Log in

No account? Create an account
26 March 2017 @ 04:59 pm
Game Review: Wasteland II  
This is the first thing I ever kickstarted, back in the heady days of 2012 when Double Fine Adventure blew up on kickstarter and revealed the wonders of crowdfunding. I had only ever played the original Wasteland for maybe an hour, but I had read multiple let's plays of it and, more importantly, I'm a huge fan of the Fallout games which were its spiritual successors. So I kicked in for a physical copy of the game (with cloth map!) and waited. And then when it came out, I heard there were some bugs so I waited for them to be fixed. And then I heard there would be a director's cut with new mechanics, so I waited for that. And then I was playing other games. But now, five years later, I finally sat down and decided that this would be the next game I would play so I could taste the fruit of that kickstarter long ago.

It's okay.

All in a day's work.

It's fine. It's not bad. It's pretty fun.

Maybe it's because I grew up playing so much Fallout that I didn't develop a huge attachment to Wasteland II. I've played Fallout I and II a dozen times in the 90s, I played a long game of Fallout: New Vegas where I did every quest I could, and even though it wasn't a great Fallout game, I played three heavily-modded run-throughs of Fallout III totalling hundreds of hours. I have a fan-created game called Fallout: Resurrection waiting in the queue and I almost played that instead of this until I decided that maybe I should get to this game I've owned for years and that I gave money to make happen.  photo latest.gif

But I don't really care if there are mods for Wasteland II, and I certainly wouldn't take the time to install them. There's not that much here that makes me want to spend more time in the world.

Not me.

For huge Wasteland fans, this is probably a treasure trove. It's clearly designed for them, and anyone who doesn't know the plot or characters of Wasteland is going to spend a large chunk of the early game confused. The default Wasteland party, the fantastically-named Snake Vargas, Angela Deth, Hell Razor, and Thrasher, are all relevant NPCs or background characters. Angela Deth is even a party member early on as a kind of soft tutorial, and Snark Vargas is now General Vargas, leader of the Desert Rangers. The beginning quest features the Ag Central and Highpool being simultaneously attacked and forces the player to choose one, and choosing Highpool as I did leads to a lot of conversations about how the rangers are dog-murderers based on Wasteland, where a rabid dog attacked the Rangers. Then the dog's owner also attacked the Rangers, so after being called dog-murderers, they're called child-killers.

None of this will make sense to anyone who comes to Wasteland II fresh. I suspect it might make the game impenetrably dull and boring, actually. If I had come in without knowing this, then all I would know is that I'm supposed to care about a bunch of people I've just met, I'm being yelled at by NPCs over things I didn't do, and events are constantly being referenced as though I should know them. A lot of games do this, but most of them make some effort to ease the player in and try to give them some connection to the setting first. Wasteland II really doesn't--it throws the player straight in and hopes their nostalgia or willingness to deal with incomplete information will carry the day.

And really, as the game went on and leaned more and more on the background for its pathos, my interest waned. By the ending I was just playing through to finish up the game.


Wasteland II also suffers from reusing its basic narrative structure. In the beginning, Ranger Team Echo--that's you--is sent off to attach repeaters to radio towers to allow the Ranger Citadel to triangulate the location of some strange broadcasts that speak of a merging of human and synthetic life and bear an uncomfortable resemblance to the ideology of the AI from Base Cochise, the final boss of Wasteland. This requires traveling around the wasteland of post-apocalyptic Arizona, meeting people like the Rail Nomads or the Servants of the Mushroom Cloud or the Red Skorpion Militia, finding the location of other radio towers, upgrading radiation suits to survive the radiation belts that remain, and exploring until the radio signals are deciphered. And then the Desert Rangers go to a new location...and do it all over again. California is out of radio contact with Ranger Citadel, see, so Team Echo needs to attach boosters to several radio towers, which require finding new radiation suits, meeting new people, and  photo 58-2nsylaw.gif

There are new organizations and new enemies, but this is definitely one case where the isometric, Unity-asset look hampers the game. I played with the camera zoomed pretty far enough because I didn't bother making any melee characters and opened most battles with a sniper bullet to the head, and that meant that all humanoid enemies looked basically the same. Most robots were also humanoid, with none of the mapcap Wasteland enemies like the cybertrike. There were no oddities like Fallout II's wanamingos. Nearly everything was just some guy with a gun, and what wasn't was either a humanoid robot or a dog. Or a honey badger.

Fighting the Scorpitron Mark II was pretty fun, though.

*Tips hat* "Ma'am."

There is one major difference between this and most other post-apocalyptic media. Usually in the wasteland, whether it's after a nuclear holocaust, a zombie plague, an alien invasion, a viral outbreak, or whatever horrific disaster has befallen the world, the protagonist is on their own, or at most has their band of misfits and outcasts they've assembled as they wander the world. The main character in Fallout 3 is called the Lone Wanderer, but that could just as easily be the generic term for anyone in Post Apocalytpia.

Not so in Wasteland II. Not only are the characters part of an established organization, they are the law. They are explicitly cops, and the Desert Rangers' mission is to bring peace and prosperity to the Arizona wasteland. When you play you can be a good cop, or you can be a bad cop, but unlike Fallout: New Vegas you can't decide that the robot menace has the right idea and sign up to get computers put in your brains. Not every course of action is acceptable to General Vargas, either--kill too many people and he'll send another Ranger team to stop you, since you've clearly become one of the raiders that the Desert Rangers fight as part of their mission.

It doesn't quite work, though. At the beginning it's obvious that the Rangers are active in more places than just wherever Team Echo happens to be at the time, but as the game goes on, there's less and less evidence that the Desert Rangers exist outside of the Citadel and your squad. I'm not saying I want them to solve all the quests, but one of the best mods I ever installed during my playthrough of Fallout 3 was the mod that added Brotherhood of Steel patrols through the DC area. It instantly made the Brotherhood's rhetoric about patrolling and fighting the menace much more believable, and when I came on a group of Brotherhood paladins fighting a squad of Super Mutants I felt like the Capital Wasteland was battleground and there were more people than me working to keep it safe. I never got that sense in Wasteland II.

And yeah, it took a mod, but the Lone Wanderer is the Lone Wanderer. As I said, Team Echo is part of the local constabulary. There should be some evidence of it.

Hard Ass: Let him be stoned! Kiss Ass: Shouldn't we convene the Sanhedrin for this?

The gameplay is more interesting than the story, though it was slightly hampered by being incredibly easy.

It's explicitly squad-based, with each character probably able to master four or five skills out of several dozens. A lot of those are weapons skills and a given character will only need one or maybe two, leaving plenty of room to spread out the skills over the rest of the seven-person squad. The default Team Echo is four custom characters and three companions found along the way, so I had more than enough skill points to pass every single skill check I ran into throughout the entire game. Some of this is because I took the Delayed Gratification Quirk at character generation--one fewer skill point up to level ten, one more skill point at every level thereafter--so by the end of the game I was swimming in skills, but even in the early part of the game I had enough coverage between my team members to do okay. Also, Angela Deth.

Some of this is because most skills have percentage-based chances of success, so if I found a lock to pick or safe to crack or computer to hack with a minimal chance to succeed, I just reloaded until I got it right. There's no penalty for this and therefore no reason not to do it. It's doubly strange because the dialogue skills--Kiss Ass, Hard Ass, and Smart Ass--are all threshold-based, with the appropriate responses either possible or not depending on the party's skill levels. Why the other skills in the game weren't similarly designed I don't know. It would have made more sense, since the vast majority of random skill uses are just to find extra leveled loot and aren't story-critical, and most of what remains is just to bypass having to go find a door code or a key or something similar. Even maxed-out skills still have a chance of failure, but only a critical failure causes a problem. All a simple failure does is require another skill use and waste time. It seems poorly thought out for something that's the basis of the entire system outside of combat.

They do not have a flamethrower called "Disco inferno."  photo onfire.gif

Speaking of, combat is squad-based grid combat with action points, which should be exactly the kind of thing I love the way I loved Fallout's combat. But as I said, it's incredibly easy, so most of the time I was clicking on things and killing them without having to worry about the outcome. There's no real flanking (unless the ranger has a perk that adds a bonus for shooting people in the back) and positioning only matters in terms of being in or out of cover, so battles were mostly just everyone running behind a fence or the corner of a house, or crouching if no cover is available, and then trading shots. Assault and sniper rifles have a penalty to hit at close range, but I always found it better to just run from melee targets and then shoot them rather than invest in melee attacks.

Gaining levels provides a full heal, and for almost all of Arizona and half of California, the First Aid and Surgery skills were basically useless. I'd just keep the injured person away from the front lines and behind cover and heal them when they leveled, and that was enough to keep up with damage. It wasn't until I was fighting killer robots that I really had to heal. Or a couple times that I caught another ranger in a crossfire and one of my snipers shot them in the head. Oops.

Apparently higher difficulty levels remove the "heal on level up" factor, but since the difficulty modes don't actually explain what they do, I went with "Seasoned." I mean, that sounds like it's hard enough, right? I've played Fallout games, I've played original and nuXCOM, that should count as seasoned. But the only battles I ever had to try more than once were the Scorpitron battle and the final battle, and I can count the number of battles where I had to heal during the battle on one hand. Clearly I should have played on Ranger difficulty, but on the other hand, that just increases enemy damage and reduces player damage, going with the time-honored tactic of making all NPCs bullet sponges. Making combat more annoying is not making it harder.

On the other hand, breezing through combat made up for the unengaging story. I'd be significantly more negative if the story had been bland and the combat had been annoying.

No, you go first.

I'm still glad I spent the money on the kickstarter, though. Both because this is a game that should exist, and because I'm glad to contribute to games that are deliberately old-school in their aesthetics and gameplay. At the time this game was kickstarting, party-based tactical RPGs that weren't Japanese strategy RPGs were pretty slim on the ground. I'm not sure how much of a connection there is, but there's been an explosion of the kind of games I like to play ever since kickstarter revealed that there was an audience for them and digital distribution meant that there was no need to get games into stores to get them into players' hands. If alien space bats banned the production of all video games forever, I have enough games now that I could play them until I died and be happy, and a lot of those games that I'm looking forward to came out to due kickstarter and don't follow any of the game design trends set down in the 00s and early 10s. Darkest Dungeon, Pillars of Eternity, Torment: Tides of Numenera, Telepath Tactics, Divinity: Original Sin, Rain World...hopefully someday those will all be links to my reviews after I played them, and they can all thank kickstarter for their existence.

And so can Wasteland II. I'm happy I helped in some small way to create it and I'm happy for its indirect legacy. But I doubt I'll play it again, and unfortunately with all fifty hours of the game behind me, most of what sticks with me is what could have been done to make it just a little bit better.
Current Mood: okayokay
Current Music: Miracle Of Sound - Beauty Bleak