Since its release just shy of two weeks ago, there has been a lot of chatter about God of War Ragnarök. This has ranged from whether or not there should be a PETA friendly mode included in the game, to Kratos' atonement for his past behaviour.
One thing that has really struck a chord is the amount of help Ragnarök's companions give when players are trying to solve puzzles. Many fans feel that, really, it would be better if said companions just held on to their advice for that little bit longer than they ultimately choose to.
For example, much like many others, I like to venture off the game's main path every so often to see if there are any treasures tucked away I could miss if I left the area too soon. (This is all just standard exploration, not a sign that I don't have a clue what I am doing. Honestly, it is.) Early on in the game I took one step away from Atreus and was swiftly told I was going the wrong way. "I think this wheel over here needs to turn," he called after my retreating footsteps.
Yes, thank you Atreus. I had already gathered that myself, but there was also a chest over there which might just contain some goodies that will help us upgrade our weapons. I'm going to check it out - is that ok with you?
I am now many (many) hours further into Ragnarök, and yet these 'hints' just keep on coming, with varying degrees of abruptness from those delivering them.
There have been, of course, times where I have been genuinely flummoxed, and needed a little pointer on what to do next. In these moments, as with any game I play, I have been grateful for the extra input from those with me.
I just wish characters would only give these nudges to me when the game was absolutely certain I was not going to be able to get from A to B on my own. When characters jump in too early to help, even with all the best intentions in the world, I feel it breaks my overall immersion with the game.
I appreciate this is a single-player game, and in general I really enjoy the interactions with those who keep me company as we make our way through Ragnarök's Nine Realms. Companionship is nice, and much of the back-and-forth banter helps to build the world around me when gameplay is a little more sedate.
There's a moment later in the game (don't worry, I won't spoil anything) between two characters that is really very beautiful and I felt quite emotional listening to them share their tales with each other. I genuinely love a good conversation that adds to the story.
But that doesn't mean my companions have to be helping all the time outside of these conversations, especially when there really is no need to rush the narrative forward. That beautiful conversation I just mentioned - the emotions I felt following this exchange were swiftly expelled as my companion began methodically and almost robotically pointing out the angle of a statue I needed to adjust, acting as though they hadn't just bared their soul to me moments earlier.
Horizon Forbidden West also fell into this trap earlier in the year. There, Aloy constantly gave feedback on her surroundings before players even had a chance to move the camera around to take in the scenery themselves. It broke the immersion of the moment, hearing Aloy describe something players were not in control of. Looking back now, this was perhaps even more jarring for players as Aloy was talking to herself, what with the lack of severed head or teenage offspring following her every move.
The constant need for Ragnarök's side-kicks to assist has also, ironically, at times made things that bit more difficult for me. Sometimes, my 'helpful' companions have caused a problem where, in actual fact, there wasn't one at all.
Let me take you back to the moment I was stuck for an inordinate amount of time because Atreus was looking over a crevasse at some contraption in the distance, constantly commenting on its levers or something along those lines.
Given his near obsession with the mechanics that were a way over on the other side of this abyss, I assumed I was meant to be doing something that would allow us to make our way over there.
I found myself searching for ages around this area, but nothing was jumping out at me as a solution to what I presumed was another puzzle. I threw my axe at every overhang. I flamed up my blades in a bid to burn all the foliage. I tried to climb up every vertical surface. But nothing was working. Up until this point, the entire area had been pretty straight forward, and yet suddenly here I was totally stumped, with my in-game son making me feel like I was missing the wood for the trees.
Eventually, in my frustration, I moved away from the gulch (I don't know why, but that word always makes me chuckle) Atreus seemed set on drawing my attention to and retraced my footsteps. And, whaddaya know, a little way back on a different path there was a cart that we needed to slip past that I had missed the first time around. This, it turned out, was the way we were meant to go, and once I had moved the cart from the path, Kratos continued on, acting like Atreaus had not just been trying to send him over the edge of a ravine mere seconds earlier.
Many hours have passed since that moment, and I still have no idea what the contraption on the other side of that gulch was. Did I accidentally trigger dialogue meant for later in the game? Does this mean Atreus was solving puzzles I was not yet equipped to deal with? Who can say. Whatever it was though, it certainly ate into a lot of my gameplay time.
Don't get me wrong, I am absolutely on board with anything that makes a game more accessible to as many players as possible. The industry in general made great strides in this respect, and God of War Ragnarök has a gloriously full catalogue of options to curate a gameplay experience that suits a myriad of individual needs. So, perhaps, I am being a little too hard on Ragnarök right now.
But I do just wish that, among all the other accessibility options included in this game (and there's even a "puzzle timing" option to give you longer to complete the game's timed puzzles), there was a slider of some sort to tweak how many hints the companions give, and how quickly they decide to give them.