The Rabbit Hole Goes Deep
Wasteland 2 is all about the gray areas. And that’s how players like it. I recently had the chance to get a preview of the game from inXile’s Brian Fargo, and chatted about consequences, community, and immersion in the upcoming party-based RPG.
Wasteland 2 as it stands is nearly in its final, complete, form. Last week, early access players got a major update that brought major updates online for those already playing the beta version. The team is focused on the last weeks of polish and balance for the game, especially in the second of the two major locations in Wasteland 2 - Los Angeles. The game begins, however, in the dusty, desert remains of Arizona once we “finally ended the world”, according to a live action intro movie that gives us a glimpse at the origins of the Desert Rangers, as well as some of the factions and people we’ll meet on our journey. The intro opens with a quote from General Vargas, who you’ll be hearing a lot from during the game, and it closes with a funeral. Once the intro ends, you’ll find yourself at that very same funeral, which is only the beginning of the immersion Wasteland 2 promises. In fact, after creating your character, your very first assignment is to investigate the death of Ace, the fellow Ranger whose duty ended with his “retirement party” six feet under.
The game is party-based, and your party will consist of seven members, not including any pets that might be charmed. In one of the short demos, there was a goat named Aberforth following the party (which is an amusing reference for the Harry Potter fans out there), and there will be other animals one can get to accompany the Rangers. I asked how many NPCs players would get to choose from and a little more about them. There will be about 12-15 that players can encounter, and these include Angela Deth, Scotchmo (who is kind of a drunken bum), Ralphy (young and eager to help the Rangers), Sister Rose, and others. Angela is someone you can talk to right away, at Ace’s grave. She’s the first person you can recruit, and having her around is valuable, since she knew Ace well. You don’t have to take her or even talk to her, however, as this game is all about choice and its effects.
NPCs have their own personalities, strengths, and weaknesses and can even affect the party’s decisions and tactics. Keep Scotchmo around and your liquor supply might dwindle. In one of the demoed battles, the party was fighting a dangerous group that was threatening others with a nuclear missile on their turf. Angela suddenly took over and decided to take the initiative and call the tactics, finishing the last guy off. If your leadership skills are high, that’s less likely to happen, but it doesn’t mean NPCs’ personalities won’t shine through. Perception bonuses will also uncover hidden options, so they’re worth cultivating. There are so many ways to go through this game, and that is a very good thing.
When it comes to player choice, you’ve come to the right place. The game they have created at inXile won’t bring the same experience to players. Sure, you might hit some of the same occurrences, and arrive at some shared certain story situations, but getting there, even for friends, will generally happen in a different way. It also makes the game much more replayable. Some games are much more obvious in their choices, while delineating some of the moral impact off the bat. Wasteland 2 isn’t going to make things black and white in the least. That would be too easy. Consequences, with real impact that is hard to predict, are often missing from the modern RPG.
“And that’s what takes these things so long. I call them narrative sandbox games” because of all the possible narrative threads that player actions can open up. It’s intricate. You can do a specific thing or take a certain NPC with you and open something up. “Or you can shoot the guy in the head,” he adds, closing that thread off to you any further.
Here, just about anything can happen depending on actions you take, how you resolve certain situations (or if you simply avoid taking action at all), who you talk to, how you talk to them, and even which NPCs you recruit, use, or keep.
Some decisions you will make will have an impact way down the line. You might not even know exactly what triggered an incident or event. This game aims to take you and put you in this world, and that immersion can even extend to your NPC companions. One of the potential companions you can pick up might undergo a serious personality shift if kept in your party to experience a certain event later. Another sliver of an event will only happen if you keep one NPC in your party past a certain late point. Your NPCs aren’t just going to be good for unlocking events, however, as they’re an integral part of the game for multiple reasons.
There’s a dialogue option attributes system that allows for new paths or solutions to open up based upon which members of your party possess these dialogue options, as well as which you choose to use. These attributes, Kick Ass, Kiss Ass, or Hard Ass, can lead to some friendly persuasion or conflict avoidance, earn you some new gear or information, or offer up strategic planning. It might make the difference between using a pistol or a stronger shotgun or between chatting someone up and going in guns blazing, questions asked later.