They drew first blood
Before Wrath: Aeon of Ruin was announced, Destructoid’s CJ had teased me by saying, “This game has you written all over it.” I was very intrigued, but CJ is a man of his word and did not break embargo. Even when I was speculating about the tease from 3D Realms’ Twitter account, he didn’t budge. Then the curtains were pulled back and I was floored. CJ knows me well.
What more can I add to his lengthy preview of the game, though? While CJ is a fan of old-school shooters, he hasn’t played them as extensively as me. While other kids were digging into platformers, sports games, and action titles, I was spending my time toiling away at corridors in Doom. I begged my mom for my own PC just so I could have free reign to play all kinds of crazy shooters as a kid. Since I’ve been playing them for nearly 20 years, I think I have a good grasp on what makes a first-person shooter solid. Wrath is solid and could be the sequel to Hexen we’ve all been waiting for.
As mentioned in our preview, Wrath is going more for a metroidvania vibe. There are three hub worlds that have around five levels each. Progression through these worlds isn’t entirely linear, so you’ll be able to find upgrades in one level that you’ll then take into another level. From the start, you’ll able to select level one or two and plow through that to unlock the next three in that hub.
The design of these levels feels like something straight out of Turok. Forget what you know about Quake, because Wrath doesn’t feel like it. The game has speed, an awesome arsenal, and some creative enemies, but the flow is very much the polar opposite of id Software’s mega-hit. You’ll be progressing through the levels in a much more concerted fashion, skimming the walls for hidden doors and checking each cranny for keys and items.
I suppose that isn’t what everyone wants, but I was a decent enough fan of Hexen to find this setup intriguing. I also think it’s a great balance considering New Blood Interactive just released DUSK, which is basically Quake with all of the fat trimmed. Trying to ape that title isn’t going to happen, so why not sculpt your own vision of retro FPS goodness?
The weapons feel like a mash-up of all the FPS kings. There’s a grenade launcher type weapon that feels like a mixture between Unreal‘s flak cannon and bio-rifle, a vampire fang launcher that is basically Quake‘s nail gun, and a shotgun with a wonderful risk/reward styled alternate charge blast. It’s great to finally have a use for the right mouse button again instead of simply having ADS (aim down sights).
Since this demo was the same one CJ previewed earlier, I didn’t get a look at any different enemy types. What I can say is that a lot of archetypes are represented here. There are the standard cannon fodder zombie foes, annoying ass flying bastards, and hulking brutes that will charge straight for you. The mix-up comes from the artifacts system, which could be comparable to items from Hexen. These grant temporary buffs to the player from invincibility (at the cost of reducing your health) to enemy health drain.
If you’re pretty skilled, you can completely ignore these, but they also might just help you out of a tight spot. I got to the end of the level without digging into the invincibility artifacts, but then was able to bust out two in a row to clear the room with ease. That element of weighing the odds and stocking up your supply will surely lead to some clutch moments where you’re passing by the skin of your teeth.
In a particularly brutal move, Wrath does not have unlimited quick-saves. That artifact system comes into play here with you needing to utilize a specific rune to make a quick-save. Run out of those runes and you’re stuck progressing through large portions of the level without a safety net. Since this demo was the second level of the game, I didn’t think quick-saves were even necessary, but this mechanic should prevent players from save scumming through tough moments.
More importantly, it changes how you approach combat scenarios. Quake was all about tight corridors and reckless abandon, but Wrath is about open exploration and weapon mastery. The shotgun’s secondary fire takes a few seconds to shoot off, so you will not be running headfirst into crowds and instantly blowing them all away. These tweaks give Wrath an identity all of its own, even if it is borrowing the tech from Quake.
I walked away from the demo very impressed. I don’t think this will be my new favorite, but I’m happy that developers are starting to realize that not every shooter needs to be all action all the time. There once was a period where these games asked you to learn how their mechanics worked and how their levels flowed. Wrath captures that beautifully.
Regarding the release date, 3D Realms’ Vice President Frederik Schreiber told me that they are planning for August with episode one. Despite having the “early access” moniker (which I was told was due to Steam policy), episode one will be a finalish build of the game. 3D Realms is likening this to the old shareware model, just with a price tag. Schreiber stressed that nothing from that build would feel incomplete or sloppy.
Episode two and three will be coming out at some point in 2020 with versions available for PC, PS4, Xbox One, and Switch. You can either pre-order the game on Steam to receive episode one when it’s ready, or wait for the final version. Whatever your course of action, Wrath is one to keep your eye on.