Wasteland 2 Review - Games Weekly

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Thursday, October 16, 2014

Wasteland 2 Review

It is easy to forget that the RPG was once filled with titles renown for their immensity, for the multiple paths you could take, the encounters you’d never see, the companions left behind. Back before consoles took hold, before Nolan North voice overs, the AAA budgets and the shift towards guns and conversation the RPG was a very different beast indeed.

Wasteland 2 is very much ye olde RPG, a massive affair possessing that elusive hook that had me firing up another playthrough when my first 60 ish hour odyssey came to a close. It was clear that choices had closed off avenues, that there were more tales to be told, secrets left unclear. It mattered little that I know knew the twists and turns that bring the game to an end. For this is a title where the journey is what matters, as a great RPG should be.


Party time
Odds are that, like me, the vast majority of you have never actually played Wasteland, given that it came out in 1988. In fact, it is a game probably best known as the inspiration for the iconic Fallout series.

The similarities between the two franchises are obvious. Both games are set in the desolation following a nuclear apocalypse, taking players through largely uninhabited swathes of the US and dealing with the remnants of civilisation as they attempt to eke a living from the barren wastes. But these are broad brush strokes, and Wasteland 2 is a very different beast from the Fallouts.

You play as a team of Rangers, a militia style group formed by a company of Army Engineers who escaped the devastation when a defense satellite went rogue and nuked the world. They did this by virtue of being way out in the Arizona desert, a long way from anything worth nuking. They proceeded to take over a prison, set it up as their stronghold and build their numbers into a force designed to protect the remaining denizens of Arizona, where they remain cut off by radiation from
the rest of the world.


Wasteland 2 takes place 75 years after these events, and focuses on Team Echo, a group of recruits that is tasked with restoring radio transmissions to the region after they went down.

Team Echo is effectively your character, four Rangers that you can create from the ground up or assemble from a premade assortment.


Along the way you encounter those who want to join up, who will journey with your team or hang out in Ranger Citadel, a fortress taken over after the events of the first game. This means that for your journey you end up in charge of seven characters, which makes for a very different experience to the singular NPC in most RPGs.

“Like an increasing number of modern titles, Wasteland 2 is built with the Unity Engine.”
This mix is very handy indeed thanks to the way in which Wasteland’s skill system works. This is split into three broad areas. The first group of Weapon Skills involve the various weapon types in the game, giving increased chance to hit and crit, which is necessary for any real degree of competent use.


Secondly there are the General Skills, which focus on dialogue and broad scale interaction with the environment. These include perception, which helps spot hidden objects and animal whisperer, which lets you interact with various creatures. There are also several options that unlock specific dialog choices throughout the game - hard ass, smart ass and kiss ass.

Finally there are  knowledge skills; activated abilities used for everything from unlocking doors and safes through to Toaster Repair, a favourite from the first Wasteland that lets you fix toasters in the wild to find unique items (which can then in turn be given to specific NPCs you encounter to get special rewards).

With such a wide variety of skills available, you’ll find yourself spreading them across your entire team, then using NPCs to fill in the blanks. It makes for a somewhat daunting beginning, but over time you level up regularly enough to bulk up points, though we found that it was difficult (and a little pointless) to specialise in multiple weapon types on most characters.


It is worth adopting a mix of weapon types though, as all have strong uses (apart from Heavy Weapons, we felt that lacked oomph, and the unmodifiable weaponry saddened us a little). A Shotgun in the right hands can wreak havoc on a group of bad guys, and the melee weapons especially hold their own thanks to low action cost, especially when paired with highly mobile characters.

adequately low-fi
Like an increasing number of modern titles, Wasteland 2 is built with the Unity engine. This means something moderately pretty but eye candy is not what the game is about. It uses a zoomable Isometric viewpoint (which is almost directly top down at maximum stretch), which is very reminiscent of the old Infitinity engine games, however due to the use of an actual 3D engine the camera is highly adjustable, and at times you do need to play with this in order to see everything there is to see.

Audio is largely confined to ambient sounds, although there is a small amount of voice acting in key parts of the game. Of course, one of the big advantages to Inxile’s approach to design is the sheer variety of situations and solutions, which means that the vast majority of dialogue is delivered as text, which you really do need to read in order to fully immerse yourself in the world.

A game of two halves.
Your first steps in the game are into the Arizona wasteland, an area in which the Rangers have held a shaky grip as protectors. You are almost instantly faced with a major decision that provides different paths through the early game, while you work on an overall mission of bolstering radio transmission strength.



Along the way your team has to deal with a variety of issues, from social problems through to Bandits and occasional Robot attacks. This makes the wasteland an interesting experience as you alternate between vibrant communities of survivors and vast tracts of radioactive nothingness. The decisions you make along the way have a lasting effect, and come back into play at the game’s end, even though the second half of the game takes place a long way away, in the much more populous ruins of Los Angeles.

When you arrive here the situation from the game’s first half is almost reversed. You are unknowns there, and you slowly have to try and build up your profile while dealing with the factions warring for control over the area. This takes you through several townships, trying to gather enough Kitty Litter to make scientifically plausible upgrades to your radiation suits in order to reach Hollywood and its surrounds.

“It is an epic journey, one that is well worth taking,, with excellent combat and areas to explore.”

These areas have a mix of both wide ranging quests that have you returning to places several times, and self contained ones. Often times the outcomes are bleak, despite your best efforts to make the peace. Other times outcomes are unforeseen and a touch depressing.


One such example had us pilfering an item from one town in order to save another from a horrible fate. It sounded a noble enough cause, until our return to the first town, where we stumbled upon a group of soldiers having to execute a child’s pet due to the missing item. Even our team of toughened survivalists took pause when that happened.

It is this kind of interaction that has us so enamoured with Inxile’s work in Wasteland 2. Each playthrough results in a different tale, with new options and solutions presenting themselves depending on your party and your approach. It is an epic journey, one that is well worth taking, with excellent combat and varied areas to explore.

There are some rough edges, namely the dialogue system which has the ability to use manually entered keywords but soon gets ignored once one realises that nothing logical works. There are also the occasional bugs and weirdness that occur, but considering the sheer complexity of the underlying systems they are easily forgiven.

This is very much a game that delivers more the more you put in, the more time you take to explore and think. It is both a reminder of what RPGs once were and a glowing beacon signifying the return of the genre to our PCs. We, for one, are very happy about that indeed.

9/10

SURVIVING THE WASTELAND

how to… build the perfect Wasteland 2 squad

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