Polyversal Kickstarter

GrogHeads Reviews Wasteland 2

A post-apocalyptic American Southwest beckons…

Avery Abernethy, 6 December 2014

Load screen

 

Wasteland 2 is a party based RPG set in a post-apocalyptic American Southwest. The game is developed by Inxile Software headed by noted designer Brian Fargo. Mr. Fargo was lead designer on the original Wasteland released way back in 1988 and also lead designer on Fallout RPG series. This is one of the first RPGs to be largely funded through a Kickstarter campaign. I purchased this game from www.gog.com and played it for around two weeks completing approximately 90% of the game.

Although experience with the original Wasteland game is not needed to either enjoy or understand Wasteland 2, many of the game conventions and world design flow from the original. Your small, 4 person party belongs to the Desert Rangers. The Desert Rangers are attempting to bring civilization back to the Southwest after decades of post-nuclear war chaos. The player can either build their starting four party members or choose from predesigned characters bundled with the game.

Starting Party

 

Your party is led by the storyline to complete various main quests with optional sub-quests. Unlike most party based RPGs, Wasteland 2 drives the player to recruit up to three additional party members from denizens of the game world. It is largely impossible to have all of the necessary skills to complete all game tasks without additional recruits from the game world to round out your party.

Like most RPGs, lots of combat is necessary both to survive travel around the world map and to complete the game quests. There is a wide selection of weaponry including brawling, melee weapons, and a variety of guns. Players must use skill points to gain the competence needed to use weapons to their full potential and to build up noncombat skills.

Honey Badger attack

 

Travel from one main location to another takes place on the main map. Your party will have a large number of repetitive random encounters as they travel from place-to-place. The random encounters take place on a very limited number of small mini-maps. You see the same mini-maps over and over as you play the game which becomes quite repetitive. This is weaknesses of the game.

small map random encounter

 

Dangerous radiation zones prevent the party from moving freely around the main map. Major quests must be completed to obtain your initial radiation suits and to upgrade those suits to enable survival in zones that are heavily irradiated. Although your party is technically free to travel anywhere, high radiation and difficult to traverse mountain ranges will keep your party in map areas where they can survive and become more powerful.

The game interface mostly uses standard RPG controls and game conventions. But Wasteland 2’s departure from some game conventions can frustrate the player. Much of the game dialog occurs on a tiny sub-screen on the lower right hand corner of player’s viewing area. This dialog is printed and rolls forward on a miniaturized representation of a dot matrix printer. But this causes multiple problems. First, the main log book provides inadequate information on what your party has done and the progress of both main and sub-quests. Second, key game information may only appear briefly in the tiny dialogue box on the main screen and then vanish. An example from a minor quest will illustrate this problem without major spoilers.

My quest was purifying a small town’s water system. Initially there appeared to be multiple ways to purify the town’s water system. There was a water plant which was currently inoperable and there was a well which was not functioning. My party found a means of entry to the water plant and main water pipes and destroyed a number of hazards. They also found some boxes with loot. But this did not solve the quest. I then went to the well, observed it, looked for clues, talked to every conceivable NPC out there about purifying the water supply. No luck. After hours of attempts and becoming frustrated, I went to the official game forum. What was my problem? I had been given a grapple after a dialogue with an NPC. This was only mentioned briefly on the “dot matrix” printer in text. The grapple was in one of my six character’s inventory, but there was no notation of this fact on the quest itself or in the main log. Solving the quest was easy, once I finally realized that a grapple was in my pack and I could use it to clear the well.

wilderness travel

This problem of poorly updated quest information, almost unexplained equipment, and highly obscure means of solving quests is present for both the main quest and sub-quests. I have completed more than a dozen RPGs and am familiar with RPG game conventions. Some Wasteland 2 quests are frustrating due to inadequate updating of quest logs or clues which appear and disappear quickly in the dialogue box.

Game balance is also somewhat off. I played the game on average difficulty and found it to be very easy. I also came to understand that a couple of weapons were clearly superior to everything else in the wide arsenal available to the player. I initially thought this was due to some of my role-playing trade-offs in allocating skill points. But further study and consultation with some statistical assessments done by other players convinced me that some of the weapons, especially Assault Rifles, have a major advantage over other weapons.

The game has a lot of entertaining, weird items and devices. Players encounter the obscure “Davy Crockett” US weapon system and all of the really strange things that can come out of jammed toasters. There are also a number of hidden shrines which are both strange and entertaining. This “touch of the weird” is a mainstay in Brian Fargo games and players looking for these elements will not be disappointed.

The game is very adult oriented. There is drug use, criminal activity, amazingly vulgar language, and other things that would prevent many parents from allowing their children to play the game. Some of this was over-the-top and not necessary to advance the main story or to allow players to get an understanding of the game world. The “badger nut sack” which is a minor treasure item from a random encounter is just a mild example of unnecessary game vulgarity.

badger nutsack

The game was stable on my almost-four-year-old Falcon Northwest Talon PC. I had only two lock-ups or crashes in several weeks of play. The controls were logical and easy to use. The documentation of quests, quest updates, and dialogue were the only control or documentation problems that I encountered.

I loved the original Wasteland and completed it several times. The first two Fallout games, and Fallout New Vegas are among my all-time favorite RPGs. But the unnecessarily vulgar game elements of Wasteland 2 were distracting. The poor quest logs, the difficulty of identifying key dialogue, the highly-repetitive random encounters, and the weak play balance also detracted from my enjoyment of the game. These aspects of Wasteland 2 kept bleeding the fun out of the game for me. For these reasons, I would rate the game a 70 on a 100 point scale.

 

Avery Abernethy is a professor of Marketing at Auburn University and longtime game aficionado.


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