Wasteland 2 Review

This article was originally published at Another-Castle.com

Better Late Than Never

Wasteland 2
Platform: PC, Xbox One, PS4, OSX, Linux
Developer: inXile Entertainment
Publisher: inXile Entertainment

Wasteland 2: Director’s Cut was recently however this review is largely based on the initial PC release. The reviewer is aware of the changes to the Director’s Cut including the extra voice work and visual enhancements.

It would be simple to say Wasteland 2 is a sequel to a classic computer role-playing game but it is actually a whole lot more complicated. It would be more correct to say Wasteland 2 is a follow-up to both Wasteland and the original Fallout series. inXile Entertainment, founded by Brian Fargo who directed the original Wasteland and produced the original Fallout directed Wasteland 2. The development team also includes many involved with the original including the composer of the first two Fallout games. Even Obsidian Entertainment assisted with the development. In short, a lot of the right people worked to bring this together.

As a long-time fan of the Fallout series, I know there were plenty not happy with the direction the series took once Bethesda acquired the rights. I personally loved both Fallout 3 and Fallout: New Vegas. Wasteland 2 was clearly designed with the purpose of bringing back the post-apocalyptic world with the classic gameplay style. It is best understood as a fusion of both with the world and squad-based gameplay of Wasteland in the perspective of Fallout.

Though I’ve never played it, I understand that the original Wasteland was notoriously unforgiving and know from experience that the early Fallout titles weren’t much easier. Wasteland 2 is very much designed the same way. Even as experienced as I am with Fallout and turn-based combat games, I had to restart the game about four hours into my first attempt. I’d run out of resources and hadn’t built a very sensible team. I restarted on a lower difficulty and made some better choices but I’ll still be making different decisions next time I start. This is just the sort of thing I did in Fallout too. I still remember having a friend write down (from memory!) his ideal character build for me to follow. Wasteland 2 is just that kind of game. One where you’ll want to experiment and share with other players. A game where you’ll be looking at guides more to see the different ways you can play rather than how to get through the game.

Wasteland 2 isn’t completely designed without modern refinements. The Unity engine is naturally a lot more capable and there are much larger areas to explore, more detailed environments, character animations and a whole lot happening on screen. The Fallout series had a fixed isometric perspective which made certain objects difficult to see. Wasteland 2 features a fully rotatable camera and a limited but useful zoom function. The camera can be disorientating, especially with the size of the maps. It can be easy to lose your way and while it is easy enough to find your characters and move them, it isn\’t intuitive. There are also the usual issues with path-finding which can be particularly annoying with the map size. That said, I generally really enjoyed the large maps and spent upward of three hours on some. Most areas have a lot that is easy to miss and those who love exploring will get a lot out of it. At the same time, those used to more modern design will likely feel both lost and overwhelmed.

The user interface I found to be generally clunky. If you\’re experienced with games like this then many of the shortcuts and even the layout will be familiar. But where this game could have really used refinement was with the UI. Everything from using and equipping items to reloading weapons can be cumbersome. Progression or quest items generally have to be manually used which requires going through menus though often used items can be mapped to the console and hotkeys. Promoting and increasing character abilities involves using a radio for the promotion and then going through tabs in the character menu. There are regular tool tips that appear on the right of the screen but in general I thought these aspects could have been far more intuitive.

Something I always found lacking in the Fallout games was the combat. Wasteland 2 is combat heavy and you will spend a lot more time in combat than you will exploring settlements and speaking with NPCs. In fact a lot of time outside of combat I spent making sure I had the ammunition and was ready for my next encounter. As is fitting of the setting, supplies of all kinds are scarce in the environment and expensive to buy. Many of the enemies from raiders to mutants to robots can often take a beating and you’ll want to make every bullet, blow or blast count. There are melee and thrown weapons to but my team generally used firearms. There are number of tactics that can be used, enemies can be drawn into traps using ‘Ambush’ which has characters engage enemies as soon as they come in range. Both cover and elevation plays a big part and having height gives particular advantage with accuracy. The major problem I had outside of the difficulty was the inability to manually end combat. In the early Fallout games, combat could be ended if alerted enemies were at a sufficient distance or out of site. In Wasteland 2 you can be stuck in combat and having to tediously move your characters using action points until all are eliminated.

The progression system will be familiar to anyone familiar with the Fallout series. One thing that immediately becomes clear is the need to put together a team with a good variety of abilities. I found it very hard to decide where to put my points with seemingly useless abilities like ‘Toaster Repair’ actually being very useful at certain points. Given the heavy combat, combat abilities are certainly a priority. My time with the game exceeded thirty hours and I got the impression that there are certain character builds that will be useful and others that will be almost useless. I hope I’m wrong but especially in the later areas I started wishing I’d been more careful with where I put my points.

The famously contrasting bleak, brutal, peculiar, humorous  and ultimately absurd world of its predecessors is really brought out in Wasteland 2.  Much of the world is indeed a radioactive desert wreck but the colourful inhabitants make up for that. There are many strange settlements from a cult worshiping an a-bomb to a settlement the enforces manners on pain of exile if not death. There are also the usual thugs and lowlifes you would expect to find in such an environment. There are also many references to pop culture and past games that fans of both Wasteland and the Fallout series will certainly appreciate. Some of these obscure references will even be useful if not necessary to progress at times. It is only a shame that the games plot isn’t all that compelling. There are plenty of interesting characters and a lot of great writing but the incentive to continue is more a product of the addictive gameplay than a desire to see the story progress.

There seems to be a general and not unreasonable expectation that games be deep, lengthy as well as thoroughly optimised or just generally free of glitches. I’ve always been willing to compromise if the first two are satisfied. Many of my favourite games are flawed with one aspect of their design or another and I’m sure I’m not the only one who feels this way. Wasteland 2 is much more a product of it’s legacy and a true throwback to the RPG’s of the late 90’s. This includes many of the design issues that come with it. For many, this will be exactly what I want but I confess I stopped playing late in the game when I required a number of items to progress which very quickly became a chore. I’m sure I will pick up my adventure where I left it, I’m just not sure when. I still enjoyed the vast majority of the time I have spent with the game though. It is the closest we are likely to get to Van Buren and if you know what I’m talking about without looking, then this is probably a game for you.

Disclosure: A review copy of Wasteland 2 was provided by the developer.

3.5 Stars

December, 2015

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