Reviews - Updated on April 8, 2022

“We really enjoyed working on Ion Fury with Voidpoint. We acted wisely, having decided to cooperate with the best modders of the Build engine — Frederik Schreiber, the vice president of 3D Realms said in an interview. — For our next game, we decided to go even further: to develop it on the Quake engine in true 3D. We took the same approach: we began to look for the best modders and mapmakers for Quake. After all, they already know this engine, how to work with it and all that. So we went to [моддера] KillPixel, who, together with his friend, was already sawing something of his own. We liked his project and got in touch with him. Soon we decided to fund the development and increase the team size from two people to 25. And voila! We showed the world Wrath and we ourselves are looking forward to its release!”

It’s hard to imagine that this conversation about “playing on the Quake engine in true 3D” took place in 2019. John Romero, who actively hired modders to develop his failed Daikatana, could say something similar 20 years ago, which he later regretted. The collaboration between 3D Realms and the modders of the old engines, however, is going well so far: Ion Fury received a “Commendable” from us, and the recently released early access Wrath: Aeon of Ruin promises to be at least as good.

In Search of Lost Experience

I would like to start the preview with the phrase “Something there are too many retro shooters!”, But in fact there have always been a lot of them. Modding of old id Software games, especially Doom, is still alive and well – only recently publishers have begun to show commercial interest in this niche. Those publishers are New Blood Interactive, which released Amid Evil and DUSK, and 3D Realms, which has been in the middle of nowhere for the past 15 years and is eager to regain its good name.

However, Jeremiah Fox, aka KillPixel, claims that the development of Wrath: Aeon of Ruin began long before he heard about the competition. “I started making maps for Quake in 2011 because I love the game and wanted to recreate my first experience with it,” he said. “Then I thought, ‘Will I be able to make my own Quake?’ and decided no. But the idea did not let me go, and soon I decided to start. I didn’t know if I would succeed, but I understood that if I didn’t try, I would regret it for the rest of my life. For three years I studied game design, 3D modeling, everything except programming, which my friend took over. I thought that we would have time to release the game before the release of DOOM 2016.”

Wrath: Aeon of Ruin game preview

Daikatana’s development missed every conceivable timeline after Romero decided to port the near-finished game from the Quake engine to the Quake II engine, which featured color lighting. Wrath also has it, and it also came out much later than its creators wanted.

Works – steal

Wrath borrows from Quake not only the gameplay and engine (which is just heavily modified: the game runs only on 64-bit processors and OS no older than Windows 7), but also what was not necessary to copy: for example, eclectic level design. The Quake levels didn’t fit together because no one at id knew until the very end what the game was going to be about. Here, the heterogeneous themes of the levels are a creative solution.

Wrath begins in a spacious hub, where portals are placed to levels with enemies. At the end of each level is a relic (read: a rune from Quake) and a new portal that teleports back to the hub. True, no one forbids returning to the beginning of the level and exiting the portal there. The levels are large: each has hundreds of enemies and about a dozen secrets, so it takes about an hour to complete them. There will be 15 of them in total, but only two are available in the early access version: swamps and dungeons. You can go through them in any order.

With the beginning of each level, weapons, surprisingly, are not taken away. If a player has passed one location and accumulated an arsenal, then strong monsters will appear on another. After passing the level, you can return to it, but the enemies do not resurrect, so there is nothing special to do there, except for the search for secrets.

Wrath: Aeon of Ruin game preview

This arena seems gigantic, but is actually small: it is surrounded by a moat with high banks. Usually you can even see where they’re shooting at you from.

Gun porn

If you’re wondering how the game’s story explains the portals between levels, then no. In the press guide, the authors of the game apologize that “the diary entries and other elements of the lore are not yet in the game,” and there is no hint of a plot in the assembly for early access. The text file with the exposure was not found in the game folder either. To find out the motivation of the protagonist, you will have to refer to the action movie page on Steam.

Now about the important. There are five types of weapons in the game (more to come): a blade, a revolver, a shotgun, a rapid-fire needle gun, and a grenade launcher similar to the Hive from Half-Life, which shoots sticky green bubbles. Gentlemen’s set. Each gun has an alternate fire mode, and they are all useful. Even the blade: you can “dash” with it. There is no hard platforming in the first two levels, so the dash is usually used to find secrets.

Your main weapon will most likely be a double-barreled shotgun: firstly, it sounds great, and secondly, most of the battles are bellboys. There are eight types of opponents so far. There is no particular one to single out from them – all the types are familiar. There are no bosses yet.

Wrath: Aeon of Ruin game preview

The resemblance of the scrags from Quake and the local flying creatures is almost portrait-like, and the grip of the double-barreled shotgun is exactly peeped in Quake II.

Don’t forget your roots

Wrath is fun to play despite minor inconveniences such as not being able to change weapons while reloading, and pickups sometimes not registering. “We don’t just welcome feedback, we ask for it,” KillPixel said, so these shortcomings will most likely be fixed in the next patches.

Fortunately, the game has avoided the deadly sins of shooters: there are no annoying hitscanners, enemies don’t spawn behind you, doors don’t close behind your back, and you don’t need to remove your weapon to get a flashlight – even in the crypts it’s light here. The hero is not constrained by anything and rushes at great speed, and where the monsters are and where to run is usually clear, even despite the large size of the locations. I did not meet any bugs, and optimization is my respect: the frame rate does not drop below 60 even on Intel HD Graphics 4000.

Another obligatory attribute of old-school shooters: bloody lumps, they are also “gibbs”, colorfully scatter without regard to the laws of physics.

Moreover, if you don’t like the balance of the game – the weapons are too weak or the enemies are too slow – these parameters lie in plain sight in text files and are open for editing. The authors say that modifying Wrath will be easier than Quake – at least they promise to write comprehensive documentation.

The icing on the cake should be the music: Andrew Hulshult, author of the IDKFA album and the DUSK and Amid Evil soundtracks, is working on it. In Wrath, however, he decided to move away from the usual heavy metal. His tracks are reminiscent of Trent Reznor’s OST for the same first Quake – dark ambient instead of aggressive guitar cuts.

I personally like Quake’s sound design more, but both achieve their goals.

Small indie company

The only radical difference between Wrath and Quake is the artifact mechanic. Scattered throughout the levels are items that are stored in the inventory. Some of them, when activated, provide short-term buffs – for example, restore five percent of health after each kill. The good old Quad Damage does not like local bonuses: they are weak, you can’t combine them, and it’s inconvenient to activate. For most of the game, I didn’t even think about them – that in Heretic, consumables lay in my inventory as a dead weight, which is here.

The most popular artifact, Soul Tether, gives you the ability to save. There are no quick saves in the game, autosave shrines are rare, and in order to record progress here and now, you have to spend Soul Tether charges. A controversial idea: they are generously scattered throughout the levels, but if at some point I start spending them more often than finding them, this mechanic will cause nothing but irritation. Fortunately, the game is still simple: on the maximum difficulty for two levels, I died three times.

What definitely needs improvement is artificial intelligence. Enemies will not move until they see you, even if you start shooting at them. Why go out to fight in the open when you can hit a giant toad in a protruding pixel several times?

***

“Wrath has taken the immortal elements of classic games like Doom, Quake, Duke Nukem 3D, Blood, Unreal and Hexen and brought them into the twenty-first century,” the developers boast. A vague wording – the only thing that these games have in common is the genre and speed – but the language will not turn to reproach the authors of the game with excessive pathos. Wrath is a cool old-school shooter that holds its own. True, the position of this bar has not changed for 20 years.

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