Much of the world’s mythology revolves around mortal and immortal combat between gods and their minions. Full of revenge, quests for power and other machinations, many myths feature epic battles between heroes and monsters. Of course, all folklore has its final struggle for dominance, its ultimate battle where the fate of a world hangs in the balance. Launching its own spin on cataclysmic god battles is Wrath Unleashed, Lucasarts’ latest title.
The plot of Wrath Unleashed revolves around the stereotypical clash of the elements. In the beginning, there was nothing, yet with the combination of the elements of air, water, fire and earth, a planet was born teeming with life. This planet was essentially divided into separate realms, each ruled by a demigod or goddess, and the world existed in relative peace. That is, until the four deities started fighting over the Throne of Gaia, a powerful artifact that bestows ultimate power upon the god sitting on it.
Players choose from one of four elemental sides. The Light Order is led by Aenna, demigoddess of water. Epothos, the fire demi-god, controls the Light Chaos side. Opposing them are Durlock, who heads the Dark Order forces and Helamis, who is in charge of the Dark Chaos army. From there, it’s off to battle as you struggle to win the throne. The celestial warfare within Wrath takes place upon a hexagonal map filled with nine varying types of terrain. Each piece of ground confers potential advantages or disadvantages to units based on its elemental affinity. For instance, sea hexes favor Light Order units, making their attacks against enemies stronger and boosting their defense.
Akin to a three dimensional chess game, you maneuver one unit in your army turn by turn across the map, capturing structures and objectives or eliminating rival units. Taking buildings generates mana, which can be used by your deity to cast one of nine spells to boost health, summon reinforcements or kill enemies. While it’s possible to achieve victory by seizing buildings, it’s far more likely that you’ll engage opposing units along the way, and skilled strategists can attempt to destroy opposing armies.
Units that occupy the same hex enter a battle arena full of traps and environmental dangers where they face off in a battle to the death. Wrath features light, medium and heavy units, along with the demi-god field general if things get grim. In combat, each creature can pull off physical or magical attacks of light or heavy intensity. They can also block or dodge incoming assaults. Unlike other strategy titles, battle in Wrath Unleashed takes place in real time, allowing skilled players to take even the lowliest unit against the strongest one and prevail.
Wrath Unleashed is a mixed bag graphically. Character models are unique, highly detailed and vibrantly animated. The demigoddess “uniforms” (or sheer lack thereof) establishes a new standard of eye-popping. It’s a very safe bet to say that you’ve never seen or even imagined some of the creatures they’ve designed for the four sides in Wrath (unless you’ve been hallucinating). This is particularly shown during battle arena sequences, where the extravagant magical attacks are shown with large particles and shimmering effects. The background environments are also particularly noteworthy, with plenty of the hidden traps and effects just as detailed as the units.
However, this detail doesn’t extend to the map screens, which can seem to be bland textures indicative of their terrain type. Also, there’s no explanation to the awkward camera angles, which aren’t particularly good and seem rather arbitrarily established to give a top-down, god’s eye view (which doesn’t work as well as being up close upon the action) as a default.
The soundtrack is decent, and provides a sweeping grandness to the action at hand. The effects feel appropriate to the onscreen action, so howls and impacts from weaponry seems titanic and massive. Voice acting is just as large, and while at times it feels a little heavy handed or overdone, it seems to fit the overexaggerated circumstance of a world being fought over by elemental gods.
If there was a significant flaw to be found within Wrath Unleashed, it would have to be within the gameplay. Or perhaps I should say shallow amount therein. While the concept itself could’ve provided quite a bit of depth, Wrath is surprisingly limited. There are only four missions for each side to play within the Campaign mode before you win and unlock everything within the game. Just as you start to feel like you’re getting the hang of one group, your adventure is over and you’ve got to start all over again. Then again, this isn’t too much of a shock considering that there isn’t a lot of variation between armies. With the exception of a few color palette changes, there are only about nine units to be found, each with very similar attacks.
Even the team editor can’t infuse the squads with new life, although it can be useful for trying to extend the life of the single player game dramatically. There are other options, such multiplayer for up to four immediate players in battle, team battle and versus modes, but that’s about it. The inclusion of online play (considering that Wrath is available for both the PS2 and Xbox) should’ve been an obvious feature that could’ve extended the replayability of the game substantially, but it’s been left out. There are a couple of other issues with gameplay, such as the limited size of world maps and a lackluster fighting system in the battle arenas that essentially results in nothing more than a basic bob and weave pattern. Avoid the attack, release one of your one, repeat.
In the end, the limitations severely hamper Wrath Unleashed, which is a pity. The concept and the creatures, not to mention the turn-based gameplay could’ve infused the strategy genre with a shot of adrenaline that it sorely needed. As it is now, only serious strategy fiends will get a blast out of Wrath Unleashed.