REVIEW: Wasteland 2: Director’s Cut

Friday, January 15th, 2016

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Wasteland 2 Director's Cut | Title Screen
Title Wasteland 2: Director’s Cut
Developer inXile Games
Publisher inXile Games
Release Date October 13-15, 2015
Genre Computer Role Playing Game
Platform Windows, Linux, PS4, Xbox One
Age Rating M (Mature)
Official Website

There aren’t many games capable of overwhelming me with minutiae. I’ve put 140 hours into Final Fantasy Tactics, 150 hours into The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt and 90 hours into Final Fantasy VII. I love losing myself in a game with detailed character progression, voluminous inventory management and copious skill sets to choose from. If there’s one thing I can say about these games it’s that despite their massive breadth, they manage to keep me engaged. Unfortunately, in the 30 hours I spent on Wasteland 2 on PS4, I got lost in the desert during the journey.

Wasteland 2: Director’s Cut is an enhanced version of the direct sequel to the classic post apocalyptic RPG Wasteland from 1988. The original version of Wasteland 2 was launched for PC as an early access title on December 13, 2013 and later received an official release on September 19th, 2014. There were plans to release a ‘Game of the Year’ edition in 2015, which eventually evolved into the ‘director’s cut’, which is the version I reviewed. In both the original game from ’88 (which I played as a wee bairn back in the day) and in its widely anticipated sequel, you control a group of characters in an organization called the Desert Rangers, who have taken it upon themselves to restore order to a chaotic, irradiated post apocalyptic world which has collapsed into anarchy. They have to face all manner of threats, from various bands of brigands to mutant monsters to robots and even a malevolent super computer. The first game came out when post apocalyptic video games were still in their infancy, so Wasteland took most of its storytelling cues from the same sci-fi genre as Fallout. In many ways, it was Fallout before Fallout (Wasteland predated the legendary Bethesda series by 11 years).

Wasteland 2 DC | Irradiated Wasteland

Oh, what a day! WHAT A LOVELY DAY!

On its own, the genre once would have enticed me. But the ‘irradiated badlands’ genre is played too straight in Wasteland 2 and this is a setting that sorely needs innovation in order to avoid feeling derivative. Even though it remains faithful to its own mythology, frequently recalling events and characters from the original game, it all feels so standard and by the numbers that they could have just as easily called it Fallout Tactics Plus and it would have fooled me. It’s the type of game where you wander through harsh desert environments, explore abandoned laboratories and mosey into slapdash shantytowns constructed from train cars within rail yards. You fight giant mutant frogs, leather clad hooligans swinging lead pipes and rogue androids with arm lasers. None of this separates Wasteland 2 from the proverbial pack, and I think this is because of developer inXile Games’ strict adherence to the original game’s lore. I find this equal parts admirable and unfortunate, because it’s been nearly thirty years since the first Wasteland and the industry has had a lot of time to both mimic and perfect this genre. Wasteland 2 doesn’t ever feel like its pushing any envelopes or breaking any new ground. It’s so bent on being a relic of the past, and while it accomplished that goal (to a fault), playing this game made me all too aware of just why this particular genre is all but extinct in the modern market. And while I’m sure inXile (and their fans) are pleased with the game, a lack of distinction is NOT a distinction.

As for the gameplay itself, Wasteland 2 is an overhead turn based RPG, and it must be said that PC is the architecture where I feel it will be best experienced; this is definitely a mouse and keyboard kinda game. So right off the bat, I’d recommend you play it on PC if the option is available to you. You get into random fights, complete quest objectives and work on multiple branching storylines at your own pace. One of the nice things about the questlines is that, like Fallout 3, decisions you make can permanently alter the world and the way some NPCs react to you, effectively locking some paths from further access. Even more interesting is how NPCs that join your group react to your behavior, as they have their own moral compasses and objectives and when your choices conflict with that, they will leave your party. Those you manage to keep in your good graces can be dropped off at your home base and swapped out with other NPC helpers you’ve gathered in your travels, and you can mix and match as you please. This is one of the best aspects of Wasteland 2, in my opinion. On top of being given plenty of options for setting up a balanced party by gathering reserve forces in this fashion, the potential of losing a valuable NPC over a moral impasse is an interesting mechanic, as you have to carefully consider how you are going to play if you intend to stay one happy family. Having to weigh your options in this manner is a system of engagement I appreciated, as it created a level of interactive storytelling the industry as a whole needs more of.

Wasteland 2 DC | Exploration

Half were Cubs fan, half Sox fans. A schism threatens peace.

However, despite the compelling NPC social dynamics, interacting with the world and its characters wasn’t as gripping as it could have been. Sometimes there’s in game speech to identify important NPCs, but the voices and voice acting don’t go beyond serviceable quality. In most cases, dialogue was delivered with almost deadpan levels of apathy that took me out of the moment more often than not. In-game speech is tricky in a game like Wasteland 2 because you spend most of your time interacting with others by reading word balloons, which allows you to put your own emphasis and voice to these characters and their attitude. Hearing a voice for a character is an indication that something important is happening, thus dulling one’s sense of interactivity with the environment. That is fine when it works, but when it doesn’t go as anticipated it can have the opposite effect and result in disengagement. And if that wasn’t bad enough, there are so many wildly branching dialogue trees that I eventually felt overwhelmed by it all. If these were interesting conversations, that would have been fine, but once I learned that they were just needlessly verbose ways to flag new quests that did little to enhance the overall experience, I found myself not caring so long as objectives were being flagged at the end of it. It could be argued that this intricate narrative form of quest acquisition is one of the game’s virtues, but my eyes glazed over from reading all of this world building that did nothing to hold my attention. As I said earlier, Wasteland 2 does so little to distinguish itself in the genre that it didn’t matter which warlord was mad at which bartender, or which deranged desert dweller was telling me about which long lost irradiated city of secrets they once hailed from.

And if that wasn’t enough to make me dread the next NPC interaction, I found that the text font and dialogue interface were difficult to read, far too small on my screen and didn’t stand out enough from the word balloons behind them. There were a few times where I ended up aggravating a NPC to violence without even knowing why because I lost interest in the dialogue and mashed buttons, eventually choosing the aggressive option to force conflict. That’s definitely my own fault, but as someone that’s normally capable of handling a dense narrative, given some of the games I’ve played and enjoyed over the years, I can’t help but think that Wasteland 2 could have done something more to involve me in this regard.

Wasteland 2 DC | End of Game Nuke Screen

What happened when I got bored and kept pushing buttons. But hey…TROPHY!

Keep crossing the Wasteland to get to shelter on page 2!

About Tom Tolios

Really smart, talks too much, loves the video games and the Star Wars and the Game of Thrones, likes the manga and some anime and knows that Kentaro Miura's Berserk is the greatest thing ever made.


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