- Release Date (NA): May 14, 2019
- Release Date (EU): May 14, 2019
- Release Date (JP): May 14, 2019
- Publisher: Bethesda Softworks
- Developer: Avalanche Studios
- Genres: Open-world FPS
- Also For: Computer, Xbox One
In the Eyes of a Ranger
The year is 2165, 30 years have passed since Luitenant Nicholas Raine, an unexpected hero, emerged from ARK 437A and defeated the nefarious Authority, a self-proclaimed government hellbent on world domination, or at least the domination of what's left of it after the 99942 Apophis incident of 2029. In the many years since the asteroid impact the wasteland found a way to heal - vegetation spread across the land, forming tundras and jungles in place of formerly barren soil. Small settlements began changing into large cities where a Wild West-style civilization began forming, a civilisation complete with its Rangers, the protectors of those who are too weak to protect themselves. You take control of Walker, a young soldier dreaming of Ranger service, training under the watchful eye of Aunt Prowley, the Ranger leader and local badass. One day the peace is interrupted by blaring sirens - the Ranger encampment of Vineland is under attack! You and your sister Lily grab your weapons, rush outside and find out that the Authority is back with a vengeance and they've come to eliminate the Rangers, one of the few factions that could impede their advance into the Wasteland. Before long the head honcho shows up - General Martin Cross himself captures and murders your adoptive mother, and upon killing the remaining Rangers and reducing the encampment to rubble, he retreats with his forces. Vineland is no more, and since you're the only one qualified, you are field promoted to the rank of Ranger. You wish you could ascend to that status in more pleasant circumstances, but alas, you are the Last of the Vineland Rangers, and it's now up to you to unite the other Wasteland factions under one banner and one common cause - avenging your fallen comrades and defeating the Authority, once and for all.
The Unsuspecting Stranger
RAGE 2 is quick to throw you into the fray, which is precisely what I expected it to do. The prologue does a good job introducing you to the game's mechanics and familiarising you with the controls. Once the siege of Vineyard is over and you get up from the ashes, Lily explains her plan - arm you to the teeth and send you out into the wastes to contact the three local faction leaders who once worked on some kind of an ultimate weapon to be used against the Authority, but have since fallen out with each other. Your job is simple - unite their forces, build the ultimate weapon, codenamed "Project Dagger" and take the fight to General Cross. There's very little to see here in terms of story, it's a simple cookie cutter plot that exists only to give you a reason to venture out into the Mad Max-like wastes with a gun in hand and vengeance on your mind.
Long story short, your adventure is divided into five basic sections, three of which occur simultanously. You start with the prologue, then you enlist the help of John Marshall, Loosum Hagar and Antonin Kvasir, boost your relationships with each of the three and, upon successfuly leveling them up and completing the Dagger project, you can trigger the final chapter where you square off against the Authority. Leveling up your relationships is fairly simple and occurs naturally in the course of gameplay. You opened an ARK? Kvasir, an ex-Authority scientist, will reward you for uncovering the secrets of the Old World. You cleared up a roadblock on your way to the next waypoint? Hagar's going to be happy that the streets are safe once more. You took a short detour and massacred an encampment full of mutants? Marshall will no doubt hear about your exploits. Of course leveling up those relationships gives you additional benefits besides progress in the storyline - all four of the supporting characters, Lily, John, Loosum and Antonin, have their own Project trees. Investing your hard-earned resources will grant you with improvements to your gear. Speaking of gear, let's get down to business and talk about your tools of the Ranger trade.
Had Better Know the Truth of Wrong from Right
In terms of combat the game plays a lot like Doom 2016, albeit at a slower pace, which makes it feel more deliberate, but at the same time a little "off" if you're a fan of the recent remake. Killing enemies makes them drop Feltrite, one of the in-game currencies, which also restores your health upon pickup. The twist is that just like in the case of Doom's Glory Kills, Feltrite is only available for a very short period of time after the kill which incentivises you to get up-close and personal. As far as weapons are concerned, RAGE 2 offers a traditional wheel with 8 weapons total, which is a nice change of pace compared to the contemporary 2-slot setup we see in most shooters. You start the game with your Sidewinder Pistol, but you quickly upgrade to the Ranger Assault Rifle in the prologue, making the former a sidearm you'll rarely use. As for the rest of the arsenal, from the simple Combat Shotgun all the way to the famous BFG 9000 (reserved to the Deluxe and Collector's Editions of the game at launch), you'll have to find it by raiding ARKs during the course of your adventure, which gives you a reason to explore. In addition to your standard weapons you also get access to throwables - your trusty Wingstick, Grenades and a Turret Drone which provides you with some cover fire.
Now, since you're a Ranger equipped with the best armor Old World technology could provide, you also get access to Nanotrite abilities which give you the edge in combat. Your abilities range from a simple double jump to superhero-level superpowers like Shatter, the equivalent of Force Push, or Vortex, your very own personal Black Hole generator. Much like weapons, your Nanotrite modules are locked up in ARKs, so to unlock your full potential, you'll have to do some legwork. The key to success in combat is mixing and matching weapons and abilities to create combos which you can make even more devastating in Overdrive Mode, the game's equivalent of Quad Damage which alters how the weapons work for a limited time. If you want to put your lead-slinging skills to the ultimate test, be sure to visit the Mutant Bash TV HQ where the wasteland's most popular, and perhaps the only reality TV show is being filmed - you'll get ample opportunity to unload your ammo stash against hordes of mutants for the amusement of the masses.
Of course, traversing the Wasteland on foot would be very time-consuming, which is where vehicles come into play. You start your adventure with your standard-issue Phoenix, an all-terrain ARK vehicle armed with Gatling Guns which you can upgrade over the course of the game, adding more weaponry. That's right - vehicles are equipped with weapons, which introduces an element of vehicular combat. Most times your opponents attack you on-foot, but when you get the opportunity to fight vehicles, the game really shows its teeth, especially when you come across an enemy convoy. The encounters are Twisted Metal-esque, complete with weak points you have to target for maximum damage. There's more to it than just fighting though - the residents of the wastes are enamoured with racing, so if you feel like spending some time on the track, you get the opportunity to become a champion of the Chaz Car Derby.
'Cause the Eyes of the Ranger are Upon You
Okay, so we talked about the good... now let's talk about the bad. I'm a fairly forgiving reviewer and I always try to look at the bright side of games. They all have something good to offer, and that deserves to be showcased. With that said, in the case of RAGE 2 the good parts are stretched extremely thin. I left Vineland and immediately picked up on the game's number one issue - the wasteland itself. I travelled to Gunbarrel first and I couldn't help but notice just how dead and empty the world feels. There's a sharp and very noticeable contrast between how RAGE 2 plays in combat and how it plays outside of it - fighting enemies is great, but travelling from one waypoint to the next takes the game from a fast-paced, rage-fuelled adventure the trailers advertise to a quiet lull, and you have to travel a lot. When I first started, I made the mistake of ditching the car and following the waypoints on foot, hoping to run into some random encounters or events.
Don't make the same mistake I did - grab the car. Better yet, fast travel whenever you can. If you choose not to, more often than not you'll find yourself taking detours from your current objective to the nearest location on the map not because you specifically set out to go there, but because you suddenly felt the feeling that kills any video game - you got bored. Sure, you'll run into the Authority fighting the local gangs, or some mutants running amok, or perhaps some kind of a special encounter, but they all boil down to one thing, shooting everything in sight. That wouldn't be an issue in a game called RAGE 2 if not for the fact that they're usually over before you know it. Even some bigger events are disappointments - I still remember the first time I was notified about an Authority Sentry in the vicinity. I expected to face some crazy abomination of genetic engineering and technology, but all I found was... an unguarded tower with a big, glowing "shoot me right here" spot.
Where are the cybernetic soldiers? Where are the mechs? Fighting an enemy that can't even move isn't particularly exciting, as you might imagine. Other times you want to have an epic fight with an enemy convoy, you almost destroy the thing like you're re-enacting Fury Road, and all of a sudden, you realise that you don't have a particular weapon necessary to finish the main vehicle off. Reluctantly, you let the bandits go. You'll have to get back to it after you do a hundred chores. Before long I noticed that I wasn't involved in the objectives anymore, I was just ticking boxes to "complete" the locations I came across - it kept me busy, but it did not entertain.
This brings me to the next problem - the overall length of the game. RAGE 2 boasts about the wealth of side quests and side activities you can engage in, but are they really side quests? After all, you need to level up your relationship with the three faction leaders all the way up to Level 10 before you can proceed to the final mission, so you have to finish a lot of those missions whether you want to or not. It's not even much of a spoiler, you're told as much in the course of the game, but if you're really sensitive to those, skip the next paragraph.
To better illustrate what I mean, I'll use some examples. It's not that you have the option to participate in many activities - you don't get a choice. You have to become the Derby champion, you have to win the Mutant Bash, otherwise you won't be able to build your reputation. The same applies to gang hideouts or mutant nests - you'll have to hunt those baddies either way. The ARKs are an even more obvious example of this problem - that's where your weapons and abilities are locked up, you'll obviously try to find them all. If your side quests are not optional, they're not side quests, are they? All of this makes the leveling system feel like an elaborate way to conceal the fact that the main quest is criminally short. When I said that the game is divided into five sections, I really meant it - the main story consists of 8 quests, and they are not long. The game artificially inflates its length by forcing you to perform otherwise meaningless tasks in-between the main quests, your progress is locked until you reach a certain threshold which unlocks the next part, which makes it frustrating, or it would've if the game didn't throw levels at you like crazy. By the time I met Kvasir I already leveled him up to Level 6 since I was opening ARKs along the way, so I didn't even know the guy, but apparently he was very fond of me.
The fact that RAGE 2 offers very little in terms of character development further solidifies the feeling of being artificially limited with progress bars. Your relationship with the leaders in no way influences the way they treat you. In fact, you don't really get to interact with them much. Come to think of it, you don't really get to interact with any of the quest givers once you perform whatever task they've given you - completing a quest just ticks a box and gives you your reward, that's it. You never really build any form of rapport with the characters, turning them into glorified notice boards that dispense your chores. A shame - the game could've really used more dialogue to flesh out the characters. If I don't really care about them, the only motivation to work with them is self-interest, and that wears thin quick. Even the projects were a let-down - I was fully expecting to gather resources, interact with the NPC's and build stuff, but no - all of your upgrades are confined in menus and drop-down lists, it's just more boxes for you to tick. Nothing you do seems to have measurable consequences on the world around you - you're told that what you do matters, but it sure doesn't feel like it.
Any Wrong You Do, He's Gonna See
One of my collegues described RAGE 2 as a rollercoaster, and I don't think he was even aware of how apt this comparison was. The game is full of constant ups and downs - there's some great combat to enjoy here, but it's spread really thin over a huge open world with relatively little to do in it. The missions can be fun, but overall they're short, few and far between. Every now and then you run into something cool to look at or something fun to do, so you're constantly chasing those good moments as you play and it gets exhausting in a hurry. At some points the game looks really spectacular - the explosions look great and gore is gushing over the screen when you're given the chance to really "rage out", but then other times the environments look generic, and the title cards that introduce the main characters look like they were made by the intern. Some enemies really make you glad to have Big Effing Guns, especially the gigantic cyborg mutants of the Authority, but in-between fighting those huge bosses you mostly run into generic bandits, droves of them, with little variety to speak of. Just encountering the cyber ninjas of the Shrouded gave me a sense of relief - some novelty at last.
Perhaps it's just me, perhaps I'm the one playing the game wrong, but looking at all the things RAGE 2 does well and all the things the game does poorly, the fact that it's an open world game almost does a disservice to it. The game feels like the developers were throwing things at the wall to see what sticks, but in the final product the gears that make the game tick didn't fit quite right, making the mechanism skip beats. That's not to say that it's a bad game - it isn't. The correct term is competent. RAGE 2 is... a competently-made open world FPS. The problem lies in how unremarkable it is. It's just nothing to write home about, which feels like a missed opportunity to relaunch a franchise that had a good premise. In that sense, the title delivered what it said on the tin - it made me rage.
- Very satisfying combat, both on-foot and in vehicles
- Community challenges reward the players for collectively meeting goals
- Good variety of environments
- The Rage 2 release roadmap accounts for new skins, events, challenges and items to lengthen the game's lasting appeal
- The wastes feels dead and empty in spite of all the events scattered around
- The game offers little in terms of character development
- Very short length of the main quest
- Long lulls in-between quests and activities
- Uninspired side quests
- In-game purchases in a single player game are an odd choice