God of War Ragnarok Continues The Trend Of Pointless Pre-Order Bonuses

God of War Ragnarok finally has a release date. The closing chapter in Kratos and Atreus’ journey is coming this November and will see them go up against massive monsters, angry gods, and all manner of other obstacles. Now we know when it’s coming gamers can stop harassing the developers for no good reason, right? Probably not, but we can dream.

Away from all the hype and speculation, Ragnarok’s long awaited news update also brings with it one of triple-A gaming’s worst habits: pre-order bonuses. These normally boil down to garish costumes or additional weapons that can be equipped from the off and serve to take away from the experience instead of adding to it. Yet they provide a reason for casual consumers to pre-order and add a valuable number to a publisher’s internal projections, so they aren’t going anywhere.

I remember them picking up steam in the PS3 & Xbox 360 generation, with games like Mass Effect 3 having different bonuses locked to specific retailers, meaning that unless you were willing to purchase the game multiple times there was no way to own every piece of content the game had to offer. I know most of these bonuses were just ugly costumes, but EA knowingly took advantage of players by creating something only to lock it behind an obnoxious paywall. Several games from that era loved to offer small digital gifts to those who put their money down ahead of time, while pre-owned customers had to purchase online passes to access multiplayer and miss out on the so called ‘premium’ offerings.

Online passes thankfully died a welcome death, but pre-order culture is alive and well and arguably more blatant than ever. Look at God of War Ragnarok for example, which already has several editions announced at a laundry list of different price points. All those except the standard version include pre-order bonuses that provide Kratos and Atreus with suits of armour and distinct accessories that you presumably won’t get unless you pre-order or buy a certain edition of the game. That’s not cool, even if the outfits don’t look that good.

One is white as snow, and will see our two main characters blend into the environment even though from a gameplay perspective it won’t have any practicable use. The other is golden and regal, sporting a similar aesthetic to Kratos’ shield in the first game. Some of these items are cosmetic – and are marked as such – but others will likely have an influence on the attributes of our hero and provide us with an early advantage in the campaign. This is one of the reasons I hate bonuses like this. Not only are they dodgy business, but they also dilute the game itself by making us more powerful than intended in the opening hours and taking away the satisfaction that comes from natural progression.

Assassin’s Creed is the worst culprit for this, with Ubisoft stuffing its games with so much bollocks it’s almost overwhelming. Countless other games include special items and cool bonuses that only serve to reinforce a pre-order culture that we as consumers have helped normalise, and as a result it is likely never going away. The thing is, we now exist in a digital landscape where pre-ordering games isn’t even necessary. Oh, and there’s also a collector’s edition with a steelbook that doesn’t even include a copy of the game.

Unless you’re eager to own a physical copy or limited edition bundle, digital games never run out and you can make a purchasing decision once reviews are out and you’re free to ignore the allure of marketing campaigns. It can be tempting to put your money down ahead of time, like it showcases your loyalty to a certain series or puts you ahead of the pack, when in reality everyone will be playing the game at the same time, you’ll just have a couple of naff costumes for your troubles.

I wish God of War Ragnarok and so many other games didn’t do this, because it cheapens special games into commercial profits with transparent intentions. They want us to be good little gamers and pre-order without asking questions.

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