WRATH Aeon of Ruin Review 3
3D Realms

Video games are complicated. They have to be. Their very existence, the intricacies of their dozens of interconnecting parts all working in tandem with each other, has only become more and more difficult to piece together as quality standards continue to climb and technology becomes inversely easier to use. Lengthy development times are to be expected nowadays, and even the most organized of development schedules can often run into unexpected roadblocks. It happens. This is especially true of indie development, though the once-booming AAA industry has seen some notorious cases of development hell in the last few years.

What does this have to do with WRATH: Aeon of Ruin? Well, everything. Originally announced in 2019, WRATH was to be the latest in a series of games from the “boomer shooter” revival that really picked up steam throughout the 2020s. Powered by the DarkPlaces source port, an engine based on the original code used to power id Software’s Quake, WRATH promised to be something of a spiritual successor to said game due to the involvement of Jeremiah “KillPixel” Fox, along with several prominent members of the Quake mapping community. These include Gavin “FifthElephant” Edgington, Jason “Bloodshot” Oliveri, and Romain “Skacky” Barrilliot, among a handful of others. For Quake fans, this looked to be a terrific tribute to one of the most influential FPS games ever made. How could it not be? It was even published by 3D Realms and Fulqrum Publishing!

Shortly after its announcement, WRATH would officially enter Steam’s Early Access program in late November 2019. It was complete with two levels, a sweeping hub area, with a dedicated content road map before its eventual release. First impressions were positive overall. With a final release date set for 2021, the excitement was more than tangible for this exciting retro throwback.

WRATH finally left Early Access in late February 2024. Needless to say, the long wait may have soured some opinions.

Did WRATH escape the throes of development hell with flying colors? Did it ultimately flame out when it finally came to fruition? Let’s talk about that.

WRATH of the Unobtrusive Story

3D Realms

Like Quake, WRATH: Aeon of Ruin doesn’t bog itself down with an exhaustive story. Set in a mechanical dark fantasy world, WRATH tells the story of the Outlander: a nameless, faceless man whose visage is hidden underneath a metal mask and a dark hood. As he sails the Ageless Sea on a lone vessel, he stumbles across a mysterious island inhabited by a single pale figure known as the Shepherd of Wayward Souls. The Outlander, who’s seemingly down to do anything, is asked by the Shepherd to accomplish a simple task: destroy the remaining Guardians of the Old World with a plethora of surreal weapons, powerful artifacts, and the forearm-mounted Ruination Blade.

It’s sparse, but for what it’s worth, so was the original Quake. Chalk it up to the tumultuous development that Quake originally endured, but its eclectic mix of multiple different themes — primarily science fiction and dark fantasy, on account of numerous changes in creative direction — still remains unique to this day, made more ominous by the killer atmospheric soundtrack by Trent Reznor. WRATH goes for a similar vibe, complete with a comparable score provided by Andrew Hulshult (DUSK, Amid Evil). It’s ominous and mysterious, but best of all, it doesn’t get in the way of what really matters.

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If you are interested in the wider world of WRATH, numerous bits of lore can be found throughout each of the game’s gargantuan levels, with the Shepherd occasionally providing some insight into your surroundings after the completion of them. You’re also able to find some interesting pieces of concept art as you discover the game’s numerous enemies and weapons for the first time, though they’re admittedly not all that useful for surviving the numerous challenges WRATH throws at you.

At the very least, it certainly looks pretty. Those familiar with the previous works published by WRATH‘s mapping team will find themselves astonished by the amount of detail lining its gorgeous levels. Dilapidated ruins, hellish pits full of gore and viscera, murky swamps, illustrious stone structures, and more fill out the game’s fifteen levels and three hub areas. if WRATH does anything right, it’s certainly done an impressive job in the presentation department. It’s a world that feels authentically alien, a bizarre mishmash of what should and shouldn’t be, just like the very game it draws inspiration from. This even extends into its enemy and weapon designs.

WRATH: Aeon of Ruin’s Arsenal and Bestiary

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3D Realms

Unlike Quake, which primarily stuck to what we know as a traditional FPS arsenal nowadays (sans the Lightning Gun), WRATH: Aeon of Ruin makes an effort to not only make the archetypal arsenal interesting but it does so in a way that adds some unexpected variety to the act of shooting things. This is all done through the inclusion of alternate fire modes for each and every weapon.

Look at the Ruination Blade. As hilarious as the idea of a wrist-mounted broadsword is, it’ll quickly become one of your most efficient tools — for better or worse. The primary attack is mostly ineffective, being weak slashes, but the secondary attack more than makes up for this inefficiency. It’s a powerful lunge forward, allowing you not only to deal massive damage to anything in front of you, but also allowing you to clear a great distance when combined with your jump. It’s a fantastic tool for either removing yourself from a situation, completing the game’s many platforming sections, or for dishing out some high damage at the risk of greater harm to yourself.

The Shotgun, alternatively, acts as a normal shotgun for its primary fire, which is devastating in its own right. By charging an alternate fire shot, however, you unleash a devastating round that can not only clear massive distances but explode into ricocheting shrapnel as well. What is normally a “workhorse” weapon in the genre — one you can reliably depend on for consistent damage output — now has multiple capabilities that can suit a plethora of different situations.

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Other weapons, unfortunately, don’t have as much fun utility. The stand-in for the chaingun, the Fang Spitter, also has two fire modes: a rapid-fire blast of projectiles or an even faster rapid-fire blast of projectiles that loses some accuracy. The Coach Gun, your standard pistol, can fire single projectiles or three projectiles in a single blast, with little reason to differentiate between the two. The most egregious example, though, has to be Lance, the game’s stand-in for a long-range sniper rifle. An incredibly useful weapon in its own right, the Lance’s alternate fire is genuinely mind-boggling. It’s a shield that reflects enemy projectiles. The thing is, with a weapon as powerful as the Lance, one that is arguably the single most useful addition to your arsenal, why would you ever bother using the shield when:

  1. You can find an item that not only produces a projectile-blocking shield but one that does so in a large area around your person instead of directly in front of you. We’ll talk about that later.
  2. Blocking a single projectile requires two units of ammunition, whereas a single shot from the Lance requires only one.

Some of these alternate firing modes feel effective and useful, don’t get us wrong. But, in the effort to ensure that each weapon does actually get an alternate firing mode, some of these ultimately feel redundant.

WRATH Aeon of Ruin Review 11
3D Realms

The same can be said for the game’s bestiary. Again, classic staples here: weakling zombies, moderately dangerous ranged fodder, large airborne targets that can attack from great distances, and hulking brutes that quickly close the distance. We’ve seen these ideas before, but there are some interesting quirks here. Wretches, for instance, are hulking creatures with cannons lodged in their maws that continually fire blue projectiles from a distance. However, when they die, their body may spontaneously combust, or their head may fly off while firing projectiles in a spiral pattern. Sometimes, neither of these things will happen, and they’ll just keel over normally. A dismemberment system of some kind also exists, though you won’t really get too many opportunities to see it in action.

There are also artifacts. WRATH‘s artifacts are a bevy of enchanted, limited-use items that can grant you unique abilities. They’re pretty handy and can change the tide of a battle in an instant. Some of these powerful artifacts include an item that lowers your total health to near-nothing in exchange for temporary invincibility; an item that refills your health for every enemy killed; an item that doubles your damage; a specialized grenade that sucks enemies into an explosion; and the aforementioned shield, which can be a lifesaver in the game’s handful of arena battles.

It’s all fine and good, barring some minor annoyances. Unfortunately, one of the most unifying critiques of WRATH: Aeon of Ruin stems from one of its most prominent features. Worse yet, you can’t simply compartmentalize it, as it affects the entire experience of playing WRATH to begin with.

WRATH of the Flaws

WRATH Aeon of Ruin Review
3D Realms

WRATH: Aeon of Ruin is long. For a game with only three major hub areas and fifteen levels total, WRATH is long. A typical level, especially beyond the first hub area, will typically take upwards of 40 minutes to complete from start to finish, with some time taken out to account for secret hunting and the many, many times you’ll die. But it’s not that WRATH is just long. No, it’s that it is long without any real justification.

There are a lot of bizarre design decisions in WRATH that seemingly exist solely to drag out the experience as long as possible. Enemy behaviors are downright obnoxious: any enemy with a ranged attack, with Wretches being an egregious example, has no strategy. As soon as you wander into their line of sight, all they do is immediately fire off projectile after projectile without any kind of variation or dedicated pattern. It’s bad enough that, more often than not, breaking line of sight doesn’t even stop the attack: they’ll continue firing on your position for seemingly as long as they please. It’s not as if they’re difficult to fight, mind you, they’re just everywhere. Remember, as well, that they explode upon death more often than not. Simply rushing through them with your powerful weaponry is a non-option.

Other enemies, like the fiery Oppressor or the frog-like Stricken, practically have little to no windup before they unleash their deadly attacks, making attacking them at close range annoying at best and outright suicidal at worst. Never mind the fact that WRATH gets an obnoxious habit of spawning these enemies either directly in your path or right behind you toward the end of the game. Along with the Wretches, both the Oppressor and the Stricken additionally kill the game’s pacing by leaving behind a flaming puddle of lava or blowing up with ricocheting gobs of acid upon death, respectively. There’s no real “flow” when it comes to fighting these enemies — especially when they’re so common. Any sense of momentum you may gain from fighting weaker enemies stops dead in its tracks.

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In fact, that’s what I would describe playing WRATH as feeling like — starting and then stopping. Blowing by enemies a la the original Quake is practically a death sentence, and given that the total enemy count in nearly every level blows past 400 or so, it’s just not feasible. So, you fight. And then you stop. And then you fight. And then you stop. It’s deceptively cumulative, and it only becomes more and more dull with every successive level.

The weapon balancing in WRATH is downright bizarre, as well. The Ruination Blade is deceptively powerful: a fully charged alternative attack will take down most common enemies, and two of these will even take down the floating Heretics and the horrifyingly dangerous Executioners in two strikes. Meanwhile, your grenade launcher — or the Retcher, as it’s officially known — is bafflingly ineffective. It fires in an awkward ark, takes multiple grenades to put down a single larger foe, and has outright pitiful splash damage. The Crystallizer, which can bounce off of enemies and even turn them into a solid crystal instantaneously, is an incredible endgame weapon. Meanwhile, the Mace is only really useful on a handful of occasions. At least, it probably is because I never used it. Why would I? I had already spent fifteen hours learning how to effectively use the Ruination Blade, why would I want another melee weapon on top of that?

WRATH Aeon of Ruin Review 12
3D Realms

Call it a consequence of sticking with the Quake engine, but WRATH: Aeon of Ruin‘s beautiful levels are also occasionally hindered by it. The engine never handled slight changes in elevation well, and when you consider the need for platforming across varying terrain heights (especially the jagged platforms found in the Crucible of Souls), what you’ll find is a tendency to “slip” off edges or drastically overshoot where you meant to land. Granted, this isn’t a common issue, but it occurs enough to be worth mentioning. It’s something you do get used to eventually. It’d be hard not to, considering how long you’ll be playing WRATH for.

For being so long, there’s just too little variety to justify it. New enemies and weapons are doled at a glacial pace, meaning you’ll be killing the same 3 or 4 enemies with the same handful of weapons, without exaggeration, hundreds upon hundreds of times before things get more varied. Even then, with how many enemy spawns there are in a single map, you quickly run into all the various “tricks” something like WRATH can throw at you: surprise enemy spawns, enemies spawning behind you, enemies spawning in after grabbing an item, enemies hidden behind destructible environments or doors. Gauntlets are fine, and if used appropriately, they can make for a particularly memorable experience in an FPS game. But when that’s all you have going for you, without the variation in weaponry and enemies that justifies it, it’s pointlessly excessive.

It’s worth noting that another point of critique across other reviews — though, admittedly, I don’t have much of an issue with it myself — is the utilization of a limited save system. Throughout each level, you’re incentivized to locate “Soul Tethers,” items that facilitate your ability to save at any point in a level. While you’re free to start from the beginning of the level or from a handful of dedicated shrines dotted throughout, Soul Tethers will come in handy whenever you’re facing a particularly difficult challenge or puzzling death trap. I did find myself using these items conservatively, as I had about ten left over by the time the final boss came around. If that’s not something you’re into, however, you’re free to turn on an “unlimited saves” option in the main menu.

WRATH of the Disappointment

WRATH Aeon of Ruin Review 2 - Copy
3D Realms

For the record, I completed my first playthrough on the Hard difficulty setting without using unlimited saves. The game’s performance on my hardware was a non-issue. Its modest requirements will typically guarantee a smooth experience no matter what, though it did crash once or twice during a particularly intense fight.

I can’t say that my first impressions of WRATH: Aeon of Ruin were necessarily bad. Quite the opposite, actually, as the first hub and its five levels were both visually impressive and, comparatively, highly enjoyable to the latter two hubs. But once that initial fun wears off, and you realize that you have more than a dozen hours left to go of pretty much the same thing, WRATH‘s faults come to the forefront without much else going for it. It’s also worth pointing out that, for as long as it languished in Early Access, WRATH‘s first hub area was there for the longest period of time.

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That’s not even getting to the bosses, who really aren’t that remarkable for the amount of effort required to get to them. The first two bosses are somewhat interesting for their utilization of a gimmick introduced in their respective hub (levitation and the ethereal plane), and the third boss really throws everything but the kitchen sink at you, but seeing as how you’ve already experienced that fifteen times over, it’s not really all that exciting.

I was fairly disappointed by WRATH, but seeing as how it took five years to release, I can’t imagine anyone who wouldn’t be. It’s tragic. On one hand, it finally came out. On the other hand, the intrigue of what could’ve been may ultimately be more interesting than what we finally got.

If you’re looking for a particularly innovative or engaging FPS game, I would look elsewhere. However, as a product made by the Quake community, you can still find a handful of things to appreciate when you look at the big picture. It’s not perfect. It’s not even amazing. But, in a way, it’s nice that it did ultimately come to exist as it does now. Who’s to say that future updates can’t remediate some of its issues?

WRATH: Aeon of Ruin is available on Steam and GoG for around $24.99. A full console release is currently slated for later in 2024.

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REVIEW OVERVIEW
WRATH: Aeon of Ruin
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Sean is a devout data hoarder, CD collector, and purveyor of weird things. When he's not scouring the depths for the odd and macabre, he's usually playing video games, trying to learn Blender, and subsisting on coffee and protein bars. He also knows how to "get things."
wrath-aeon-of-ruin-reviewIf you're looking for a particularly innovative or engaging FPS game, look elsewhere. However, as a product made by the Quake community, you can still find a handful of things to appreciate. It's not perfect, but, it's nice that it did ultimately come to exist. Who's to say that future updates can't remediate some of its issues?

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