Wrath: Aeon of Ruin Review (Switch eShop)

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Wrath: Aeon of Ruin Review (Switch eShop)

Captured on Nintendo Switch (Docked)

Wrath: Aeon of Ruin has been a long time coming. Running on a heavily modified version of the Quake engine and developed by some of the Quake scene’s most skilled modders, Wrath looked set to take over the retro shooter world when it hit Early Access in 2019. Then it was hit with delay after delay, partially due to the COVID-19 pandemic. A 2022 release date slipped to 2023, then 2024.

And now, finally, Wrath is here. And upon playing it, we understand why it took developer KillPixel so long to finish it, for both better and worse. What’s here is good, but Wrath often feels like it’s struggling under the weight of its own ambition and the limitations of being on a console – and no, we’re not just talking about the Switch.

Let’s start with the positives. In a world obsessed with lore, often to the detriment of the stories that lore is ostensibly there to support, Wrath is delightfully uncluttered and straightforward. You step into the shoes of the Outlander, who has been adrift on the Ageless Sea. After stepping onto the shore of a dying world, the Outlander is tasked with hunting down its corrupted Guardians. Easy.

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Captured on Nintendo Switch (Docked)

To do that, you’ll need guns. Lots of guns. And Wrath is no slouch in the firearms department. There’s, of course, a double-barreled shotgun that turns most basic enemies into red paste and makes The Sound™, a wonderful, deep, booming noise that’ll make you believe that there’s a God who loves us and wants us to be happy.

The basic pistol sounds better than most games’ shotguns, the Fang Launcher uses literal teeth pried from the corpses of your defeated foes to shred enemies, and a weapon called the Retcher shoots exploding green cysts at enemies. Gross? Hell yeah. Effective? You’d best believe it. Oh, and don’t forget your standard melee weapon, an arm-mounted blade with a secondary fire function that doubles as a dash, allowing you to cut enemies down and navigate to new areas all at once. And that’s just the starting lineup. Things get crazier from there. If you’ve played enough shooters, nothing in Wrath’s arsenal will surprise you, but every single gun in your collection feels fantastic to fire (or alt-fire).

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Captured on Nintendo Switch (Docked)

And then there are the Artifacts, single-use items that do things like give you a shield, provide health for every enemy you kill, or consume all of your health pool in exchange for total invincibility for a limited time. They’re a smart addition that makes combat more cerebral and challenges you to use things at the right time.

But a shooter isn’t just about having good guns and powerups. You need good enemies to shoot them with, too, and Wrath delivers those in spades as well. The standard zombie-type Afflicted come apart under fire and don’t pose much of a threat, but the Wraith — which is basically what-if-the-imp-from-DOOM-could-fly — is more challenging. And if you see the absurdly fast Executioner and the twin blades he calls arms? Run.

So the enemy design is good, even if you do fight a lot of the same monsters over the course of the game’s runtime. What will make or break Wrath for most people, however, are the levels. Wrath’s levels are enormous, and each of the game’s three hub worlds is split into five different levels that twist, turn, and loop in and out of one another. On one hand, it’s hard to not be impressed by Wrath’s sheer scope and creativity. There’s a lot of variety on display here, from the snowy crypts and silent catacombs of The Undercrofts to the sprawling Gardens.

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Captured on Nintendo Switch (Handheld/Undocked)

These levels, and the hubs that connect them, are remarkable pieces of level design, full of secrets, hidden nooks and crannies, and an item just out of reach that’ll have you saying, “Okay, how do I get up there?” Everything about Wrath, from its weapon and enemy design to the gothic-tech fusion of the general aesthetic owes an enormous debt to Quake, but it’s most obvious here.

The problem is that a beautifully designed environment isn’t necessarily fun to play in a shooter. Wrath: Aeon of Ruin is fast-paced and unforgiving, but it also throws you into a lot of tight spaces without much room to maneuver, or forces you to peek around corners and take potshots at enemies from range. When you play a game like this, you want to be in the middle of a large group of enemies, dispensing death in a ballet of bullets while nimbly side-stepping the enemies’ attacks. Wrath does have sections like this, but it has too few of them.

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Captured on Nintendo Switch (Handheld/Undocked)

Combine that with levels that feel like they go on forever because of the ways everything is interconnected, and fatigue sets in quickly because it feels like you’re in the same place forever. Wrath also doesn’t provide you with a map, which means it’s easy to get lost. By the time we were done with The Undercrofts, we weren’t excited to go back and find the stuff we’d missed; we were relieved we didn’t have to play it anymore.

And then there’s Wrath’s save system. Each level has Shrines that will restore your health, armor, ammo, and so on, but they’re rare. You’ll mostly rely on Soul Tethers, which you find on the map and can consume at your leisure. The problem is that it’s easy to use them in a bad spot, like, say right before a Shrine or when you’re low on health but before a big enemy encounter you don’t see coming, essentially either wasting them or making future progress harder. And if you hoard them, you’ll lose a big chunk of progress each time you die. There is an option to give yourself unlimited Soul Tethers, and we would recommend turning it on immediately because Wrath is a lot better when you can just enjoy exploring the world and the engaging combat.

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Captured on Nintendo Switch (Docked)

Which brings us to Wrath’s real problem: this game was not meant to run on the Switch. Not because it runs badly — it doesn’t run at 1080p when docked but otherwise it’s fine in both handheld mode and when you’re playing it on your TV — but because it very clearly wasn’t meant to be played using a controller. It works in the sense that you can play it, but the game is so fast that you’ll either have to consciously move more slowly or stop altogether to hit things. No amount of auto-aim can help compensate for a game where you move, aim, and turn this fast.

This is a PC game, and everything about the way the game feels on analog sticks, as well as UI twists like a radial wheel for selecting your weapons that continue to move the camera while you select what you want, makes it obvious that controller support was an afterthought during the design process. Wrath was designed for a keyboard and mouse, and when you play it both ways, the difference is night and day.

Conclusion

Ultimately, how much you vibe with Wrath: Aeon of Ruin will come down to how willing you are to put up with the limitations imposed on you by playing it on a controller, how much you vibe with the save system, and how much you like its level design. There’s a very good, incredibly ambitious shooter here if you’re willing to overlook some unfortunate flaws, but it’s not Quake, and nothing likely ever will be again.



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