Wasteland 2 Review: Toasters are Bigger on the Inside

Wasteland is a game with a complex legacy. One of the great, classic, post-apocalyptic computer RPGs of its time, it is often forgotten. It lives in the shadow of it's bigger brother, Fallout. Complex legal issues have entwined both game series over the years. However, following a successful Kickstarter campaign, Wasteland 2 was born. Is it a worthy successor to Wasteland and Fallout? Let's find out.

# Classic Turn-Based RPG Action

Let's get this out of the way first - Wasteland 2 is a top-down turn-based RPG game, similar to the first two Fallout games and to the more recent Shadowrun Returns. If you're looking for a first-person RPG like Fallout 3 or New Vegas, this isn't the game for you.

From the start, you create a set of four characters to form your core party. You can also meet friendly NPCs in the wastes that will offer to join you, up to a maximum of 7 characters in your party total.

The game has two main modes - I'll call them "exploration" and "combat." While exploring, you'll comb new areas, talking to NPCs, trading for supplies, disarming traps, picking locks, digging stuff up, and so forth. This is all handled in real time, by clicking on people, skills, or objects to interact with them.

When things turn ugly (and they often will), combat begins. Now the game switches to a turn-based system where each character has an allotment of AP that they can use to move, fight, or use their skills. When all enemies have been slaughtered, the game automatically awards experience and switches back to the exploration mode.

# A Solid Core

Both the combat and exploration modes are well done. Exploring new areas feels interesting. Each new town contains an interesting and unique story that unfolds as you progress through it. You can make choices about how to handle various situations, and usually there are non-violent ways to resolve the various major conflicts.

Of course, violence is sometimes the only answer. The combat here is well thought out and a lot of fun to execute. Spread your team out, take cover, choose weapons, and shoot stuff. The early games in the Fallout series really set the bar for this type of combat in a RPG, and Wasteland 2 carries on that proud tradition.

Characters grow more powerful through loot and experience. Loot is plentiful - there are very few screens that lack at least a couple of lootable objects. There's a bunch of different skills and weapons to choose from, and balancing these across your entire team makes for some interesting decisions.

Wasteland 2 is a meaty game - it's easily 60+ hours of content. It isn't full of boring filler, either. Each new area has its own encapsulated storyline that keeps the short-term story progress interesting. Although you can visit areas you've been to before, there's not a lot of backtracking either.

# Issues & Gripes

I played Wasteland 2 from start to finish and mostly enjoyed my time with it. However, there are a bunch of minor issues that start to grate after a while.

The character creation system is complex to a fault. The game throws a screen full of stats and skills at you right from the start. Without really knowing what's in the game and how useful everything is, it's really hard to make these choices. The game often doesn't explain when it would be appropriate to use certain skills, or the interesting side effects that some of them have. I would have preferred the option to respec at some point, even if it was just once after a few hours of play.

When in combat, it's possible to get near certain objects and be considered "in cover," similar to the way XCOM: Enemy Unknown handles cover as a mechanic. However, it's hard to figure out just what is considered cover and what isn't. There's a little popup tooltip that is supposed to help, but it's somewhat unwieldy to have to hover over a whole bunch of squares to figure out if this spot or that spot is cover.

There are several moments that are poorly marked points of no return. There are also spots where cutscenes will remove certain NPCs from your party permanently. Carefully balancing your skills across seven characters and then having one leave the party is a real bummer.

There are a lot of unmarked missions in the game. The Toaster Repair skill unlocks dozens of these. Some items you will need to cart around for hours and hours, with no idea what the use is, until the one moment where someone will react to it. Often there's not a lot of logic involved, and it's a matter of reading a guide to figure out what to do.

While the exploration is generally well done, there aren't a lot of puzzles to solve here. Most of the game boils down to random dice rolls on skills. You've got to know ahead of time what the game is going to throw at you, and train the proper skill levels to make the roll likely to succeed. Most NPCs don't care what you say to them, so often dialog trees are reduced to just clicking every option until you run out.

While most of the script is very well written - clever and creative - there are bits here and there where it doesn't seem like the editing was 100% complete before shipping. I get that impression from several aspects of the game. It seems like the first half got extra attention and polish that the second half is missing.

Bug-wise, the game's not that bad. I had one crash the entire time, which is quite good for a game of this size and length. There were a few camera glitches here and there which I would classify as usually being minor. Occasionally in combat they might make me miss a turn as I was unable to get my character where they needed to go, but otherwise it was cosmetic.

# The Verdict

In the end, Wasteland 2 is a good game. It appeals to the nostalgia factor of the Fallout series while (mostly) successfully bringing old school PC RPG gaming into the modern era. It's not perfect, and it feels like it's a couple of patches short of being finished, but it's still a solid experience. Any fan of classic Interplay or Black Isle RPGs will find themselves right at home here.