Wasteland 2 Preview (PC)

In the early years of the 21st Century, there once was a game known only as “Van Buren”. Its real name, the one it was intended to be released under, is perhaps more familiar: Fallout 3. Developed by the original Fallout team at Black Isle Studios, the game was set to be a top-down RPG with an advanced 3D graphics engine and turn-based combat. It was cancelled when Black Isle closed and Interplay tried and failed to turn out a console gaming hit. Fallout 3 finally ended up being made by Bethesda, and while great it was a world away from the previous games. Now at last thanks to InXile, Kickstarter, and 61,290 backers, Van Buren is back in the form of a sequel to the game that inspired Fallout in the first place - Wasteland 2. I’ve been playing the beta and would like to share my impressions with you.

While this is not Fallout there are many recognisable ideas, most notably the post-apocalyptic landscape full of mutants, bandits, choices, neat dialogue, and plenty of nudge-in-the-rib gags. You start off as a member of the Desert Rangers, the respected self-appointed law enforcement of the Wasteland, who have been going through some tough times since their headquarters at a prison was taken over by a powerful gang called the Skorpions. Unlike many RPGs you actually begin with a group of four characters, all of which can be customised if you feel like it. I went with a jack-of-all-trades lead along with a tech expert, a sniper, and a medic – seemed sensible to me. Our first assignment as Ranger rookies: to find a missing ranger and the equipment he was picking up.

“Welcome to the Wasteland, rookies”

Before I continue, a word of warning as the Wasteland 2 beta is available to buy on Steam Early Access. This should go without saying but it deserves underlining: this is not a finished game yet. There are plenty of bugs for a start. Ones I’ve encountered myself including enemies not moving in combat, customised profile portraits rendering me unable to save, and two major locations not appearing when they’re supposed to. It’s not been out a month and there’s already a patch that improves gameplay and fixed most of this but also wipes your savegames, which you should expect to happen a lot before the game’s final release. The game also hasn’t been optimised to run properly as that comes later, so frame rates frequently drop. All of this would be terrible if it was the final release, but it’s not, so it’s not a complaint about Wasteland 2 – it’s a warning for anyone interesting in trying the Early Access.

Wasteland 2 is top-down RPG but unlike the upcoming Pillars of Eternity from Obsidian or InXile’s own Torment: Tides of Numenera the engine (based on Unity) is completely 3D, so you can turn and zoom it as much as you like. While this does create a less artistically beautiful game since you’re not literally playing in a painting, this is the style of top-down RPG I definitely prefer. You can see everything, no one can hide behind buildings, and it feels more like a real world. Graphically the game still has a way to go but is already looking detailed and interesting – particularly once you get out of the sandy Wasteland and into somewhere greener like the Ag Center. You can explore the map of the Wasteland at will as long as you have enough water, and when you enter locations they have so many paths to go down you quickly realise there’s a lot to see here, even at this early stage (there’s about half the game in this beta).

Missions are either picked up along the way by discovering something of interest or conveyed to you over the radio by General Vargas at Ranger Center. While the opening investigation on the death of Captain Ace branches off into several other interesting paths and presumably will build to a larger storyline, smaller side-quests can either be found around the Wasteland or might literally run up to you, like a lady Topekan did to me with her drowning son. Time is sometimes of the essence in quests, and in this one with the son if you don’t figure out a way to rescue him in time he’ll drown and you won’t get any rewards. I personally dug a hole under a nearby totem pole with my shovel and it collapsed just next to him, allowing the boy to grab hold and pull himself to safety. While the game as a whole could do with more side-quests right now the ones that are there are satisfying... except for the fact that my reward in this case was an apple.

“Flopsy! Nooo!”

Occasionally you’ll even have a choice to make, with your decision affecting a mission. Early on you’re told you have to visit both Highpool and the Agricultural Center to install the repeaters Captain Ace had recovered on radio dishes in each, but both places have a crisis at hand. Highpool is under attack by the Skorpions, and the Ag Center is besieged by, um, killer plants, insects and rabbits. Whichever one you choose the other will suffer horribly and won’t be best pleased to see you when your company finally turns up – if anyone survived. Of course I chose the Ag Center first as it sounded more fun, but I’d occasionally get comm chatter from the battle at Highpool where things weren’t going so well. Oh well, I contentedly mowed down mutated flies, maggots and (I’m going to say it again in case you missed it) rabbits instead, as well as getting a debilitating fungal infection throughout my entire team that starting eating them inside-out. Maybe this was a bad idea after all...

If you haven’t noticed so far Wasteland 2 like the Fallout series has a vein of humour running through it. Those rabbits come as standard with a Monty Python reference. Narrative comments appear as you explore and are regularly amusing, such as “the Junkies are armed only with syringes and unsettling facial tics” and “you can’t tell if you’re supposed to eat the fruits or they’re going to eat you”. Character customisation includes the usual attribute “Toaster Repair” and gives you the option of choosing what brand cigarettes your character prefers. The main menu has a button for “Red Boots DLC - $49.95” which makes fun of you if you click it. I even found a hidden cache in the desert of thousands of E.T. game cartridges which were worth absolutely nothing. While serious and unsettling things happen in the Wasteland it’s lovely to have these amusing moments now and again, and they turn a good RPG into an additively entertaining one.

Some of the environments are superbly detailed

As mentioned earlier, combat is entirely turn-based and is more than a little reminiscent of XCOM (or even fellow Kickstarter RPG Shadowrun Returns), just with the classic Action Points stuck back in. Movement in combat works similar, as in you have one box you can move within and still shoot and a larger box you can also move within but you won’t be able to do anything afterwards. Taking cover makes you harder to hit, a percentage chance of hitting an enemy shows when you’re ready to shoot (helpfully here appearing over every enemy at once unlike XCOM), reloading probably costs you your shooting privileges in that turn, and if someone falls they can sometimes be stabilised or they’ll just die. Where it differs from XCOM is that combat isn’t the entire game, and you can initiate it at any time. You can get the drop on most enemies if you’re clever, or if you just fancy attacking a random innocent civilian you can do that too.

If you enjoyed XCOM and would like to see the combat as optional within a Fallout-style world, or want Shadowrun Returns with a bigger, freer post-apocalyptic world, then Wasteland 2 is going to be exactly the game for you. It’s funny, it’s interesting, it’s great to explore, and did I mention how great and Fallout-y Mark Morgan’s music is? Nonetheless while you can take the plunge and try Early Access I’d suggest waiting until the final release unless you’re willing to a) put up with potentially game-breaking bugs and b) not have your savegames carry over. While Wasteland 2 is already a great game in the classic Fallout mold, it’s not quite done yet. The release date is just “2014” at the moment, but when it does properly turn up this particular top-down RPG with the advanced 3D graphics engine and turn-based combat should be worth the wait.

Most Anticipated Feature/Element: Seeing what further crazy surprises the game has in store.


By Voqar (SI Core Veteran) on Jan 02, 2014
I'm looking forward to this but I have to say I'm disappointed with the way this game has been handled, especially with early access. It's reminiscent of SRR with a different taint.

In both cases the developers ended up seeming shifty and inappropriately greedy (considering the community funded the bulk of development).

I found SRR to be bland and have higher hopes for WL2,
so, just waiting it out and hoping for the best when this releases.
By The_Tingler (SI Core) on Jan 03, 2014
I'm not sure what you mean - Shadowrun Returns didn't do Steam Early Access did it? There was a limited beta release for backers, but that's it.

I haven't seen any real problems with how InXile are marketing the game. If they want to sell it on Early Access they can do so, they need to make money on this game you know. Should they have given beta access to every backer? Perhaps, but it's not like they're the only ones doing this - and they haven't lied or anything, they've delivered on exactly what they promised.
By Mindrax (SI Core) on Jan 03, 2014
I love this game so far. Now i am waiting for more content.