Wasteland 2 is the official sequel to 1998’s venerated cult classic, Wasteland. It’s an attempt to combine old school story-driven PC gaming with today’s more updated graphics and combat mechanics. To those ends, it succeeds.
Wasteland 2 was yet another example of how massively successful Kickstarter campaigns can be, if done right. It was developed by InXile Studios, an indie company with some phenomenal isometric (top-down) RPG design sensibilities.
Set fifteen years after the events of the original, players take charge of the newest gaggle of greenhorn recruits representing the Desert Rangers. The Desert Rangers trace their origins back to a small company of Army engineers who were building bridges deep in the deserts of Arizona. When all hell broke loose and a nuclear conflict annihilated most of [sniff] civilization, these engineers survived because of their isolation. Now, a fellow ranger has been found dead, and your fresh-faced (albeit under-equipped and trained) squad of recruits are tasked with finding out who (or what) killed him.
Players can either assemble a group of four pre-made characters, or they have the freedom of creating their own from scratch. Additional party members may join the group as they travel throughout the dreary, post-nuclear, southwestern state, and these tag-alongs can be invaluable in helping to round out your team. Unfortunately, sometimes they can have a mind of their own, and embracing their independent streak, race off into combat like a bat out of hell.
What impressed me from the get-go was the deep character customization, which allows you to really dig-in creatively, and forge memorable characters from the ground up. Giving players the ability to make each character look, sound, fight, and be as trained as you want in what you want, is somewhat rare these days and really connects the player to the characters they’re creating.
Wasteland 2’s hefty story is delivered mainly through dialogue, which is conveyed to the player through either voice-acted conversations, or text discussions. I was immediately struck with how engrossing and rich Wasteland 2’s story was, and was quickly drawn into the interesting initial mystery surrounding Ace’s (your fellow Ranger) demise. The periodic calls from Ranger’s Citadel (your party’s home base) and other outlying Ranger units, really make you care about what’s going on, and only serve to further elevate the sense of immersion. What I also found rather nifty was the fact that the decisions (some of which are very gut-wrenching) can effect later game events, which gives Wasteland 2 a very dynamic appeal, as well as increase its replay-ability. Delving into the story and unraveling its mysteries is a return to old school gaming greatness, and is delivered perfectly.
Combat in Wasteland 2 is tactical turn-based fare and is highly strategic in nature. It requires players to know each individual character’s strengths and weaknesses in order to win engagements, as opposed to mashing buttons like a madman. A typical battle involves the player maneuvering each party member behind various forms of cover in order to give them the best chance of hitting their targets, while not leaving them as open to attacks. Combat can be grim and unforgiving, making them extremely exciting. Players have to really be methodical in their approach to each violent encounter, lest they lose a beloved Ranger which they invested a lot of time and energy into. That’s right; if a character goes down guns blazing in combat, they are gone forever, so training a surgeon or field medic or two is a wise choice.
The graphics of Wasteland 2 are really nice, and complement the game’s unabashedly old school style, while also giving homage to the original Wasteland. In an ode to the original Fallout, it also features an isometric view with a rotatable camera, which in my opinion, is one of the best ways to oversee and handle strategic combat. Those in the 4k gaming community will be particularly treated when they zoom in from the top-down perspective and behold all of the minute details within the game’s visuals. The score and sound effects are also brilliantly implemented, and every voice-acted conversation and radio broadcast is a real pleasure to listen to. They never feel forced or contrived.
Wasteland 2 is a real gem of an indie game, one that is defined by its deep, immersive storytelling, tough decision-making choices, and fun problem solving. I really felt invested in the characters I’d created, as well as the story that I was discovering, piece-by-piece. As someone who always appreciates the underdog, Wasteland 2 is a remarkable achievement for a crowd funded, indie title.
While Wasteland 2’s graphics are decidedly old school in style, that doesn’t mean they aren’t gorgeous to look out. To get the most out them, consider upgrading your PC gaming rig with something like this:
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