Way back in 1988 – before games about survival in a post-nuclear world such as Fallout even existed, let alone were popular – came Wasteland.
Giving you control of a group of Desert Rangers determined to help other survivors in a post-apocalyptic world, it was an RPG with a rich plot and deep gameplay that resonated greatly with gamers at the time. Despite its critical and commercial success however, a true sequel was never made, although 1997’s Fallout – now one of the most popular franchises in the world – was created as a spiritual sequel. With modern Fallout games deviating heavily from the old-school gameplay of Wasteland though, its director, Brian Fargo, decided to have another crack of the whip, finally releasing Wasteland 2 on PC last year.
Now for the first time available on PlayStation 4 and Xbox One in the form of a Director’s Cut, Wasteland 2 offers deep, turn-based RPG action to a whole host of potential new fans. And, for those with patience that are also willing to put in the effort, it’s an experience that shouldn’t be missed – especially considering its humble price.
As games go, Wasteland 2: Director’s Cut couldn’t be any more old-school in terms of gameplay. With control of a party of four Rangers – and maybe a couple of helpers if you play your cards right – you navigate environments, pick up quests from NPCs, engage in turn-based combat and loot everything you can get your hands on as you go. The game’s camera is placed high above the heads of your party, giving you a top-down view that doesn’t quite give you the best outlook on your surroundings, but thankfully you can move it a little or even unlock its positioning to scope out what’s ahead.
At the outset of the game you’re prompted to either jump right in with a party of pre-generated Rangers or create a custom group of intrepid adventurers, and, as the choice of character classes, attributes and skills is simply bewildering, newcomers will probably opt for the pre-generated option in fear of doing something wrong. Unfortunately then, even going with a party of pre-made characters can have frustrating repercussions that will severely affect your enjoyment of the title, at least at the beginning anyway. You see, Wasteland 2 is a game heavily dependent on skills. Want to open a locked door? You need a skill for that. Need to access a computer? You need a skill for that too. You even need a skill for handling plants correctly. This dependence on skills, along with a fiddly control system that makes using them more hard work than it should be at times, can be a real bugbear for the first few hours of gameplay. Not knowing how you can progress because you don’t have a particular skill nor the knowledge how to use it isn’t particularly fun, but once the realisation kicks in it’s like a “eureka!” moment. Hopefully at that point, your team of Rangers is still salvageable, otherwise you’ll have to start again with a new team, only this time with the range of skills you know you will need.
Expectedly, combat is also heavily dependent on your skills, as well as your Rangers’ base attributes and equipment, and is initiated when out in the field by either attacking a hostile creature, or it deciding to want a piece of you. With the environment being overlaid with a grid, you and your enemy take it in turns to move your combatants and perform actions in accordance with how many action points they have available, until eventually the enemy is dead or your party is wiped out and you lose. When you first start the game, don’t be surprised if you get wiped out a lot, especially if you’re playing on anything other than the Rookie difficulty level – the enemies are brutal from the outset, and unless you’ve meticulously created your own squad, your chance to hit opponents with melee weapons or firearms will generally be 50/50 or less. After you’ve gotten used to the intricacies of the combat system and developed your Rangers’ abilities, you’ll fare much better, moving each member of your team into their own effective ranges and positions whilst taking advantage of their increased skills.
Your rangers gain experience for just about everything they do in the game – from using skills such as Brute Force to close a broken door, to completing quests and defeating enemies. Unusually, once they’ve reached enough experience to level-up, they won’t do so until you contact Ranger HQ by radio in order to report in with your boss, General Vargas, who’ll promptly congratulate them on their advancement. Each level-up awards your Rangers with multiple skill points to spend, as well as the occasional perk and attribute point, so you’ll need to spend them wisely in order to keep your team at maximum effectiveness. Attributes and skills can also be modified by equipping garments such as hats, jackets and trinkets, but there’s quite often a price to be paid so the benefits of each item must be carefully considered beforehand. Additionally, weapons can be enhanced by the use of mods, which prove to be invaluable as you progress through the game and encounter tougher enemies.
Ideally, you’ll be wanting each ranger in your party to specialise in a particular weapon type, enabling you to adapt to a range of combat situations whilst also effectively managing your bullet supply. What with civilisation not being what it once was, bullets – as well as other valuable supplies such as water and medicine – can be rather scarce, and therefore need to be used with care. Once again, you’ll find the beginning of the game quite frustrating, as you’ll get through bullets and medical supplies at an alarming rate due to your low hit chances and inexperience, but after a while things will begin to settle down if you effectively manage their use. In fact, it adds a nice sense of reality and urgency to the game, creating situations where you have to ask yourself “do I really need to use this?”. Shooting a mutated maggot with a pump-action shotgun may be the safest way to kill it, but the bullets may be put to better use when fighting a deranged bandit considering you could just whack it to death with a wrench just as easily.
One of Wasteland 2: Director’s Cut’s best features is its flexibility when it comes to its story. Given the main objective of unravelling the murder of Ace, a highly regarded Ranger that was sent out to complete an important mission, it’s up to you to take over where he unfortunately left off and deal with countless other situations and problems along the way. As mentioned before, quests are obtained out in the field by talking to NPCs, and sometimes General Vargas will also contact you by radio to give you a heads-up about quests that are available. The great thing is that how you go about completing the quests is often completely up to you, meaning that both you and your friends could play the same quests yet have wildly different experiences within them. As well as giving the game a large degree of dynamism, it also creates a large amount of replayabilty, as you could undoubtedly play the game through a few times yet experience new situations and outcomes each time thanks to your actions and choices.
Technically,Wasteland 2: Director’s Cut is competent. The graphics aren’t anything special and neither is the audio, but they’re good enough to draw you into its world and keep you there. In my time spent playing the game on Xbox One I didn’t notice any major framerate issues or tearing, but more impressively for a game of this type, I didn’t encounter any bugs whatsoever.
Overall, Wasteland 2: Director’s Cut is a great game, but it’s not for everyone due to its steep learning curve. Its emphasis on character development and choice creates a game that is easy to get absorbed in, and its combination of adventuring and turn-based combat is balanced well, so playing never becomes a chore. If you’re the type of gamer that likes to have your hand held throughout a game then Wasteland 2: Director’s Cut is not for you, but if you don’t mind finding your own feet with its vast skill system, complicated menus and fiddly controls, then you’ll find an experience that is deep and extremely rewarding.