Review: Wasteland 2: Director's Cut (PlayStation 4)
- Release Date (NA): October 13, 2015
- Release Date (EU): October 13, 2015
- Release Date (JP): October 13, 2015
- Publisher: inExile Entertainment
- Developer: inExile Entertainment
- Genres: Role-Playing Game
- ESRB Rating: Mature
- PEGI Rating: Eighteen years and older
- Also For: Computer, Nintendo Switch, Xbox One
Single playerLocal MultiplayerOnline MultiplayerCo-operative
Developers in Exile
Wasteland as a franchise has quite an interesting history and it would be a crime not to touch upon it before really getting into the meat of this review. Initially released in 1988, developed by Interplay and published by Electronic Arts, Wasteland was one of the very first RPG's that did not revolve around dungeons and dragons, focusing instead on a more futuristic setting - a world devastated by the nuclear holocaust. Its creators always wanted to follow up on Wasteland's story, but unfortunately EA held the held exclusive rights over the franchise, making it difficult for Interplay to make their dreams a reality. There were two attempts at creating a worthy sequel to Wasteland, EA's own critically-panned Fountain of Dreams which is now considered non-canon and Interplay's cancelled Meantime which met its demise on the turning point of the 8 and 16-bit eras. It wasn't until Interplay parted ways with Electronic Arts that we could enjoy the true, albeit spiritual, sequel to the post-nuclear wonder - Fallout. As you all know, Fallout became a massive hit, spawning many sequels. Since then, Interplay went through some financial issues, signing off the rights to Fallout to Bethesda in a rather confusing business deal that resulted in a lawsuit later on. Frustrated with the situation, the original creators splintered from Interplay, creating inExile Entertainment and leaving their troubled past behind. Fast forward to present day and the situation from over two decades ago is now reversed - the Fallout franchise no longer belongs to its original creators, however Brian Fargo and the gang are itching to once again venture into the irradiated backyard of future America. What can be done? Why, Wasteland 2, a long-awaited, official sequel, completing the circle of trials and tribulations the franchise has been through. How? Why, with the magic of crowdfunding, of course. Now, a year after its initial release, Wasteland 2 is being re-released as a Director's Cut edition, finally available on consoles, not just PC's. Was it worth the 27-year wait? Read on and find out!
What Happens After the End?
1998 was the year the spark of life on Earth was almost snuffed out. A cluster of meteors struck the Earth's crust and, mistaken for nuclear strikes, led to an all-out nuclear war between the U.S. and the Soviets. Nuclear fallout blanketed the planet and only a few managed to survive the devastation. Among the few was a brigade of U.S. Army Engineers who managed to find shelter in a federal death row prison facility. They expelled the inmates and, believing themselves to be the only survivors of the cataclysm, hunkered down. Soon they were proven wrong - once the initial chaos settled, settlements began popping up all over the Arizona desert. The land was lawless and life was a struggle - it was those engineers who have decided to rise up and bring law and order back to their homeland. They founded the Desert Rangers and their badges became a sign of hope, hope that maybe someday the wastes will once again become fruitful and the people will once again unite under one flag, as one nation. It was the Desert Rangers who protected the remaining survivors on the planet against the agression of the killer machines of Base Cochise, making the facility's nuclear reactor to melt down and subsequently destroying the A.I. in charge. The brave Rangers who accomplished this feat, Snake Vargas, Angela Deth, Hell Razor, Thrasher and Ace, all reached legendary status among the ranks and the tales of their achievements are told to this day - both the good and the bad ones.
It's been 15 years since this event took place. The Desert Rangers have since abandoned the prison and re-located to the well-fortified Citadel Base, previously inhabited by the Guardians of the Old Order, a fanatic sect which the Rangers defeated during their adventures. The world seems peaceful, at least as peaceful as it can be after a nuclear holocaust, when now-general Vargas receives a disturbing radio message. The sound is garbled due to poor reception, but he can make out something about merging "man and machine". He immediately remembers the horrors he's seen in Darwin Village, he remembers Irwin John Finster, the crazed android hellbent on re-creating humanity in his own image once Cochise A.I. kills every last human on the planet, whose head is proudly displayed in their HQ, along with the many other artifacts they've collected over the years. He knows that the Rangers must act and sends his best man, Ace, to investigate the situation. Before long, Ace's lifeless body is found and it is your job to find out exactly what happened. Vargas knows that he was an experienced Ranger, no mere Nomad could've possibly killed Ace, not after Base Cochise... It's time to jump into the rabbit hole and see just how deep it goes - I hope you came prepared.
RPG... RPG Never Changes...
From the get-go, Wasteland 2 was created as a classic turn-based RPG and in this regard, inExile Entertainment hit the nail right on the head. Before you start your adventure, you have to create a squad of four Desert Rangers who are ready to kick ass and chew bubble gum. The choices you make here are crucial for your survival - you have to think in terms of team balance from the very beginning and create a self-sustainable squad. Creating Jack-of-All-Trades characters will get you nowhere in Wasteland 2 - there just isn't enough skill points to go around, so keep that in mind before you end up with a team of Rangers without a medic.
The character's statistics are divided into four sections - Attributes, Skills, Quirks and Perks, Skills being further sub-divided into Weapon Skills, General Skills and Knowledge Skills. Attributes reflect the character's natural, innate physical and mental characteristics and include Coordination, Luck, Awareness, Strength, Speed, Intelligence and Charisma. In contrast, Skills reflect everything the character learns over time, such as the ability to use certain kinds of weaponry, the ability to smooth-talk or the ability to tend to injuries. Quirks are a new addition to the Director's Cut version of the game, they're the equivalent of Fallout's Traits, meaning they are special traits the characters were either born with or that they've acquired over the course of their life - it's this part of character creation that took me a surprisingly long amount of time to get through and I have to admit that in some cases I've chosen my characters not to have any Quirks at all, which has never happened to me before in Fallout. The bonuses Quirks offer are often excellent, but the price to pay for them is equally hefty. In addition to Quirks, every few levels your characters will also gain Perks, giving them additional special abilities. All in all, when it comes to character statistics, Wasteland 2 allows you to create characters unique to you and your playstyle, which gives them additional depth. Some of the information you input has no relevance to gameplay at all, for instance the character's ethnicities, their biographies or the brand of cigarettes they smoke, but they work wonders when it comes to roleplaying and creating a connection between the player and the in-game character. Character creation can be a lengthy process, sure, but the amount of effort you put into it is directly reflected in the sense of loss you feel if one of your characters meets their unfortunate demise, their life ending in the unforgiving wasteland.
The physical appearance of your characters can also be customized - you can pick and choose from a choice of clothing (including headgear, jackets, trousers and backpacks), hairstyles, skintones and portraits. The selection is modest, but quite important, as surprisingly the armour your team members wear does not influence their appearance in any way. That's right, it doesn't matter if your characters wear standard leather vests or full sets of power armour, only clothing items will actually change how they look, and while you do find some clothes during your adventure, chances are that you'll stick to what you've created at the beginning. This part of the game feels lacking, I expected the appearance of the characters to be represented better and the use of static portraits rather than ones generated on the basis of how the character looks at present doesn't help. Although it's a minor issue revolving exclusively around vanity, I feel that more effort should've been put into making the characters look exactly as they should, and this is a complaint I've found to be quite common among players. Hopefully future installments of Wasteland will address the issue, allowing for more detailed customization of the physical appearance of the characters.
A Little Slice of America
Once you've completed assembling your team, your adventure can finally begin. Your Ranger squad, Team Echo, is attending the "retirement" service of Ace, one of the Desert Rangers who saved the world 15 years ago against the menace of Base Cochise. The circumstances of his death are still unknown, but according to General Vargas, they seem suspicious and require further investigation. Your first mission is to collect evidence at the site where Ace's body was found, collect the repeater units that he was supposed to install on the nearby radio towers and immediately report in. It doesn't take long for this simple assignment to turn into a true test of fire for you and your brigade, as you soon discover that Ace's life was ended not by raiders, but a Synth, a synthetic human being, all of which were thought to be destroyed over a decade ago. Needless to say, this is cause for concern for General Vargas and the Desert Rangers - robots and Synths' only purpose was to wipe out humanity and their mere existence is a threat to all, or whatever's left, of America. You are told to immediately continue the assignment previously given to Ace - boost the faint radio signal with the repeater units you have recovered and discover who is pulling the strings in this plot.
The choices in Wasteland 2 can be both subtle and blatant. Sometimes simply performing surgery on a random NPC that seems
hurt can cause a surprisingly positive outcome, other times refraining from going into an engagement guns blazing can make all the difference.
Things quickly turn sour as the locations of the radio towers you are supposed to visit are simultaneously attacked, and no matter how hard you try, you can only save one of the areas. This is just first of the many instances in which Wasteland 2 gives you a moral choice in how to proceed - you can save Highpool, a local settlement which still holds a grudge against the Desert Rangers over what had happened there 15 years ago, or the Agricultural Center, a hub of scientists who very well may discover a way to feed the people of the wastes with their genetically-modified, resistant and nutritious crops. Moments such as this one are the high point of the game - you are given a choices, each with severe consequences and no real solution. You can save countless families - men, women and children... or you can save the scientists who could potentially solve the problem of world hunger. You have to choose between what is morally righteous and what is the greater good, and that's not an easy choice to make. The game teaches you early on that no matter what you do, you just can't save everyone - it's grim, it's bleak, but it's the reality of the wastes. This isn't just a matter of what you feel is right either - your decisions directly affect the world around you. Some areas may become inaccessible or hostile to you while others will welcome you with open arms, some critical NPC's might die while others survive, some quests will become unavailable while doors to others will become open. Although such huge turning points are few and far between, smaller ones are scattered all around the place and many have long-term consequences. Take something as simple as a door, for instance - you can turn the whole area upside down in search of a key or code that would grant you access, you can attempt to pick the locks stealthily or hack nearby terminals, you can barge through them using brute force... or you can just blow them up with explosives. The paths you take and the solutions you use may change the way people perceive you - sometimes you'll make friends, sometimes you'll make enemies. You have to keep in mind who you've wronged during the game it just might bite you in the behind later on.
Wasteland 2's story progression feels a little disjointed, but I feel that it was a deliberate design choice. Sure, you can follow the main storyline from Point A to Point B at all times and ignore most of what's happening in the locations you visit, but the true nature of this game is exploration. The game fares well at showing you a little slice of post-nuclear America - you visit locations that are distinct, each suffering from its own slew of problems, and it's your job to tend to them... or not - it's your choice. This brings me to the defining quality of Wasteland 2 - it's a game for people who like to wander. Getting the most out of this title involves meeting chatting with its quirky NPC's, visiting the interesting locales and seeing where that takes you - you're bent on tripping over quests, humorous references and new, recruitable team members.
Naturally you can't just wander aimlessly all day long - you have your orders. The game follows the same level progression scheme as the original, having the player report in via Radio whenever you've completed an assigned task or when a team member has gained enough experience to receive a field promotion. Your Radio is practically your lifeline and you'll be using it constantly throughout the game - staying in contact with HQ will allow you to not only level up, but also get further instructions or vital information regarding your next move. This of course works both ways - whenever there's an important development in the wastes, you will be informed about it via Radio and told whether it requires your assistance or not - often times it will, forcing you to make a quick detour. Whilst traveling across the wastes you'll also get to hear random radio chatter, allowing you to find out what's happening in different locations. The Radio is an interesting plot device and a good way to deliver objectives - it fits well within the context of the game and doesn't feel forced. After all, you are a Desert Ranger - you represent the law, and the law tends to come from on high.
Of course your job as a law enforcer won't be limited to just jumping between locations, meeting people, listening to the Radio and fulfilling objectives - there's one final aspect of the game that has to be covered, something that pops up almost constantly in the wastes - combat.
Ain't That a Kick in the Head?
Although the game offers you many opportunities to resolve issues peacefully by using your silver tongue to reason with, brown-nose or threaten people to do your bidding, sometimes engagements are simply unavoidable. Wasteland 2 is quite combat-heavy, so be prepared to be pitted against an array of enemies, from your average run-of-the-mill raiders to mutated creatures of all-sorts and even murderous robots. The game's combat is turn-based and takes into account everything you could expect from a tactical RPG. Cover or environmental hazards can make or break an engagement, so planning ahead is crucial for success, especially when given the chance to strategically place your team around the map before engaging the enemy. Lacking preparedness leads to quick and painful deaths of your teammates, followed shortly by reloading the game - this will happen more often than you think before you get some servicable gear. Speaking of gear, there's plenty of it - weapons range from simple handguns to heavy rocket launchers or plasma rifles, all of which can be modified and customized to your liking with various weapon mods you'll find on your adventures.
Battles in Wasteland 2 are not won just with superior firepower thought - making sure that a medic is always within reach of the other characters, well-trained and well-equipped is simply paramount. I'm not just talking about medkits either - there's a plethora of various statuses your teammates could suffer from that need your attention, ranging from typical injuries like fractures or hemorrhages to poisoning and disease. Failing to utilize a skill can result in a critical failure, for instance, and I don't even know how many times my "muscle" character broke his shins on a door that was just a little too sturdy to cooperate with him. The role of a medic doesn't just end at First Aid either, the Surgery skill comes into play as well. In fact, just to be on the safe side, it's a smart idea to have at least two team members who know how to use a trauma kit - you don't want an engagement to end with your medic slowly bleeding out as your team scrambles around him, twiddling their thumbs because they don't know how a bandage works.
The enemies you face are believable and their actions coincide with what kind of characters they are, for example, various mutated creatures will rush you with no rhyme or reason while human enemies such as raiders will act in an organized manner (provided that they're sane and not high on radioactive mushrooms), taking advantage of their environment and attempting to surround you, making each engagement unique and forcing you to flex your tactical muscle. These differences in tactics are additionally spiced up with an element of randomness - depending on the overall level of your Leadership skills, some of your teammates may crack under pressure and go rogue. Let's say that you've prepared the perfect ambush, your CQC specialist is leading the enemy NPC's into a killzone you've constructed using your sniper and your machine gunner... and the machine gunner goes rogue all of a sudden, unloading a whole magazine into the nearest enemy he or she sees, with one of your characters in the line of fire at that. Whoops! Call in the medic, we might need a body bag!
Overall the combat is slow, but thoroughly enjoyable. It encompasses everything a tactical RPG combat system should be, and the only thing that slightly spoiled it for me were the bugs, and I've encountered plenty of them. During the writing of this review I played the 1.00 and 1.01 versions of the game - a 1.02 patch has been released since I've started writing, but I didn't get to try it out yet. Here's for hoping that it fixes the one issue that bothered me every couple of engagements - the fact that the game sometimes "forgets" to load the floor. This isn't just a cosmetic issue either, as it often comes with a side of a sudden loss of performance and sometimes impairs your ability to properly move on the battlefield. Get it fixed, InExile!
'Cause the Eyes of the Ranger are Upon You... Any Wrong You Do He's Gonna See!
Wasteland 2: Director's Cut is far from a perfect game and the signs of it being a kickstarter project are written all over it. That being said, it's definitely a game that was created with a lot of passion, a project that was on its creator's minds for a long time and a long-awaited continuation of the story of the Desert Rangers. If I were to criticize it for something other than technological issues here and there, the main criticism would have just have to be "more" - more customization, more forks in the story, more locations, more quests, more NPC's. When giving the title a score however, I have to disassociate myself, forget about over two decades of built-up hype and judge the game for what it really is - a competently-made RPG with strong tactical elements. Although the game was made on a shoestring budget compared to AAA productions, it's clear that it was made by industry veterans who had a certain vision in mind and, although rough around the edges, delivered it to their audience.
Don't let the recent release of Fallout 4 overshadow Wasteland 2: Director's Cut - it's not perfect, but it's still a great game for a budget price, and it's now available on the PlayStation 4 and the Xbox One in addition to PC. If you want to go on a stroll through irradiated America and lay down the law, there's no better way to do it than as a Desert Ranger. Echo Out!
+ Engaging quests with choices that affect the world around you
+ Interesting, quirky and memorable NPC's
+ An open, free-roam world that encourages exploration
+ A graphical overhaul and new voice clips in comparison to the original Wasteland 2 release
+ A bleak and grim atmosphere interspliced with lots of humour and fun references
+ The newly-introduced Quirks system adds replayability even to players who have already completed Wasteland 2 on PC
- The version that was playtested was a little buggy
- Some skills, such as Mechanical Repair, seem like a waste of skill points wheras others are used consistently - there should be more opportunities to use the more exotic skills, like Toaster Repair
- The armour the characters wear does not change their physical appearance, which seems like a big oversight on the developer's part
Wasteland 2: Director's Cut received a graphics overhaul and looks great on the big screen. While it's not an AAA production with lots of graphical bells and whistles, the locations in-game are quite believable - the wasteland looks exactly like one would imagine a post-nuclear world to look like. There's very little to complain about in terms of the presentation beyond the fact that for whatever reason the designers have decided to make clothing independent of armour, which resulted in armour not being visible on the characters at all - a cosmetic issue to be sure, but one that bothered me personally.
There's nothing to complain about when it comes to the gameplay - it's exactly what it says on the tin. The combat is fun and engaging, exploration is rewarding and a blast, each location is filled with unique NPC's and quests, it's just a lot of fun. If I were to nitpick, all I could possibly ask for is "more" - more of everything, because Wasteland 2: Director's Cut is exactly what every fan of traditional Western RPG's could possibly want.
Each playthrough of Wasteland 2: Director's Cut has an endless potential to be unique. Your actions are reflected upon the world you traverse, so you can replay the game over and over with different characters, complete different quests, ally yourself with different factions and find different solutions for the same problems over and over again. Sure, the main storyline will mostly remain the same, but the wasteland will be just different enough each time to make the game interesting.
out of 10
(not an average)
Wasteland 2: Director's Cut is the perfect game for someone who's played it all and seen it all - it's a nostalgic trip down memory lane. It's rough around the edges and some of its mechanics seem dated, but... that's the whole point. It's an old school roleplaying that isn't afraid to just throw you into the fray, and although it may not be a perfect game, it's definitely good enough to recommend to any fan of Western RPG's and tactical shooters alike. Considering the budget price point, you get so much bang for the buck that there's really no reason not to get it and see for yourself if you'd make a good Desert Ranger.