E3 2018: Combat In Rage 2 Feels Like Doom, But Its Open World Remains A Mystery

I can’t imagine anyone foresaw Rage 2 owning a piece of the spotlight at E3 until Walmart leaked the game and Bethesda smartly followed up, but here we are, a bit excited but mostly surprised that Rage is back. The first game was received well enough when it launched in 2011, but its not-quite-open world and comically abrupt ending all but guaranteed folks would move on and never look back. But there’s hope that this new attempt could be something special. Bubblegum-punk marketing aside, it’s Avalanche Studios’ partnership with id Software that’s the most enticing aspect of Rage 2 thus far. The team’s open-world prowess and id’s knack for gunplay could very well be a match made in heaven, and just the thing an unlikely sequel like Rage 2 needs to get people talking.

Considering that, it was a bit surprising when I visited Avalanche in Stockholm last month to play Rage 2 and I was only given access to a small chunk of the game; miniscule, actually, if you consider that the playable portion was merely a single building with four or five waves of enemies. After chatting with id’s Tim Willits and Avalanche’s Magnus Nedfors, it sounds like this could be due to the fact that Avalanche builds its games in phases, laying broad foundations before working down to the finer details–a common practice, but likely the reason Rage 2’s world at large simply isn’t ready for showtime.

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Trailers remain our only source of insight into Rage 2’s open world, then, and they at least suggest that Avalanche’s particular set of skills are being put to good use. We’ve seen a diverse range of environments and heard claims of a wild world where “insanity rules.” Nedfors fully owns that the team loves to “blow shit up,” and that seems to be part and parcel of the Rage 2 experience. Avalanche has worked in similar spaces before, with Mad Max and multiple Just Cause games giving the team plenty of opportunities to hone their craft. It feels natural to be optimistic about their chances, especially with id and Bethesda as partners.

So while we can’t say word one about the quality and effectiveness of Rage 2’s new structure or how “Avalanche” it really is, id’s telltale gunplay is immediately recognizable. The question now, however, is how the added layers on top factor in as you develop new abilities and acquire new weapons over time.

Replaying the original Rage prior to the event reminded me how much I enjoyed its combat and level design. The smartly orchestrated battles and clever AI made for engaging fights where using cover or flanking was key. Quite the opposite, Rage 2 encourages you to dive headlong into a firefight. Like 2016’s Doom, you stand to benefit from fighting face to face, and a quick-dash maneuver has been introduced to help you get in and out of fights quickly.

Rather than lavishly dismembering your enemies to earn ammo and health, running into a fray after killing a few enemies from afar allows you to pick up energy reserves that recharge your superpowered attacks, like a ground pound and a force push. You’ve also got access to an overdrive meter that can be activated to run faster and hit harder, transforming an imposing group of enemies into unfortunate gaggle of sitting ducks, much the same way that you power up and lay waste to smaller enemies in Destiny 2. To be blunt, 20 minutes (two trips through the same demo) isn’t nearly enough time to form a confident opinion about Rage 2’s numerous combat mechanics. It’s fair, however, to say that you’ll be encouraged to be both proactive and creative to get the most out of the game’s expanded potential.

The not-quite-a-boomerang Wingstick is back, and like its advanced form in Rage, you can have it home in on multiple enemies before you let it fly, or charge it up to spin in place once it lands on a single target for prolonged damage output. Bethesda’s footage from its E3 Showcase featured a creative combo attack with a grenade and a Wingstick to send a disabled enemy flying upwards while being whittled away. This is the first example of dynamic, physics-based systems in Rage 2 that we’ve seen, and it would be great to know if that’s a core element of the game at large. It wouldn’t surprise me to see new games employ multiplicative systems in the wake of Breath of the Wild’s popularity, but it’d be very surprising to see it happen in Rage 2 of all games.

Though it was probably for the purposes of the demo, the AI we fought against was practically braindead. Enemies typically just stood in place and fired away once alerted without much regard for personal safety. Trailers have also echoed a similar lack of urgency. It’s probably a safe bet that grunts will be commonplace in order to encourage use of your special abilities on a regular basis, but I really hope to find more challenging enemies populating Rage 2 as it develops. Even the boss fight Avalanche showed off looked too simple. A giant football-helmet-wearing mutant that throws cars is naturally threatening, but its attack pattern was transparent and seemed easy to overcome with minimal effort.

Despite having played Rage 2, I’m still not sure what to think about it. It’s obviously early days, and I’ve seen relatively nothing compared to what’s been promised. I’m very curious to uncover what Avalanche has in store and what it can do in tandem with id to make the best of their combined talents.

Accommodations and travel to Avalanche Studios in Stockholm we’re provided by Bethesda.

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