It's All About the Nostalgia
The year was 1988. I was 12 years old and I lived on my Commodore 64. A handful of groundbreaking games were released that year, including King's Quest IV, Bard's Tale III, Ultima V, and Pool of Radiance. It was an important time for the RPG genre, but no single game meant more to me than Interplay's Wasteland.
Fast forward 26 years later and my inner 12-year-old is particularly excited about today seeing the retail launch of the game's sequel. Even if you've never played the original, you're probably still aware of Wasteland 2, thanks to a record-breaking Kickstarter campaign and the uproar from old fogey gamers like myself.
The premise is simple: You're the next generation of Desert Ranger in the American Southwest. A nuclear war and meteor event in 1998 destroyed most of society, and it's up to you to restore life to the barren desert survivors 15 years after the last band of rangers attempted the same thing. If this all sounds a bit too cliche, that's part of the game's charm. Wasteland 2 isn't trying to reinvent the RPG, but it is trying to reignite what made the original game so great.
As someone who loved the original, I approached this game with caution. Could it live up to my unreasonable fanboy standards? Can it possibly surpass Wasteland as my favorite game of all time?
Although Wasteland 2's visual style looks dated, that's really the point. The game's graphics closely mimic that of its younger siblings Fallout 1 and 2, but with a touch of modern flair. The UI is comprehensive and nostalgic, the WASD controls are simple, and the manually rotating 3D camera allows for much more exploration than the early top-down RPGs afforded.
That said, there's only so far you can go with that combination of nostalgia and visual style. Since Minecraft turned everything we thought we loved about video game graphics on its head, it's been more difficult to accurately pinpoint what makes a game look "good." Forget realism and polygon count, gamers just want to enjoy themselves. But I think that Wasteland 2's visual style could have been more robust and taken advantage of the tools we have available today.
One thing about Wasteland 2 that most young gamers might not enjoy is its pace. The game is slow. Between the turn-based combat, the continuously branching dialogue, and the hidden loot, you may spend several hours just in one simple quest. I don't consider that a bad thing, but you might want to throw out everything you know about twitch-based, hack n' slash games and grab a sandwich and a drink for this one.
But that said, the pace is extremely rewarding. When you spend so much time preparing each party member's next move, you really get a genuine sense of immersion into the task at hand. And when the battle's over, you want to make sure you run your mouse cursor over every single inch of that room -- while rotating the camera all the way around -- to find every hidden bullet or merchant fodder you can hold.
As with the original Wasteland, loot is sacred, so you want to make sure you are grabbing everything you can in those first levels. This isn't your Bethesda Fallout game, so you're not going to get rich reselling scrap metal and coffee mugs. Every single bullet counts in this game, and that's the way it should be in a post-apocalyptic wasteland.
The storyline is really where the game shines the most to me. Straight away from the first NPC you meet, you'll notice that connection to the original game. Although the sequel takes place 15 years after the original, many of the people you meet will be very familiar. I think creator Brian Fargo and his team at InXile did a fantastic job of catering to those of us who loved the original Wasteland.
And can we talk about difficulty? I appreciated the challenge in the original game because your resources were limited (there was a finite amount of ammo in the game world), there was real consequence for your actions, and you could royally screw up your game by making the wrong decisions. In Wasteland 2, you had better plan ahead with enough med kits, ammo, and skills, or you're going to be remaking your party very soon. The enemies are challenging and the AI is unforgiving.
I had to score innovation low because this game isn't about reinventing the wheel. As stated above, Wasteland 2 is aimed directly at those of us who enjoyed the original game 26 years ago, and that's what makes the game so great. I understand that this game is the way it is because the Kickstarter supporters (i.e. those older gamers who loved the original) had a huge influence on its developmental direction, but I really would have liked to have seen some innovation in line with what the original game accomplished back in its day.
During the early access period, this game was plagued by bugs, but most of those seem to have been squashed for launch. I won't hold the early access issues against the game, but it's important to gauge how far it has come since last December. This release version is as polished as you'd expect a game from a team of designers with this much experience.
As with any party-based RPG with a choose-your-adventure style plot, replayability in Wasteland 2 is very high. Not only can you make different choices that greatly impact the direction of the story, but you can also play completely different character styles through each subsequent play-through.
I think I played the original Wasteland to completion at least a dozen times over the years and part of the fun was finding out how your friends dealt with Base Cochise or if they blew up the hobo dog stand in Needles. I don't doubt that I'll be doing the same thing with the sequel.
Wasteland's 2's value depends on several variables. If you were an original backer of the game's Kickstarter campaign a few years back, you're getting the game bundled with a variety of real-world and virtual rewards, depending on your pledge level. Most backers have been playing since the alpha release in December of last year, so that right there is quite a value. Steam's Early Access came bundled with the original Wasteland, the original Bard's Tale, two digital novellas, the soundtrack, and the digital concept art book. That's also quite a value. But if you're a brand new player looking to get into the game now, you're looking at a $60 investment, which is a tad high for a PC game.
On the plus side, when you lay down that $40 for a standard edition (or $60 for a deluxe edition), you have probably hundreds of hours of gameplay waiting for you with no hidden extras to buy (as is the case with most less expensive games). It's certainly worth the price, but with the lower cost of games these days (subsidized by cash shops, mostly) many gamers might be hit by sticker shock.
All in all, I'm very pleased with Wasteland 2 and I would highly recommend it to anyone who enjoyed the original. But for those who never played Wasteland 1, the appeal of this sequel may be a mystery. My advice for you is to pay the $5.99 for the original game on Steam and play it to the end. Know your roots, kids! And get off my lawn!
- Visuals – 8: Top-down view is for nostalgia's sake, but more modern visual improvements would have been welcome.
- Gameplay – 10: This is what a deep RPG should be. Everything from the story to the combat to the hidden Easter Eggs are brilliant.
- Innovation – 6: Not much innovation here, but that's also kind of the point.
- Polish – 8: Tons of bugs in alpha and beta, but the release version is much better. Not perfect, but better.
- Longevity – 9: As with the original Wasteland, the sequel is made to play over and over again.
- Value – 8: Great value, at $39.99 for the basic edition.