'Rage 2's Post-Post-Apocalypse Hits a Little Too Close to Home

Hands-on with Bethesda's new game.

Something is rotten in Wellspring, and it’s not just the mutant hordes lurking just outside the city walls. One minute I’m exploring the post-post-apocalyptic wasteland of Bethesda’s Rage 2 (think Mad Max as a video game but with more neon pink), the next I’m helping the mayor fend off waves of would-be assassins.

The culprit is Klegg Clayton, a Trump-like villain whose father served as Wellspring’s mayor in the original Rage (this one takes place 30 years later). Klegg’s parlayed his father’s hard work into a skeevy empire, including a dive bar called the Winner’s Club, but he’s still hungry for more power. So he’s partnered with the game’s shadowy big bad, The Authority, to seize control of the city.

rage 2 hands on
Klegg Klayton

That’s where I come in (or you, once the game launches on May 14). In Rage 2 you play as Walker, a super-soldier with special Nanotrites inside your body that let you throw people around like you’re in the Matrix, generate energy shields, and create small wormholes that suck up your enemies. You’re also the survivor of a recent Authority attack that wipes out your hometown at the beginning of the game, making Klegg Clayton a natural enemy as you work to take down the evil empire.

That might sound like a lot of detail to take in, but Rage 2 is simpler than it seems. The upcoming immersive first-person-shooter drops you into a big open world full of colorful characters and ridiculous weapons and let’s you run wild. There’s a plot, and abilities to unlock, but the beauty of any open-world video game is that you can head in any direction and find something to do.

rage 2 hands on review
'Rage 2'

Sure, you could accept the mayor’s mission and earn a spot in the Winner’s Club by participating in Mutant TV death matches and winning races until you become a local celebrity (that’s what I did with my hour-long demo), or you could just pick a direction and drive straight into the wilderness until you hit something interesting.

When Rage 2 arrives you’ll have plenty of time to do both, and while the game doesn’t offer the biggest open-world map around, it’s “denser,” according to id Software studio director Tim Willits. That means you won’t have to travel far before finding some outlaw hideout, a mutant nest, or the next mission that moves the main storyline forward.

In that way, Rage 2 feels like a lot of other games, including those from its developers id Software (Rage and the recent Wolfenstein games) and Avalanche Studios (the Just Cause series). It’s also expected to offer the usual post-release updates to keep players engaged; those will be free, but the developer is also considering some sort of microtransactions.

rage 2 hands on review
'Rage 2'

However, two things set rage apart the pack: the gameplay and the setting.

Rage 2’s gameplay is all about those Nanotrites, which give you abilities that can be improved as you make progress. What’s really interesting, though, is how they work together. You can create an energy shield and then use a wormhole to drag your enemies through it, crushing their bodies in the process. Or use that same wormhole to send yourself flying up before you come crashing down to earth with an electrifying ground punch.

Most interesting of all, however, is the setting: a “post-post-apocalypse” where the world is still changed for the worse but it’s not quite as bad as it used to be. As society begins to return, patterns emerge, both new and old. For every familiar slime ball like Klegg Clayton, there’s some bizarre new character who’s been totally warped by the apocalypse.

“What does society look like when you know longer have to struggle to survive?” Willits asks, describing a version of life after the end of the world “where you’re not desperate to live.”

The answer, it turns out, is a pretty fun place to blow shit up.

Rage 2 launches May 14 for PS4, Xbox One, and Microsoft Windows

Media via id Software