Posted on October 1, 2014, Stew Shearer Wasteland 2 Review: An Old-School Addiction
Wasteland 2 pays homage to its famous predecessor while still delivering a deeply entertaining role-playing game fraught with good ideas and solidly executed mechanics.
Twenty-six years (and one highly successful Kickstarter) in the making, Wasteland 2 puts players in charge of a squad of Desert Rangers. An understaffed and underpowered force of lawmen trying to maintain order in a merciless world, the game follows their adventures as they trek through the sands of a ruined future trying to do good.
It might not sound it, but that’s a hell of a lot easier said than done. While much of the game is grounded in the trappings of a turn-based isometric role-playing game, its most memorable moments come in the form of moral questions that rarely have easy answers and choices that come with consequences that can stretch on throughout the course of the game.
Developer: InXile Entertainment
Publisher: Deep Silver
Release Date: Sept. 19, 2014
Not five minutes after the game’s opening, for instance, you receive a pair of distress calls, one coming from a nearby agricultural center and another from a local water purification plant. Both are in trouble and both need your help, but there’s only enough time to save one. In my game I went to save the water plant. My mission there, in turn, was punctuated by the continued distress calls of the ag center, which grew more and more dire the further I delved into the problems of the village at the water plant. When I finally made it there, it was too late. The farmers were all dead and the problem had spiraled completely out of control.
The experience overall is about deciding between and embracing lesser evils.
Much to my surprise, this left me feeling incredibly guilty. Part of that is the fact that Wasteland 2 employs some surprisingly adept voice acting that really nails it when it comes to putting across the anguish and panic of people trapped in a deteriorating situation. More than that, though, it does well at giving you a sense that your actions (or inaction) have consequences outside of the present moment.
Even if saving the water plant was a good thing on its own, my concurrent failure to save the ag center was something that earned me the scorn of many a wastelander in the days to follow.
Wasteland 2 on the whole is filled with countless other moments like this, both big and small. Many of them also stray from the simplistic black and white moralities to which a lot of other modern games subscribe. A kind act can be just as disastrous as outright cruelty, and things are often much more complicated at the second glance than they seem at the first.
None of this is to suggest that the game is all darkness and cynicism. The writing is very much tinged with a dark and subtle humor that keeps the tone from ever dipping too far into despair. Even so, the experience overall is about deciding between and embracing lesser evils.
The actual gameplay, meanwhile, is based in the realm of tabletop role-playing. Combat is turn-based and employs things like cover, ability points and weapon proficiencies. All in all, it’s a solid system that, on everything but the easiest difficulty level, forces you to think strategically and build your fully customizable party so that they can cope with just about anything. It also makes good use of balancing melee and ranged weapons so that neither feels overpowered or unbalanced. When I first booted the game up, I made the mistake of creating a party ignoring melee combat in favor of firearms. You can imagine my surprise, in turn, when my bullets ran dry, my guns jammed, and my poor rangers started getting beaten to death with sticks.