Before you jump into Fallout 4, you might want to try to survive the perils and dangers that wait for you in the Director’s Cut of Wasteland 2 – a turn-based RPG whose original 1988 release gave birth to Fallout, which many consider to be Wasteland’s spiritual successor.
You control a four-man squad of Desert Rangers, who roam the wasteland of Arizona willing to lend a hand to anybody that needs it. The game starts with a live action short to set the scene, after that, a whole complement of voice actors take the reins – their lines appearing on printer paper in the lower third of the screen – below this is where your ‘conversation wheel’ resides. Picking from one word answers leads to additional conversations that reveal hidden pieces of information that often lead to new locations or loot opportunities.
Starting with a blank slate, you form your squad from a selection of pre-made characters or pre-made squads. You can also start from scratch, choosing names, biographies and investing in abilities with a limited XP budget. If this is your first time in the wasteland, I recommend you go for a pre-made squad.
Whether you decide on pre-made or creating your own, there’s only enough attribute points to create some basic characters. Skillsets and weapon preferences must be spread throughout your squad, leveling up to improve these core skills and grabbing additional abilities that your squad lacks. It’s quite the balancing act, spreading the skills and creating a balanced squad of CQB, sniper, support and assault styles.
Although you start with a four-man squad, you can recruit other survivors, that is, if you play your cards right and you don’t do anything to make them go rogue or leave you in the lurch.
To get around the world of Wasteland 2, your squad navigates the large hub map as a Desert Rangers icon. While moving, your squad consumes water, which if depleted will leave your rangers dehydrated and on the verge of death. Randomly, there are oases that you can refill water at and most camps also have a water supply, and so the management of water consumption is only a minor consideration rather than a burden.
While in map view, random encounters will hit your squad – these skirmishes can be avoided, but fighting bandits and raiders will reward you with easy XP and you can even come across valuable loot or a new member for your squad.
Whether you engage in combat because of these encounters or while you are exploring one of the many camps, a grid is placed over the terrain. Each member of your squad then uses action points (AP) to move, shoot, reload/unjam weapons and heal. You can also place members of your squad on ambush (overwatch to those of you that played XCOM) and nail any enemies that move into their field of view.
While locked in combat, you have to choose between the primary or secondary weapons each Desert Ranger has equipped, weapons stored in their backpacks remain out of reach until you finish each fight.
What I liked most about the combat (apart from the turn-based style) is the option to set up your position before the fight starts, unless the enemy detects you before you’ve fired the first shot. Setting up and spreading out is essential if you want to avoid being hit with an area effect weapon or accidentally hitting a friendly ranger with a wayward shot.
Ammo is limited too, and in the early hours of the game, you’ll need to consider whether you risk taking a shot that has a lower percentage chance of hitting the target. On top of managing ammo, you also have to stay on top of your squad’s inventory and rank up their skills. Wasteland’s menu system may not be as intuitive as some RPGs out there, but once everything clicks, you’ll be flying about the menus with little thought.
There’s a steep learning curve to Wasteland 2 and the game does little to hold your hand, I’ll admit to restarting the game several times, but once everything clicks, Wasteland 2 is as enjoyable as XCOM. Your morals will be continually tested – whom do you help, who do you believe – very early on in the game, I came across a damsel in distress. Thugs were trying to open a safe containing her dowry, she needs it to be able to marry a good man who will keep her safe – what do you do? Kill the thugs and take the dowry or leave the woman to have a future? It’s choices like these that might seem insignificant but each and every one of them has an effect on your game – whether that’s a direct outcome or one that manifests later.
At times the HUD and camera can prove to be a nuisance, covering up percentage values of an attack or blocking your field of view – it’s only a minor nuisance – and with multiple camera controls, it isn’t too much effort to correct things. Other issues I experienced included doors that wouldn’t open if I stood my ranger too close and button prompts (like reload) only working from within the contextual combat menu. Missions are stored in a handy logbook, although it wasn’t necessarily as clear as it could be as to where I should be headed and what the task was.
If you want a challenge and don’t like your hand being held, then give Wasteland 2: Director’s Cut a go – it demands you pay it attention and be confident managing your squad through a set of menus. The achievements are tough to earn – this is no mere waltz through the wasteland – and you won’t be earning GS just for completing missions. The strategic turn-based combat is superb and it more than makes up for an XCOM shaped hole missing from my Xbox One collection.
Thanks to Xbox and Koch Media for their support
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