Global Nuclear War was a thing in the year 1998 that lead to a group of US Army Rangers wholing up in the American southwest for nearly a century. The “Desert Rangers” first graced PC gaming in 1988’s Wasteland as they investigated a series of disturbances that ultimately led them to discover and defeat a larger threat to the remnants of humanity. Even more dangerous to the world of Wasteland was the game’s publisher, Electronic Arts, who had exacted their control of the Wasteland property preventing the developer Interplay from creating a sequel which led them to create the spiritual successor series Fallout instead.
It has been 16 years since the original released and the Desert Rangers are primed to return to gaming after the purchase of rights by InXile Entertainment which is led by Brian Fargo the producer/co-designer of Wasteland. InXile launched an extremely successful Kickstarter campaign that secured nearly $3 million in crowdfunding to finally make the sequel that fans always wanted. Wasteland 2 has now entered beta testing for both Kickstarter backers and those willing to shell out the cash money for Steam Early Access. Despite the rough estimate of only 30% of the content being available, the quality of Wasteland 2 is evident.
Much like the original and its spiritual successors, Wasteland 2 is about the post-apocalyptic environment with its struggles showcased in a tongue in cheek manner full of witty dialogue and moral choices. Mutants, cyborgs, and bandits populate the world and it is up to the players created group of Desert Rangers to traverse and survive the wasteland. The initial group of 4 rangers can be customised in appearance and skill building a team that will either succeed or fail in the harshness of the world. There are no rules in setting up squad leaving the player with endless options. Want to roll with a team of four snipers or makes things more difficult by only using a single brawler? Wasteland 2 says go ahead, it will not hold anyone’s hand.
Quite a few detractors of Fallout 3 had issue with the switch from the top down isometric view point to first person. Wasteland 2 sticks its roots with a top-down RPG perspective that should appease both fans of the original and first two Fallout titles. Combat is turn-based and focused on action points which control how far characters can move and what skills they can use while in combat per a turn. Depending on the character build, it tends to work out a bit like the recent incarnation of XCOM where there is a closer area that you can both move and attack once in and a bit wider area that you can only move to.
Missions try to guide the players way across the wasteland but the openness allows access off the beaten path as long as the party has water and no fear of running into enemies that are faster and stronger. Smaller optional missions are found through exploration while the more elaborate missions are from major plot characters such as being radioed in by the General at the ranger’s headquarters. Quite a few seemed to favor player choice between the combat and noncombat route with multiple solutions. Pay the toll or resist and fight the bandits. Choices seemed to be a bit typical of games that follow a similar philosophy but that could just be due to the limited amount of content in the early access beta.
Like the Fallout series, Wasteland 2 is filled with humor that isn’t just limited to witty dialogue. If players search the desert thorough enough they can find a stash of ET Atari cartridges long rumored to be buried in desert. There is a option on the main menu to buy expensive “Red Boots DLC” for $49.95 and when clicked pops up with a message of just kidding. The game is filled with jokes and references like these that tend to keep it light.
The final impression we have of the early access for Wasteland 2 after several hours of play is that it showcases the start of a very promising game that needs a lot of work. Performance was uneven and the limited amount of content (30% is the number everyone is running with) left the world feeling a bit empty. These can and will probably be fixed by release but we found lack of tutorial is a bit troubling. The game drops you off running with not so much of a how to do leaving players to reference a quick reference card for keybinds in an attempt to figure the game out. This is how things tended to be handled in the old days and is considered hardcore but might end up driving away players that prefer the pampered approach. That would be a shame considering Wasteland 2 looks to bring classic pc gaming to a new generation.