The name 3D Realms is synonymous to the FPS genre, so with the recent release of their successful heyday throwback Ion Maiden, I was excited to get my hands on the Early Access version of their next upcoming project, Wrath: Aeon of Ruin. With developer KillPixel at the helm and 3D Realms publisher for Wrath, I had high hopes it would be another smash hit. Unfortunately, unless the Early Access phase brings about some major changes, Wrath: Aeon of Ruin will remain a disappointment.
Running on Legendary Tech
If there's one thing Wrath: Aeon of Ruin excels at, it's the visuals. It's no wonder that it looks good, it's running on Quake 1 technology. With that in mind, Wrath is definitely a blast to the past. The lower poly environments are actually beautifully crafted, especially when in outside, nature-like areas. Likewise, the catacombs and dark tunnels you blast your way through hearken back to Hexen, Heretic, and Doom. While many of Wrath's corridors feel fairly linear, they eventually open up into vast areas that make it hard to determine where to go next. This incentivizes exploration, which is a typical characteristic of the genre, and one I personally enjoy.
In this first Early Access version I played through, there was one large hub area containing two equally vast levels. Each one took roughly an hour to go through, and in my time I explored a snowy graveyard and its catacombs, as well as a swampy mire with sewers and treetop paths. I think KillPixel is on the right track with level design, and again, visuals are incredibly faithful and crisp.
While on the topic of the overall art design, the music is a total disappointment. The developers seemed to take the direction of more ambient, quieter music as opposed to frantic, adrenaline-pumping soundtracks from, say, Dusk and Amid Evil. Andrew Hulshult, the composer of the soundtracks for both those games, returns for Wrath (along with Bjørn Jacobsen), but his work isn't nearly as good in this instance. It doesn't sound like Hulshult's typical hardcore beats, which is shocking since his track record is so good.
Guns, Enemies, and Artifacts in Wrath: Aeon of Ruin
My initial impressions of Wrath's gunplay was favorable, but as time went on, I grew more and more disappointed. Wrath begins by equipping players with an arm blade, which can do your standard slashes or even charge through enemies. It feels powerful and drops weaker enemies like flies. It's dangerous to use because it requires players to get so close to enemies in order to land a hit. It's your typical starter melee weapon from FPS' of yore, and much to its credit, it's a useful tool to have.
There are only a few more weapons in this Early Access build, including a pistol-like coach gun and a double-barrel shotgun. The former feels quite weak on stronger foes, but it tears apart the shambling ghouls, the Fallen, found at the beginning of Wrath. Both weapons, however, provide significant feedback when fighting the Fallen, and can cause limb-specific damage or even explode enemies in red, gory glory.
Unfortunately, that's about all that's good about the gunplay in Wrath. All the stronger, beefier enemies feel more like bullet sponges, and the blood splatter effects from your weapons on these foes are negligible. It takes a copious amount of bullets from the more weapons to take down some of these enemies, so at times combat feels tedious.
The only weapon I enjoyed was the double-barreled shotgun, but to Wrath's credit, the weapons' visual designs are superb. One gun, essentially the minigun from Doom, shoots out sharp teeth. Another is a grenade launcher that shoots out tumors. That's about as metal as it gets - in theory. The teeth-shooting gun feels too weak. The tumor flinger is stronger, but it's not loud and doesn't explode like I'd expect a proper grenade launcher act. Even with an alt-fire mode for each gun, nothing feels quite so powerful.
What's worse, AI had frequent pathing issues. Many enemies would have difficulty navigating the terrain and would be too big to pass through thresholds, so what may have been a challenging encounter turned into something I could easily cheese. Each level also contains artifacts found in hidden areas and some hard-to-reach areas. One artifact grants players the ability to save, in lieu of a quick save function. Others siphon health or allow you to breathe underwater longer. They aren't extraordinary, but they feel a bit like Heretic's genre-defining item system. I think there's potential with these artifacts, but time will tell if the other upcoming artifacts are any more interesting.
Is Wrath: Aeon of Ruin the Next Dusk?
I'll admit, I wasn't sold on Dusk, Amid Evil, or even Ion Maiden in their first few levels. My initial thoughts of Wrath are somewhat similar, except the aforementioned games had technically solid gunplay and felt more polished, even in their Early Access states. I can only hope that Wrath goes through some major changes, with better AI and weapon tuning at the forefront of its issues. Ammo is quite easy to find and health pickups are also overly abundant, too. There's definitely potential If KillPixel and 3D Realms are willing to listen to players, but for now, Wrath needs more time in the oven.
TechRaptor previewed Wrath: Aeon of Ruin on PC via GOG with a code provided by the publisher.