Genre : Action/Strategy
Developer: The Collective
Release Date: February 10, 2004
So much for the world.
Wrath Unleashed starts with the destruction of the planet, and things just get worse from there. The four elemental Overlords-Aenna, of water; Epothos, god of fire; Durlock, master of metal and earth; and Helamis, storm goddess-represent both sides of an eternal war between Order and Chaos.
In the aftermath of the end of the world, all four demigods strive to capture the long-vacant Throne of Gaia, a process which will obviously involve kicking the holy hell out of the other three Overlords. Towards that end, all are willing to plot, scheme, make alliances, and break alliances, but in the end, only one of them will be able to seize the throne.
Wrath Unleashed is a turn-based strategy game, but, like so many titles in this console generation, that simple genre description is slightly inaccurate. It is true that there is strategy here; and that there are turns; but when the rubber meets the road, this is a head-to-head brawler wearing a strat game's suit.
In campaigns, your demigod and his or her retinue of monsters will hit the road and fight their way across a series of hex-based maps, made up of the floating islands that are all that's left of the destroyed world. Whether you're fighting another demigod, or their monsters, your goal changes depending upon the map. On some levels, you want to capture the majority of the available structures, such as temples and citadels; on others, there'll be an item you need to grab or an enemy you must defeat. To win, you'll have to accomplish that map's objective, or, more simply, beat the holy hell out of the demigod on the other side.
On the battlefield map, you and your opponent, human or CPU, alternate turns, and on each turn, you can take one action, whether that's simply moving a monster, attacking, or casting a spell. The spells may be the single most tactical option in the game; they let you heal injured monsters, teleport troops a surprisingly long distance, convert a land hex into a more favorable ground type, or summon "one-shot" elementals to attack a distant opponent, among others. Demigods have access to two other spells, involving the resurrection of fallen creatures or the titular Wrath, striking down an enemy monster with great vengeance and furious anger.
When two monsters meet on the battlefield, the whole game changes. Each monster has differing abilities based upon their elemental affiliation and type-a water-aligned Juggernaut Adept has a whole different skill set, compared to one of Durlock's archdemons-and can be either helped or hindered by the ground on which the fight occurs. If your character's aligned to the same feature as the terrain, you'll take less damage, and dish out more in turn; even a weaker monster, like a centaur or unicorn, stands a chance of a win against more powerful opponents, if they're on their home turf.
Then the vicious beating starts.
Combat in Wrath isn't a sterile exchange of numbers from an overhead view; it is a vicious, no-holds-barred slugfest. Using melee weapons and magic, the player who's faster on the stick wins. You can employ the terrain as both weapon and cover, taking shelter behind trees or boulders and luring your enemies into damaging ground features, such as explosive spore plants, retractable stalagmites, or pits of burning lava. If nothing like that's handy, you'll have to settle for bolts of flame, spells that encase your opponent in something like an ice straitjacket, explosive earthquakes, mad charges, burrowing dragons, teleporting unicorns, or multihit ground combos.
Wrath Unleashed is a weird creature in that way. When you first pick it up, it's got all the trappings of turn-based strategy; it reminds me, to some extent, of Dark Wizard on Sega CD. (Obscure points +10!) Then when you actually try to punch someone's ticket, it turns into a polished brawler with a lot of options, a lot of available characters, and a lot of ways to curbstomp some other poor bastard. The Collective seems to have put together an out-of-nowhere niche title, poised weirdly between two genres, and it'll appeal to fans of both. It comes out on the 10th of February; hopefully, it will not cause the world to explode.
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