Wasteland 2: After play - Games Weekly

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Thursday, November 13, 2014

Wasteland 2: After play

Wasteland 2 defies your expectations. Fallout lampooned the 50s, but Wasteland mocks the 80s a decade that many of its players actually remember. Satire of the era is frequent, and merciless. Wasteland 2 pushes the Unity engine to the limit, making every fire-fight a right bloodbath. Energy weapons make raiders disintegrate into puddles of glowing blue ooze, writhing and twitching through their last moments alive like the Wicked Witch of the West.

Yet this sadism cuts both ways in Wasteland 2, pain is your teacher. Why are my men soaking up so much damage? Because they’re not making proper use of armour and cover. Why do their guns keep jamming? Because they don’t have the points in weapon-smithing they need to cannibalise surplus guns for for upgrades.

Save-scumming is not only encouraged in the loading screen hint text, it is essential. You can endure a lengthy battle only to see a random glitch turn an NPC against you. A cyborg ambush might take three or four attempts to vanquish. A conversation choice made possible by that intimidation skill you sunk so many points into might actually be the wrong choice to make.

The game forces you to learn all these things the hard way. Once you know the rules, you can leverage them to your advantage. You feel like a jolly green giant, walking the earth. With guns.

But the game really comes into its own once your team of hardened Desert Rangers departs Arizona for the radioactive swamps of post-nuclear Los Angeles, the second half of the story made possible by Kickstarter stretch goals. For it is here that the game starts to implement the fundamental methodology of story structure as laid out in Joseph Campbell’s The Hero With a Thousand Faces, a format commonly known as The Heroes Journey. Starting in a point of contentment, the hero is presented with a pressing need and forced to enter a new situation to ‘Cross the Threshold.’

Once he embarks on his ‘Road of Trials,’ the Hero finds himself in a fantastical realm where the rules of conventional reality no longer apply. Whether he’s ‘Atoning with the Father’ or ‘Meeting with the Goddess,’ our hero’s surreal experiences serve as a metaphor for the descent from the conscious into the subconscious mind; the resting place of the most precious, fundamental truths of existence.
Yet this sadism cuts both ways in Wasteland 2 pain is your teacher
After prowling worn and knotted canyons, exploring LA feels more like a dream. The Mad Max fortress towns you encounter become simpler and simpler in design. Colourful characters seem less like they’re living their lives in this world, and more like they’ve just been standing around waiting to activate your quests. Said quests become increasingly easy to break, and rambling dialogue trees that cry out for pruning allow NPCs to contradict themselves in a few short, baffling clicks. 

The flavour text gets more and more typos, and once florid dialogue options give way to placeholder pidgin. By the time you reach the Hollywood hills, the maps feel like rough prototypes, and the quests take on the quality of a memorable cheese dream. What’s that, Ms. NPC? Your friend’s funeral is being disrupted by an invasion of ravenous feral pigs? Fear not: the Desert Rangers are on the case!

In a Kafka esque twist, a Perception rating of 10 is no longer enough to detect every last booby trapped ammo crate. You’re never quite sure what tasks to do, or in what order, because the wrong move could break the quest, which in turn could break the game. You feel compelled to seek advice on the internet, and at this point that you achieve Apotheosis: a persistent awareness that you are playing a game, and that any amount of min/maxing is valid if it helps you enjoy it.

Alt-tabbing between the game and the forums that explain how to make it work properly, you become the Master of Both Worlds. Armed with your auto saves, you are freed from the fear of death, allowing you to live in the moment.

Wasteland 2 makes you feel like a God. Suffice to say, I'm enjoying it immensely.
If I were to finger a Kickstarter that I felt has actually let me down, I’d name the one that brought back a special edition of Steve Jackson’s very first board game. The re-release itself was fine, but they promised that a video game adaptation would be out by the end of this year. It’s a missed opportunity, seeing as the gaming world has gone tank loco.

Every other day my in-tray tells of a new futuristic game of armoured warfare. Every time, I get my hopes up. Every time, I’m let down. It’s not Ogre. It’s never Ogre.

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