My radio is going crazy. Two settlements desperately need my team’s help to survive, or else they will surely perish. I’ve bolted to one to help fight off some bandits, and it seems we’re starting to make progress, but I keep hearing the distress calls coming in. This settlement provides clean water for everyone in the area, while the one I’m unintentionally ignoring offers food. No matter what I do, people will die and suffer as a result of my actions or inactions. This is Wasteland 2, and not every story gets to have a happy ending.
I wasn’t one hundred percent sure if I’d ever get to see Wasteland 2. The original released over 26 years ago, and I had all but given up hope. Even when the Kickstarter raked in a few million dollars, I wasn’t ready to fully believe that I was going to finally get a sequel to the game that spawned the Fallout series and stole countless hours of my life. Now that I’m sitting here playing it, it almost feels too good to be true. This is very much a modern take on a very old-school RPG formula, but I’ll be damned if it doesn’t work.
Wasteland 2 takes place throughout the irradiated wasteland that is currently the United States. The wars have destroyed almost everything, and left the country as a post-apocalyptic shell of itself.
You’ll be playing as a team of rookies looking to find a name for themselves in The Rangers, the only real form of law enforcement left. Said quest begins with you setting out to solve the murder of one of your commanders, but it doesn’t take long before you’re hot on the scent of a bigger enemy.
While it’s easy to draw comparisons between Wasteland and the Fallout series, especially since Fallout is largely considered a spin-off, there are some dramatic differences. Fallout has always been a bit tongue-in-cheek, whereas Wasteland is dark and unforgiving. Not everyone is going to survive, and not everything is going to be okay. The Rangers aren’t seen as heroes of the wasteland, and many people even consider you to be the problem. Just like in real life, very little is black and white, and you’re going to have to make bad decisions in hopes of helping a greater good.
Your team is made up of four characters who are all under your control. These protagonists can either be chosen from some pre-made options, or you can build your own. Each one comes with their own strengths and weaknesses based on six stats that play into a set of abilities and skills. Trying to balance these skills and abilities is one of the major tenants of the game, and it’s balanced just well enough for you to feel like you’re making real progress without ever being able to cover everything.
The skills cover a wide variety of areas, and although they may seem silly at first, they always offer something useful. Your standard stuff like being more proficient in weapons is there of course, but you’ll also want someone competent in weapon smithing so you can break down old weapons to create mods and upgrades for your crew. My simple-minded bruiser named Bartolo wouldn’t be the guy to talk to for anything science related, but should you need someone to talk to a lost dog or break open a safe with his bare hands, he’s your man.
In addition to your team, you’ll be able recruit companions for pieces of the game. While you’ll be in control of them for combat and get to steer them, they all have their own goals and story to carry out. They’ll be more than happy to work with you as long as they think you’re on the same page. And just as easily as they decided to help you, they won’t hesitate to take you out if they feel you’re in their way.
With all of this, it’s really easy to feel that you’re playing a piece in a bigger world. The people around you normally aren’t excited to see you initially, but everyone seems to need something. Between roaming bandits, religious freaks, and mutated….mutants…you’ll feel like another cog in the wheel.
Of course, it would be a pretty boring game without combat, so it’s a good thing that Wasteland 2 is filled to the brim with it. The combat is turn-based, playing out in a really similar matter to games such as XCOM or Divinity, giving each team member a set number of points to spend on moving, firing a weapon or reloading. The weapons themselves fit the usual niches, so it becomes a matter of finding the ones you’re most comfortable with assigning to the members of your crew.
Your skills come into play during battle as well, so those points you spent won’t ever feel wasted. Having a few points stashed away in computers can turn a frustrating fight with a robot army into a pretty easy skirmish as you turn them against each other.
The only real complaint I had with the combat is that the stealth system is borderline broken. While it seems like you should be able to sneak past baddies for a better position, it would seem that my team had all the grace of a drowning swimmer since I was pretty much guaranteed to be noticed from yards away.
The highpoint of this game is its writing. Even the minor characters feel fully fleshed out, and the minor stories you encounter stay with you. I was late in saving the agricultural settlement to start the game, and by the time I had gotten there it had been overrun by mutated plants. The scientist that was desperately calling for help on the radio used her last breaths to tell me what happened and curse my team.
Even minor events will happen without any real indication. At one point I just happened to notice that in my action log one of my team members saw a ladybug — the first one they had seen since the bombs had dropped — the second before they accidentally stepped on it. I may have very well killed the last ladybug in existence.
As fantastic as the writing is, I would have appreciated just a bit more audio dialogue. The characters that are voiced are all done incredibly well, and I know it’s impossible to fully voice a game of this magnitude, but a man can dream.
The game’s one real flaw comes from its visual aspect. From a distance, characters look fine, but up close the models are downright ugly. Character portraits also get reused a bit more often than I would’ve liked, and don’t necessarily seem to match up with who you’re speaking with. One old white man was portrayed in portrait by an angsty looking African youth.
Really, all of the flaws I found seemed to be more annoyances than actual issues. I can live with the lack of complete voice acting, and I can deal with that momentary shock that comes from having a portrait that doesn’t match the character as long as there’s a solid game behind it. I have to nitpick a bit since my job is to be a critic, but even the most curmudgeoned of gamers will have a hard time getting upset with Wasteland 2’s offering.
Overall, Wasteland 2 is a must play for fans of old-school RPGs, and for those of you who aren’t sure if they’re for you, this is a fantastic place to jump in. I’ve spent 40 hours with the game and I know that I still haven’t seen everything here yet as there’s a wealth of gameplay just waiting to be uncovered.
Do yourself a favor and give this one a shot, you won’t regret it.
This review is based on the PC title, which was given to us for review purposes.
Wasteland 2 is exactly what fans of the franchise were hoping to get: a well polished, old-school RPG. Minor issues aside, this should be considered a must play for fans of the genre, and for newcomers who are trying to see what all of the fuss was about.