Should I be excited about… Wasteland 2 (PC)
Wasteland is a game that you’d be forgiven for never having heard of, horrible young people that you are with your hippity-hop and your standing on my lawn. It’s been eclipsed by the game it spawned as a successor, Fallout – which after it’s move into the third person RPG genre is these days looking a bit too cool for school. Those damned kids on my lawn love it.
But, as with all things, what was old is new again and after a very successful Kickstarter, inXile Entertainment have recently put Wasteland 2 on to Steam’s Early Access system, returning post-apocalyptic survival to its tactical turn-based roots.
You’ll start out by assembling a party of four – none of this “solo character meeting friends on their journey” stuff – you will meet friends, and your party will grow, but from the get-go, you can have a nice balanced set of characters with complementary skills. There’s a handful of pre-made characters for you to choose from, or you can be a bit more masochistic and roll your own with a fairly rich character generator based on a familiar tabletop-esque attributes/points approach.
Play starts with your group being newly commissioned Desert Rangers – what passes for law enforcement in the isolated Arizona desert. Your first job is to find out what happened to one of your superiors whose funeral opens the game. To do that, you’ll need to navigate out of the starting area at a local level – out of combat this is as simple as just selecting all your units and right-clicking where you want them to go. Once you reach the exit from the zone, you move to the high level view of the whole territory and plan a hike to your objective. Walking through the desert costs you water, so you have to be reasonably careful with your route, and hope that along the way you will find hidden oases and supplies to refill your water supply. In the early game, this adds some significant depth to the experience, and making sure that you find efficient routes through mountains can be the difference between life and death.
Arriving where you want to be takes you back in to the local level. It doesn’t immediately descend into combat, there’s often an opportunity to engage with the inhabitants, negotiate for what you need or otherwise resolve things without bloodshed, but eventually things are likely to come to blows. All the elements you’d expect to be here are present – different weapons, ranges, cover positions and flanking, and in general combat feels pretty solid already. There’s some areas where the balance feels off, but currently the trade-off between scarce ammunition and the power of certain weapons makes for tense combat even against mutant cockroaches on a low difficulty setting (or I suck…).
What’s notable about Wasteland 2 is that choices matter. This is an element that seems to have been lacking from recent similar turn-based games, notably XCOM Enemy Unknown, where choices such as which mission to pursue affected just what resources you had at your disposal. Here, choices visibly affect the world, well articulated early on when two SOS calls from different locations come in – you can only save one of them, and a later visit to the other finds the consequences of your inaction clear. This really contributes to the rich nature of the game world, not only do your choices have an impact, but your non-choices and things that happen off-screen also have an impact. It’s not unique to Wasteland, but it’s a good touch that suggests a lot of promise.
The devs are very keen to be transparent that this isn’t a complete experience yet. There’s still some bugs and there only seems to be the first few hours of content in place. You’re going to run into missing textures, and the UI gets a little touchy in places, where trying to select an enemy to attack becomes a huge challenge. The biggest issue however is that there are a lot of reports of major slowdown on a widespread range of hardware. I’ve been fortunate enough not to encounter that, so it doesn’t affect everyone and it will almost certainly be addressed shortly, but be warned, this is still a true “Early Access” game.
As with all these kinds of games, it’s hard to give a proper opinion on the game. It’s costing £34.99 on Steam right now and for what you would get if you bought it today, that’s a very high price, but you don’t buy Early Access for what you get today, you buy it for the promise of the future. Wasteland 2 has that promise. In the short time it has been available on Steam there have already been two updates released – a far cry from many of these projects that look to put an early build out to drive sales and then don’t provide updates for the numerous problems experienced by those who have supported them. Not only that, but the vision for what the game is going to be shines through clearly.
As a demo, a small taste, the Early Access build really shows its potential and I’m beyond excited for the full version. If InXile can get the kinks ironed out and get the game polished up, I could see this making many “Game of the Year” lists in 2014, and fully justifying what at first glance is a premium price tag.