At a certain point in Rage 2, you become an unstoppable force, a lone wolf that can take down bandit camps, monsters 10 times your size, and crowds of deformed humanoids with your gratifying, destructive abilities and weapons. Not only does your suite of superpowers make combat a blast, it's the key to developing a satisfying momentum. It's too bad that, more often than not, the game doesn't do enough to keep that momentum going.
Rage 2 doesn't waste a lot of time trying to explain to you why things are the way they are. It instead thrusts you into an open world with its fair share of places to go and things to do. In addition to bandits, mutants, and monsters, there's the villainous organization, The Authority, who wiped out your hometown. As the last ranger--elite soldiers with superpowered suits--it's up to you to corral three key leaders by carrying out their missions and finishing Project Dagger, a biological weapon to kill the Authority's seemingly immortal tyrant General Cross. It doesn't really matter who's who, just that you need to destroy those who are hostile. You're only marginally "super" at the start, but the gradual ascent to hero status is rewarding in that you accumulate a roster of devastatingly fun toys.
Arks spread across the map unlock powers called nanotrites as well as multi-purpose weapons, and these tools pave the way for dynamic approaches to some intense combat scenarios. Nanotrites can be used in isolation or in sequence, creating a diverse yet easy-to-understand set of abilities that allow you to efficiently rip through enemies. For example, Slam is a strong ground-pound that does area-of-effect damage, and Shatter tears through armor and forcefully sends foes flying backward. Their strong impact is matched by their effectiveness, and when combined with a beefy shotgun or rocket launcher, you create a distinct, destructive flow in combat. It's not unlike nailing down an attack rotation in an RPG and seamlessly swapping firearms for the right situation in an arena shooter.
Once you start stringing kills in succession, you can go into overdrive for a temporary boost where you essentially become invulnerable and weapons fire in an even more powerful mode. With all these capabilities in mind, you never have to resort to one individual tactic in fights because you're consistently cycling through all of your extraordinary tools. It's easy to see and feel the parallels with the modern Doom and Wolfenstein games, but Rage 2 distinguishes itself with how much you have at your disposal and how it's all intuitive to use.
You constantly evolve your arsenal via extensive upgrade trees. It's not just about enhancing weapon damage or increasing overall health; nanotrites can be made more useful with shorter cooldown timers, bigger target areas, and additional effects. Weapons also have branching perks, and special unlocks called Projects stack even more buffs on top of all your other capabilities. Upgrading all these facets can fundamentally change how you operate during the moment to moment action and open up new, devastating approaches in combat.
Rage 2's biggest issue is that it's structurally bare; most of its wasteland is made up of short, fragmented activities that hardly ask much from you and don't lead to anything worthwhile.
What Rage 2 is short on, however, are opportunities to put all those abilities to good use. The main campaign structure makes itself clear early on; do a mission for each of three different leaders, fill a trust meter by finishing corresponding side activities, then complete one more mission for each of them before the finale. It doesn't sound like much, because it isn't. Some of these missions make for the game's better moments, but combat sequences wrap up just as you get into a rhythm. And the main questline as a whole comes to an underwhelming head rather quickly.
Take a late-game mission, for example. You bust into a base with a massive tank, then blast through rooms of enemies before fighting a beast that takes more than a few shots to kill. But the tank sequence is essentially a thin on-rails drive-by, the rooms of enemies are recycled, and that beast is the same as ones you've fought before. There isn't much surprise or imagination for a campaign mission that's supposed to build toward a conclusion. Only once did the campaign put me in a position to get creative or extensively use my powers, and that was at the final boss.
Main missions rarely make use of the vast open world the game has to offer, too. There's a sprawling jungle to the north and wide desert plains in the southwest, and only one main quest takes you to each of those locations. At no stage are you introduced to their central towns, so they really exist for faceless NPCs to tell you about side quest locations, which you can very well find on your own by chasing down question marks that populate your map.
Side quests litter Rage 2's expansive wasteland, though it's made up of standard open-world fare, like clearing out a bandit den or pumping a huge mutant full of lead. Although fairly one-note, Convoys add some variety by incorporating car combat. Perhaps the best of the bunch is in taking over recharge stations where you have to fend off waves of increasingly stronger enemies with deadly efficiency--it's the most challenging type of mission as you have to pull out every stop and get creative with your powers and weapons, especially at higher difficulties.
Rage 2 also lacks an identifiable charisma, which is disappointing for a post-apocalyptic world. While it makes a good first impression by kicking off with an unhinged, in-your-face attitude, it unfortunately never builds upon it.
However, it gets to a point where you wonder why you're taking on all these brief missions. Sure, you get currency and materials for upgrades, but you're just getting them for the sake of it. Rage 2's biggest issue is that it's structurally bare; most of its wasteland is made up of short, fragmented activities that hardly ask much from you and don't lead to anything worthwhile.
Rage 2 also lacks an identifiable charisma, which is disappointing for a post-apocalyptic world. While it makes a good first impression by kicking off with an unhinged, in-your-face attitude, it unfortunately never builds upon it. In fact, the narrative devolves into a series of interactions with bland characters that make the storytelling come off as hamfisted. It makes a few attempts at humor which don't land, and the setting's deranged archetypes fall flat. It doesn't let the subpar narrative get in the way for the most part, though stilted dialogue sequences try to bridge the gap between missions.
It's as if the game is trying to strike a balance between the nonchalant badassery of Doom and the larger-than-life characterizations of Wolfenstein, and missing the mark on both ends of the spectrum leaves it directionless. As a result, it's hard to care about what you're doing in the world without much intrigue or a sensible thread to weave all your standard open-world activities together.
Other minor issues may frustrate you as well, like the constant game-pausing notifications for rewards and progress that interrupt the pacing. For a game all about fast-paced combat, it's truly an odd choice to stop everything to say you completed a mission even as conversations are playing out. Also, dialogue may just cut out completely mid-conversation.
I spent some time after finishing the campaign flying the Icarus gyrocopter from side quest to side quest while overlooking the vastness of Rage 2's open world. It's a gruesome wasteland with the potential to be a wide playground of opportunities to flex your robust set of abilities and weapons. And at times, it gave me just that. Yet I couldn't stop thinking about how that potential was left untapped. Open world games sometimes overstay their welcome, and it's odd to see Rage 2 have the exact opposite problem.
Rage 2 is at its best when you're given the chance to keep up a gratifying momentum in combat, but struggles to setup the scenarios its combat deserves. It's satisfying in the way clearing out an open-world checklist is, especially because powers are such a joy to use. The disappointment comes from the fact that those activities are rudimentary in nature and the decent ones end well before you get your fill.