Reviewing a strategy game is always as uncertain as playing a strategy game. When playing a game that requires thoughtful input and planning, one can hope to discern between right and wrong actions. So when one consistently chooses the wrong course of action and subsequently fails to enjoy the game, it’s hard to blame the game for not being enjoyable. Cynical minds may even call the reviewer’s poor decision making to attention, and if done rightfully the review loses the sure footing it seemed to have before it was published.
No such care is warranted for Rage Quest, however. Rage Quest is a recent release and developer Nicholas Fisher’s debut, his baby. This we ought to keep in mind as we determine why exactly it fails as a strategy game. In Rage Quest, you play as Zye who awakens to find himself trapped in the Internet. With the help of your trusty expository-dialogue-spewing sidekicks, you must find your way out of the Internet and back into the real world. The plot we will discuss after the most relevant aspect: the gameplay.
Allegedly a real-time strategy according to its description on Steam, Rage Quest combines the various elements of not being able to pause the game, being able to pause the game, and waiting for timers to go off in order to beat the scum and villainy of the Internet. Most strategy games do fall on the side of either real-time or turn-based combat, but Rage Quest attempts to defy this distinction by simply being both. The majority of the time, you will be fighting your foes in real time, but the option to pause the fight is always there, albeit as an option limited to five uses. In any fight, you begin by dealing the first strike or making the first move, after which the foes will react and attempt to murder you as you them. Every move and ability takes time to charge and recharge, making the first action perhaps the most important one in any fight, something the game readily acknowledges by not allowing even boss enemies to act before you do.
With the option to buy items, abilities, and new equipment, you’ll find yourself very short on money as you try to explore all the options. Why, you can even do side quests to get items, money, or new abilities to help you in future fights! The unfortunate reality, however, as alluded to earlier, is that the complexity the game aspires to is wasted on its own combat and customization systems. More often than not, the fight boils down to the simple fact of hitting harder. This was made especially apparent in the first fight of the second overworld where the enemies’ attacks would lower my own attack stat, even when blocked, leading to me being unable to do the damage required to kill the last enemy and win the fight. It was only then I realized I could upgrade my unmodified stats by using a special kind of money only used for this purpose. So with a new weapon and a +10 in POW, I curb stomped the entirety of the second overworld without much thought or planning.
The whole point of being a strategy game is to offer branching paths to victory. The game is even described as being an RPG, which couldn’t be further from the truth. Though it is true that you can buy and use items and abilities, I never found myself needing to bother at all. I only ever bought the strongest spell in the game just to eliminate one enemy so I could have an easier time punching other enemies very hard, a tactic I have since not abandoned for even one fight. The one reason not a single element in what could maybe be considered an RPG system works to any effect is the fact that the combat is neither turn-based nor real-time strategy. Moreover, the game’s combat system is hardly a combat system; it’s a puzzle system.
In any fight, the arena in which you enter is seemingly unique. The layout of the specific tiles will be different, though the tiles themselves could be any iteration of a hazard that depletes health in either direction (or boosts stats to make this happen). The placement of the combatants will also vary depending on the fight, though Zye will mostly find himself alone on the left with enemies surrounding him near the edges of the map. The number of enemies will also be different depending on the fight. As stated above, the first act may just be the most important one, and this simple fact reduces every single fight to one that is won or lost in the first few “rounds,” or “charges and recharges of actions.” All of this to say that the only way to win a fight is to make the right few choices in the beginning to eliminate any possible threat and then take care of the loose ends.
An example would serve better here than to talk abstractly. You enter an arena with a wolf, a penguin, and a vote sign from Reddit (more on this later). In this scenario, you want to take out the wolf, run from the penguin, and keep the vote sign for last. The wolf has to die first because he boosts his attack stat (his POW) and rips through your defense if left unchecked. The penguin is only a pain if you get hit as this is the enemy that lowers your POW. You’ll want to attack preemptively (charge your attack) and then move into range of the penguin or he’ll run away and you’ll miss. The vote sign dies last because of its inconsequential role as a healer. And since it cannot heal itself, it’s best to take out the more annoying enemies first.
The problem with this fight isn’t so much that the path of victory is clear; indeed, it is clear to me where it might not be to others. What’s troublesome is that you win or lose the fight on the first one, two, or three rounds of the fight. If the wolf gets a stat boost or two off and you miss an attack, the fight is over. If the penguin lowers your attack stat once or twice and you still haven’t killed the wolf, the fight is over. If either of the former are true, or both at the same time, while the vote sign from Reddit gets a heal off on the wolf or penguin, the fight is over. Click the exit-to-map button and start again.
The game is hereby reduced to a simple puzzle game where you lay the pieces correctly or screw the order up and lose any and all reason to attempt to solve the puzzle. It’s not only harder to put the puzzle pieces in order now that they’re all screwed up, but it’ll take more time and be less rewarding. In the end, you might even choke on one of the final puzzle pieces and have to restart the puzzle from the original order anyway. This would be my major gripe with the game. It introduces complex systems of charging abilities that need to be carefully planned out ahead of time and then undoes all of its previous work by becoming farcical. The complexity of the stats and the boosts undoes itself as a stronger POW will kill enemies quicker, making the fights easier. The breadth of items and abilities in the shops undoes their individual uses as the one item or ability that does the most damage will inevitably be the most useful for reasons stated above. The equipment section even acknowledges this flaw by only offering flat POW or DEF upgrades, never a ranged weapon or magic staff, and is thereby one of the simpler sections in the shop alongside the stat upgrade section.
But any RPG needs a good story, as my perfectly executed transition from swords, bows, and magic would clearly introduce. Not at all bothered to induce sarcastic snickering and eye rolling, Rage Quest offers a very on-the-nose plot that’s self-aware as a video game released in 2017. Self-awareness online tends to induce these two reactions, I find, though that would probably be best served in a separate article I do not intend to write. Zye is, of course, trapped in the horrible, dark Internet and must travel through overworlds poetically titled “the Hive” and “the Pit.” The Hive might not be such an obvious pick until you remember one of Obi Wan’s quotable lines from the first Star Wars movie, one I even referenced earlier in the review.
Naturally all the enemies Zye encounters are horribly annoying digital and Internet-y elements such as viruses and malware, dreaded racist sexist gross and disgusting YouTube comments (ewwwww), and even effing memes. What horror! How could our hero ever escape this wretched torment? Ah, by gathering hate! Hate, of course, is an abundant resource on the Internet.
Here I break paragraphs before we both find ourselves in hospital. The trite nature of the plot really isn’t so much yawn-inducing as much as it ultimately becomes ironic and self-defeating. In safe areas on the map, you can stop to speak to those you would otherwise violently murder without question or remorseful sentiments. One of the recurring NPCs is the Wiki Entry that will expand on some element you have encountered in any of the fights before. These Wiki Entries are far from official and appear at first and every glance to have been written by an author on Encyclopedia Dramatica. Later on, one even says that “Internet trolls heavily edit wiki entries” or something to that effect, but the game lacks the necessary self-awareness to turn it on itself in a humorous fashion and instead makes an “I had sexual intercourse with your mother” joke.
The meme enemies are always the worst versions of themselves, and their interactions with you and others is nothing short of embarrassing. The wolf enemy I mentioned earlier is the violent wolf meme, complete with the original head that is always shouting and barks when he boosts his own POW. The penguin is the awkward penguin meme who, at one point, says goodbye instead of hello to you on first contact. Awkward, geez! The vote sign from Reddit attacks by down-voting and heals by up-voting. And one of the boss enemies is simply Twitch chat, which Zye never understands as it’s simply moving too fast. After all these references, I expected Zye to wink at me through his cartoony helmet and for there to be a festive jingle playing like the ending to Seinfeld or Curb Your Enthusiasm. Imagine my horror at the thought of this not being the case. It’s staggering to think about.
Finally, the only funny parts about the game are the parts that try to be serious and end up being complete failures. Similar to a very bad movie that tries hard to be good, there’s a certain transferal of goofiness from the screen to your eyeballs that tickles your brain and raises the question, “Was that a serious attempt to do XYZ?” The more glaring episode of this comes to us in the form of very late, very dry, and very belabored artistic and political commentary performed by the game via one of the NPCs. In one certain fight, you enter the arena to find a female NPC just one or two tiles away from you with two angry rage comic memes that shoot explosive blasts at her continuously until either she dies or you do. Once you rescue this veritable damsel in distress incapable even of running away, you are greeted to the hamfisted explanation of the GamerGate drama that happened years ago. The words sexist, sexism, and hatred return quite often in this speech as video gamers are written off as childish losers who hate women, especially those who expose the sexist plots in gaming and pop culture as being sexist. And this from a damsel in distress whom you just rescued with unrelenting violence! The irony is too thick to cut, ladies and gentlemen.
So what really remains to be said about Rage Quest? Aside from the overly simplistic gameplay elements and the hacky and worn-out narrative, the overall presentation seems lacking in every respect but the soundtrack. Though monotonous and hardly expansive, the music was never insufferable, instead blending into the beige background quite nicely. The art style is too reminiscent of 2005-era Newgrounds flash games to be excusable twelve years after losing its charm, however, and the entire game comes off as sloppy; a sad fate for a debut title that is doomed to live forever on the hellhole of the Internet. But for those who can look past all of the flaws—or disagree that they are flaws—and the $8 (€8) asking price, you can certainly do worse than pick up this game. I ask only that you be forewarned that, as you can do worse, so, too, can you do better.