That’s no small achievement. While most of the flagship PS5 titles to date have been cross-gen and also available on PS4 — and that includes God of War Ragnarök — the last two years of gaming have been fairly strong in my eyes. Some have argued this generation has started off slow but I’ve loved games like Elden Ring, Deathloop, Returnal and It Takes Two. But God of War Ragnarök pretty much tops them all.
However, if there’s one criticism I can throw at the Kratos' latest adventure, it’s that it does very little new. And that’s becoming a growing trend among Sony’s stable of first-party exclusives. The current collection of PlayStation Studios games on PS5 is comprised almost entirely of sequels. And I’m starting to itch for something truly new.
God of War Ragnarök is a landmark title
Firstly, if you’ll indulge me, I need to gush just a little about God of War Ragnarök. I adored God of War (2018), and when revisiting it earlier this year on PS5, it was a stark reminder of just what an impressive game it is — and yet its sequel arguably surpasses it.
Granted, the surprise factor has gone, but Ragnarök feels like a more confident game. Its narrative is more ambitious with a larger scope and greater thematic depth, not to mention it manages to properly flesh out its supporting cast without neglecting Kratos and Atreus in the process.
The gameplay improvements are mostly minor, but I really appreciated the more streamlined gear upgrade system. And without spoilers, the additional weapon you unlock in the second half of the game is seriously fun to use. I wish it was available earlier.
A special mention must also go to the quality of the side content this time around. I found the optional quests in God of War (2018) a little underwhelming, and after a few hours primarily focused on the main campaign. In Ragnarök, I was consistently stopping to help out various spirits in distress or collect some ethereal oddity for a talking squirrel.
My colleague Tony Polanco labeled the game “the definition of a must-have title” in his excellent God of War Ragnarok review, and it’s a sentiment I strongly echo. If you own a PS5 God of War Ragnarök is an essential purchase. But to be honest, you probably don’t need any convincing from me, you’re likely already playing it yourself.
Sony is obsessed with sequels
For as much as I love God of War Ragnarök, and the lineup of exclusive PS5 games that Sony has treated us to over the past two years in general, there’s no denying that the recent output from PlayStation Studios has been very sequel heavy.
From Horizon Forbidden West to Spider-Man Miles Morales, Gran Turismo 7 to Ratchet and Clank Rift Apart, many of the PS5’s biggest releases have been sequels. Even the likes of Demon’s Souls and The Last of Us Part I are remakes of pre-existing games. Not to mention spruced-up next-gen ports of Ghost of Tsushima and Death Stranding.
In terms of original titles from PlayStation Studios on PS5 we’ve only got two to date: Returnal and Sackboy: A Big Adventure. And the latter is set within the LittleBigPlanet universe so it's technically a spin-off from a pre-existing IP rather than a wholly original new video game.
I’m not instantly dismissing any of these titles. In fact, I’ve played them all (apart from Gran Turismo 7) and have been impressed by every single one. However, I am starting to feel a sense of repetition slowly but surely creeping in. This was most keenly felt for me when I was working my way through Horizon Forbidden West earlier this year.
While I adored my first 15 hours with the game, the next 20 were a little bit of a slog, at least at times. I still earned the platinum trophy so clearly enjoyed the game enough to go the extra mile. But I couldn’t quite shake the feeling that I was playing something very familiar. Perhaps that’s because the game doesn’t do very much to separate itself from its predecessor, Horizon Zero Dawn. Although, God of War Ragnarök doesn’t evolve much either and I didn’t experience the same issue there.
I want more games like Returnal
There’s only one game in the PS5's exclusive line up that can give God of War Ragnarök a run for its money in my books: Returnal.
This highly replayable rouge-lite was my personal pick for GOTY 2021 and it’s an experience I still find myself reminiscing about even 18 months on from its launch. Its combination of challenging bullet-hell gameplay, an intriguing narrative and a visually striking world is an intoxicating one, and overcoming its many challenging enemies encounters was unbelievably satisfying.
It also stands out in the PS5’s portfolio of exclusives as something totally fresh. Sure it takes clear inspiration from a number of other games, but it’s an original title surrounded by sequels and perhaps that's why I’m still reflecting on it after all this time. Going forward, I want to see more games like Returnal from PlayStation Studio.
To be clear, I’m not talking about a Returnal sequel here — although I absolutely do hope for one of those. What I mean is that I'm eager to see each of the many talented studios under PlayStation’s ownership make their own original game that isn’t a sequel to one of its previously successful efforts.
The future looks bright for PS5 exclusives
Looking ahead to what’s currently cooking at the various PlayStation Studios developers, I may just get my wish.
In recent months there have been unconfirmed rumors that both Bend Studios and Naughty Dog are working on brand-new original games that won’t be tied to any pre-existing franchises.
Plus, Sony acquired Haven Studios earlier this year, with the Montreal-based studio reportedly developing a multiplayer-focused game for Sony. At the very least, this is sure to feel fresh as Sony’s first-party output has been predominately single-player focused in recent years.
Of course, there are still plenty of PS5 sequels in the work, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. I’m not advocating for the abolishment of all follow-ups or spin-offs going forward. Ideally, I would like to see a mix of sequels and original titles launch on the PS5 in the coming years.
I’m very excited for Spider-Man 2 from Insomniac Games, and Horizon: Call of the Mountain will probably be the first game I play on my PS VR2 — assuming I'm able to secure a PS VR2 pre-order next week.
Over the years, Sony’s first-party developers have created dozens of incredible worlds and characters, and I obviously don’t want to see them all disappear. But I also want PlayStation Studios to envision new worlds and introduces us to new character that we'll grow equally attached to as well.
Hopefully when we look back on the PS5 generation in several years time, we'll see a collection of exclusives that are both new and familiar.