‘Wasteland 2’ Early Access Impressions

What do you get when you mix old-school RPG tactics and modern technology? The answer is Wasteland 2, inXile Entertainment’s new title and a sequel 25 years in the making. The Kickstarter-funded follow-up to the 1988 sci-fi role playing game Wasteland comes out next Friday. Originally available on Apple II, Commodore 64, and DOS, the first Wasteland (which is included in the early access bundle on Steam) served as the inspiration for the wildly popular Fallout series. For the past few days I’ve been playing at every opportunity, so I thought I’d share a bit of my experience.

I’m a sucker for role-playing games primarily because of the importance of player choice. I don’t just want to play the game; I want to be part of the game. So naturally I spent almost an hour cobbling together a good four-person squad. You are given a few premade character options as well as the ability to build your own. Wasteland 2 allows you to customize the look and origin of your character, even giving a nod to older pen and paper role-playing games by including space for you to write a short backstory. The skill point system is incredibly involved, offering talents from typical weapon-oriented skills to more specific abilities like toaster repair and animal whispering.

The intricate character creation system only just scratches the surface of the complexity of Wasteland 2. Loot is buried in caches that you are unable to access if you did not first pick up a shovel, the world map must be navigated while keeping your resources (primarily water) and squad health in mind, and even early on you have to make tough choices about who to help and who to leave to face the elements on their own. Oh, and death is final. If one of your squad members dies, that’s it, he or she is gone. I have never been a big fan of perma-death in games, and actually have to admit that when I accidentally blew up my demolitions expert I reloaded a previous save, but I think that it suits the overall tone. Perma-death is a harsh mechanic, but the world of Wasteland 2 is equally unforgiving

Combat in Wasteland 2 is turn-based, but you will not have to worry about sitting around waiting for your chance to do some damage. Enemies move quickly and are not shy about running up and shooting your squad in the face. One of my favorite things about the combat system is that if you can manage to avoid running headlong into hostile territory, you can set your squad up before the encounter even begins. You can even start the battle with a kill, which is never a bad thing. Of course, if you run into an area blindly, your medic may get mauled by giant rabbits like mine did. She survived, but only barely.

Wasteland 2 is all about cause and effect. Each choice you make, every enemy you decide to kill or leave alive, it all has an impact on the game world. Once I got the hang of the mechanics, the game sucked me in and is still refusing to let go. I’m eager to see the way my choices will impact the story, and hopefully will manage to avoid losing my squad to giant bunnies, because that really is just embarrassing.