Preview: Wasteland 2

Do we have to talk about the legacy that Wasteland left behind? Of course we do. 26 years have passed and Wasteland is still referenced as one of the staples of action RPG’s. Despite EA killing off any possible sequels at the time it did give birth to another RPG series equally as acclaimed: Fallout. And now Wasteland 2 is here to bring the legacy to a full circle, at least until a Wasteland 3 will come out.

Wasteland 2 carries all the gameplay quirks and motifs that the original had. Turn based tactical combat, four customizable characters and a wild wild nuclear wasteland of Arizona and beyond. Controlling a squad of Desert Rangers forced to maintain order (or create chaos) for the state of Arizona, Wasteland 2 is a richly drawn narrative with some smart dialogue, colourful characters and even more vibrant maps.

From the very start there are a huge bevy of options available. You can fine tune each of your four rangers with some very intimidating customization options. And choices here are really broad. Beyond the usual body/face/hair options, you can choose your clothing and even your religion. And skill choices, oh the choices. I spent a solid half hour on skill choices alone. Having a very limited number of points to utilize and a HUGE range of skills you’ll need led to some very fine nitpicking. While you get four characters and a large amount of points to use, they in no means cover the amount of skills available. My first character should be a weapons expert, but I definitely need electronics, lockpicking and alarm rewiring. Combat is tough as nails so you’ll need some points in medicine. Oh but guns are scarce so how about blunt or melee weapons? Ah wait, you can’t forget about repair, weapon smithing. Wait, there’s also dialogue! Should you be a sweet talker or a hard ass? Oh finally, toaster repair is a must have (no, really).

What I played of Wasteland 2 dripped of both potential and nostalgia for the good old days of the first echelon of ARPG’s. Many purists and gamers who wish to be challenged will jump on Wasteland’s 2 unforgiving tactical combat. Those sick of the handholding nature of RPG’s like Fallout 3 or Skyrim will find themselves sweating at how tough Wasteland 2 can get. It’s straightforward enough for turn based RPG’s, with Action Points being used for moving and for actions. Crouching can raise defences and accuracy, but if you have a rifle you better stay away from enemies to get a good shot. You better watch out for status effects like poison because they’ll knock out a large chunk of health. If one of your party is downed you might as well restart the encounter because it’s far too difficult to rescue them without creating serious danger for the rest of the team. If you’ve played the latest iteration of X-COM you’ll dive into Wasteland 2 without hesitation; they share very similar mechanics and encounters in Wasteland 2 are basically less-trussed up versions of X-COM’s engagements. There is a huge emphasis on smart, tactical combat. Rush in, waste ammo and health and you’ll be looking at many fail screens, but play it smart and it’ll be a much easier ride.

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Bugs and glitches are a plenty in Wasteland 2’s beta release; unsurprising but still technically annoying. The HUD is clean but sometimes takes several clicks to register, some gameplay elements are missing and

It’s hard to take Wasteland 2 seriously, with an absurdist tone that borders on Monty Python-esque levels of incongruous humour. Dialogue is rich and clever, and the bottom right screen is dedicated to a printer layout of a summary of any actions you do, laced with a dry sense of wit that’s incredibly refreshing to read. The plot is less ‘save the world’ and more ‘be a Desert Ranger and do what you want’ which is again, a nice change of pace. The maps are quite linear and it’s not quite as free as you want it to be, but it’s tightly written and smart enough to immerse you in the story whilst ignoring the flaws. Where the game gets tough in combat, some branching paths are equally as tough. Many situations are a lose-lose: with both presenting equally enticing options but the loss of the other being extremely mitigating. It never really gets easier to choose, which is an essential staple of a good RPG. It reminds me of how tough The Walking Dead’s choices (Season 1) were, and it’s a welcome gameplay element here.

Early Access is something I never got into, but it’s easy to see how Wasteland 2 managed to top Kickstarter’s highest funded projects. The time I spent in post-apocalyptic Arizona was challenging, fun and humorous. While I encountered a few bugs (and not the good kind of bugs) and glitches that obviously come with a beta version, I have faith that the final release will clean up most of them. Wasteland 2 is bound to be a surefire hit for the purists and newcomers alike: smart writing, smart combat and hours of entertainment. The beta is roughly half of the game: and considering the amount of hours I spent and not even reach the end, the final release is bound to be a huge, huge adventure. Wasteland 2 looks like a definite win and well worth your money, but you’ll have to wait for our final verdict when the full game is out.