Wasteland is in many ways the Demon Souls to Fallout’s Dark Souls…if you get what I’m saying. Originally released in 1988 for the Commodore 64, Wasteland introduced the world to a whole host of RPG features that we now take for granted. Presenting a persistent world with fully customisable characters, it’s the grand-daddy of post-apocalyptic RPG’s. When a sequel was proposed back in the mid- nineties by the original developers, who were now working for Infogrames, Wasteland’s original publisher EA refused to relinquish the IP thus Fallout was born…in the fallout of the legal wrangling.
Now, almost 20 years and a very successful Kickstarter campaign later, gamers can finally return to the Wasteland, courtesy of new dev team inXile. Comprised of many of the guys that worked on the original Wasteland and another franchise that begins with an F.
If you’re a fan of Fallout then I would heartily recommend checking out Wasteland 2. But by Fallout I mean the first two, turn based isometric beauties, Not Bethesda’s take on it, which though brilliant in its own right, is a very different beast. But if you’ve always wondered why people loved the original Fallout so much and wanted a complex and incredibly rewarding post-apocalyptic RPG, this will certainly tide you over until Fallout 4 drops next month, and well beyond that too.
Set in post-apocalyptic Arizona, Wasteland 2 once again follows the exploits of the Desert Rangers, a group of self-appointed peacekeepers who settle disputes and protect the innocent from the horrors of the wastes. In the intervening years since the events of the original Wasteland, the Rangers have fallen on hard times, losing many prominent members as well as the trust of the community they so tirelessly serve; desperately clinging to their prestigious past despite their glory days being over years ago.
Wasteland 2’s 90s FMV inspired live action intro effectively sets the scene, presenting the Rangers as a group of world weary, battle hardened veterans fighting against bandits, mutants and the harsh environment of Wasteland 2’s irradiated dustbowl.
After the intro you’re thrown straight into the deep end with the game’s incredibly dense and complex character creation suite. Though it is possible to forgo the whole process and a build squad from pre-made characters, I found it was far more fun, and ultimately more rewarding, to make my team of Rangers from scratch.
Each of your six man team is fully customisable too, including their sex, age, appearance and religion. You can even write each characters backstory if you want to flex your writing muscles. After you’ve finished making your squad look just so, then comes the tricky part. Assigning skills to each of them. Skills are divided into Combat, Knowledge and General and though it’s tempting to try and give each of your Rangers the widest range of skills possible from the get go, it actually pays to stick to three or four initially in order for them to be effective.
There’s a veritable smorgasbord of talents and abilities to put points into as well. To the point that it feels a little overwhelming to begin with. From overtly useful skills like Bartering, Weapon-smithing and Field Medicine to more random and innocuous skills like Toaster Repair and Animal Whispering, each has its uses should the right situation present itself in the wasteland. As well as being handy in their own right certain complimentary skill sets will also net you bonus abilities, for example, if you sink points into both Perception and Demolition your character will gain the ability to find and disarm landmines.
Finding the right balance of Combat Skills is essential and once again there are a boatload to choose from. Effectively you can have your Rangers fight in any way you see fit, although there are definite pros/cons for choosing either ranged or melee specialties. The dynamic nature of the game means theoretically there is no such thing as a duff build, but choosing certain skill sets will make your life much easier than others.
Along with skills you can also select a quirk for each character, this grants a significant buff to a character but will also have an equally negative effect as well. For example, the Opportunist quirk allows a character to inflict more damage against enemies with less than 30% health, However they inflict less damage to enemies with over 30% health.
If that wasn’t enough there are also your general attributes to consider, which are broken down into Strength, Speed, Luck, and Charisma (which is a group stat that is dependent on how likeable your team is.).
Once you’ve finally stated up your squad and made it to the wasteland, the actual moment to moment is generally a bit more straightforward. Though by console and modern RPG standards it’s still pretty dense.
What makes Wasteland 2 so compelling though is that from the off this is very much your story, starring your own group of survivors, making choices that actually matter, as every decision you make has far reaching consequences further down the line. The is clear from your first mission in which you are charged with investigating the death of “Ace”, a famous Ranger from the first Wasteland, and then completing his mission to repair two sets of radio towers in two separate settlements. The first settlement, Highpool, is overrun by bandits, while the other, The Ag Centre, is a research lab under attack by mutated plants. You have to make a choice which to visit first, you see where this is going? In short it doesn’t end well.
Exploration is split between the local and world maps. Traversing the world map is mostly a matter of forward planning and resource management by making sure you have enough water to stop your squad dying of dehydration, as well as successfully avoiding irradiated areas and random encounters with all manner of beasties.
Meanwhile, the local map is more interesting as this is where the bulk of the action takes place. Occasionally you’ll dig up treasure, pick locks, crack safes, hack computers and repair damaged tech, but most of the time is spent fighting for your life against the unspeakable horrors of the Wasteland in strategic, tense, turn-based, battles against everything from angry cannibals to killer robots.
Combat is probably the simplest part of the experience. Each side takes it in turns to try and kill the other. The last side left alive wins. Each member of your squad has a set number of action points determined by their stats, skills and gear. Every action you carry out uses a set number of points. While you’re attacking and chances to land critical hits are determined by your skills, stats and any cover that may be in the way. As you would expect, battles are deeply tactical affairs and require lots of forward planning in order for your squad to not end up as Hors d’oeuvre at the Sawny-Bean Summer BBQ.
If you’re finding the fights a little tough, your initial squad of four can be increased up to a maximum of seven by recruiting new members from folks you stumble across on your travels. Companion characters can’t be personalised and some even have their own storylines, though most are merely hired hands. Each new member has a “Rogue” stat. The higher this is the more likely they are to ignore your orders during combat, mutiny or abandon you. If they do they’ll also take whatever they’re carrying with them, so be careful what you give them, because should they decide to bugger off you won’t be able to get it back. Still it creates an interesting risk vs. reward system and serves a harsh reminder that in the world of the Wasteland you can’t really trust anybody.
If fighting isn’t your thing though, it is possible to avoid most fights (with humans anyway) by talking your way out of them, by putting points into the Hard Ass, Kiss Ass, and Smart Ass skills you also open up new dialogue options, which also opens up new quests, rewards or conflicts.
Wasteland 2 is massive in every sense of the word. The map huge and simply begs to be explored. There’s plenty to do as well, there’s always a new town to explore, another citizen in danger and another threat to repel. The way you explore the world is entirely up to you too, you can attack any situation in any manner you want. Giving the game a sense of freedom that’s lacking even in some modern open world games.
The narrative is also top notch and the script is fantastic. A pitch black tale of life in the wastes, a clever satire full of dark humour which is genuinely laugh out loud funny in places. Though, peppered with pop culture references, graphic violence, and foul language. Wasteland 2 is pitched perfectly, feeling neither juvenile nor gratuitous. But I’ll warn you, it’s a tough game, and retains a lot of the 90s sensibilities from other isometric RPGs of the period. You can’t save in combat, making its occasional spikes in difficulty just that little bit more troublesome.There’s no minimap or quest tracking either as such it is very easy to get lost. Though it may be a deliberate ploy by InXile to up the stakes, and make the world feel just that little bit more intimidating. The sense if dread swiftly turns to frustration and boredom when you realise you’ve spent the past half an hour walking in circles.
Despite these minor complaints I’d still recommendl giving Wasteland 2: Director’s Cut a whirl. It’s a vast and thoroughly immersive adventure that takes the best parts of old school isometric RPGs like Fallout, Baldur’s Gate and a smattering of XCOM, to create worthy successor to the original Wasteland, and Fallout for that matter. Replete with 90’s charm and a deep sense of challenge that rewards your efforts with a palpable sense of accomplishment.