"In the beginning,there was Interplay. Interplay became Wasteland. In times past, Fallout was made in the image and likeness of Wasteland. All was well, and the Prophet Fargo was restored. But he rested too much, and the spirit of his creation was redeemed, and he strayed into paths unholy and very console and false. In the fullness of time, the Prophet was forced to act. So, after a brief reconciliation with the believers who never lost their devotion to the Faith and the Idea, despite the lures, empty promises and the corrosive influence of the Bethesda plague, in the year 2014 the Prophet married the two dynasties, and became Wasteland 2. And it was all GREAT. Amen."
~Excerpt from the prayer book of the Church of St. Purist of RPG~
The above religious text perfectly and reverently sums up the whole atmosphere surrounding the recent release of Wasteland 2. The product of a highly successful kickstarter campaign (since, as Fargo himself explains in the masterful video that accompanied the kickstarter launch, no major publisher was willing to fund the creation of the title without ridiculously unreasonable demands and tweaks to the basic concept), it is theoretically "just" the direct sequel to the first Wasteland, 26 long years after its release. Yet it also manages to close a huge circle, essentially being a mash-up of Wasteland and Fallout (both "children" of Fargo, after all), with the world and setting of the former masterfully blended with the gameplay and ironically black humor of the latter.
So let's dig up the Desert Ranger hat and star out of the dustbin for the glorious return to the radioactive lands of Arizona so that we can finally judge if the result of the above coupling manages to justify the expectations.
First, a brief history lesson for those who are completely unaware of the setting and story of the first Wasteland. We are set in desolate Arizona, USA, in a world that has been "purged" by purifying nuclear fire after a brief war in which Earth's nuclear powers simultaneously launched 90% of their arsenal. The focus is on the Desert Rangers, a group of men and women who survived the holocaust and have vowed to be a beacon of order and legitimacy in the inhospitable wasteland, helping in any way they can the scattered communities of survivors, countering the typical bandit attacks, but also collecting as many remnants of old technology as possible that can be salvaged (think something like Fallout's Brotherhood of Steel but with a decidedly more human face, without the isolationist and techno-fanatic background). As the story of the first Wasteland unfolded, the team of Rangers we controlled managed, after a hard fought battle, to successfully counter the threat of an out-of-control AI in the sanctuary of the Cochise base, which had caused nuclear war in order to wipe out humanity and colonize the planet with Cyborgs.
The events of Wasteland 2 take place 15 years after the conclusion of the above story, with the Desert Rangers having changed leadership, and the members of the team that faced the above threat now being the senior officers of the organization. Our story begins somewhere around here, in a not-so-happy atmosphere, as our team members, as new Desert Rangers recruits, attend the funeral of Ace, a much-loved officer of the organization (and known to oldtimers as a recruitable NPC in the first Wasteland) who was killed under mysterious circumstances while performing his last mission in the desert before retiring.
After the typical tearful salutes to the dead, our team decides to take the baptism of fire by jumping right into the deep end: the first missions assigned to us are to go to the scene of the murder and find clues as to who Ace's killers are, but also to complete the mission he left in the middle. And so begins our journey into the Arizona wasteland, a journey that will bring us face to face with dangers both familiar and unfamiliar, a journey of violence and diplomacy, a journey of choices and consequences, a journey that above all has one common denominator: the status and reputation of the Desert Rangers as the sovereign law enforcement agency and the protectors of the Wasteland.
Already from the party creation screen (we can create 1 to 4 characters for our party from scratch or choose between the ready-made archetypes) the connection with Fallout is obvious, as Attributes is essentially a slightly modified version of the well-known S.P.E.C.I.A.L. system. Clearly similar in philosophy is the Skills system, which provides our characters with abilities for all tastes: many separate skills for Melee or Ranged weaponry, skills for thieving (unfortunately the game does not have a Stealth system, as according to Fargo the implementation of it originally intended to be included in the game was quite unstable and created many complications in gameplay and visuals), for computer scientists, for doctors, for engineers, for diplomats (with the 3 "diplomatic" skills being succinctly named "Smart Ass", "Kiss Ass" and "Kick Ass" - you can guess the philosophy and usefulness of each skill from the name), but also skills for general living and survival in the wasteland.
The same retro feelings arise after the first moments of our party's tour through the world of Wasteland 2. Moving our party through the maps is done exactly the way we would move in an Infinity Engine game, the UI is 95% the same as Fallout (even the beloved "DM/narrator" window makes its reappearance in one corner), while the same goes for the turn-based battle system, with those involved in battle waiting their turn based on their initiative and choosing to move around the battle "chessboard", attack or use a skill or item by spending their Action Points.
The dialogue system is a combination (count how many times this word will be mentioned in this review and win a random promo bag when the author is discharged from the army) of Fallout and Infinity Engine. Both in terms of appearance/UI, except of course that our dialogue choices and the use of diplomatic Skills are done by selecting Keywords instead of entire sentences (but despite this, the full depiction of questions from our in-game characters is still done normally - e.g. if we select the keyword "Help" as a dialogue choice then the dialogue UI will fully form the sentence "You mentioned that you needed help earlier. Anything we can do about it?" etc.), but also in terms of sheer volume of text. Wasteland 2 contains a LOT of written text, going head-to-head with Infinity Engine games. This might put off the more "casual" audience who are used to the "dialogue is just there to give you a break for half a minute between battles" mentality that characterizes 90% of modern games, but who said Wasteland 2 is by design a game aimed at casual users?
In light of the above, it's not particularly surprising that the World Map travel in Wasteland 2 is of the same mindset as the corresponding mode in Fallout. Upon entering the World Map, our party appears as a star on the screen and we simply click to select the location we wish to move to. Known locations that we haven't visited yet appear with an "X" on the map, and if we hit another unexplored location such as an unknown town, hidden ammo cache or an oasis, the new location pops up in front of us once we get close to it. Keep the mention of the oases in mind, as they are the "twist" on the old-fashioned Fallout travel. Our Party carries a certain amount of water with it, which is consumed as we travel and can be replenished in wells/pumps found in various locations around the world, or in oases found on the World Map. If the water supply reaches zero as we travel, then our party will sustain damage steadily until we find a spring or until we die ingloriously from dehydration. Needless to say, the World Map also allows us to experience various random encounters, either hostile or friendly like a hawker, or other more...intriguing events.
"Well, dude, why are you sitting there writing all this instead of just throwing out a "WASTELAND 2 IS THE SAME AS FALLOUT" and getting it over with?", someone reading this could argue. And I answer: but precisely because the fact that Wasteland 2 is... Fallout! The setting may be different and the numerous hints and references to people, places and situations of the first game may make it obvious and clear that this is a sequel to Wasteland for the most part (that's what was missing), bringing the typical tear of sweet nostalgia to the face of the hard-headed RPG veteran who remembers his youth, but everything else is here: the isometric visuals, the UI, the character development, the turn-based combat system, the choices/implications in quests, the humor, the clever and lengthy dialogue, the size of the world. In 2014, with the rights to the Fallout license held by Bethesda, and since all of us angry purists can hope for is a New Vegas-style compromise, here comes Brian Fargo riding in on his white radioactive steed and offers us a redemption. He takes the game that Fallout was based on, and creates a sequel to it that is as FALLOUT as a game can be without Fallout in the name. Is it possible to capture this sublime circumstance with a simple "IT'S THE SAME AS FALLOUT"?
On the back of the first Fallout's box, the phrase "Remember Wasteland?" was written upside-down, just to emphasize the game's status as the spiritual successor to Wasteland. We're thankfully in the happy position of having found a title that can proudly carry the tagline "REMEMBER FALLOUT?". And how fitting indeed that that title is Wasteland 2, Brian Fargo's second child: As the first Fallout came into the world in the year 1997 to teach what it meant to be a "computer RPG with balls" to a market that had begun to associate the term RPG with the terms "hack-slash" and "Diablo Clone", and so in 2014 the cycle comes full circle with the crowd-funded Wasteland 2 coming into the AAA producer market with a budget of tens of millions and reminding us of the essence of things, that the soul of an RPG is not in the glossy graphics, flashy explosions and unending stream of DLC. Coming full circle, we come to the tagline of this review. It's true: Wasteland 2 is the Fallout 3 we deserved but never got.
"And wait till you see what's coming with the new Torment," a voice echoes in the background...
Wasteland 2 is available in Greece by Enarxis Dynamic Media.
- Hardcore RPG aesthetic
- Plenty of Skills for every kind of character
- Different options even in the quests of the main story
- Many references to the events of the first Wasteland, for the nostalgia factor
- Smart and long dialogues with plenty of text
- Kick in the face to those who still claim that a turn-based isometric RPG isn't viable in 2014
- It's more FALLOUT than the recent Fallout!
- We'll have to wait for future patches to implement some nice features
- Some small glitches that escaped testing