The biggest PlayStation game of 2022 is out now but is the critical acclaim deserved and what does it say about the state of video game reviews today?
God Of War Ragnarök on PlayStation 5 currently has a 94, out of 100, rating on Metacritic. That’s the second highest of the year outside of Elden Ring and a couple of reissues of older games (Portal 1 and 2 on Switch, and Persona 5 Royal on PC). In our review though, we only gave the game an 8/10 score and while it will certainly appear in our Top 20 of the year, we don’t feel Ragnarök was quite as good as its predecessor.
Despite the overall number of new releases being low this year (not quite as low as last year but still obviously affected by the pandemic) this has been a pretty good year for games. We haven’t decided on our actual game of the year yet, for obvious reasons, but some of the top contenders include not just Elden Ring but Bayonetta 3, Immortality, and Hyper Demon.
Some of those games are well known, some less so, but no game’s merits will be as heavily argued over as Ragnarök’s, for the simple fact that it’s a console exclusive and so its perceived quality ties into many fans’ views of the PlayStation brand as a whole and the never-ending console war between Sony and Microsoft. People disagree on how good or bad Elden Ring is but never with the same ferocity with which Ragnarök is debated.
It’s the same when a new Xbox first party game is released, if anyone can remember that far back, with many tying their whole identity as gamers to one brand or the other. There are plenty of understandable reasons for this, and it’s not necessarily even a bad thing, but it can make discussion of format exclusives very difficult.
You only have to read the comments on our review to see examples of people having very firm opinions on its quality, and the review’s veracity, days before they could’ve ever possibly played it for themselves. It’s something you’ll see in the comments section of any review, from any website, that is accused of being an ‘outlier’ – a popular phrase that is disturbing in its implication that any dissenting opinion is a statistical anomaly to be instantly ignored.
We’ve always been advocates of scoring reviews, not just because that’s part of the fun of reviewing, but because it worries us that the sites that have ditched scores tend to be the more considered sources, whose opinions are now no longer represented by aggregate sites like Metacritic. Video game reviews rarely make use of the full scale, from 1 to 10, but that’s even more of a problem nowadays when the sites most likely to score more thoughtfully don’t have scores at all.
You might have thought that the whole point of reviews is to be able to get a wide variety of opinions on the same subject, not just for the purposes of judging whether it’s worth a purchase but because it’s interesting to see how different people, all with some degree of expert opinion, view the same game. Look at any movie review on Metacritic and you’ll see a wide range of different verdicts on the same film, running from ecstatic praise to abject despair. That doesn’t happen with video game reviews.
Neither Elden Ring nor Ragnarök scored lower than 80 with any publication, which should be impossible. Surely there’s someone out there that didn’t like these games? We’ve certainly heard from plenty of people that didn’t get on with Elden Ring because of its difficulty, its overfamiliarity, its repetition, and its technical issues. We didn’t think any of those issues were serious enough to mark it down further than we did but is world opinion really that uniform? It’s hard to imagine that it could, or should, be.
Perhaps some critics fear fan reprisals if they were to give an overly negative review, with many gamers treating review scores like a correct answer that every website must try to achieve. We’ve certainly experienced that sort of backlash before, often when our score deviates from the majority only by the smallest degree.
But don’t take our word for it, ask the reviewer from IGN Korea who dared to give God Of War Ragnarök 6/10 and was promptly issued with death threats for their trouble. (At time of writing the review is not listed on Metacritic.)
In the minds of some fans the question is never what’s wrong with the game, that we or others might have marked it lower than the majority, but what’s wrong with the reviewer? It then becomes a mission to defend the honour of the game and its publisher, as a siege mentality settles in with clearly defined heroes and villains.
For us though it’s simple, God Of War Ragnarök is definitely not game of the year. As we explored at length in our review, it’s too similar to its predecessor and yet in most cases not quite as good, with a weaker plot, wasted skill tree abilities, and overfamiliar locations and puzzles. There are a number of games this year that are more inventive and unpredictable and that, to us, will always be amongst the most admirable qualities a game can have.
That doesn’t mean God Of War Ragnarök is bad though, or even especially disappointing. This isn’t a zero-sum situation and no matter what reviews the game gets it will still sell by the millions. And deservedly so too. It is one of the best games of 2022, just not the best.
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