Wasteland 2 is one of the big isometric RPG Kickstarter success stories that came out of nowhere these last couple of years, along with games like Divinity: Original Sin, Pillars of Eternity, Shadowrun Returns and Torment: Tides of Numenera. Maybe this is just a fad, or maybe we’re looking at the glorious rebirth of a subgenre unfairly killed off long before its time by developers chasing more mainstream audiences, I dunno. Personally I’m happy with what we’ve got so far, as five of these games combined must be like… 30,000 hours of gameplay, at least.
I’ve only been semi-looking forward to finally playing this though, as to be honest I’m not a huge fan of Wasteland or its spiritual successor Fallout, and seeing as this is a sequel to one and a successive spiritual successor to the other, there’s a fair chance I’ll come away from this disappointed. On the other hand it’s mostly their dated game design and interface that puts me off, so maybe a more modern take on the formula will win me over! It worked for Fallout 3 after all, but then that's not quite the same thing.
(As always when I played one of these new-fangled PC titles, you can click the screenshots to view them in their original resolution. Might give you a fighting chance to make out some of the text).
Wait, Red Boots DLC? What the fuck? At least Dragon Age: Origins had the courtesy to save the DLC advert until I was a few hours into playing the game and fully immersed in the world... wait, actually that’s much worse than this. But I'm sure inXile promised in their Kickstarter than they weren't going to do this crap.
And just like the classic RPGs of old, the dialogue box has only given me the one choice and that’s to go along with whatever they say. FINE THEN!
I could always skip character creation and just slot in a few pre-made rangers from the selection provided… but nah.
Wasteland 1 actually had more to choose from, with things like ‘sleight of hand’, ‘bureaucracy’ and ‘metallurgy’ in there, but Wasteland 1 was made in 1988, back when nobody knew any better. Skills start becoming progressively more expensive as you level them up, costing two skill points at first, then four, then eight, so it seems I'll get more benefit out of spreading the points around a bit.
Oh hey, if you take first letter from each of the different attributes, they spell out ‘CLASSIC’; that’s the sign of a quality role playing system that is. I’ve no idea what I want to pick though, as this is astounding amount of information for someone who’s never played the game to take in and make decisions based on. It's like taking the final exam before I've even started the course. Then afterwards I get to enjoy 30 hours of learning why my answers were wrong.
Hmm, I think my main guy should be one of those tough, smart, handsome, skilled, charismatic types who’s really good with guns, so I’ll throw…
- 3 points into Coordination, for the extra action points and ranged hit bonus.
- 0 points into Luck, because I don’t believe in it.
- 1 point into Awareness, for the improved vision range, evasion and combat initiative.
- 1 point into Strength, for the extra max carry weight and health.
- 1 point in Speed, because there's no point in being able to bullseye a single hair on the back legs of a fly at 100 meters if the fly can draw his pistol first. It's a crazy post-apocalyptic world, there might be gunslinging flies. Don't rule it out so soon.
- 0 point into Intelligence, because I was dumb enough to waste all my points on Coordination.
- 1 point in Charisma, for the leadership radius boost and 5% extra XP. Because he’s going to be the leader!
12 SKILL POINTS LATER
Can’t think of many other RPGs that let you choose your religion and favourite brand of cigarettes. You can flip through the pre-illustrated character paintings provided or take a snapshot of your chosen 3D model to serve as the portrait, but I decided to import a shot of my hero from Fallout 3 instead. I think the Lone Wanderer will fit in well with my group, as he already dresses like a Mad Max extra and he’s always been a team player.
That 3D model editor on the right is as retro as the rest of the character creator so far; you don’t build a face, you just flick between pre-set heads and hairstyles. And by ‘hairstyles’ I mostly mean ‘hats’. It gets the job done I suppose, they’re characters are only going to be tiny in game after all, but I’m still a little surprised at how basic it is.
THREE OTHER CHARACTERS LATER
This gentleman may look like he's just survived a particularly rough match of post-apocalyptic American football (AKA regular football I suppose if you're American), but that's actually this Ranger’s best funeral attire. He and a few other Rangers have gathered together on this sunny, colour-graded day to pay their respects to a fallen comrade.
Fallout 1 takes place in 2161 in case you were wondering, though the two universes and games are entirely unrelated. Well, besides the fact that Fallout was going to be Wasteland 2 early in development, until Interplay found that they couldn't get the rights to their old game from EA. I think it's actually worked out better this way, as the Wasteland series has basically split into twin franchises, kinda like how the Mana series span out of Final Fantasy, and how Crysis is basically an alternate universe FarCry 2.
Hey I’m chatting to Snake Vargas! He was one of the default player characters in Wasteland, and he seems to have been promoted to running the Desert Rangers in the meantime. The dialogue system is a little like in the first game, where I can respond by typing in certain keywords, except this time around most responses are conveniently listed in boxes below like in a sensible game, and I can just click on them instead. Highlighting a word reveals exactly what my character will say in response, which should help make sure than any insults I throw out are entirely deliberate. It’s also a lot like the first game in that I’m going to be reading through paragraphs of text, but thankfully this time around they’ll be displayed in the dialogue box and I won’t have to go flicking through the manual for them.
General Vargas informs me that my first duty as a Desert Ranger will be investigating Ace’s death and finishing off his last mission. Because if a veteran can’t handle a job, the smartest idea is to send a bunch of newbies to do it instead. I’ve also learned that the Ranger Citadel is nearby, which should be a good place to stock up and get some quality gear… but they’re not going to let me inside until I’ve proven myself, so I suppose I’ll just go wander off into the desert then.
Surprisingly this actually seems like a pretty straightforward and efficient shop interface, with the bare minimum of bullshit getting in the way of me identifying what I want and carrying out the transaction. It doesn’t list an item’s cost or stats on screen until I hover over it, but I can deal with that. It’s pretty much using the typical Diablo-style inventory where it compares anything I hover over with the gear I have equipped. Not having any cash on me is going to be more of a problem though. I guess I’ll have to remember to come back here when I’m rich to pick up some body armour and a hazmat suit.
Alright I've been barred from my own HQ, I’ve utterly failed to buy any supplies, and I got head-butted in the ass by a goat when I tried hanging out with other Rangers... but I did find a spade, so I think I’m ready to go out and explore the outside world!
My main priority is to recover the repeater units that Ace was carrying and then take them to the Ag Center and Highpool to install them, as he was on an important mission to triangulate a mysterious radio signal when he was murdered. I didn’t play much of the first Wasteland, but I did put enough time into it to know that I'm revisiting the very first places you go to in that game here.
BUT THEN, TWO SECONDS LATER...
My team were running around in real time at first, but as soon as the enemies caught sight of me sneaking around things went all turn based and they ran up to stab me. The battle system seems a lot like Fallout Tactics, with a hint of XCOM, as my characters get a certain amount of action points to move around and fire weapons each turn.
I can only move the character selected each turn and the coloured outlines on the ground show how many squares I can move before running out of points to attack (blue) or running out of points altogether (yellow). So I could send her to duck behind a barrier and take a shot from there with the benefit of a +10 accuracy bonus… except I decided to give this character bladed weapon skills so she came into life holding a knife instead. Not really much of a long range weapon. If only I’d known that my choice of skills determined my starting inventory, I’d have put all my points into grenade launchers and miniguns instead! (And then ran out of ammo entirely after the second fight).
I’ll just leave her standing where she is and tell her to stab him a few times then I guess. I can do as much as I like in whatever order I want as long as I still have action points, so I can get a couple of stabs out of 7 AP.
Now it’s my shotgunner’s turn, and I’ve got to make a choice about whether I want to use the shotgun or his pistol. Both seem to be fairly short-range weapons, good for taking care of melee enemies when they get up in your face, but I’ve only got the AP for a single shotgun blast, while the pistol can fire twice but deals less damage per shot. The shotgun fires in an arc, so if there was a crowd behind my target this would be a no-brainer, but with only the one enemy in my sights I’m not so sure.
I know, I’ll spend 2 AP to duck and take a shot with the shotgun crouched. That’ll boost my chances to 75%, making it just a little more likely that I’ll actually hit anything at all.
The assault rifle is a pretty long range weapon; you can see by the (near) >*>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>> (far) meter displayed above the weapon image that it’s utter ass up close (the enemy is marked by the red dot), but if I get my guy over by that car I think I’ll have a fair chance to make this shot. Sure I’m not likely to be getting that +50 evasion bonus while the raider's coming at me from the side, but I’m pretty sure my guy will crouch automatically when he gets there and get the extra accuracy at least.
Though I definitely won’t be giving them the same kinds of weapons if I can help it, as the last thing I need is for all my characters to be burning through the same few ammo types. I mean look at this crap:
Skyrim, as I’m used to being able to actually walk over and pick up the gear the enemy was using on me a minute ago.
I’m liking how I can search all corpses in the area from the same screen though, that’s a nice idea. Also I’ve been given a ‘distribute all’ button! I’ve never had a ‘distribute all’ button before, this is awesome; one click and everything gets given to those who need it. Pistol users get the pistol ammo… uh, and so on! There isn’t a massive amount here to be distributed right now, but I can see this being really useful later. And everyone gets the full benefit of the 45 XP I gained from those three kills.
Right, now I need to find that giant flashy exit marker so I can get out onto the overworld and quick save. I can’t believe I’m struggling to find the thing, it’s not exactly hard to miss.
A SHORT HIKE ACROSS THE POST-APOCALYPTIC ARIZONA OVERWORLD LATER.
I’m not really all that impressed by this system to be honest as it means levelling up three conversation skills if I want to keep all my dialogue options open. I prefer the system used in the Fallout games where a character’s other attributes open up extra choices on occasion. Or remove them if you choose to be an idiot.
Uh... what was I doing here again?
I'll leave this for now and head off looking for Ace’s log book pages, see if I can figure out what killed him and maybe get an idea of where those repeater units I need are at.
The virtual dice is rolled every time I try the task, so given enough time I will eventually succeed, providing it's not entirely impossible at my skill level. The tougher challenges come with a bigger chance of critical failure, but if my character ever fucks up so badly that they wreck an object beyond repair I can just quickload and try again, if I have the patience to put up with the loading screen that is. Locked boxes become a test to see how badly I want to know what’s inside.
And inside the broken toaster was… a can of spray paint worth $11. Awesome. Though admiring the cat statue gave a skill point to each of my guys, so that worked out.
SOON, ONE CAVE ALONG.
I’ve switched to solo mode and separated my group out to trigger combat manually with a barrage of fire, but somehow I suspect that only my sniper’s got the range to do any damage here, and with my luck he’s going to end up missing.
Well the bastard frog ate one of my guns... but I finally managed to kill him and get it back again! I’ve kind of gone off the thing a little now though to be honest, it’s a bit too well travelled for my liking. But I also collected those repeater units I’m after, plus the location of a Rail Nomad camp for my overworld map. Can’t visit there yet though, I need to get these repeaters down to the Ag Center and Highpool.
SOON, BACK OUTSIDE THE CAVE.
I got nothing but beeps out of the transistor radio in the end, so I’ll head off across the desert to connect one of these repeaters to the antenna in Highpool.
SOON, IN HIGHPOOL.
It’s funny to me somehow that Wasteland 2 takes place just 15 years after the first game, because in real life fans have been waiting for it just a tiny bit longer than that. It reminds me of how Duke Nukem Forever it set 12 years after the first game even though it spent 15 years in development. But how long is the gap between Wasteland 1 and 2 you might be wondering… it’s actually 26 years. Wasteland 1 came out before The Simpsons started, that’s how old it is. To put that in perspective:
- The obscure Metal Gear series jumped from MSX to PlayStation and became Solid after 8 years.
- The gap between Doom II and Doom 3 was 10 years.
- Telltale resurrected Sam and Max after 13 years.
- Killer Instinct reappeared on the Xbox One after 17 years.
- Kid Icarus returned for a third game on the 3DS after 21 years.
- And Legend of Kage 2 followed on from the classic arcade game after 23 years.
Well I could go all the way back to the Ranger Citadel and get some replacements, but nah I'm loading the last save instead. Nice of the game to give people the choice to push forward after taking casualties though.
A FEW GOOD FIGHTS LATER.
There is one small problem though…
Oh, did you noticed I redecorated my HUD? I liked it better the way it started off, but it's cool to be able to customise things to have them just how you like them. You know what you can't customise though? The map. The game has an automap for each area that fills in as you walk around, but it's unlabelled and there's no way to add your own comments to it. Not a huge problem in the industrial water facility type dungeon, but in a town full of doors it'll be a real pain in the ass.
A FEW VALVES LATER.
I might have to reload here too to put a few points into the ‘Hard Ass’ skill before starting this chat, as I’m not sure this dialogue choice will come up again If I exit now, and I’d really like her gear back. It’s really awkward to run into these speech skill checks, as I never know when they’ll come up, and they’re not common enough to justify me investing points ‘just in case’. I can't save during combat, so sometimes it feels like the quick save button is actually there to save me from bad story choices.
But hey, at least I have access to a doctor and a merchant now! I can come by here whenever I want to sell of my surplus shit, restock on ammo, and get free healing.
LATER, AT THE AFTERMATH OF THE AG CENTER DISASTER.
Wasteland 2 is an endless series of locked, trapped boxes containing 5 bullets and a sock, surrounded by a smart, well-crafted RPG that exceeds every expectation I had for it. Though to be honest my expectations weren't all that high after playing the first game (it's a bit dated now). It's got the role playing gameplay of Fallout, with the combat from Fallout Tactics, and it's apparently been designed by people who really liked the new XCOM. It doesn't seem like it'd let you get up to the same kind of mischief as in something like Fallout 2, you're upstanding Rangers after all, but under the atmosphere of despair and desperation it's definitely a black comedy more often than not. It wasn't long before I started stumbling across CD-i consoles, wrecked V8 Interceptors and Vectrex monuments.
I have to admit, when I first saw the very early screenshots show up my first thought was they'd put some old Xbox Fallout: Brotherhood of Steel shots up by mistake, but once I got into the game the graphics looked fine. Not amazing mind you, inXile only raised like $3 million on their Kickstarter, they didn’t have the budget for amazing, but the visuals more than did their job. The shadows in particular help make the game look more modern, in a way that doesn't really come across well in still screenshots. The music’s pretty great too, all ambience and echoy slide guitar while you’re walking around, switching to something more dramatic when the shooting starts. Speaking of sound, I also liked how main NPCs would often speak their first few lines of text out loud, then drop silent around the same point I would've started skipping the voices anyway. There's a lot of recorded radio dialogue on the other hand, and the voice actors in general are pretty solid.
It's not a perfect game though by any means, I could list off all kinds of flaws, but the biggest problem I've personally got with it is that it's got an old-school amount of content to go with its old-school approach to gameplay; the game's bloody huge. It apparently takes around 40 hours to reach that Miracle of Sound track on the end credits (41 if you follow that turtle around Rail Nomads to see where it leads you), and that's a lot of time! You need to be fairly obsessed to power through all of that when there's a million other games in the world to play. It's sad that this may ultimately end up on my eternally unfinished RPG pile along with games like Planescape Torment, Fallout 2, Neverwinter Nights and Dragon Age: Origins, as these are story driven games with actual endings and closure and stuff that I'm missing out on.
But yeah I liked this one, and considering that I'm not typically all that into tactical RPGs that's saying something. Maybe even something good!