Wrath: Aeon of Ruin, a new FPS that pushes the Quake engine to its limits, throws hordes of enemies at you with one hand and offers you powerful weapons to slaughter them with the other — all while you run around gothic environments at a breakneck pace.
While there are plenty of horrors in it, I don’t believe Wrath: Aeon of Ruin was originally intended to be a horror game. There are moments where you are dashing around, blowing chunks off enemies with your weaponry that make you feel really powerful. Regardless of how many enemies the game throws at you, you come out — albeit covered in blood — relatively unharmed. And that’s exactly the point when you run out of ammo, sending you scrambling for anything, as the legions of creatures close in on you.
You play as the Outlander, a wayward soul that is tasked with slaughtering what’s left of the Guardians of the Old World. To do so, you must enter their tattered kingdoms, drag them out from their crypts, place a barrel to their temple and send them properly into the next life. One of the most common staples of the FPS genre, the double-barreled shotgun, makes a welcome return with a new trick up its sleeve: a charged shot that delivers a blast of ricocheting pellets. There’s plenty of other weapons available to tickle your fancy, but the Ruination blade that affixes to your hand requires no ammo and can be charged up to lunge through enemies with great force. It’s a great fall-back weapon that really packs a punch.
Levels in Wrath: Aeon of Ruin are very open in design. Don’t get me wrong: you’ll often be required to speed through tight hallways filled to the brim with demonic denizens just the same, but you’ll be moved through these cramped crypts and out into open fields where there’s nowhere to hide more often than you’d like. The enemies in Wrath don’t play, either. Each one has a good idea of where to find you and how to shoot you, so you better have a bullet sent their way first, or you’ll earn an early demise. There are no quick-save or quick-load options in Wrath: Aeon of Ruin, but instead, the game takes a different and quite clever approach.
Adding to the urgency of retaining your health and ammo, there are some precious artifacts found throughout the game called Soul Tethers. These tethers, when activated, create a deployable save point, allowing you to return to that spot on your next death. You can also find places in the world called Shrines which allow you to save your progress, but they are rare, and when the possibility of death is around every corner, it’s at least somewhat comforting to know you have an additional option if things go awry. Unfortunately, it’s just one more thing to worry about when you’re in the middle of a firefight, thinking: when did I save last?
Enemy attacks can come from any direction in Wrath: Aeon of Ruin, thanks to the verticality that the level design allows. Creatures will fire down on you from above or lunge at you from below unexpectedly with a tenacious speed, then come chasing after you as you run literally backward to safety. It’s not all above jumpscares, but there were many times during the demo that I shuttered with surprise after running into a group of four or five enemies around a corner that quickly overwhelmed me, sending me back to my last checkpoint.
3D Realms are the kings of the first-person shooter, and continue to do the genre justice by involving new developers into their fold with welcome arms. KillPixel obviously knows what they are doing with their lightning-quick, itchy trigger finger violence paired with brilliant level design and a solid gameplay loop that keeps you thirsting for more. Wrath: Aeon of Ruin feels like a lost Quake expansion, found in a bin of random 3.5-inch floppy disks in a garage sale, but with the added quality of life gameplay tweaks we’ve come to expect in this new generation of shooters. If going back to the glory days of PC gaming is where we are moving towards in terms of expanding the genre’s library, I’m in for whatever they deliver, because Wrath: Aeon of Ruin is a perfect example of what makes action games fun.