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Creating the endgame of God of War Ragnarok was a battle for its developers

The senior level designer of the PS5's most ambitious action game explains how the final battle almost broke the game.

Alessandro Fillari, Contributor

March 22, 2023

5 Min Read
Odin, looking stern

God of War Ragnarok was the climactic chapter to Kratos and Atreus' saga into Norse mythology, and the endgame portion certainly set the stage for a finale. Traditionally, action-adventure games culminate in epic, larger-than-life encounters that push players to their limits. However, while the final battle with Odin and the Norse gods during Ragnarok certainly delivered on that promise, a recent GDC 2023 talk from the game's creators revealed that the developers were fighting a creative battle that did not many fans knew about.
Santa Monica Studio senior level designer Victoria Smith spoke about creating the final battle set in Asgard, how the narrative set piece moments and the epic fights between Thor and Odin came together—and how they almost fell apart during the closing stages of the game.

Senior level designer Victoria Smith revealed some secrets about the final battle of Santa Monica Studio's game.

Smith used military terminology and quotes from Sun Tzu and Leo Tolstoy throughout the panel to underscore her point about how challenging AAA game development is. This challenge came to a head in particular with the climactic fight in Asgard, which sees Kratos, Atreus, Freya, and many other allies storm Odin's stronghold—all while the world-ending giant Surtr fights in a rage. According to Smith, game developers traditionally leave the final sections of the game for last, even if they're the most ambitious moments of the game.

"We tend, as an industry, to put off content to the end of the dev cycle, and certainly we didn't," said Smith about creating the endgame of Ragnarok. "We didn't start the paper maps for the Ragnarok battle until two years into what was then a three years production, and it was not going to be enough time. This is also very common, right? Because all of you have heard it. Everybody knows that "conventional wisdom," that of the people who play your game, only 10 to 20% make it to the end, right? So putting your time and money there doesn't make sense, right? Well, I'm going to push back on that because I don't think that's the case anymore."
As Smith explained, the reason why devs lead the endgame for last was that there's usually a drop-off in players during the first quarter to mid-game. Therefore, the data that developers receive make them prioritize making the game in the sequence of the narrative's events. However, Smith followed up with data showing that players were more engaged with seeing the game to completion, especially with 2018's God of War. This point also highlighted the major lessons that the developers behind Ragnarok learned, which was that the final battle—though well received by fans—needed a lot of work, and it left some developers feeling unsatisfied with the result.
One particular point of contention was the final battle with Odin. Internally, the Odin fight went through several revisions, the immediate feedback being that it wasn't landing as well as it should have, considering it was the climactic fight against the big bad. This was more apparent after the preceding battle with Thor, the large hammer-wielding God of Thunder that can stand toe-to-toe with Kratos. Essentially, the two battles back to back were against an earth-shaking brawler and an older magic user that played keep away.
To remedy the duel with Odin, the developers upped the visual elements and scope of Odin's prowess, further emphasizing the breadth of his powers and how much they can take up the screen. However, the second phase of the fight with Odin takes place in a section of the game with a larger battlefield, making Odin feel smaller in scope. Nevertheless, this fight is still present in the game, and Smith cites it as a weak point, for she was responsible for.

The team behind developing the Asgard battle from Santa Monica Studio.

A recurring roadblock that the developers hit was "technical debt," which is a situation in tech/game development in which the potential cost of reworking faulty features will outweigh the expense of taking a safer and more reliable approach. This issue arose during the final battle of Ragnarok, which required tons of revisions in the final stretch of development. Eventually, all teams at Santa Monica Studio had to come together during the end of the project to put a round of finishes and revisions for the endgame.

In one particular section that Smith highlighted, we got to see how the developers expanded the scope of the battlefield—which included using 2D renders of 3D figures in the background to give the impression of a large-scale fight. Another instance included the sound designers adding effects and bumping particular audio levels to better understand the devastation that the battle of the gods wrought. However, the biggest challenge the developers faced was ensuring that the game would run at a stable 30 frames-per-second on the PS4, which they successfully pulled off in August before the November 2022 release.

Smith closed out by saying that development is always a team effort, which is how they finished the final battle of Ragnarok.

"The lesson is that you do not design to technical debt unless you have a world-class engineering team," said Smith. "Even if you do have an engineering team like that, from the love of God, give them more time. Do it from the beginning. You know, let them have the time they need to do the heroics. So in conclusion, just like the village that raises a child, it takes an army to produce some of the content we've made. Make sure your army has a clear mission, that it's well provisioned, that it's flexible, that it has plenty of time, and that it is well equipped, and give them a call."

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About the Author(s)

Alessandro Fillari


Alessandro Fillari is a writer/editor who has covered the games, tech, and entertainment industries for more than 12 years. He is based in the San Francisco Bay Area.

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