For those who pledged $55 or more to Wasteland 2 during its Kickstarter campaign, a shiny new early access beta key was waiting for them earlier this week. This Steam key allowed early-access players into this very early beta build to kick the tires a bit and see how this game works.
Read on for my impressions of Wasteland 2 from the perspective of both an original Wasteland fan and a modern gamer.
Wasteland 2 is a top-down, three-quarter view RPG set in the post-apocalyptic American Southwest. Much as in the original, the landscape is made up of desert and clouds of radiation to act as map borders. In fact, you'll find many of the exact same outposts that were found in Wasteland 1, including the Ranger Station, Highpool, and the Rail Nomad Camp.
The game uses turn-based tactical combat and a party capacity of seven, including the four player-created characters and three NPCs. The storyline is very heavy on dialogue, with some outstanding voice work and a conversation tree system very similar to that found in the Fallout games.
Of course, it's an early beta, so issues are expected, but I honestly didn't find many at all. There were a few graphical glitches and typos here and there, but the game never crashed on me, even through several Alt-Tabs to other windows and back while multitasking.
I approached this game from several angles. As an original Wasteland fan, I was looking for specific things that attracted me to the original game, including references, Easter eggs, or inside jokes. As an RPG nut, I wanted to make sure that this game had real playability and wasn't just a novelty to get us nostalgic old folks to part with our money for the sake of being 13 again. And as a modern video game fan and professional game blogger, I wanted to play this game with an empathetic eye, making sure that anyone not familiar with the original could pick it up and enjoy it.
I don't think this is really too much of a spoiler, but I need to tell you that the game starts out with your party of Desert Rangers returning from the funeral of Ace. You remember Ace, right? That mechanic guy from Quartz? Well, turns out, he got himself into a bit of a jam, and our very first mission is to recover some missing items near where he was killed. We meet Snake Vargas and Angela Deth right off the bat and learn quite a bit about what the old gang has been up to in the last 15 years.
As mentioned, you start out in the Ranger Station and quickly find familiar outposts all around you, like Highpool, the Ag Center, and the Rail Nomads Camp.
If you really pay attention to the story (and the tombstones right at the very beginning of the game), you'll find that this isn't just a new game with a new map and a few Wasteland references thrown in for a laugh; Wasteland 2 takes us right back to that original area and into this surreal situation that recaptures what you played in 1988, but better. Did I just say that? I believe I did.
Character creation has several throw-backs to the original game as you select your attributes, combat skills, knowledge skills, and general skills with very low points to distribute at first. This was always a great part of Wasteland as you really needed to give a proper role to each party member, and not just let everyone have 10 in Lockpick and 10 in Energy Weapons and 10 in Toaster Repair (yes, it's in the sequel, too) from the start. Moral decisions were a new thing for Wasteland, and in the sequel, you can choose your character's personality based on skills like Hard Ass, Smart Ass, or Kiss Ass, to name a few.
I really had a blast with character creation in general. The outfit selection seemed limited, but each choice was different enough to really add character. Once you're all set, you can pose your character for an avatar shot or choose from ready-made avatars to be used in the party window, combat, etc. There's also room for a character biography and some RP elements like nationality (true to the original) and religion. Who knows -- maybe these have a purpose later on.
The look and feel of the game is very much in that same Fallout style, but with the added benefit of a rotatable camera and updated graphics. I could probably sum up this entire article by saying that Wasteland 2 is a more sophisticated Wasteland in a Fallout shell, but it's really more than that.
As a fan of Fallout 1, 2, and Tactics, you'll appreciate the UI elements, view, and controls, but rest assured that you'll still be able to have those classic in-depth conversations with NPCs to unveil hidden hints for your quest.
One thing to be aware of is that this game is both slow-paced and heavy on the dialogue. It pains me that those elements are lost in current twitch-based action games, but having it in this game is a welcome feature. Some of the battles I've had in Wasteland 2 have taken upwards of 45 minutes to an hour as the raiders take full advantage of cover and strategy -- sometimes to the point of frustration -- but it makes combat feel worthwhile. The fact that your party members can die forever also helps quite a bit. Save early and save often, kids.
Some modern improvements have been added to the game, like the ability to strip down weapons for mods to apply to other weapons, and what looks to be a pet class mechanic with the Animal Whisperer skill (not yet implemented).
But I do feel like this game is catered more toward the older gamer or the fan of that classic style that we enjoyed with TSR's Gold Box Series or Interplay's selection of games in the early '90s. It's not that I don't think "kids these days" won't enjoy this game; I just think that they'll enjoy it for different reasons.
Brian Fargo and his team at Interplay reinvented the RPG in the late '80s and early '90s, so I look forward to seeing what that team, now at InXile, can do with the finished product. This early beta is meant to polish the game based on player feedback. As Fargo states, "With most of the mechanical issues behind us, now we can really start digging deep into the game and finding ways of taking it from good to great."
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