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Wasteland 2 Preview

Wasteland 2 Preview

Old school. It's a cliché, sure, but everything about this game shouts it; shouts it with a gruff, dry voice, over the squawks and whistles of radio static and the click of a Geiger counter. If you ever played any of the early Fallout games, you'll feel waves of nostalgia wash over you; as a top down, squad based RPG set in a post-apocalyptic wasteland, this game is more a sequel to Fallout 2 than Fallout 3 ever was (the comparison is no coincidence, the original Fallout was, after all, the spiritual successor to the first Wasteland). This fealty to the past means charm and satisfying gameplay, the likes of which we rarely see these days but it also looks to be a potential source of problems, in places it falls foul of archaic mechanics that many games left behind years ago.

The game opens with the character creation screen where you are asked to form a gang of four misfits who will make up the early nucleus of your rookie ranger gang (with more to be recruited during your travels). The game provides a number of pre-generated characters that can be tweaked as little or as much as you like in the stat screen. Archetypes include: medics, melee bruisers, sharpshooters and charisma based characters. However, if you're so inclined you are also able to build your group of four from the ground up. Character creation is separated into sections: Attributes where you can spend points between statistics that will be familiar to Fallout veterans; Combat Skills, which range from explosive weapons to melee, Knowledge Skills including computing, lockpicking and 'toaster repairs' (an indication of Wasteland's irreverent humour) or General Skills which cover surgery, evasion and the like. In the beginning you are given a number of attribute and skill points to distribute. On levelling up you receive an increase in health and a number of skill points to spend on the three 'skill sections'. As you'd expect, you don't appear able to improve Attributes through levelling up but presumably there are equipment and trinkets out there in the great wide wastes that will. With characters formed you can then choose from a number of attractive hand-drawn portraits and tweak the counter-point to this - your ugly, generic character model. I went for one of the three pre-made characters and created one myself; despite basing the character on my own looks I couldn’t stop him from looking hideous (a clear fault of the game engine).

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The game starts out in the titular Wasteland at the 'retirement' party of a veteran ranger. 'Retirement' is a euphemism for brutal murder and my first mission is to investigate how he died.

The first thing I notice is how brown everything is. Brown and uninviting. Wasteland 2 is facing the same difficulty that all post-apocalyptic games face: how do you make a barren, nuked-out landscape aesthetically pleasing? The answer is art direction - but unfortunately everything at the moment is all a bit generic; it lacks Fallout's fifties chic, and while environments are quite detailed for a top-down isometric RPG, the angle makes it all hard to discern.

The second thing I notice is how clunky the controls are. This could be attributed to the fact that the game is still in the Beta stage but it feels more like one of those intentional throwbacks to the past; from the big-ass mouse cursor, to the buttons that are hard to discern from all the artistic switches, knobs and dials; menus are currently ugly, unintuitive and could be more helpful in the feedback department.

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So far - so lame. Things quickly pick up though. As I pass out on to the Wasteland proper I’m moved onto a giant world map. Here, movements are restricted by the contents of my water canteen, meaning that I must move from oasis to outpost, keeping my supplies topped up. Along with the expected random encounters, areas I can visit can't be seen until I get close, at which point they rumble up out of the ground. These elements combine to give a strong sense of exploration on the world map; the buzz of stumbling across a vendor as my water supplies are all but dried up gets me every time.

On the way to my first quest I stumble across an early violent encounter. With a current lack of tutorial, combat is initially confusing; I struggle to fight back and I’m overwhelmed by the statistics but after a few miss-clicks I quickly get into the swing of things (literally in the case of my bruiser with the iron bar). Combat is actually quite simple and (more importantly) brutal. It's turn based, with character portraits running down the left-hand side of the screen to indicate order of play. Characters’ actions are dictated by AP (action points) - moving one space will cost a point per square; reloading will take 2-3 depending on the gun; shooting 3-5. There are no 'phases' so you can shoot, move, shoot, switch out item, heal, shoot if you have enough AP (you won’t of course). Hover your mouse over a character to see the percentage of hitting. The damage difference between weapons such as a pistol and rifle is a bit extreme at the moment (3-8 pistol damage up against 25 on the rifle) but hopefully that will be balanced out later.

The violence feels tangible, sound and animation combining to make blows to the back of the head from lead pipes, or gun shots to the face both satisfying when dealing them out and worrying when receiving them. The whole process tends to be quick and nasty - encounters throw you close together and neither enemies or you can take many hits early in the game. If a character goes down they fall unconscious and start bleeding out, taking one point of damage every turn. If you don’t get a character with the surgeon skill over to them in time to revive them then… well I don't know, because I looked after my team, but I presume it's bad. Bear in mind that the surgeon skill can fail, making recovery a nerve-wracking experience, especially if the bullets are still flying. Once you've stabilised a character it's not all fine and dandy though - you can suffer ailments such as broken bones, dislodged teeth etc that permanently lower attributes until fixed by a skilled enough surgeon. There's even an ailment called 'seen the light' which seems to sap every attribute, which is currently making my demolition woman all but useless and can only be fixed by a level 9 surgeon skill (mine is a poxy 3). So keeping your men and women in one piece is important.

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The first quest turns out to be pretty dull - a glorified fetch quest - but it carries a sense of mystery; I find the severed leg of what looks to be a cyborg and have to follow the blood trails back to his corpse. I’m then sent out to two locations; on approach, I get a distress call from both. Here is my first big choice - who to save? My decision has a satisfying sense of consequence.

While playing the game I’m faced with a number of smaller decisions and what is nice about them isn't that they're a simple 'should I do this? Do I want to do this?' but also a case of 'can I do this and am I quick enough?' at one point I stumble across a young boy drowning. I notice there is a tree that I can use the 'brute force' skill on to knock down. The skill takes time to pull off and my skill level is low so I fail. ‘Not a problem, I think to myself ‘I’ll just keep doing it till I succeed’. As I try again the boy drowns and I’m attacked by irate villagers. If you play a number of RPGs you may not expect events like these to be timed. Trust me, here they are.

Finally, the jokes: there are plenty of cultural references and humour; one victim of a fungal infection I find is described as being like ‘a druid that casts too many barkskins.' Amusing but in general the whole world of Wasteland 2 seems to lack a distinct personality.

Overall I enjoyed my time with Wasteland. Hopefully there will be time to flesh out the character of the game world and polish the controls. If you go into Wasteland 2 expecting a throwback to the early Fallout games then you won’t be disappointed. Old school.  



Matt Young

Matt Young

Staff Writer

Matt firmly believes that games will save the world. However, he'll never do the same as he always plays chaotic evil.

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