The Earth is screwed. Those damn stupid humans blew most of it up, and now we’re all living in the kind of lawless grim desert that makes the Wild West look like Disney Land. I don’t know why we keep doing this. Still, there are enough decent sorts out there to try and keep a lid on the marauding mutants, crazed cults and the just honest-to-goodness villainous that life can tick along. Up to now at least. Something has gotten even more rotten than before in the Arizona desert and your team of rookies need to go exploring the irradiated wastelands in order to try and find out what the heck is going on and try and stop it. Or just kill everybody. That’s always an option.
The world of Wasteland is without question, the games’ strongest feature. A living, evolving nightmare, almost all of it ridiculously hostile – the desert, its towns, structures and dark tunnels are full of interesting people who hold you and the Rangers you represent in esteem, contempt or a mixture of the two. Your actions have a notable and far-reaching effect upon the people and places you visit, no matter how isolated the locale. Early on you must choose whether to prioritise going to the aid of the food production or water distribution facilities, both of which are crying out for help. There is no right answer to this dilemma. Someone’s going to suffer no matter what you pick. Someone’s going to resent the Rangers. Someone’s going to hail you as heroes. You’re not super heroes, just people trying to make a difference in a messed up world.
Best of luck Echo One, you’re going to need it out there.
You begin Wasteland 2 by building a squad of 4 Desert Ranger wannabes, whom you throw points at, in the time honoured tradition. You can spend points on improving abilities with all kind of weapons, spotting traps, computer shenanigans, fast talk – you name it. There’s even a stat for toaster repair, although this is actually pretty useful since toasters often contain exciting weapons and ammo caches in the game. Obviously.
I mean, it’s all so rote that it’s hard to see how Wasteland 2 might do character creation wrong – and yet they managed it somehow, by god. W2 lives and dies by how it gets you invested in the story world. So the decision to use character models that look like they would have offended Playstation One owners in 1997 is utterly baffling. It might seem like a relatively minor point but this is a game that invites you to create your own, written, back-story for your characters. A stat sheet and a horrible 3D model are hardly inspirational. Once you actually get into the game proper, you also realise that skill-heavy guys (whom you design to be pretty much non-combatants, an option that seems viable given the range of skills on offer) spend a truly remarkable amount of time being less-than-useless, which leads me neatly into…
Those of you who are familiar with CRPG games will be aware of percentage chances and how they govern everything you do in game. Now either I have been incredibly unlucky during my play-through, or there is something really peculiar about the way these things are calculated. Put simply, I experienced far too many critical failures and point blank misses for me to enjoy myself. Sure, randomness can be fun – even when a seeming sure-bet goes wrong (see: XCOM – Enemy Unknown), but Wasteland 2 just seems to offer far too many chances for the dice roll to screw you over when there should be no way in hell for you to fail.
My be-hatted brawler character, which I named Bruiser, came upon a locked door and I decided it would be a good idea to kick it in. 93% chance of success. Yet, not only did Bruiser fail twice, the second time he failed critically causing the door to become broken but unopened. Fortunately, I have ‘Snipey McGee’ who is a master of mechanical repair take to the door and began repairs, 72% chance of success. He failed. Twice. On his third attempt though, Snipey fixed the door, which meant Bruiser could have another go at forcing it open. Did it work?
Did it buggery. It’s hard to love your PC tank if he can’t kick open an ‘easy’ door.
The same failings apply all too often in the combat too – combat deep enough to offer attack bonuses for cover, elevation and even firing position. You need to briskly move your troops in and out of cover, be tactically aware enough to avoid being flanked and losing your incredibly precious healer guys. Trouble is, your plans flounder far too often due to ridiculous ‘dice’ results, which swiftly means death on tougher difficulties.
And yet, janky as the graphics are and frustrating as the mechanics can be, Wasteland 2 is a good game. The world is worth exploring since it is full to the brim of characterful moments that you simply don’t see in most games. It’s worth mentioning too that the game can be laugh-out-loud funny at times, with a broad range of humour on display from internet referential stuff to the kind of jokes you might imagine making when you’re about to be murdered by cyborg freaks in the desert.
It’s a shame that the Wasteland 2 comes so hot on the heels of Divinity: Original Sin, a game which really raised the bar when it comes to what can be achieved in the medium of computer role-playing games. However, when Wasteland grabs hold of you with its story, everything else fades into the background and you’ll be glad that you took the time to explore its desolate regions.
Wasteland 2 is out now for PC