The sequel to Bethesda’s sandbox first-person shooter, Rage 2, is a joint collaboration between ID Software and Avalanche Studios. The latter is known for open-world action games like Mad Max and the Just Cause series, while the former is known for first-person shooters, such as Doom. The end result is part exciting and part disappointing.
You choose your gender at the beginning, after which the game immediately puts you in the shoes of Walker, the last surviving ranger of Vineland. You wear a suit that grants you superhuman abilities with which to fight against a military group, known as The Authority, which has destroyed your hometown and killed your comrades. Among the deceased is Erwina Prowley, a ranger who raised Walker alongside her own daughter. She was killed by The Authority’s leader and the game’s main antagonist, General Cross. Your central objective is to embark on missions that will lead to the development of Project Dagger, a powerful biochemical weapon that can destroy General Cross. The storyline doesn’t take itself seriously, and neither should you. Much like in a B-grade action movie, it serves as an excuse to shoot down and blow up things.
The open world wasteland, which bears resemblance to Borderland’s take on post-apocalypse albeit with a touch of cyberpunk flavor, is sprawling with mutants and bandits. It’s largely barren, and NPC population is limited to city areas. Some further environmental variety is thrown into the mix with jungle and desert regions.
Luckily, you don’t have to traverse the wasteland on foot, as you’re provided the Phoenix early on. It’s an armored, all-terrain four-wheeler recon vehicle that also packs some firepower for situations involving vehicle-to-vehicle combat. Such situations are rare, however, and you’ll mainly use the Phoenix to get to the next point of interest on the world map. That said, there are some optional car race events to participate in, and upgrading your vehicle’s performance and firepower does come in handy there. The camera pans out to third-person when driving, and it follows the vehicle’s direction of movement by default. Aiming at enemies during vehicular combat can get problematic, as the camera tends to force itself back to the direction of your vehicle’s movement.
You aren’t limited to driving just the Phoenix, however. Just about every vehicle roaming about the wastelands of Rage 2 can be carjacked, including monster trucks and motorcycles. It’s refreshing to change your ride from time to time, as each of these vehicle types sports different handling.
The mission design is repetitive in nature and things get mundane rather quickly. Your main missions will involve running errands for three primary quest givers, during which you’ll often find yourself caught up in shootouts against bandits, mutants, or Authority militia. You’ll also encounter bosses who need to be defeated by focusing on their weaknesses. However, there’s a lot of repetition here too, as you’ll be going up against the same enemy variant with a color palette swap multiple times. These story missions aren’t spaced out well enough across the world map, and therefore do a poor job of familiarizing you with different parts of the wasteland.
Meanwhile, the side missions, of which there are many, are largely generic. Additionally, there’s no meaningful incentive to pursue these activities outside of building trust with the primary quest givers as well as earning upgrade material and currency. Your tasks will include bringing down a powerful mutant, wiping out a hoard of mutants from their lair, and dealing with arena-like waves of enemies. You’ll also come across convoy missions, which require you to chase down and destroy a convoy truck before it reaches its destination. These missions can be quite exciting and are easily the highlight of Rage 2’s otherwise tedious side content.
Fast travel functions in a very limited capacity due to what appears to be a design choice to justify the use of vehicles. You’ll only be able to fast travel when near your vehicle. Moreover, you can do so to any of the three main hub cities once you visited them.
Rage 2’s saving grace, quite literally, is its core gameplay. The shooting mechanics are fluid, the weapon handling is great, and the fast-paced nature of gameplay feels empowering and satisfying. It’s not all that surprising, though, given that the studio behind Doom is responsible for Rage 2’s shooting mechanics.
The same is true for the eight different weapons you’ll find during your playthrough. Although that number isn’t huge, each of these weapons is unique in utility and handling. In addition, some of these weapons have dual fire modes. The shotgun, for example, pushes enemies away while aiming down the sight. Your weapons can be upgraded to improve specific stats, such as reducing reload times or increasing fire range and cartridge size.
The combat is made even more thrilling thanks to your suit abilities. Dubbed nanotrites, these abilities turn Walker into a superhuman and give him a varied skillset. You’ll unlock the Dash ability early on, which allows you to evade incoming projectiles and melee attacks. You’ll also unlock the ability to perform a double jump. When combined, both abilities greatly enhance your mobility. There are a total of eleven different nanotrite abilities to be unlocked. Each of them can also be further upgraded.
While some nanotrites passively added to your arsenal of moves, the others need to be swapped in as active abilities, and it’s up to you to determine which active ability is best suited to different combat scenarios. Slam is an active ability that is great for crowded situations. It has you smashing the floor with great force and sweeping all enemies in your vicinity off their feet. Meanwhile, another ability called Shatter rips through enemy armor and hurls them away from you. As is the case with your weapons, mixing and mashing different active abilities, upgrading the ones that are best suited to your personal playstyle, and appreciating the improvements during combat is by far the most enjoyable aspect of Rage 2’s gameplay loop.
While Rage 2 falls short in most areas, it excels in the one that matters the most: gameplay. The game conflicts itself, as, on one hand, you want to keep playing because the combat feels great, but on the other hand, the open world, mission content and storyline leave much to be desired. Nevertheless, those looking for a first-person shooter with fluid, fast and frantic gameplay, Rage 2 is at least worth checking out. Bethesda is looking to support the game down the road with live events. It’ll be interesting to see how things develop in the months to come, and whether the barren wasteland will get populated with some worthwhile activities.