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Wasteland 2 (PC)

Wasteland 2 (PC) - Review

by Jake Weston , posted on 16 October 2014 / 4,869 Views

26 years between releases in a franchise has to be some sort of record, right? Even if it isn’t, Wasteland 2, featuring the return of the series that inspired Fallout and with original creator Brian Fargo at the helm, is still a success story for many reasons, not the least of which include its origins as a Kickstarter campaign that raised over $3 million, or sparking the modern revival of choice-driven CRPGs. With both its impressive legacy and high-profile crowdfunding campaign, Wasteland 2 had daunting expectations to live up to.

26 years is, of course, a long time, so thankfully Wasteland 2 is welcoming to those coming into the series for the first time. Like its sister series, Fallout, Wasteland 2 takes place in the aftermath of a nuclear apocalypse, with the remnants of humanity trying to band together to survive. In true genre fashion, bandits, mutants, radioactive spiders, and more make this a difficult endeavor. To protect what remains of civilization, you play as the Desert Rangers, peacekeepers who roam the American southwest to protect its people. At the start of the game, your team of Rangers is tasked with investigating the death of an original Wasteland Ranger, and the resulting tale spins into a massive tangled web as your journey takes you to new people and civilizations. While the core story of Wasteland 2 isn’t exactly game-changing, it easily holds the candle for most amount of sheer stuff packed into a game this year. 

Wasteland 2’s mechanics start out obtuse, but rewarding. Throwing you right into the character creation pool as soon as you start the game, you are directed to create not just one, but four characters for your team of Desert Rangers. Between dozens of base stats, abilities, and character traits to choose from, this task seems daunting, especially without any indication of how these abilities will affect your journey across the Arizona wasteland (just how effective will “Toaster Repair” be anyway?). After careful consideration (and a couple of hours replaying the opening areas to get a feel for the mechanics), I elected to choose from the healthy selection of pre-set characters, leveling them up over the course of my journey to suit the needs of the situations I came across. Hardcore fans and enthusiasts will no doubt get the most out of the experience with completely custom characters, however, but Wasteland 2 seemingly accommodates for all styles of play. 

Life in the Wasteland is not easy. Traps and ambushes lie everywhere. You will frequently be low on supplies and ammo. Weapons jam easily. Not a working toaster in sight. It’s initially tempting to write this off as poor difficulty balancing, but this eventually grows to be part of the game’s charm. Learning the ins and outs of Wasteland 2 shows itself to be part of the core experience, and like Dark Souls, accepting failure makes each success all the more satisfying. Many of your interactions in Wasteland 2 depend on the specific skills you have leveled up, increasing your chances of being able to complete any given task, such as lockpicking doors, cracking safes, disarming traps, or more bizarre tasks such as being able to talk to animals. Characters level up slowly and you’re forced to spread your skill points thin, so anguishing to determine which skills to prioritize truly makes you feel like your characters are survivors just barely scraping by.

Combat relies on the familiar method of percentages and dice rolls, except the game does not allow you to quick-save during encounters, giving choices made in combat more weight. Like the original Wasteland, combat is turn-based, with characters limited to a certain amount of Action Points (AP) per turn. AP applies not only to attacks, but also movement, and even seemingly more passive actions such as crouching, reloading, and unjamming your guns (and they will jam a lot). Each character in your party gets his or her own pool of AP, so you must learn to play off of the strengths and weaknesses of each of your characters in order to make sure your team of Rangers is working efficiently. My only frustration with the system is certain characters’ tendencies to act independently of your commands, taking matters into their own hands and (often) getting themselves killed. While this can be alleviated by leveling up characters’ “leadership” attribute, it’s nevertheless frustrating and should have been left on the cutting room floor.

This criticism can be applied to other aspects of Wasteland 2 as well. As fun and immersive Wasteland 2’s gameplay is, its deliberate old-school approach carries over a few aspects of the genre that have not stood the test of time. It’s fun seeing how certain decisions play out in the long-term, but the percentage-based gameplay makes dealing with short-term ramifications a chore. For example, having a 75% chance of successfully disarming a trap and then failing is discouraging, and when I can simply just quick-load my save and try again, it ultimately just feels like a waste of time. Wasteland 2 is all about making meaningful choices, and moments like these simply break that illusion. 

Thankfully, Wasteland 2’s art design and direction are astounding, sucking you into its world with its arid atmosphere and idiosyncratic characters. Some may take issue with the simplistic character models or middling graphics, but you’ll spend most of the game looking at everything with an isometric birds-eye-view anyway, so it hardly feels worth mentioning. If anything it allows the designers to focus more on art design while still enabling the game to run well on more modest PC requirements, which is a more than fair trade-off. Worth mentioning, however, are the handful of glitches I encountered during my time with the game, including one that prevented the save feature from working, requiring the game to be restarted. Thankfully, I didn’t lose any progress in this process, and overall the various glitches I experienced were minor and only rarely occurred over the 30ish hours I spent completing the main story.

For hardcore enthusiasts looking to relive the glory days of ‘90s CRPGs, what I perceive as Wasteland 2’s shortcomings will be seen as its strengths, giving players a chance to revisit the foundations of RPG gaming. The fact that Wasteland 2 does everything else so well is an added bonus. Like the post-apocalyptic wasteland in which it is set, Wasteland 2 is unforgiving, but unlike a real apocalypse, it’s a blast to experience. 


VGChartz Verdict


8.3
Great

This review is based on a digital copy of Wasteland 2 for the PC

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