Wasteland 2 (PC) Review
Daniel Weinell / Oct 9th, 2014 No Comments
Wasteland 2 is yet another Kickstarter success story. InXile Entertainment started a crowd-funding campaign with a lofty goal of $900,000, and that goal was shattered. When all was said and done, the developer received nearly $3 million in pledges to fund the game.
As a direct sequel to the original Wasteland, which was released in 1998, Wasteland 2 was a long time coming, but the sequel was well worth the wait.
A Complicated, Yet Rewarding System
At its core, Wasteland 2 is an RPG, but it borrows elements from a slew of other genres. Players control four or more characters at once in a real-time strategy fashion. Map-based gameplay is fairly straightforward. Characters can move around the map individually or as one big group. Interacting with objects in the environment or with NPCs is as simple as left- or right-clicking. Wasteland 2 feels like an adventure game at times. Map exploration is encouraged, and there is often more than one way to solve a puzzle. The game’s dialogue is also interactive. If an NPC says a keyword, it will be highlighted as clickable, allowing for branching conversations and probing.
Basic controls are very easy to get the hang of, but Wasteland 2 layers a great deal of depth on top of it. To begin with, there is a daunting list of skills that characters can choose from right out of the gate. While any given character will only have access to a small number of these skills, it presents a challenge, especially to RPG newcomers. There is no guidance on building a well-balanced party. A list of pre-genereated characters is available to choose from, which helps ease the burden, but inexperienced players are prone to making mistakes before the game even begins. Challenges in the world are best overcome with a party exhibiting a wide array of skills. There are locks to be picked, traps to be disarmed, and NPCs to convince — not to mention a long list of combat skills.
Combat in Wasteland 2 is highly tactical. The transition from exploration to combat is smooth, but players will have to pass a learning curve. In a fight, characters have an allotment of action points to spend. These dictate how far a character can move, how many times they can attack, and useful tactics such as reloading or plotting an ambush. Because characters can move independently, planning becomes an important part of battle. Players want to make sure they can crouch or lean against cover to avoid damage.
Once the battle begins, the game transitions from free exploration into turn-based combat. Wastelands 2 doesn’t hand hold — without proper planning, weapons, party composition, and ammo, the game can be overly punishing. Thankfully, there are multiple difficulty levels that can be changed at will. Sometimes, NPCs will join the party, making it easy for players to lose control of them. These characters will make their own decisions, and the AI will sometimes put the NPCs in harm’s way.
When players are exploring the larger world, they traverse an overworld map. Here, gameplay is simplified. The party is represented by a single icon moving around the map. Every move the party makes costs a precious resource: water. There are oases on the map where water can be replenished. Players will have to weigh their exploration decisions with their remaining water. Random encounters create more complex gameplay scenarios that take players into a small map for exploration and fighting.
A Post-Apocalyptic Wasteland
The world of Wasteland 2 is a post-apocalyptic desert. By way of comparison, the original title was part of the inspiration behind the Fallout series and the two games even share a producer. The story revolves around a group of peacekeepers who call themselves the Desert Rangers.
At the beginning of the game, one of the Rangers named Ace has been found dead. The player characters are new recruits sent to investigate his death and finish the job he started. They need to attach repeater units to a series of radio towers in order to improve communications with the outside world. The story continues in that vein and includes a series of side quests with the usual post-apocalyptic fare — robots, mutants, and giant bugs. They story is enjoyable, but the game takes liberties often found in similar RPGs. Gameplay shines brighter than story.
That being said, inXile went for a very specific aesthetic with Wasteland 2 and they nailed it. The game opens with a live action cutscene that sets the tone. Environments are littered with interactive objects and branching exploration paths. The attention to detail is astounding.
Graphics aren’t next-gen eye popping, but the visuals get the job done. Environments are varied as are enemy designs. The flavor of the game permeates everywhere, even down to the skill list. Names of the skills fit in with the game’s style and the list is rounded out by the “toaster repair” skill. Yes, there are toasters hidden around the world full of the darndest things. Voice acting is not used ubiquitously, but is present during key conversations.
Wasteland 2 is a rewarding game for players who are willing to devote the time to learn its systems. It doesn’t hand-hold through the early stages of the game, so players should be prepared to master the learning curve. Once settled in, the experience is quite fun. Gameplay is an original mix of genres, and the world is vibrant and full. While the story may not be the most compelling aspect, the gameplay itself more than makes up for it.
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