Skip to main content

Every action game should take notes from God of War Ragnarok’s skill tree

Not every piece of God of War Ragnarok is a step up from its 2018 predecessor, but there’s one area where it’s an undeniable improvement: action. Like his last adventure, Kratos uses his heavy Leviathan Axe to chop up enemies and his Blades of Chaos to rain hellfire down. Both tools feel the same in the sequel but have been altered with the addition of elemental abilities that bring an extra set of moves and decisions to combat.

What stands out to me most about the game’s evolved combat though is something a little less flashy. God of War Ragnarok features a handful of skill trees that let players unlock more combos. That’s a bit run of the mill, as it’s become a staple of Sony’s first-party exclusives in recent years. However, Ragnarok‘s skill tree goes one step further than most games with a new customization system that encourages players to actually use those skills once they’ve been unlocked. The feature is so effective that I hope every character-based action game takes notes from it from here on out.

Use your skills

The skill trees in God of War Ragnarok function about the same as any game that includes them. Kratos earns experience points when he slays monsters and those points can be spent to unlock new skills. Both the Leviathan Axe and the Blades of Chaos have their own three-pronged skill tree, as does Atreus. Every time Kratos levels up a weapon using resources, more skills become available to purchase. By the end of the game, players have access to a fairly wide range of moves that’ll have them holding down buttons, comboing moves together, and more.

There’s an extra layer on top of that though, and that’s where Ragnarok is unique. Each move can actually be customized within the skill tree. For each move, there are three tiers that Kratos can reach by using them enough times. When that move hits gold tier, players get the option to augment the attack with one of three options. That might be as simple as giving a heavy slash more attack power or as nuanced as upping the amount of burn a Blades of Chaos combo inflicts on an enemy. It’s essentially a skill tree hidden underneath the skill tree.

Kratos faces off with a monster in God of War Ragnarok.

The psychological effects of that were immediately apparent when I uncovered the system. Early on, I wasn’t thinking too much about my moves. Every time I’d unlock a new one, I’d skim over the description and figure I’d just stumble into it by accident eventually. My combat style was more basic, just relying on standard heavy and light attacks. Once I discovered the system, that radically changed. Soon, I saw the tier goals as mini-progression hooks, giving me a set of checklists to strive toward. I started using move skills more often as I tried to grind them to gold tier. By the time I got there, they had become a more important part of my arsenal, which made the choice to augment them feel like a tangible reward for my experimentation.

It solves a problem that character-based action games tend to face. Take Bayonetta 3, for instance. That game features more unlockable skills than I can count across its bevy of weapons. I unlocked what felt like 100 skills during my playthrough and simply couldn’t retain all those combos. Instead, I largely button-mashed my way through the adventure figuring I’d stumble into those skills along the way. To PlatinumGames’ credit, that is largely the experience in Bayonetta as the fluid combat system makes it easy to organically chain together attacks. But I’d be lying if I told you I was often making active decisions in every battle instead of bashing my controller and watching the results with glee.

Had Bayonetta 3 incentivized me to learn and use my attacks in the way God of War Ragnarok did, I imagine I would have had a much firmer sense of control by the end. Not only would I have learned how to execute each one, but I would have a better sense of its function in a fight — especially if I had direct control over what that move did.

Naturally, Ragnarok‘s approach to skills isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution for any game. However, there’s a lot to glean from Santa Monica Studio’s ingenious approach to combat customization here. A great action game makes the player feel like a mastermind who can hack their way out of even the toughest situations thanks to their weapon mastery. By the end of God of War Ragnarok, I felt like an unstoppable machine who was operating more on brainpower than muscle memory.

God of War Ragnarok is out now on PS4 and PS5.

Editors' Recommendations

Giovanni Colantonio
Giovanni is a writer and video producer focusing on happenings in the video game industry. He has contributed stories to…
MLB The Show 23 returns to Xbox, PlayStation, and Nintendo Switch this March
Jazz Chisholm's cover art for MLB The Show 23.

Sony San Diego Studios announced MLB The Show 23 today, and confirmed that it will launch across all major PlayStation, Xbox, and Nintendo systems on March 28. 
No new platforms were added this year, so PC players aren't getting in on the fun. Still, this announcement makes it clear that MLB The Show is a multiplatform series across PlayStation, Xbox, and Nintendo platforms for the foreseeable future. Xbox's version of the trailer also confirms that MLB The Show 23 will be on Xbox Game Pass at launch, making this first-party Sony series a day-one Game Pass title three years in a row. 
MLB The Show 23 - Cover Athlete Reveal
As is typically the case with sports games, MLB The Show 23's reveal was primarily focused on its cover athlete. We learned that Jazz Chisholm Jr., a second baseman for the Miami Marlins, will grace the cover of the game. Like last year, the PS4, Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch versions of the game will cost $60, while players  on PS5 and Xbox Series X/S without Xbox Game Pass will need to pay $70. So far, no new gameplay features have been teased, although a blog post confirms that cross-platform multiplayer, saves, and progression across all versions of the game will return this year. 
So far, there's not a lot that actually seems new about MLB The Show 23, but this reveal concludes the genesis of a new era for the long-running baseball series. MLB The Show 23 will be released for PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, and Nintendo Switch on March 28. 

Read more
God of War TV show officially ordered to series by Amazon
Kratos looks at the Leviathan Axe.

Amazon Studios and Sony Pictures Television will move forward with developing a live-action television series based on the God of War series of games.
Variety reports that Amazon has ordered this previously-rumored show to series and that it will focus on adapting the narrative of the 2018 game, where Kratos explores the Norse realms with his son Atreus while on a quest to spread his wife's ashes from the highest peak in Jotunheim. This God of War show will also add to a strong lineup of notable fantasy IP on Amazon Prime, as the service also features shows based on The Lord of the Rings and The Wheel of Time. In fact, The Wheel of Time executive producer Rafe Judkins will act as the God of War series' showrunner.
Joining Judkins will be writers Mark Fergus and Hawk Ostby, who are known for their work on Children of Men, 2008's Iron Man, Cowboys & Aliens, and The Expanse. God of War director Cory Barlog will be an executive producer alongside Asad Qizilbash, Carter Swan, Yumi Yang, Jeff Ketcham, and Roy Lee.
Recently, PlayStation has been making a significant push into the film and television scene with movies like Uncharted and shows like The Last of Us, which airs on HBO in January. Projects based on Twisted Metal, Ghost of Tsushima, and Jak & Daxter are also in the works. It makes sense to expand God of War to the medium of television, especially after November's God of War Ragnarok became Sony's fastest-selling first-party game of all time.
It will be interesting to see if any elements from that sequel, and the original trilogy on PS2 and PS4, also make their way into the first season of this show. The God of War live-action series does not currently have an announced release date or cast.  

Read more
The best PS5 exclusives of 2022: standouts from the console’s strong second year
Aloy stands in front of text that says The Best 2022 PS5 Exclusives of 2022.

The PlayStation 5 got off to a strong start with games like Demon's Souls in 2020, and kept that momentum going throughout 2021 with titles such as Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart. It showed no signs of slowing down in 2022. Many great exclusives dropped this year, many of which we've known about since before the system even launched. The lineup is full of high-quality titles, many of which emphasize their gorgeous visuals and compelling narratives. From sequels to critically acclaimed titles to ambitious new franchises, these seven games stand as the best PS5 (and PS4) console exclusive games of 2022.
God of War Ragnarok

Not much needs to be said about God of War Ragnarok. It's a massive follow-up to the series' critically acclaimed 2018 soft reboot, and it goes bigger in almost every way. There are more gods to fight, realms to be explored, and weapons to take on hordes of foes with. God of War Ragnarok is a satisfying action game that tells a large-scale story, but it still takes time to focus on its characters and the journey of Kratos and Atreus as they learn to communicate better. Anyone who owns a PS5 or PS4 owes it to themselves to pick up God of War Ragnarok.
Gran Turismo 7

Read more