The best thing I can say about Wasteland 2 is that it kicked my ass. Hard. Within half an hour of meticulously designing my own squadron of Desert Rangers, choosing their appearance, stats and skills, and making sure I had all areas of combat covered… they were all dead. Permanently. Wasteland 2 harkens back to an era before hand-holding, before objective markers, and before linear tunnels propelled RPG characters from destination to destination. It’s a lesson in where RPGs came from, and what they can learn from the past, as well as what still works in the present.
The demand for a title like this is obvious, as Wasteland 2 began as a Kickstarter proposal back in 2012, raising US $2.9 million, over three times the amount they were asking for. The original Wasteland looked basic, akin to one of the original Ultima titles, but contained enough satire, morality play and atmosphere to inspire the Fallout series, and we all know how massively successful that franchise has gone on to become. But, unlike that series, which has transitioned into a first-person Elder Scrolls type format, Wasteland 2 keeps things simpler, appearing much more like the original Fallout entries from the 90’s than anything else.
This unfortunately extends to the presentation, which isn’t really at the level you’d expect from a present-day PC game. It’s certainly not on par with big-budget titles, but even then character models and environments really feel like they’ve been pulled out of an early 2000’s engine than what you would expect from a modern release. Perhaps it’s a little unfair to judge, given Wasteland 2 is a crowd-funded independent title, but perhaps something stylistically could have been done to keep the game from looking as janky as it does.
Wasteland 2 begins with narration over a modern-styled, Instagram-filtered, close-up filled live action film, depicting the post-apocalyptic setting of the game. In a world filled with cannibals and monsters, there is one force for good – the Desert Rangers. The Rangers have recently lost one of their number, someone called ‘Ace’, and the mystery surrounding this death becomes the responsibility of your team to solve, both to rise through the ranks of the Rangers and confront a potentially serious threat.
Your characters can be created and outfitted just like a Fallout game, assigning stat points to various attributes (like Luck, Intelligence, Charisma, etc), while skill points can give them the ability to lockpick, hack computers or (really) repair toasters. What’s perhaps even more important is what weaponry you choose to be proficient in, as the combat and encounter system in Wasteland 2 is unforgiving.
While you’re able to move your characters collectively as a group, at the first moment of seeing an enemy it’s advisable to start moving them all solo, positioning them in the most advantageous place for their abilities. Snipers have to be at a distance, brawlers up close, etc, because once battle begins, there is often very little margin for error. Even a mutated fly or maggot can be a formidable enemy if you don’t have a plan for battle. Ammo is scarce if you don’t have money to pay for it, or junk to trade, and weapon jams are frequent. You have a % chance of hitting an enemy when you aim at them and most of the time you’ll end up missing. At the very beginning of the game game you’ll face mutant frogs, who actually have the ability to steal and consume your starter weapons, which is a fantastic flick to the nuts to prepare you for the pain ahead.
The difficulty and uncompromising nature of Wasteland 2 will make it an instant purchase for some, but I’m afraid I’m part of the camp who kind of enjoys how games have evolved today – with marker points, on-screen maps and so-on. That’s not to say I don’t enjoy a good puzzle or a good challenge, but when there’s a point where I have four characters armed with shotguns and pistols missing every single shot point-blank against a single foe, I have to admit defeat.
I did enjoy the script and some of the interface elements. There are deep dialogue trees to sort through with many of the Wasteland’s inhabitants, and you’re given a constant on-screen feed of novel-like descriptions of your actions. There are many cute hidden jokes here and there, especially for some of the game’s weirder objects. The moral decisions are also welcome – one of the first choices you’ll come across is whether to respond to an emergency in one town or another. Whichever you choose, you’ll get to hear the other town’s cries for help and furious blaming of the Rangers over your radio while you complete your mission. Touches like these really drive home the atmosphere and seriousness of your actions.
Wasteland 2 has plenty of content for those looking to explore its vast maps, probably 50 hours or so in total. Fans of retro RPGs, or Fallout faithful looking for something to get stuck into will find plenty to enjoy here, but casual gamers used to modern conveniences will likely get a strong case of culture shock. Like the Wasteland the game takes place in, it’s big, bad, mean and rough, and makes no apologies for it.
Challenging combat | A lot to explore | Intense atmosphere | Cool script
Might be too tough for modern gamers | Feels too random at times | Wonky presentation