In 2011, Bethesda launched the original Rage, a post-apocalyptic shooter with id Software signature combat. In an effort to make the name as recognizable as its kin — Quake, Doom, and Wolfenstein — the sequel Rage 2 arrives nearly eight years later. Backed by the development team behind the Just Cause series Avalanche Studios and a new game engine to match its ambition, Rage 2 nails the combat and has gameplay that sometimes exudes powerful high-quality production. The moments when you’re not firing weapons or using powers, however, can drag on.
Rage 2 casts you as either a male or female ranger, one of the few people left that can use a special set of abilities via molecular robots called Nanotrites. The opening moments introduce you to a conflict that ends with you being the last person capable of saving the wasteland’s denizens from destruction and the Nanotrite powers are the key reason why. The door to the world is then kicked open, and you’re able to step out and tackle things at whatever pace you desire.
The full introduction offers up various things that urge you not to rush through the game. For instance, you can use the focus ability to show where all the Arks are via beams of light. As you start to seek those out, you’ll uncover bandit camps, sentries, mutant encampments, and more along the way. If you strictly follow the main story, there are large chunks of the map you’ll never even touch.
I was able to finish the main story on normal difficulty in about 15 hours having collected about 65% of the weapons and powers, and completed a good handful of optional quests before seeing the ending credits. I then returned to the wasteland to attempt to complete the rest of the world’s tasks, though it was mostly for the satisfying, fast-paced and brutal combat.
The Last Hero of the Wasteland
Combat is the foundation of the Rage 2 experience and taking on your enemies is an extremely fulfilling endeavor no matter how you want to approach it. Everything is designed to keep you moving forward, as is typical in games with id style combat like 2016’s Doom. The addition of the Nanotrite powers furthers this while also helping Rage 2 establish its own identity among its peers. The weapons exude the close-up id-style combat we discussed with Tim Willits in our interview, but the powers turn your character a more potent force of nature.
None of these weapons would be as engaging without quality sound design and Rage 2 gets solid marks here with one major misstep
You can use Slam to smash into the ground and tear groups of enemies to bits or Focus, which starts as a way to locate enemies and objectives, to destroy explosive barrels and take down enemies with a mere thought.
While the core powers are wonderful to use, you’ll quickly find that not all powers and weapons are created equally. Some of the weapons and abilities feel as if they belong in Avalanche’s Just Cause series, a franchise notorious for giving players the tools to completely wreck the sandbox open world. Unfortunately in Rage 2, these inclusions feel like feeble attempts to do the same. The Grav Dart gun, for instance, allows you to send enemies flying into each other or other objects, while the Nanotrite ability Vortex sends you or your enemies flying into the air. These elements feel like they belong in a sandbox with more objects and enemies to throw around, but in Rage 2 they feel out of place.
While those may end up being the lesser tools in your arsenal, the shotgun and assault rifle compensate as robust mainstays. Both took on the role as a one-two punch in just about every firefight, and the upgrade mechanic made certain that I never felt like they were irrelevant once I got my hands on something new and shiny. That is, until I got my hands on the real gem in the bunch: The Firestorm Revolver.
The Firestorm shoots bullets that do light damage but can also be ignited with additional input from the player. This causes small explosions relative to the number of projectiles an enemy is hit with and also sets them on fire. Activated with a cool snap of the fingers, the spark of the Firestorm’s bullets made me feel more powerful than I ever did using any of the Nanotrite abilities. Well, with the exception of Slam, an ability that throws enemies into the air and hurls them into the ground. It’s a shame the Firestorm is relegated to bullets because I have to restock often, but it still feels like the perfect example of Rage 2’s mixture of powers and weapons.
It’s all about the destination destruction, not the journey
None of these weapons would be as engaging without quality sound design and Rage 2 gets solid marks here with one major misstep. The sound design of the player’s immediate space is superb. From the patter of your footsteps when moving and jumping to the satisfying clicks of switching between weapons, it all sounds fantastic. If you take the sound a step away from the character and into the gunfire, vehicles, and enemies — it still produces good results. The problem here is with Rage 2’s dialogue.
You can plainly see the inspiration taken from Avalanche’s Mad Max when exploring the open world.
Performances are solid when you can hear them. Very often bits of dialogue wouldn’t be spoken at all. Not as if the entire conversation wasn’t loading, just that the audio would skip out on different sentences. I had to turn on subtitles to make sure that I caught everything I needed to. Production issues also seemed to extend into the very few cutscenes that are scattered throughout the main story.
Most moments kept the player in first-person, but there were jarring and confusing moments with weird angles. A prime example is when the player is picked up by a giant in the introduction. At first it sticks to the first-person perspective and it makes sense, but then it suddenly shifts to a long side-profile of another character running to a weapon. This and the other moments feel out of place because the perspective suddenly shifts and you’ll be left wondering if your character is suddenly in a different position or if the camera has a life of its own. Thankfully, there aren’t too many longer cutscenes throughout, but the few that are there stick out like a sore thumb.
When it comes to the open world in Rage 2, it’s huge and pretty nice to look at. I played on high settings most of the time and enjoyed the textures. The world features a couple takes on the dry wasteland but also includes biomes such as a swamp area and a jungle that is incredibly dense with foliage (too dense for combat sometimes, even). There are scatterings throughout that really make it seem like you’re moving through the remnants of a civilization. You can plainly see the inspiration taken from Mad Max (another one of Avalanche Studios’ games) when exploring the open world.
There are friendly trader vehicles moving around with a backend that has a ramp you can walk up to after you flag them down. And then, there are enemy convoys. These dangerous caravans move all over the map and will require you to use your upgraded vehicles to take down the lesser enemies before tackling a larger, powerful mechanical monster while racing down roads.
These are entertaining, but don’t happen quite often enough while just normally exploring. You do earn the ability to track them later on if you want to chase them all down to earn more upgrade currency. Beyond the convoys and the optional races with random NPCs though, exploring can be a bit boring.
Encountering enemy vehicles is fun, but most of the other random encounters are a few enemies on the side of the road. The aiming on vehicles isn’t ideal for enemies on foot and there’s typically only small amounts of junk and feltrite to get, so it isn’t worth stopping and getting out. You’ll likely opt for using fast travel and the flying vehicle (which controls terribly) once the options become available to you.
High peaks, not-so-low valleys
Beyond the open world, there are some annoying design choices that slow down the combat. For one, progress is always completely halted when you pick up one of the main currencies that you need to upgrade projects, skill trees, and weapons. There are key characters that unlock specific projects once you accomplish a task for them and each one is a skill tree for different things like vehicles, how many items you can carry, and more. Specific upgrades like the vehicle parts and whatever task you do to earn them are tied to these projects and the game freezes the action, shows what you earned, and then displays the experience gained with the different key characters.
It seems like something that should be shown somewhere in the UI with sound queues to draw your attention to it like when you level up during a Call of Duty match. What’s happened is clear via text and audio, but the action doesn’t stop. Another strange choice, albeit much less annoying, is the storage boxes. You can find ammo around the map and feltrite (a resource that powers Nanotrites) when killing enemies. Storage boxes include additional feltrite and junk that you can use for crafting or selling. The storage boxes look out of place, however, as they’re so awkwardly sized that a melee blow can miss them unless you hit it in a very specific spot. So, more frequently than not, I found myself shooting them. It seems strange having to slow things down to shoot at storage boxes, especially when you can pick up most other things with a quick button press.
Fighting in Rage 2 is when the game is at its absolute best.
Avalanche Studios comes close to knocking it out of the park with Rage 2. Its most frustrating issues are technical, with audio errors and design choices that slow down the player’s return to the incredibly fun combat. If a strong narrative is what excites you, you won’t find much to love beyond some quirky characters that propel the story forward and get you into your next firefight. Action is clearly the focus and this is an entertaining spin on id Software combat mixed in with Avalanche Studio’s ability to make interactive open worlds.
Rage 2 is somewhat refreshing when it comes to monetization and unlocks. There’s a lot to unhitch through exploration. Some abilities you gain further into the game make it easier to find items crucial to upgrading your character. Microtransactions come in the form of Rage Coins you can purchase to use on various weapon skins. There aren’t any random loot boxes, though, so you can purchase exactly what you want. The Rage Coin prices weren’t available, so we don’t know how price balances out, but we’ll update once we have a better idea.
The up-close-and-personal style of combat that id Software games are known for was the first milestone in Rage 2 and that’s reflected in the overall package. When you’re fighting, the game is at its absolute best. The elements around it don’t feel as if they received the same amount of love and drag the experience down a few notches. Fans of id Software games or anyone looking for a good old fashion Doom shooter will find it in Rage 2. Fans of Avalanche Studios’ sandbox games will want to stick with Just Cause 3 or 4.
Is there a better alternative?
If you’re looking for a straightforward single-player game with really fun action, Rage 2 is your ticket. The 2016 Doom is a better alternative if you enjoy the combat but would rather scrap the exploration. If you enjoy the idea of exploring open worlds that have more satisfying environmental destruction, you can grab Just Cause 4 for a sandbox filled with world-changing toys.
How long will it last?
Rage 2 lasts about 15-35 hours depending on how much a player wants to clear out all of the icons on the game’s map. There’s room for growth here as the team can add additional Arks down the line filled with new weapons and abilities, but one could wonder what type of story content will convince a player to return.
Should you buy it?
If you’re looking for action over story and up-close combat is your jam, Rage 2 is must-buy for you. It’s far from a tactical shooter and isn’t ripe with open-world activities like Avalanche’s Just Cause series, so skip Rage 2 if that’s what you’re hoping for.