I think I’m going to sue inXile Entertainment.
Not because they’ve done some horrible thing, no, but because they’ve done something so great it causes physical pain to others. For example, I live in the American Midwest, which is currently under a metric fuck-ton of snow. The only reason I stopped playing Wasteland 2 is because I had to go shovel said fuck-ton of snow, and I’m considering suing inExile because they’ve made a game so fun to play that I screwed up my back racing to shovel snow fast enough that I could go play more Wasteland 2.
Wasteland 2 is the long-unmade sequel to Wasteland, a popular but not too popular tactical role-playing game from 1988. On its own, Wasteland was largely a solid but unremarkable game, but it spawned a very remarkable legacy; from the shattered remnants of an EA/inExile split where inExile could not get the rights for Wasteland back, they created the legendary Fallout series. But then, Fallout was torn away from them by Bethesda, who went on to do great things with the series. Now, inExile has returned, with the help of a stupidly successful Kickstarter campaign and Obsidian Entertainment, to their old baby, and they’ve struck paydirt; it may not be finished, but Wasteland 2‘s Early Access is more fun than half of the finished games you could play right now.
Wasteland 2 picks up at the beginning of the hopefully illustrious career of a squad of Desert Rangers, the roaming upholders of justice in the Arizona wastes. You can fill out your squad from a wide (and impressively diverse) cast of pre-made characters that feel like they walked out of the Fallout universe, but of course you should create your own. And here would be your first taste of the gloriously old-school core of Wasteland 2; the character creation system is so 90s RPG-oriented that you could call it a time machine. Skills are placed into three categories; combat, knowledge, and general, and you have exceedingly few points to unlock or improve any of them. Attributes, effectively the perk system of Wasteland 2, are a single list, but the same logic applies; in true old school tactical RPG fashion, you will be shit to moderately-less-shit at everything at the beginning, like you should be…unless you’re like me, and you just dump everything into charisma skills and talk your way past everyone.
Once your character situation is squared away and you’ve chosen the rest of your squad (which can be entirely created characters), you’re sent off on a mission to recover three repeaters that were to be put on a radio tower by a fellow Ranger named Ace, who has since shuffled off this mortal coil by mysterious means. Your mission is figure out what happened to Ace, and attach the repeaters to the radio tower way off in the distance, which has the Ranger Citadel worried because its been spouting off a mysterious broadcast from a man named Matthias, who talks of bonding machine and man, and, of more importance to the Rangers…destroying the Rangers.
The first thing you’ll do is be put into a conversation with a General Vargas, the leader of the Rangers, who will give you the low-down on all the stuff I mentioned above. This conversation is classic Fallout, given plenty of options for how you can handle it and how much detail you have. The Obsidian writing style is immediately evident; nobody else can make large amounts of exposition sound so good. Also, in a neat addition to the dialogue system (that I can’t remember if it was in the old Wasteland or Fallout games), you can type in your own responses and statements instead of using pre-baked ones, and I do not think I have to spell out the potential hilarity this system entails.
Once you’ve gotten out of this conversation, the world is opened up to you. You can, in true Fallout style, go about on the main quest or completely ignore it and explore the wastes at large, and uncover all manner of places and surprises under the sands. The large amounts of overland travel are handled by an inventive map system, which shows you and your squad covering vast amounts of terrain as a line across the sand, uncovering new places as you go. Its a fantastic way of combining the classic travel systems of the 90s RPGs and the modern exploration of Oblivion and Fallout 3. Think Mount & Blade, and you’ll have a solid idea of how this works.
In my playthrough, I made as the crow flies for the radio tower, and ran into the bandit gang that was holding the place down, collecting tolls from all who passes on through. Maybe I would’ve paid it or talked my way by, had I not seen the blood pool just down the hill mere feet from the discarded Ranger badge of Ace. No way I was gonna let these punks get away with it. Combat encounters are perhaps the biggest switch-up from the classic Wasteland and Fallout games; though they remain turn-based, they are a little bit faster in pace, a little bit harder than you remember, and now have an added wrinkle in a slight cover system that plays with the terrain and the added mobility to battle. Battles may play a bit more like XCOM: Enemy Unknown than before, but they still have the tightness, the depth, and the restricted yet enthralling pace of those old school RPGs. Battles require just as much attention to inventory and character stats as they always have, but there’s some decidedly modern tweaks to the system that make it feel fresh and modern, whilst being just the kind of nostalgia kick longing fans have been craving for years.
The playthrough ended with me recovering a few pages of Ace’s logbook, and hearing the infamous Matthias decree his law; his law is vengeance, and he will make the Rangers pay. It was right then, as I tapped a little further into the 30% of the game currently on offer in Early Access on Steam, that I stopped and started writing this preview; if I didn’t, then this preview would never get written. Wasteland 2 is still, clearly, a beta; load times are a bit long, frame-rate can be a bit jarring, between smooth as glass and rough as the sand of Arizona, and maybe a couple of the combat systems could use a tweak. But right now there is no more exciting an experience on PC right now that I can think of for RPG fans than playing Wasteland 2. For those who are long time fans of the tactical RPG genre, and have been dying to see its return, or people on the younger side like myself who want a fresh glimpse at what the origins of the Fallout series were like, this is the perfect oasis of water in the desert. It feels like Black Isle never left, and I couldn’t be more excited for the full release later this year.
You can buy Wasteland 2 in Early Access on Steam right now for $60.