Absence makes the heart grow fonder
“Before there was Fallout, there was Wasteland.” With that simple statement, Brian Fargo opened Wasteland 2’s presentation at Gamescom and reminded us of the long history of his post nuclear survival RPG. In that one sentence, he not only established Wasteland as the game that started it all, but also acknowledged Fallout’s success. Wasteland’s 25 year absence seemed to frustrate him somewhat – he had wanted to make a sequel for over 20 years - but that frustration also seemed to fuel his determination to bring Wasteland 2 back to life as well as his excitement over where the game stands today. Having seen the game in action, I am glad to say that I share his excitement.
I loved the recent Fallout games, but I must admit to having missed both the party aspect and the turn-based gameplay of the original. Wasteland 2 brings both of these back in full glory. Players take command of a group of Desert Rangers, survivors of a nuclear war and defenders of justice. Your journey starts as you investigate some odd radio signals and will take you from the Ranger’s home base in Arizona to far-off Los Angeles. A distinctly 50’s sounding voice operates a still intact (or perhaps repaired) PA system and provides you with information about specific events and landmarks in the game. It is a lot of chatter but I have a feeling that you will soon learn to appreciate it for furthering the story for bringing the otherwise barren wasteland to life.
Wasteland 2 is a big game. InXile figures that it would take you 12 hours just to walk all the way through the game unopposed. Add quests and combat and you can understand that the devs are reluctant to put a number on the expected time to finish a single play-through. And even if you did figure the optimal path to get through the game, you’d not have seen all of it. Your actions and choices within the game have both long-term and short term consequences. A mercy killing may grant the wish of a mortally sick woman, but her husband might just disagree with your decision to grant it, so a short term ramification might be that he attacks you, ending up with you being forced to kill him as well. A long term consequence could be come from making too many choices that are considered to be ‘evil’ by your fellow rangers. They might consider you as rogue operatives and send a hit squad after you to cut your journey short. Many of your decisions will cause side quests and even parts of side quests to open or close dynamically, making it impossible for you to see the whole game the first time you play it.
With up to 30 different skills to draw from, switching between characters to find the right skill for a particular task can be a bit of a chore. To solve this, Wasteland 2 introduces a party bar which combines many of the most often used skills into a single bar that is active when the entire party is selected. Select a single character and you’ll still be able to zoom in on his or her specific skills. Fans of the genre will also appreciate the smart inventory feature. Found loot will not just go into the lead character’s inventory but to the person who is most likely to be able to make use of it. This way, sniper rifle bullets no longer end up in your melee fighters’ inventory but in your sniper’s pockets instead.
There is also a lot of emphasis at using the right weapon for the right job. A sniper rifle is only effective at long range and becomes a liability when enemies get into close range. Handguns will do some damage when a target is further away but receive damage bonuses as you close the distance. Bullets also have two specific characteristics: the rate at which they expand upon impact – and thus the amount of damage they inflict – and the penetration value – their ability to penetrate armor. Picking the right ammo for the job adds a whole new dimension to combat, especially if you consider the scarcity of ammo in the wastelands.
Apart from your run-of-the-mill healing and repair skills, a number of more esoteric ones have been added as well. The Animal Whisper skill proved to be a particularly fun one, in a somewhat perverted way. In most cases, a minefield would require someone with a high perception skill and someone with the ability to disable mines to get through unscathed. But a talented Animal Whisperer might convince a nearby herd of sheep to... well, you get the picture.
The NPCs that join your party have distinct personalities, some so bad that you may even wonder if it is worth having them around. One particular NPC has a booze problem and continuously relieves the other party members of their alcoholic beverages. But if he does well in combat, maybe it is worth keeping him around? It is your decision to make.
And despite its size, or perhaps because of it, Wasteland 2 offers an elaborate amount of freedom to its players and it is all ruled by logic. Shooting your way out of a situation will often do the trick, but talking, bribing, sneaking may yield much better results.
Seeing Wasteland 2 during the thirty minute Gamescom presentation had me wanting for more. The tiny sliver of this immense game showed great promise, resembling nothing so much as Baldur’s Gate in a post nuclear setting. I cannot think of a greater compliment than that.