What’s old is new again. That’s the mantra of 3D Realms’ newest title, Wrath: Aeon of Ruin, which attempts to marry nu-school sensibilities with the original Quake engine in a retro-style first-person shooter that’s heavy on the kinetic, fast-paced gunplay last glimpsed in 2016’s Doom. But is there a place for this type of game anymore? From what we’ve witnessed, absolutely — and it could prove to be one of the sleeper hits of 2019.
MORE: Want even more detail on Wrath: Aeon of Ruin? Read our interview with 3D Realms VP Frederick Schreiber
In Wrath, you play as the Outlander, a figure who has traveled to the Endless Sea and is tasked with taking down five Guardians. As (bad) luck would have it, they have turned the world into the Gothic hellhole, an aesthetic that punctuates much of the game. So far, so very straightforward. Subtlety is not its strong point, that’s for sure.
Even so, a generic story such as this can happily fall by the wayside if it plays like a dream. After all, a game like Wrath: Aeon of Ruin is nothing without its guns and how it feels to headshot an enemy. Thankfully, it’s A+ in the weapons department.
You start off with just one weapon: the Ruination Blade. It can slice and dice enemies at will and, interestingly, can also make you bound over large gaps with its charge ability. It’s potentially feasible that you could, if you wanted, do a Ruination Blade-only run, such is the capability of the game’s starting weapon. But there’s also the shotgun, as well as a whole other host of weapons to get to grips with, including a minigun-style weapon that fires enemy teeth. Yes, that’s real. You’ll never be lacking for great and gory ways to murder anything shambling into your field-of-vision, which is the main thing.
Wrath: Aeon of Ruin Preview | Quaking in your boots
Much like the aforementioned Doom reboot, you’ll need to think on your feet here. It can be overwhelming at times, especially with a laundry list of killing machines at your disposal and an even larger set of enemies. But there’s a balletic-style sense of grace to it, as you weave and dodge past enemies, all the while focusing on which target to slay next. It may feel a little twitchy (and, dare I say it, difficult) for those who are used to a more 2019-style chill, hand-holding experience. So, mileage may vary in that respect, but it wears its blood-soaked lineage on its sleeve and is proud to do so.
But it’s not just the guns that will impress. It’s clear from The Mire, the level that I got hands-on with, that time has also been spent in really nailing the brooding atmosphere that is perhaps lost in the lens-flare and flashy lighting effects of newer tech. The Quake engine, perhaps inadvertently, gives the title a real grittiness. The rough edges aren’t sanded off here; this is as close to an id Software game from the ‘90s as you’ll get, and if your heart is beating just that little bit faster after reading that, then I think 3D Realms has done its job.
Paradoxically, a game built entirely around an engine from 1996 feels fresh in a modern landscape bogged down by live-service games and sequel upon sequel. Wrath is both a love letter and a remix; one that is unashamedly about slaying the undead as fast as possible, but with the care and attention that’s necessitated in today’s environment, where things are endlessly discussed and scrutinized ad infinitum on message-boards and social media.
Just a quick rundown of two key figures behind Wrath is indicative of this old-school-meets-2019 approach. The game’s director is Jeremiah “KillPixel” Fox, a prominent Quake modder who is able to get a handle on what made the ‘90s shooters so special having worked tirelessly on mods for years. There’s also a member of the Cyberpunk 2077 development team brought in, specifically senior sound designer Bjørn Jacobsen, who has ensured every crunch and crisp decapitation sounds just right. And it does. You’ll grin when you mow down a horde of The Fallen, the game’s disposable undead grunts, and sweat in terror as acidic fireballs rain down over you from one of Wrath’s tougher enemies.
Wrath: Aeon of Ruin Preview | It’s got soul
Wrath promises to take up a fair chunk of your time. There are secrets galore, power-ups and Soul Tethers (essentially respawn points that can be used alongside the game’s more traditional checkpoints) to find in crevasses, caves, and other hidden areas. You are actively encouraged to explore as locked doors and puzzles block your path.
It all amounts to a Metroidvania-style design philosophy featuring open areas that (eventually) all interconnect with each other. No room appears off-limits and, if shooting everything in the face, inexplicably, becomes tiresome, you can always go off the beaten path and go hunting for collectibles. It’s a nice change of pace for a game that’s otherwise all about po-faced killing without remorse.
But what about the multiplayer? It’s presumably going to be something that will envelop some players’ every waking moment, especially when taking into account how pixel-perfect the movement feels, but the game’s Summer 2019 launch window will only come with a basic suite of multiplayer modes, at least for now. We’ve not yet had a chance to spy the promised Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch, and other potential mix-ups, but we’re assured that they’re on the way.
Co-op, too, is going to be part of the package, with 3D Realms’ vice-president making hopeful noises about couch co-op coming back in a big way. With Wrath also coming to Xbox One, PS4, and, yes, Nintendo Switch, it’d be fantastic to relive the glory days while playing side-by-side with a buddy.
But that could still be some ways off. For now, we’re left with a return to the retro stylings that were oh-so-popular in the ‘90s. It remains to be seen if it’ll take off with a wider audience thanks to its low-res, brutish designs and punishing difficulty, but many will rejoice in the fact that this is a welcome home present that we never thought would arrive. 3D Realms is back, Quake-style shooters are back, and my trigger finger is itching for more.