In the build-up to Rage 2, Bethesda has portrayed the game in a way that makes you think it’s a completely unchained, anarchistic, chaotic experience where every fight will have you utilising a vast array of powers to obliterate enemies like some sort of demigod. While that is entirely possible, and flinging enemies into the air with the Grav-Dart Launcher or Vortex ability does look seriously badass, you’ll quickly find yourself resorting to the standard Ranger Assault Rifle because a couple of swift shots to the head with this no-recoil, fully automatic weapon is simply more efficient.
Let’s dial back slightly. In Rage 2, you play as a character called Walker – male or female, depending on your preference – and you are quickly thrust into the suit of a fallen Ranger as your home base, Vineland, comes under serious attack. Enter General Cross, the human head/robot body antagonist who is in charge of the Authority; an army of mutants equipped with jetpacks and automatic weapons. He does something truly unforgivable and you’re left as one of Vineland's few survivors and, as expected in a cookie-cutter plot such as this, one of the Wasteland's few saviours. You're tasked with venturing forth and enacting revenge, the concept isn't exactly new.
In fact, it's one that we've seen plenty of times in the past, but at least it's one imbued with a whole array of ridiculous, over-the-top abilities. How quickly does Rage 2 make these powers available to you? The short answer is… it doesn't. Not until you’ve explored almost every corner of the map, at least. During the opening tutorial, the game introduces you to your first Ark, which is where you’ll find new weapons and abilities. Arks are spread out across the world and while you can obtain a brief description of the Ark location for a specific ability or weapon in the menus – the Rush ability is “located in the Dealypipe area”, for example – the game gives no clue as to where Dealypipe actually is.
What this means is that if you’re playing Rage 2 and expecting a long, engrossing story that will introduce you to all of the wacky and wonderful tools at your disposal as you progress, you won’t find that here. By the time you’ve met your three allies in “Project Dagger” – forming the plan to stop General Cross and the Authority as you do – you’re about halfway to having finished the story for Rage 2, because all that’s left after that is a few odd jobs to help out your newfound friends, followed by the game's final mission.
An unexpectedly short story
All the details on the Rage 2 roadmap for the future of the game
Having a story so short, with no additional side missions or objectives other than exploring and clearing out bandit dens and Authority sentries (big, stationary defence turrets), means your time with Rage 2 will come to a close before it has properly begun. There’s plenty to discover out in the world, but when the most effective way of beating the game is to just rely on the basic Assault Rifle, then switching to the Combat Shotgun when you run out of ammo – both of which are given to you at the start of the game – it leaves little motivation to venture forth and conquer the vast wasteland.
Most of the locations out there to be discovered are largely the same anyway. Bandit dens are the most common type, which are exactly as you’d expect; small camps full of enemies. Then there’s mutant nests which again, are just the hideouts for a different type of foe. Authority sentries can prove to be a challenge at first, but when you learn to dodge behind cover, these stationary hunks of metal fall just as easy as everything else. In the Dune Sea region, you’ll also find a couple of repowering stations and electro forges, but these are just bandit dens with something to defend or destroy. Oh, and I can’t forget about the road chokers; bandit dens that also act as a roadblock, so you have no choice but to get out of your land-based vehicle and raise the barrier to proceed forward.
I specify land-based vehicle because very early on, you’re rewarded with the Icarus gyrocopter. With this, you can fly almost anywhere on the map. Only explored as far north as Gunbarrel? Worry not, because with the Icarus, you can fly all the way north to Dreadwood and completely skip an entire region of the map. The Icarus feels like it should be a reward for completing the story, so you can easily revisit areas for things you may have missed but instead, being presented with the freedom to ignore literally every place of interest and beeline straight for the few main mission objectives is too much.
A forced open world
Since the game doesn’t take you through much of the map whatsoever during the core missions, it becomes apparent that Rage 2 is a linear game forced into an open world. At least, that's the way it feels. The arbitrary leveling system assigned to your three allies is a clear example of this; it feels out of place in a game that should instead focus on having meaningful side missions and a semblance of your power growing as you progress, but too often does it feel as if you are being encouraged to simply equip the Assault Rifle and treat Rage 2 like any other first-person shooter.
In any other FPS, the combat mechanics found here would be welcomed because the action is fast, fluid, and the guns pack a serious punch. There’s rarely a reason to take cover and you can zip around battles with the Dash ability like there’s no tomorrow. Occasionally, you’ll find the need to use abilities like Shatter and Slam – if you venture out to obtain them before proceeding with the story, that is – but they simply compliment your militaristic slaying power rather than enhance it in any meaningful way.
Throughout the game you’ll loot plenty of Ark chests which grant you upgrade components such as Nanotrite Boosters, Weapon Core Mods, and Neuronic Interfaces, which are essential to enhancing everything from your weapon upgrades to ability perks, and even your core stats via the Cyber Doc in Wellspring. None of it really matters though; the upgrades are negligible, such as reducing your damage taken from bullets by 10%. Useful? Sure, but you don’t notice yourself becoming more powerful from one fight to the next. You’re supposed to be a new Ranger, a character with no experience in the role, but you’re instantly acclimatized to it and can decimate enemies at will from the outset.
Where are the side missions?
So much of Rage 2 is simply unexplained and feels out of place. There are five trade towns to visit but as part of the main game, you’ll only make it to three of them. The other two are there to be discovered but once you reach them, you'll find that there's nothing to do there of note. In Oasis, for example, the whole place is under Shrouded control (another enemy type similar to normal bandits), which are foes that will shoot on sight if you venture near them in the open world. In Oasis though, they’ve got the place on lockdown, guarding the vendors, but the reason for that isn’t fully explained. There’s no quest givers to find and barely anyone to talk to, which is a common theme throughout the entire world. Everything suffers from a lack of meaning.
Perhaps my biggest gripe with Rage 2 is how it screams about anarchy – that idea featured heavily in the marketing, influencing everything from the trailers to the logo of the game itself – but you actually assume the role of one of the last military-esque figures in the world. You’re a Ranger and on your journey to stopping General Cross, you kill hundreds, if not thousands of bandits, which are the only anarchistic characters throughout the entire game. Sure, you can cause a lot of explosions and chaos but that’s simply a means to an end. As a Ranger, your goal is to help restore civility and help the remaining few people from Vineland.
Credit where credit is due: The core gameplay loop is satisfying and there are a lot of tools to play with. You can combine all of your abilities and fling bandits around like rag dolls, and you’ll struggle to find a game with more explosions than this. It’s what any marketing pro would class as “high octane” and they’ve definitely learned from the first game, because the world is much more vibrant and colourful than it was in the 2011 original. It’s not enough to make Rage 2 stand out from the crowd though, because Rage 2’s open world isn’t worth investing your time into. Had the six-to-eight hour story played out in a more linear and structured campaign, complete with all of the weapons and abilities that make the game's concept somewhat unique, and Rage 2 could have been one of the best games of 2019. Instead, the somewhat lifeless wasteland and sparse structure ensures that Rage 2 never reaches the momentum that you'd expect (or want) it to.
Rage 2’s core combat feels so much like Doom in an open world, and it wouldn’t surprise me if that’s exactly what this was – developer id Software testing the waters for such a concept. But were that concept ever to be made real, it will need to be executed much better than this. The “Rage 2 roadmap” has already been revealed, showcasing world events and “wasteland challenges” in an effort to follow in the footsteps of successful games like Destiny 2 and The Division 2, but the difference is that this is a single player game. Anyone who purchases this game on launch is undoubtedly expecting a full release, rather than a relatively empty world that will be later populated with content under the guise of the 'Games as a Service' industry trend. There is no reason for so much content to be time-gated. Were everything that is planned to arrive in the coming months, there's a chance that Rage 2 could have felt like a more complete package at launch – a game that has content to complement its excellent weapons and core action. Sadly, that isn't the case and the result is a sequel hasn’t impressed me all that much at all, but it won’t be laid to rest until the roadmap comes to a close for a game many people will have grown bored of.
Reviewed on PC.