Wasteland 2 Review
By the end of my near 60-hour play time in Wasteland 2, I hated myself. I'd watch both friends and enemies die, double crossed allies and done a lot of things I wasn't proud of all in the name of survival. What's worse is that the unapologetically dark world of Wasteland 2 didn't ask me to do any of these things - I chose openly to do them because I thought it was what was best for myself. I may have hated myself - but I loved Wasteland 2. After 26 years in development, InXile Entertainment has brought us a beautifully flawed open-world experience that test both your morals and your metals. It's intense, impressive and gripping, and the rare game that feels well worth the long wait.
"...the world of Wasteland 2 is dark..."
Wasteland 2, from Brian Fargo, the creator of the original Wasteland and it's spiritual successor Fallout isn't like most other apocalypse games. No, the world of Wasteland 2 is dark, and apologetically so. It's filled with tales of despair and people who have lost loved ones and have reached levels where they're ready to do just about anything to protect themselves and what's important to them. This is a stark contrast from games like Dead Rising (and even the Fallout series to a lesser extent) where the inhabitants of the apocalyptic world are almost cartoony by comparison. Those games are fun in their own right but it's best to disown any illusions you have of this being one of those fun apocalypse games before your even start Wasteland 2.
What makes Wasteland 2 so special is just how much choice it gives players. Here, you're free to do anything you want and say anything you want. Want to save those people being attacked by savages? Go for it. Want to murder all of them and rob them? Hey, it's the apocalypse after all. Player choice starts almost immediately with Wasteland 2 as you're able to almost negate the game's entire story right away. You command a group of Dessert Rangers and like most games, Wasteland 2 starts with a tutorial mission where the leader of the Rangers tells you to prove your worth. Sure, you can do what he says, but you can also aim your sights directly at him and take your shot. It's fair to note that doing this set me back to the title screen, but how many games even give you that option?
There's a definite story that Wasteland 2 tries to push you towards but again, you're free to go about your way at any time. There's a lot of text conversations to read in Wasteland 2 (the development team states there's more texts than in the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy) and it's important to read through all of them carefully since decisions here aren't as easy as they are in most games. There are definite consequences for nearly everything you do in Wasteland 2; it's just a matter of whether or not the benefits outweigh them. I tinkered with some of these choices for the sake of this review and somehow during one play session I found myself turning against the Rangers I was serving alongside.
"...that choice made me feel like the worst person in the world."
What Wasteland 2 does so well is balance these player choices with consequences. Often in Wasteland 2, you're given goals that are much more open-ended than you would get in other similar games. There were a few missions for example where I was told to save two different areas from attacks, both of which would have great benefits for myself and those around me. Now, to be honest the game never told me I couldn't save both, but I knew I had to make a choice, and that choice made me feel like the worst person in the world. As I raced to save the one area, I was forced to listen to the screams for help of the others...then the radio went silent and I was left to live with my choices.
Those choices have a direct impact on your squad members as well. In the beginning of the game, you'll have the option to create and customize a number of squad members, complete with their own abilities that can be upgraded and leveled up. These squad members can die, and they can do so rather easily leaving a rather large hole in your survival plan. Wasteland 2 features permadeath, so your team mates won't just re-spawn, you'll have to make amends and keep going without them. This makes things much harder, especially when you focus your squad mates on maxing out in certain areas like lock picking or healing. In an interesting twist, your actions throughout the game also impact how easily recruiting will be for you; if you're known for being a prick, less people will be eager to join your squad.
"Your enemies are quite intuitive in Wasteland 2..."
Exploration and combat play out a lot like the most recent X-COM games; you'll control your squad on a grid on each battlefield and due to the always persistent threat of my allies dying, you'll move carefully. Your enemies are quite intuitive in Wasteland 2, and blindly firing at them until you gun them all down won't work here. Much of the environments in Wasteland 2 are interactive and can be manipulated to aide you in battle, just be warned though - your enemies know that too. There were several times I attempted to hunker down in a spot where I didn't realize an explosive barrel was behind me and my enemies took advantage of that very quickly. Combat in punishing in Wasteland 2, but I never thought it was unfair or uneven.
It's been twenty six years since the release of the last Wasteland game, and it shows. This is not a pretty game, at all. The visuals both in game and in the cutscenes look extremely dated and the game frequently recycles resources like backgrounds and character art. I wouldn't blame you if you confused this with a re-release of an early PlayStation One game, it's that bad. I appreciate that the developers put so much effort into the actual content of the game, but it's extremely off putting when the game looks this bad.
Those who remember the original Wasteland game will be thrilled to see the long awaited return, and those who maybe weren't around for the original game can see what was so great years ago. Wasteland 2 is a dark and often unforgiving title that asks the player to things they probably should't in order to survive. The result is a rewarding and often times moving tale that rewards being brash perhaps more than anything else. Wasteland 2 is a game that you'll sink a ton of time into, for better or worse..
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