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

While not every aspect of God of War Ragnarok is an improvement over its 2018 predecessor, there is one thing that is undeniably better: the action. Kratos uses his powerful Leviathan Axe to hack up foes, just like in his previous journey, and his Blades of Chaos to unleash hellfire. Despite the addition of elemental talents that provide combatants in the sequel an additional set of techniques and choices, both tools still feel the same.

But something a little less showy about the game’s improved fighting really stands out to me. There are a few skill trees in God of War Ragnarok that allow players to acquire more combos. That is a little boring considering that in recent years it has become a mainstay of Sony’s first-party exclusives. The skill tree in Ragnarok, however, goes a step farther than those in other games, introducing a new customizing system that pushes players to employ their newly obtained skills. I hope that going forward, every character-based action game will pay close attention to this element because it is so effective.

Use your skills

In God of War Ragnarok, the skill trees work similarly to how they do in other games. Kratos gains experience points as he defeats enemies, and he can use those points to buy new skills. Atreus, the Leviathan Axe, and the Blades of Chaos each have a unique three-pronged skill tree. By using resources, Kratos can level up weapons, making new skills accessible for purchase. Players will have access to a variety of moves at the end of the game, including some that require holding down buttons, combining moves, and more.

Yet, there is an additional layer on top of that, and this is where Ragnarok stands apart. Indeed, the skill tree allows you customization of every maneuver. Kratos can use each maneuver enough times to advance through its three tiers. Players have the choice of one of three ways to strengthen the attack whenever that move reaches gold tier. That might be as straightforward as increasing the attack power of a hefty slash or as subtle as increasing the amount of burn damage a Blades of Chaos combo deals to an adversary. Essentially, it is a skill tree that is buried beneath the skill tree.

As I discovered the system, the psychological effects of it became immediately obvious. I wasn’t paying any attention to my movements at first. Every time I unlocked a new one, I would quickly scan the description and assume that I would eventually run into it by mistake. My fighting style was simpler, depending just on typical heavy and light punches. The moment I learned about the system, that completely altered. I quickly recognized the tier goals as miniature advancement hooks that provided me with a set of checklists to work towards. As I worked to refine them to gold tier, I began to employ move skills more frequently. They had grown more significant by the time I arrived, making the decision to upgrade them feel like a good one.

It fixes an issue that character-based action games frequently experience. Consider Bayoneted 3 as an example. I lost count of the attainable talents in that game’s arsenal of weapons. During my game, I gained what felt like 100 talents, but I was unable to remember all of those combos. Instead, I mostly bumbled through the trip in the hope that I would learn those abilities along the way. To Platinum Games’ credit, Bayonets’ smooth fighting system makes it simple to naturally chain together attacks, which accounts for a big portion of the gameplay experience. I’d be lying, though, if I said that I didn’t usually just bash my controller and grin ear to ear at the results of every match.

I suppose I would have had a lot tighter sensation of control by the end if Bayoneted 3 had provided the same kind of incentive for me to learn and apply my attacks that God of War Ragnarok did. In addition to learning how to use each one, I would also have a greater understanding of how it would work in a fight, especially if I had direct influence over how it worked.

Naturally, Ragnarok’s method for handling skills isn’t a universal strategy for all games. Nonetheless, there are many lessons to be learned from Santa Monica Studio’s clever strategy for overcoming personalization in this case. A fantastic action game gives the player the impression that they are an expert hacker who can use their command of the available weapons to get out of even the most difficult situations. By the time God of War Ragnarok was through, I had the impression of being an unstoppable machine that relied more on mental processing than muscle memory.

On the PS4 and PS5, God of War Ragnarok is now available.