Many of today's most ardent MMO players came to the genre via the path blazed by the old school RPGs of the late-20th and early 21st centuries. Neverwinter Nights, Baldur's Gate, Planescape: Torment and others brought the tabletop gaming experience championed by Dungeons & Dragons to the computer generation beginning, at least most notably, with 1988's Wasteland. Interplay's Wasteland told a post-apocalyptic tale set in the dusty southwest United States and has long been hailed as one of the finest examples of turn-based RPGs ever made.
As with many things, however, Wasteland fell off most people's radars as newer shinier games came along to take its place including, of course, the Fallout series, the spiritual, if not actual, successor to the game. A generation has passed since the original Wasteland but it's one of those games that never really left the popular consciousness of RPG fanatics.
Enter a new century, the second decade in fact, and the whole notion of KickStarter and crowd-funding games. One of Wasteland's original developers, Brian Fargo, left Interplay to form inXile Entertainment in 2003 but it wasn't until 2012 that the KickStarter initiative for Wasteland 2 was announced along with the news that many of the original development team would also be working on the sequel including Alan Pavlish, Ken St. Andre, Liz Danforth and Michael A. Stackpole along with Obsidian's Chris Avellone helping out with design and writing. Wasteland 2 became one of the earliest and most quickly funded KickStarter projects ever proving that the 'old school RPG' is still fashionable and desired.
So what is Wasteland 2? With early beta access granted to supporters, we took the game for a spin to find out.
Entering the game will feel familiar to anyone who has played an MMO or an RPG as the first order of duty is to create one's character. The difference, however, is that Wasteland 2 is a party-based game with four characters adventuring together. Players can choose premade characters but can also customize their own character with choices available for many features (face, body, skin color, etc.). In addition, players are encouraged to write their character's back story and to choose his/her religion, whether or not one smokes and other seemingly small details that will eventually have an impact on the story.
From there, players need to round out the party with three other characters that can be chosen from among several available. Each potential team mate brings his or her own skills to the table and it is well worth the time to carefully consider a party's balance. The vast array of available skills and abilities is staggering and is a strong hint that making a character that is a "Jack of all trades" is not the best way to play Wasteland 2. In fact, it could almost be emphatically stated that it's an impossibility. There is simply no way to make adequate use of the sparingly granted level up points to make a character that can literally do it all. It is with this in mind that party composition will become crucial to one's success, particularly on higher difficulty levels. Micro-managers will be particularly please at the ability to tweak the group to just the right specs even if not able to do so with the main character.
Combat will feel strange to we who have become so accustomed to fast-paced action RPGs or MMOs. Wasteland 2 is a definite throw back with its turn-based combat. Luckily, players can choose a speed up option that will hustle it along if so desired. It's also worthwhile to note that the game can be somewhat stingy when it comes to ammunition and healing kits so, again, it's cruicial to carefully consider party composition and skill point allocation to make sure that everyone can be healed and can enter combat with melee weapons if needed.
Wasteland 2 takes place about fifteen years after the original game but the post-apocalyptic setting remains the same. Players are not wet-behind-the-ears characters but take on the role of a Ranger, a group tasked with keeping the peace in dusty Arizona. From the initial game moments, the party is tasked with important duties that include helping area settlements and discovering what happened to a Ranger sent out to fix a communications array nearby.
Sounds simple, right?
Wrong. As with most classic RPGs, players are faced with important and game-altering decisions. After finding the missing Ranger's body and picking up the required materials to fix the communications array, players are then sent to a pair of strategic nearby villages to get things up and running again. Problem is that both are under attack and both need the Ranger's assistance now. The dilemma, of course, is where to go first at the expense of the other call for assistance.
Once the decision to 'save' one or the other is made, the story progresses with attendant consequences. On the first time through, players, because of their choices, may only see half the game leading to an opportunity to replay later to see the other side.
This brings up one of the most interesting new features in Wasteland 2: The way the story is told. Players are given a radio which allows them to not only keep in contact with The Citadel, the Ranger base of operations, but also to hear communications from nearby towns and villages. The two distress calls from the towns mentioned above came through the static-y radio along with background screams and ill-timed and dramatic cut outs that leave the player wondering what on earth had just happened.
The radio also lets players check in with Ranger command to update their progress and, yes indeed, to pass quests. Rewards are given on the fly as well. Anyone from the 'golden age of RPGs' will rejoice in not being forced to slog back to the quest hub only to be sent right back to where they'd just been!
The story just keeps getting better too. The writing is fantastic and darkly comedic with tons of conversation points to try out and back story to learn. It's worth the time to have different party members speak as well since each brings their own 'persuasion' skills to the table.
In short, fans of story-based RPGs will love Wasteland 2. It can only be imagined how much more expansive the story gets beyond what is contained in the beta (or at least further along than I got!).
As is expected, the Wasteland 2 world is dusty and desolate. Towns are very small and are represented by a few shanties cobbled together in a defensive perimeter, each with its own specialty to help the Rangers and those they protect survive. One, for instance, grows super radiation-sized vegetables. In other words, the world has not suddenly regained its feet in the preceding fifteen years.
Travel between towns and locations is accomplished through a familiar feeling world map. Moving from one point to another on the map requires the use of water, the lifeblood of any desert denizen. Along the way, players may encounter oases where canteens can be refilled, nuclear hot spots that need to be avoided until radiation gear is secured, or wandering packs of animals that can be fought if desired.
The world is also packed with caves to explore, stuff to pick up, monsters to kill, side quests to be discovered and much more. A lot of great Easter eggs regarding the original Wasteland have been placed throughout the game in item descriptions, locations, and conversations to name a few. All are sure to delight those who fondly look back at the original.
Shaping Up to Be Something Special
Wasteland 2 is shaping up to be something special, something that, at least in this present decade, has been sorely lacking. inXile Entertainment, with its roots firmly planted in the genre, has made a game that is compelling and fun that recalls favorably the 'golden era' of the story-based RPG. In addition, they have added some decidedly updated features to bring in a new generation of players. Wasteland 2 is definitely one of the year's most interesting and exciting games to watch.
What about you? Have you already tried Wasteland 2? Thinking about it? Let us know what you think in the comments.
Suzie Ford is the Associate Editor and News Manager at MMORPG.com. You can follow her on Twitter @MMORPGMom.