Wrath: Aeon of Ruin
March 16, 2020

I usually don't play single-player games more than once. There are a few exceptions to this, such as the original Doom, System Shock, Vampire: The Masquerade Bloodlines, Master of Orion 2 and a few other very exceptional games. I generally feel that once I’ve played through a game, I've "seen it, done it," and there's no reason to go back. However, Wrath: Aeon of Ruin is now on the list of games that I have compulsively replayed, and the developers haven’t even finished it yet! Only three levels are available at the time of this writing, and I have already played through them multiple times on various difficulty levels. I have enjoyed finding their many secrets without the help of any FAQs or guides. I found myself checking Steam on a daily basis to see if it has received its latest content update. This game has intrigued me in a way that other games seldom do, and I am a little puzzled as to why this is.

At face value, Wrath is a basic shooter. It uses a modified version of the Quake engine, and it is a homage to that landmark title in many ways. Its weapons are highly similar to Quake’s – there is a dual-barreled shotgun, a “fang spitter” that is roughly equivalent to its nailgun, and a “retcher” that is about equivalent to its grenade launcher. Like Doom and Quake, you shoot a lot of monsters. You pick up keys and open doors. You find ammo and health vials. You find artifacts that grant you temporary bonuses. There is no levelling up, no XP, and no skill trees. There are no double jumps, wall running, parkour, jetpacks, grappling hooks or other silly nonsense. Wrath doesn’t need any of that. The combat – At least on “normal” difficulty – feels perfectly balanced. Wrath goes back to basics, and does it well.

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I suppose with all of that extra stuff out of the way, 3D Realms were able to focus on what matters in a shooter – The shooting. Monsters die easily, but only if you have good aim. Hitting center of mass with your shotgun will make them explode into a satisfying shower of blood and guts. If not, you might blow off one of their arms – or even their heads – but they'll keep coming after you. The monsters' low health is balanced by the fact that they inflict a lot of damage, so battles are quick, intense, and don't overstay their welcome. This was perhaps the biggest knock against Quake – Its monsters were cumbersome hit point dumps with predictable AI that were not a lot of fun to fight. Wrath has rectified this.

The story, similarly, keeps things simple. You are “Outlander,” an interdimensional badass who is on a quest to rid a corrupted dimension of monsters. There is no dialogue in the Early Access version, though this is apparently forthcoming in the final release. Even without this, I found myself being drawn into Wrath’s rich, gothic atmosphere without needing a single line of text or spoken word. There’s something to be said about passive storytelling through immersion, and that is certainly in full effect here. Each level is unique and has a hand-crafted feel to it. The “Undercrofts” level is a series of sprawling catacombs and graveyards; the “Mire” is a crumbling ruin surrounded by swamps; the “Gardens” are a series of broken-down conservatories. All of the levels are huge, packed with secrets and a ton of fun to explore. I hope the dialogue and exposition are kept to a minimum in the final release, as I have found the silence – juxtaposed against the beautiful level designs – to be more than enough to keep me interested.

There are also delicate visual touches that reveal a high attention to detail on the developers' parts. Snow gently falls through the grates in the ceilings of the Undercrofts level, creating a white dusting on the ground below. Waterfalls create pixelated ripples in the ponds of the Mire. Outlander's wrist knife creates dynamic patterns of blood upon its blade and the walls when he kills enemies. Certain larger monsters will bash through narrow archways if they cannot fit through, creating holes in the geometry. The heads of dead zombies can be kicked around (perhaps this is a homage to Blood?). There are tons of visual surprises that make Wrath feel vibrant and alive, certainly more so than Quake ever did. The eerie soundtrack also complements the atmosphere nicely. Aesthetically, Wrath receives high marks, and because it uses an antiquated engine, you are guaranteed a high framerate at all times.

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I think another reason Wrath has kept my interest is that it’s extremely approachable. It doesn’t demand too much in terms of time, energy or commitment. It boots up quickly, I am able to get into the action right away, and I don’t have to worry about memorizing lengthy walls of text or pages worth of lore. I don’t have to agonize about which stats to raise or which skills to choose to ensure my character has an optimized build. Wrath is direct, easy, accessible fun. What you see is what you get. It embodies that old navy design principle: “Keep it simple, stupid.”

This game has a few more Early Access updates forthcoming in the next few months, with a final release scheduled for sometime in the summer. The downside to buying the game now is that the price tag feels a little high – There’s only about five hours of content spread across the currently available levels. However, I’ve already dumped thirteen hours into this game and I don’t regret it. The final release will have fifteen levels and multiplayer, so it will definitely be worth the cost by then. The developers have stated that the final price will be higher than it is now, so you will get a discount if you decide to support the Early Access process.

I can’t say for certain if this game will grab you the same way it has grabbed me, but if you enjoyed Quake or first person shooters from the 1990s, it is definitely worth a look.

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