If you made a desert ranger named Chuck Norris… you win the internet!
I’ll be the first person to admit that I never played the original Fallout games for very long, nor did I play them at release. I was the type that got into Fallout when Fallout 3 was released; yes I’m one of “those” people. That doesn’t mean that I can’t appreciate what the series offered in the past though. These isometric games are a genre more rooted from the past and have a huge following. Wasteland 2 was released on PC after a very successful Kickstarter that proved people were still pining for an experience just like these older titles. Now with the release of the director’s cut coming to PC, we also have it landing on Xbox One and PS4, and with it an untapped genre on the consoles that any fans of RPGs should take note of.
Wasteland’s premise is simple enough. Players take on the role of the latest rookie desert rangers, a group that abides by specific laws, trying to help and assist people in a world now changed from nuclear war. Ace, a previous character from the first Wasteland game has been killed and it’s up to the player and their team to figure out what exactly he got himself into and why. When I say “your” team, I mean it, as players can create four custom characters to suite various needs and even give them their own back story if choose. It can be quite intimidating, especially for players that have never quite had this many options in a console role-playing game, granted PC folks should feel right at home. Selection of premade people exist also if that creation of four causes too much intimidation.
Platforms: PS4, XB1
Price I’d Pay: $39.99
How long to beat: 40+ hours
Character customization is standard, with face, hair, body color, body type, and more available. It’s not the most robust selection with limited combinations to choose from. Granted with the games isometric viewpoint, it’s the viewpoint where what the characters wear is seen more than what they look like and it’s not a huge issue as there is plenty of ways to differentiate the way they look. Then when created, characters stats play an important role and is something that shouldn’t be overlooked. If one character is a demolish expert, players might want the other to be a hacker. If one is a surgeon and medic, maybe bring along a heavy weapons expert. With four characters at player’s disposal, a wide range of abilities and perks seems essential to succeed in the adventure. I have a tendency to try to make characters a jack of all trades, but here that would be a huge mistake.
Once created and the team of rangers at disposal, players set forth in the world of Wasteland, one that is oddly familiar and yet alien all at the same time. Years prior, the world went into a nuclear war and the results are not pretty. Now, we see the great American west, Arizona, which is absolutely fitting for a desolate wasteland. Being from Arizona most my life myself, this was extremely interesting to see as I had no prior knowledge to the location of the game before playing. While I can say Arizona has some very tough terrain, in Wasteland 2, it’s even worse and with things that try to eat or kill the team. Luckily I don’t have to worry about that personally.
Once players get their first mission, the game transports players to the world map. Taking control of a Wasteland ranger’s icon representing the player team, moving the group from various mission points as the story continues. Radiation and dehydration can cause deadly results as players search the map for the next mission point. Radiation can be avoided until later when a suite is found and the water meter can be restored via oasis’s discovered on the map. Easy things to manage, but ones that shouldn’t be forgotten. It’s not the most visual world map, but it suits the course of the game. Be warned though, enemies can also attack in random battles and distress calls or traps can be set, so be careful.
Once getting to a mission point, the team is taken to a new segregated area much like at the start of the game. Here is where players get to explore the various locations, do battle, talk to people, and make various dialog choices that change the course of the story and how everything plays out. This idea of experiencing the game as players see fit permeates the entire feel of Wasteland 2. From the dialog, to the story branching choices, and even something as simple as opening a door. Do you choose to lock pick, destroy with fists, demolitions, simple shooting at it? Yep, there is plenty of choices and style of play at work here and it all comes together to make a game that truly is tailored to a players preferences in character stats, choices in dialog, and actions taken.
The battle system is also tactical. It plays very similar to something like XCOM. Taking the crew and any additional NPC’s that have been allowed to join, turned based battles play out in front of the player. Action points are used for everything from shooting, special tactics, reloading, and even unjamming weapons. Here is where using the surgeon/medic to heal, the sniper for long distance, and other characters with their specialties comes to light. Living and dying by the team is crucial and it sucks when they die because they are gone forever, but luckily players usually have ample time to save them from their unfortunate demise as long as the right supplies are had. Battles are also slow and tactical as enemies and players take turns moving along the grid bases system and using their actions. It’s a slow burn and the whole game has a slower paced feel about it, but for me that’s a good thing.
The world of Wasteland looks appropriately messed up. Desert settings in Arizona and a later location I won’t spoil, but there is plenty of variety. Abandoned buildings, overgrowth farms, outposts, and other assortment of nasty and derelict establishments can be visited and explored. This also goes for the cast of characters met along the way. Some of them are just complete assholes, others kindhearted, and some just weird, all backed up by some excellent writing to really put some of these characters into perspective. While not everyone has spoken dialog for every line, there are more lines in here than in the original release and the voice actors do their job well. The soundtrack is also rife with atmosphere when needed, and gives an excellent battle theme that really pumps the players up for battle. After battle or during exploration, lots of loot can be discovered. It’s nice to have the ability to switch to whatever specific character players want to pick it up the items or use the option to spread the loot to all characters – a feature that cuts down on some of the sorting in menus because there is plenty of menu time to begin with.
The Wasteland is filled with a few quirks that players should know about. The framerate seems to operate fine the majority of the time, but I had a few rare instances of some slowdown. It never lasted very long in my playtime with the title but it is there, mostly noted in the random battles on the world map even. Interaction with the world is another point of frustration at times. Lots of items can be viewed, people can be talked to, and boxes to open and collect loot. Yet when having such a hard time aiming at one to select it, it leads to some groans. I tried over and over in one section to get the character highlighted to say talk and almost walked away before I finally got it. There is means to help circumvent this with a button for scrolling the possible selected options but it didn’t seem to always work. Also after exiting menus, changing characters, or reloading, I’ve noticed I can’t move my character for a few seconds. Usually it corrects itself and doesn’t happen for a while again.
Difficulty is also pretty tough, or can be. It largely depends on how players are accustomed to the rules of this genre. I started on normal and was a bit overwhelmed and had to put it back on rookie. Eventually I felt the urge to change it back to normal and was doing just fine, but that learning curve and the amount of info they drop over the first few hours is a lot to take in. Visually the game received an update on the engine for the director’s cut and it has some nice quality environments and settings that shine, but it’s not a game players will walk away from proclaiming amazing visuals, in that respect though, it’s not a game to play for visuals to begin with, it’s all about customization, play style, and choices.
Wasteland 2 is a sequel to Wasteland which I never played and that fact didn’t sour or ruin my experience whatsoever. The world crafted here is excellent and the vast amount of characters, story, and side content is enough to keep players busy for hours on end. It’s not the most user-friendly game at the start, especially for those having never played the genre before, but if given the time, will grow on players immensely. There are new inclusions to the director’s cut that I only knew about due to having read up on them. It seems these additions from enhanced visuals to new tactics, only goes to make an already great game even better. You’d be hard pressed to find a new next-gen console RPG that offers this much content and at the price point of $39.99, yet here we are. Wasteland 2 is for players looking to get lost in world that seems perfectly comfortable in giving the players all the options at their fingertips. The wasteland is a host to deadly enemies, characters, and vile world, one in which I take my very own created desert rangers, with their own personal stories, my stories, and try to live… to see another day.
Review copy of game provided by publisher.