Wrath Unleashed Hands-On Impressions

We try out a near-complete version of this upcoming Xbox and PS2 action game from LucasArts and The Collective.

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We recently had an opportunity to try out Wrath Unleashed, The Collective's upcoming action game for the Xbox and PS2. Though the game itself is nearly complete, it won't be on store shelves until early next year, which should give the production team plenty of time to polish up the game and shorten its load times (which seemed a bit long in the prerelease version we played).

You could say that Wrath Unleashed is a turn-based game that takes place on a hex-based board, but while that may make it sound like some kind of bizarre, complicated strategy game, it seems like anything but that. Wrath clearly draws inspiration from the classic action game Archon, which pitted two opposing armies of fantastical creatures such as unicorns, dragons, and genies against each other on opposing sides of a game board. And like Archon, Wrath lets you move your "pieces" across the game board to capture crucial squares that contain mana temples--the source of the game's magic. Like in Archon, you can win by capturing all these critical points on the board by placing your creatures on each of them simultaneously, but you can also win the game by defeating your opponent's god character. Each player has a demigod or god character (demigods are available in the game by default, while the more-powerful gods must be unlocked in the single-player game), similar to the wizard and sorceress from the original Archon. And like in Archon, gods and demigods, as well as one other "lieutenant" unit on each side, may also cast spells with a global effect, such as changing the terrain type of a specific hex and its surrounding hexes.

Wrath's system of terrain and combat has remained intact since the last time we reported on it. The game has four playable sides that possess the elemental powers of earth, water, fire, and air, respectively, and different terrain types specifically favor certain sides, much like the white and black squares on the board in the original Archon favored creatures of order and chaos, respectively. Since the game is turn-based, you get to move one creature per turn. Creatures do battle each time they end their turn on a square with a monster controlled by an opponent. Once this happens, the creatures engage in battle on a 3D landscape that corresponds to the terrain type. These battle areas are bounded by a glowing barrier against which aggressive players can flatten their enemies and set them up for additional attacks.

All battle areas also have environmental hazards, such as concealed spikes and lava pits, which deal damage to creatures that bumble into them. In addition, all creatures possess a weak and a strong close-ranged melee attack (performed with the X and Y buttons on the Xbox controller and the square and triangle buttons on the PS2 controller) and a weak and a strong ranged magic attack (performed with the A and B buttons on the Xbox controller and the X and circle buttons on the PS2 controller). You can also use the right shoulder button on either controller to block oncoming melee attacks and the left shoulder button to unleash your creature's most powerful magical attack. The latter drains your creature's magic meter, though you can recharge at mana nodes scattered throughout the battle maps. Some monsters specialize a bit more in melee, like the giantess, and others seem better suited for using magic-based attacks, like the genie--and as it turns out, if opposing monsters each launch their magic attacks directly at each other, the attacks cancel each other out. Despite this fact, sitting still and waiting for your opponent to come to you doesn't seem like a feasible strategy, since your opponent can easily run right up to you while canceling out your ranged attacks, then pummel you with a damaging three-hit combination melee attack up close. The game seems fairly fast-paced (without being hectic), and between its creatures' ranged and hand-to-hand attacks and its various environmental hazards, fights between creatures seem to be paced well and involve a good mix of close-range encounters and long-ranged magic duels.

Wrath has an extremely colorful look to it, and each of its four playable sides look distinctive, despite the fact that they share common creatures. The creatures themselves seem like creative interpretations of standard high-fantasy critters; for instance, the unicorn, when used by a water player, has bits of armor along its body, and its horn juts out from the tip of its armored nose, rather than the top of its head. The game seems to run at a brisk frame rate that doesn't stutter or slow down, even when lots of magic spells are flying around. Development on Wrath Unleashed is very far along--the game itself is scheduled for release next February.

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