Having been well over a decade in the making, Wasteland 2 is one of Kickstarter’s biggest crowdfunding success stories and now, following a triumphant return to PC last year, the game has finally touched down on home consoles. Available for PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, this beefed up “Director’s Cut” of Wasteland 2 arrives just in time to greet its post-apocalyptic compatriot, the hotly-anticipated Fallout 4.
Both set against the hellish backdrop of an all-out nuclear war, the two games share a storied past. Released in 1988 on the Commodore 64, DOS, and Apple II, the original Wasteland would go on to become an early win for Electronic Arts, garnering acclaim among fans and gamers alike. However, this wasn’t the same EA we know of today. Instead of throwing money at the developer and churning out a timely sequel, a direct follow-up never materialised. As Wasteland slowly began to fade into the periphery, the core team at Interplay had already cooked up a spiritual successor that would eventually grow into Fallout and become one of gaming’s best known franchises.
But that’s enough with the storytelling. As it stands, Wasteland 2 is a fantastically enriching RPG and although its transition to console has some awkward tendencies, it’s still one of this and last year’s best roleplaying games. That said, inXile’s sequel isn’t for the faint of the heart. Vast in scope and unapologetically old-school, Wasteland 2 demands a lot from its players, yet those who stick with it are in for a hell of a treat.
Much like the roleplaying stalwarts of yore and the several recent games which use these as sources of inspiration, Wasteland 2 is centred on a small group of adventurers, each one placed under your control. They’re the core focus of the game and can be customised using a wealth of advanced options. In fact, before even setting foot into the game’s nuke-destroyed nightmare, players are invited to create their own band of survivors from scratch while also having access to a roster of presets.
Although all the familiar archetypes are accounted for, Wasteland 2 allows for a much more liberal approach to character progression. Instead of selecting from a prescribed list of classes or roles, each survivor in your party is defined through a patchwork of skills. These are split between three main categories, covering everything from weapon proficiencies to specialist abilities that can be used in the field. Want someone in your team who is skilled with melee weapons and disabling alarm systems? That’s totally viable. As is having a tech-savvy sniper or a medic with an alarming penchant for explosives.
Together, they’ll form a squad of Desert Rangers, part of a post-apocalyptic police force, if you will. Although their methods are far from orthodox, they bring order to the wasteland while seeking for a way that humanity can have a better future. Naturally, this noble undertaking will see the Rangers come across all kinds of trouble as they interact with a cast of less than savoury characters.
Although open world in a sense, Wasteland 2 doesn’t adopt the same free-roam style popularised by games like The Elder Scrolls and Fallout. Instead, it plays host to a network of a self-contained hubs accessed via the world map. They can vary in terms of size, depending on their relevance to the many story arcs taking place. Where some are tiny and outfitted exclusively for combat encounters others can be vast, housing entire complexes comprised of multiple areas.
Wherever players end up, they’ll always be treated to an isometric view of the action – yet another throwback to PC roleplaying games of the nineties. Although effective, it can take some getting used to on console, as can Wasteland’s menu system. With so much information to convey, managing your party often requires a fair amount of switching between tabs in a menu, and this same awkward framework also applies to gameplay. Moving around and talking to other characters is easy enough, but initiating combat and interacting with objects of interest can be fiddly at times due to the lack of an mouse cursor.
Combat in Wasteland 2 is a completely turn-based affair with each scenario being its own tactical skirmish. Using a limited number of action points, you’ll move characters into position while issuing attack orders. By calculating distance, weapon skill, and armour rating, the game will generate numbers and percentages that reflect the combat prowess of you and your opponents. Upon victory, the grid-like battle overlay will disappear, allowing you to loot fallen enemies and continue with your mission.
As much as I liked the combat system in Wasteland 2, there are similar games – like XCOM – that have done it better and with more finesse. Waiting for enemies (and even your own squad mates) to carry out simple actions takes a little too long and the rudimentary fighting animations also lack a degree of dynamism, making it difficult to become immersed in these otherwise tense encounters.
Sadly, this trend carries right through the rest of the game. Though detailed and brimming with character, environments don’t look all that polished and are populated with static clusters of NPCs who look more like decorations than actual people. Either way, there’s still plenty of lore with which to bring the game world to life, often conveyed through some brilliant voicework.
Wasteland 2 is an excellent game, but at the same time does nothing particularly new or ground-breaking within the RPG genre. It’s easy to see why PC gamers have become so enamoured with it, yet it’s hard to imagine Wasteland garnering the same appeal on consoles. Despite inXile’s valiant effort in bringing the game to PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, it never feels quite at home.
Version tested: PlayStation 4