In 1988 a game came out that setup on of my favorite genres in gaming. That game was called Wasteland, and the genre is built is the post-apocalyptic role playing game. The game was originally designed to be a franchise, but the planned sequels never seemed to materialize. What did happen, however, is that the setting was used as the basis for a little game called Fallout, which did turn into an excellent franchise that’s still doing well today. I love Fallout, but I was always disappointed by the fact that I hadn’t gotten to play the game that inspired it, mostly because I was eight when it came out.
While Fallout lives on today, it is a very, very different game. What was once a third-person, dialog-driven isometric RPG has been adapted into a first-person RPG-shooter. Don’t get me wrong, I have think the new school Fallout works extremely well, but it does make me yearn for an old-school experience. And that’s where the long, long delayed sequel, Wasteland 2 comes in.
Let me just say this right off the bat: Wasteland 2 is delightfully old school, and in all the best ways. It starts before you even get to play, with a full-motion video sequence. Let me explain for the benefit of my younger readers. Once upon a time, full-motion video, or FMV, was cutting edge stuff. The problem was, it looked absolutely terrible. FMV was extremely low resolution, with poor audio, amateur acting, and lousy special effects. But players of the day didn’t care, because there was a real, honest to god video in their game, and that was cool. Wasteland 2 takes this awful, awful concept and does it right. The quality is high, the acting is solid. This makes it look like maybe, just maybe, we gave up on FMV too quickly.
This quickly becomes a theme in playing Wasteland 2. Not FMV specifically, of course, but you very quickly begin to notice a lot of gaming conventions that have disappeared over the years, even though a lot of them still work very, very well. For instance, it used to be the the standard in RPGs to have a party of four to eight characters, but modern games eschew this in favor of a single protagonist. I think both approaches have their merits and drawbacks, so it’s nice to see a game really embrace the multiple-character party. And this isn’t just a lip-service approach; the game is tailored to require multiple characters with diverse skills. Even with a well-rounded party, odds are you still won’t have enough to adequately cover every situation.
While you lose out on some of the big pluses of a single protagonist, such as well developed NPCs and a closer focus on personal developments, the trade-offs are worth it.
Wasteland 2 also uses some gaming mechanics that I generally dislike, particularly turn-based combat. I’ve never been big on turn-based combat in action or role-playing games (strategy gets a pass), but this game does it really well. Somehow it manages to make turn-based combat feel hectic and chaotic. Probably the biggest single reason for this is that additional party members – those not in your core group – can decide to go rouge at any time. If you’re leadership skills aren’t high enough, those characters are going to break your control and engage on their own. In the early game, this worked out in my favor, but as it drew on, it got much more dangerous.
One aspect of this game that I really about the game is that your characters aren’t the shining knights of the post-apocalyptic world. Try as you might, you’re simply never going to be able to please everyone all the time. Wasteland 2 is a game of compromises; please one group of people, and you isolate another. Save one town, and another is doomed. Compare that to most games on the market today, where by the end you have mastered every skill, killed every enemy, and befriended every friendly person in the land, and Wasteland 2 feels almost cruelly realistic.
Wasteland 2 represents all the best things old-school RPGs had to offer, only with much better technology. If you like RPGs, over just the post-apocalyptic setting, check out Wasteland 2.
Remember how I said that I felt kind of bad that I was never able to experience the original game? Well, I might be over twenty years late, but Wasteland 2 ships with the original, which is a really cool bonus.