be in the Nu-Plus catalogue. It was, and it downloaded in a flash. I stuck it on for 20 minutes, and ended up playing for 40. Within that time I’d fought a series of armoured spider-things on the back of Gaia, the ancestral mother of life. I’d stabbed one through the heart with one of its recently severed legs. I’d merked Poseidon, for pity’s sake, and given the stink-eye to Zeus. This was much more like it! I could probably polish it off in a weekend, with a fair wind. Might even be worth staying up late for.

I do not mean all this as a dump on Ragnarok: the 2018 reboot was a fine game, and I have no doubt this is too. I will return to it, expectations suitably realigned, when I have a little more free time on my hands (and ideally after Santa Monica has followed Guerrilla’s lead and patched in an option to silence the help). It’ll make a lovely Christmas game, I reckon. All that snow? The unbroken company of children that won’t stay still or shut up? A constant fury simmering beneath the surface, yearning to be unleashed? Ragnarok will be the perfect companion.


  • Revered composer Mick Gordon has hit out at Id Software, and particularly its studio director Marty Stratton, over his treatment while working on the score and soundtrack for Doom Eternal. Gordon’s statement is extravagantly long, painstakingly detailed and seemingly irrefutable — in fairness I would have done it like this too, knowing what Bethesda’s lawyers are like — and it is honestly quite heartbreaking to read, whether you’ve played the game or not (I haven’t). Fans are now demanding justice for the composer.
  • Shigeru Miyamoto, Nintendo’s real mascot, has acknowledged that backwards compatibility is easier than ever to implement — but downplayed suggestions that Nintendo might follow the lead of Sony and Microsoft when the Switch successor finally arrives. “Nintendo’s strength is in creating new videogame experiences,” he said. “When we release new hardware in the future, we would like to showcase unique videogames that could not be created with pre-existing hardware.” Ha, yes, not like Nintendo to lean on the past, is it. Fast forward, if you will, to 2025, when we are all buying Super Mario 64 for the 83rd time.
  • Remedy has officially announced Control 2, which it will co-publish and, rather weirdly, co-develop with 505 Games.
  • Kevin Conroy, voice of Batman in the Arkham games and the much-loved Animated Series, has passed away aged 66.
  • A handful of copies of the $200 God Of War Ragnarok collectors edition shipped without an actual copy of the game. Oops.
  • There are some delicious dunks on John Riccitiello in this Bloomberg piece about Unity.
  • Modern Warfare II and Warzone 2 will share a rather novel-sounding take on the Battle Pass. Rather than climb the industry-standard linear progression ladder, you’ll be able to unlock its various offerings in, it appears, the order that you choose. Interesting stuff, this, though I doubt it will draw me back to MWII’s multiplayer. I gave it a couple of hours, but was put off not only by the usual chastening reminder of my advancing years — I swear these kids are getting faster, you know — but also the fact that I’d have to spend about ten hours levelling two guns before I could lay my hands on my trusty M16. Make that stuff nonlinear and we’ll talk.

There you go! We shall end today’s edition, and the week, with a request for your help.

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Have yourselves a wonderful weekend, whatever it holds, and I’ll see you on the flip.