Rage 2 gets many things right, but its biggest success is the way it leaves you wanting more.
There’s a breezy 10-or-15-hour story at the center of Avalanche Studios apocalyptic wasteland romp. Something to do with protecting what’s left of the broken, mutant-overrun world from a high-tech militarized force known as the Authority.
Your agent in all the carnage is Walker, a scrappy wastelander who is thrust without warning into the role of Authority-defying super-soldier. You don the suit of a fallen Ranger in the opening minutes of the game and are immediately imbued with powers above and beyond that of a normal human, starting with the ability to open certain doors and chests just by thinking in their direction.
It’s the kind of rote video game setup that can often spell disaster, but Rage 2 doesn’t let itself get overly bogged down in plot points. Cinematic cutscenes are few and far between, and while some of the mission-givers have a tendency to prattle on for a bit too long, this is an easy story to shove aside in favor of gameplay.
Here’s all the knowledge that’s needed: You’re good, everyone outside of no-gunplay-allowed settlements is bad, Authority or otherwise. Shoot your guns freely and often, and you can’t go wrong.
Like most games that emphasize freedom and exploration over sticking to a script, the story is besides the point. Rage 2‘s world is small compared to others that have popped up in recent years, but its environments embrace variety, ranging from dusty, windswept desert plains and neon-lit scavenger towns to musty swamps and overgrown, damn near suffocating forests.
Dotted across the landscape are all manner of activities. Bandit fortresses. Mutant nests. Giant, wandering beasts. Comms units belonging to fallen Rangers. And importantly, Arks. These forgotten mini-shelters house Rage 2‘s assortment of “Focus” powers (the stuff your suit lets you do) and weapons. You only know the location of a handful at first, but as you crack open more, your wasteland survival capabilities improve dramatically.
Spotting the forked upper section of an abandoned Ark as it pierces the horizon never gets old. Every new tool you add to your arsenal, whether it’s a gun or a Focus power, can meaningfully impact the way you play. Emphasis on “can.”
There’s enough variety in the types and capabilities of each gun you pick up — many of them have some kind of alternate fire mode — that I think most players will settle into a groove of relying on two or three favorites. I leaned on my trusty assault rifle and shotgun the most, only throwing in heavy hitters like the rocket launcher once I hit the later stages of the game.
But there’s also a revolver whose bullets stick to enemies and explode in a fiery burst when you snap your fingers. Or the Grav-Dart Launcher, a fast-firing SMG-like weapon whose bullets become the gravitational anchor for whatever object or being you hit with the weapon’s alt-fire. Neither were go-tos for me, but they’re the kind of toys that make the idea of jumping back into Rage 2‘s playground seem extra appealing.
It’s easy to treat Rage 2 like a standard shooter, but it’s so much more fun to experiment.
The same goes for Focus powers. Staples like Grav Jump (double jump) and Dash (a quick dodge ability, not unlock Tracer from Overwatch‘s Blink) quickly turn into essential tools. But there are other powers that operate on a cooldown timer and need to be activated. Like Shatter, a short-range punch that shatters enemy armor and sends them flying. Or Slam, a ground pounding attack that amps up the damage when you attack from a greater height.
With so many different weapons and alt-fire modes and special abilities to juggle, Rage 2 is one of the more complicated shooters to get a handle on. To use an activated Focus power, for example, you’ve got to hold down a shoulder button on your controller and then press the right corresponding face button for that power.
That can be a tall order in the heat of a fight, especially early on. But a forgiving autosave system and the general abundance of baddies to take on helps. I realized very quickly that the more I went into fights with an open mind and a creative spirit, the more exciting they were.
It’s worth it when the arcane controls finally do click. Rage 2 is perhaps the most satisfying shooter I’ve played since Destiny 2. The weapons stand clearly apart from each other and feel great to wield. Once you get the hang of using them in tandem with your focus powers, gunfights turn into epic, fast-paced throwdowns.
In other words: it’s easy to treat Rage 2 like a standard shooter, at least on the normal difficulty. But it’s so much more fun to experiment.
(PC players, abandon all hope of using your keyboard and mouse to play. Unless you have a fancier gaming mouse, Rage 2 has just a bit too much happening on the controls front for it to play well without a controller, at least until some post-release optimization happens.)
There’s also car combat! You can collect a number of vehicles in your garage — including a hoverbike that’s very useful for scouting around the world — but your starter ride, the upgradeable Phoenix, is what you’ll depend on most. Even in its base form, before any upgrades, it’s better than any other vehicle you can find. Then you start to add more weapons, and hoo boy.
I just wish there was more happening with the vehicular action. Roving enemy convoys scattered all around the world offer a decent challenge, but that accounts for
Rage 2 left me wanting in the best way.
What’s ahead is an important piece of Rage 2. The core game delivers a very enjoyable 20-odd hours — and plenty more if you really dig into the full extent of open world stuff — but Avalanche has plans for this one, and it’s not unlike the types of things you see in games like Destiny or The Division.
Avalanche laid out a content roadmap running into the fall. We’re getting the expected paid add-ons that will introduce new stories, map locations, and gear to the game. But players can also look forward to an ongoing drip-feed of freebies: guns and gear, yes, but also monthly world events that create new reasons to jump back in.
This isn’t a new idea for games in 2019, but it’s one that works in the context of Rage 2‘s day one experience. It’s not a long game, nor is it particularly challenging at the standard difficulty. There’s so much more baked in than most players will use or even see during a typical playthrough.
But the playground is very real in this game. You’re meant to have more toys to mess with than the story’s length can realistically justify. That feels like the whole point. Rage 2 left me wanting in the best way, and I can’t wait to see what’s next.