After an inconceivably long wait the sequel to Wasteland has finally arrived. Wasteland 2 is a post-apocalyptic top down RPG. So we can expect the usual thugs, bandits and giant mutated creatures of some sort.
The first things you will see is a character creation screen, or more specifically a team creation screen. You’ll have four character slots to fill and rather than creating your protagonist and acquiring team members as you play you create all four from the start. There are also a reasonable selection of premade characters but I can’t see any RPG fans opting in.
But the offer does become more tempting once you reach the stats page. As usual you are given a certain number of points to assign to different attributes or skills. And as usual it’s difficult to know which are going to be useful and which aren’t. The difference with Wasteland 2 is that there are just so many options for you that initial character creation is rather intimidating. The tooltip descriptions are reasonably helpful but for first time players a quick bit of research is probably in order. It certainly was for me rather than risking playing 10 hours and realising one of your team is useless.
What is nice is having the freedom to create an entire team. All too often you create your character only to find a party member along the way who can do everything better than you. Having to think ahead and tactically distribute skills across four characters, although intimidating, is actually quite refreshing.
Throughout the entire game there is this sense that Wasteland 2 is a game from long ago. The help is minimal, the graphics are nothing particularly special and there certainly isn’t any room for advanced facial animations and the like. Not that you really see anybody’s face close up anyway. But what it does offer is a massive amount of freedom and a sense of satisfaction when you figure something out or overcome hurdles.
Even simple things like the first time I bypassed a gate which had an alarm, a trap and a lock. I first inspected the gate using my team leader, who has high perception, and then set him to work defusing the traps – a skill I had assigned him earlier. I then called up my lock picking, alarm cracking second in command and after all was complete the gate opened safely and silently.
It’s the manual nature of the tasks that gave me satisfaction. Having to call up my second knowing that she had the relevant skills and select them from the hotbar is far more satisfying than the cursor changing to the corresponding task automatically whenever you do anything. It’s a look back at the golden age of the RPG before games helped us out and made things easy and even the slight inconvenience of selecting an ability manually is far more rewarding.
But it does make for a steep learning curve. The first mission you are sent on is relatively simple and the level of difficulty is not too high but generally speaking Wasteland 2 is a tough game. And if you’re only used to modern RPGs the early game can be a little rough. But by making sure you save every 3 seconds and learning by trying rather than listening before long you feel confident that you can make it in this harsh world.
Combat is a turn based affair that plays out quite differently from most other top down squad based titles. There’s can be a strangely fast pace to combat considering how easily you can be slaughtered. Each character has a certain amount of AP (action points) to use on abilities each turn. Each character can have two weapons and, assuming you have a balanced team, will hopefully all use different ammo types so there aren’t fights over a certain type of round as you through boxes of unused bullets into a puddle of biological waste.
Early game it’s very easy to get caught up in the pace of the fight and forget that this is a very tactical combat system but as the enemies get tougher you find a need to slow down and think. Selecting abilities, moving characters and anything else you might want to do is simple and the UI helps make sure you don’t lose because of a stray click or an ambiguous cursor. They even decided to have attack and move on different mouse buttons. Sounds like something small but to all those who ever tried to click an enemy to attack them and saw they’re character run right up to him, end their turn and wait to die this kind of thing is a big deal.
Questing is the usual selection of people in trouble, helping those that hate you and fighting half crazed lunatics wearing American football gear. Although most of the dialogue is spoken the main interface for conversations resembles a 90’s printer stuck at the bottom of the screen. Your options for dialogue will appear underneath the transcript and you can either click on them or type the option directly into the UI which is fairly useless – but kind of fun.
The options and dialogue trees are certainly in depth enough that you never feel wanting for more. Often I would find that conversations would end just at the point were I said to myself ‘I seriously hope that was the last branch’. There’s nothing particularly unique about the characters but they do a decent job of filling all the prerequisite roles needed for a post-apocalyptic journey.
Wasteland 2 is a throw back to RPGs of old. It’s the sequel to a game that’s 26 years old (and also was released the same year I was born) and definitely looks to the 90s for inspiration. It’s also a game RPG fans want. Sure it can be a rough start but give us the numbers and stats we crave. Give us tactical combat that those stats actually matter in rather than just spectacle. Give us enough quests so we keep coming back for more after 10 hours. Wasteland 2 gives you just that. It doesn’t look the best and doesn’t even try to add new features but it’s just a good, solid RPG. Just like the good old days.