Best of 2022: God Of War Ragnarok’s shift to Norse mythology is a brilliant subversion

Spoilers ahead for God of War and God of War Ragnarok

“Baldur is blessed with the ability to be invulnerable to any threat, physical or magical,” explains Mimir to Kratos and his son Atreus in God of War 2018. However, just as Sindri, the craftsman smithing dwarves, giving a bundle of mistletoe to the young god, I know Baldur’s fate is sealed.

I’m no expert on Norse mythology, but the fables of Odin, Thor, the Giants, and Vanir are something I’ve been interested in for years now. I know the generalities surrounding Ragnarok and some of the lesser myths, from the story of Thor creating the tides after being tricked into drinking seawater, to the story of the construction of the walls of Asgard – which ends with Loki being pregnant by a demon. horse, incidentally. While some players were wondering how Kratos could stop an invincible god, I knew the answer was right in front of us, neatly mounted on Atreus’ quiver. The exact details of Baldur’s eventual death may differ in God of War from the Norse mythology it derives from, but mistletoe – and by extension Atreus – still plays an important role. in the death of its terrifying villain.

Most of what we know about Norse mythology comes from the Poetic Edda and the Prose Edda, two ancient Norse texts from the 13th century. I’ve explored both briefly, but most of my knowledge about them. These old pagan tales come from Neil Gaiman’s Norse Mythology, an excellent book that recounts many Norse myths while making them relatable to a modern reader. Because of this, God of War doesn’t throw too many curves my way except for one major exception. The final revelation that Atreus is in fact Loki is quite a shocker, especially since it introduces some issues regarding the timeline of events. For the most part, however, God of War sticks fairly closely to the mythology it draws from, differing only significantly when it comes to portraying certain characters and their prominence in the story. Oh, and there isn’t usually an angry Greek god.

Diving into God of War Ragnarok, I was expecting much more of the same – more subtle twists on long-established myths. I couldn’t have been more wrong. For all the praise I could give to so many different aspects of Santa Monica Studio’s enthralling sequel, what stands out and deserves most is how often the game’s narrative toys have knowledge of Norse mythology before shattering those expectations in fascinating ways.

Fenrir is one of the most obvious examples. At the beginning of God of War Ragnarok, Fenrir, one of Atreus’ pet wolves, dies in the boy’s arms just moments after we first meet him. This is a surprising turn of events as Fenrir plays an important role in Norse mythology, killing Odin by eating him during the apocalyptic events of Ragnarok. You see, Fenrir is one of three children of Loki, the other two being Hel, the goddess of the underworld, and Jormungandr, the serpent of the world. Aesir prophesied that all three would bring great misfortune to the gods because of who their father was.

In Norse mythology, Loki is often depicted as a cunning trickster who is both a companion and an enemy of the other gods. The same can be said of Atreus, although Santa Monica Studio somewhat atones for the mischief-maker by portraying him as capable of empathy and kindness. This important change in properties is also reflected in Fenrir. When the wolf died, Atreus accidentally placed Fenrir’s soul inside his knife, then implanted it in the body of the giant wolf, Garm. Fenrir may not have been Loki’s son in the traditional sense, but Atreus revived him in this act and it’s not uncommon to see him as his creator. It’s a unique twist in Norse mythology that fits God of War’s description of the young god. Instead of devouring Odin in Ragnarok, Fenrir appears to offer our heroes a way out—saving lives rather than finishing them off. He’s not the force of vengeance like in Norse mythology, and that’s partly because Atreus is a vastly different character than the original Loki, often deciding against violence as a first response.

Jormungandr’s role in God of War is more akin to Norse mythology, as we see the giant snake confront Thor in the battle of Ragnarok. However, the ending to their meeting – and the implications that come from it – is much more interesting than the original story. Seeing the moment from afar in the grand finale of the game was breathtaking; The world snake loomed over the horizon as he collided with the tiny lightning bolt that was Thor, slamming into the gates of Alfheim as he was dealt a powerful blow from Thor’s hammer Mjolnir. In Norse mythology, the world of snakes and the god of thunder are sworn enemies, prophesied to kill each other after Ragnarok. Legend has it that Thor finished off the snake with a fatal blow from his hammer, taking only 9 steps before succumbing to the deadly poison that Jormungandr had impregnated with. In God of War Ragnarok, the war ends when Thor hits a colossal snake so powerful that it breaks the world tree, Yggdrasil, and sends Jormungandr back in time long before he was born — a prophecy that Mimir told Kratos and Atreus in God of War 2018.

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The Jormungandr in that game – who found Atreus strangely familiar when they first met – was the same person Thor had beaten back in time. While this was happening, today’s world snake was hibernating beneath the ice at Lake Nine. He was not born many centuries ago, but rather when Atreus and Angrboda went to her grandmother’s house in Jotunheim, the kingdom of giants. There, Atreus revived a large snake that had lost its soul by giving it the soul of a giant, similar to how he implanted Fenrir’s soul into Garm’s body. Again, Loki is not Jormungandr’s father in the traditional sense, but he uses his massive powers to bring life to the world’s snakes. As Mimir admits, this also explains why Jormungandr had a feud with Thor before they even met. It was very likely that the two had clashed while the giant was still alive in its original body.

There are many other examples where God of War Ragnarok has broken my expectations of Norse mythology, but those involving Atreus are the most intriguing. Loki is an integral character in the Old Norse texts, and Atreus still fills that role, albeit in a very different way.

This reinterpretation of ancient mythology has always been part of God of War’s DNA. It originated in Greece, pitting Kratos against Zeus and the rest of the Greek pantheon, before heading north to Midgard and beyond. The great thing about ancient mythology– and especially Norse mythology– is that it is explainable, with so many gaps waiting for your own imagination to fill. Many characters in Norse mythology are hardly like that; they are just names mentioned when passing by. Baldur is described as famous, and then he dies. He had no lines, no personality, and yet Santa Monica Studio turned him into a multi-layered villain. There are moments in Ragnarok that get me excited because of my existing knowledge, but the most gratifying thrill comes from seeing these events converted for new audiences. It speaks to the enduring appeal of these millennial myths, and their brilliant reinterpretations played a key role in elevating God of War Ragnarok into one of the best game of 2022.

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