- Developer/Publisher: inXile Entertainment/Deep Silver
- Platforms: PC (Steam $/€ 36.99; free for owners of Wasteland 2), PS4 ($/€ 39.99), Xbox One ($/€ 39.99)
- PS4 version tested. Review code provided by publisher.
Wasteland 2 is one of the best examples of true digital role playing buried behind awkward controls and strange bugs. We’ve had RPGs on consoles for years now, decades even, but as a genre the name is a little confusing. Rarely are we actively encouraged to play a role, take on the personality of someone different from ourselves and interact with fantasy world, at least in video games. But the term Role Playing Game has stuck, with a shell of freedom you’re meant to embrace.
Sure, we have branching dialogue and the occasional ‘moral’ decision to make, but besides some impressive immersion, there is little in the latest titles that push you into a role. Wasteland 2 does this. It does it right from the beginning when you have to select your squad, or create your own. Ask yourself this, when was the last time a game asked you to enter a biography for a character you created. I honestly can’t remember, but it immediately gets you to start building the story of your characters. You’ll be playing as a new recruit to the Desert Rangers, a military band tasked with keeping the peace after the nuclear holocaust wiped away everyone else’s sense of humanity. Your team will be tasked with all manner of missions and you’ll need them skilled for the job at hand.
Character traits and quirks help flesh out your characters, which in turn affect the way your character can influence the gameplay itself. A former street urchin might have locking picking and be a bit of a smart ass, while someone raised on a ranch is probably comfortable around animals. You’re not really told what these skills can do when exposed to the desolate Wasteland, and I had to start over quite early on after realizing that important skills had been left out of my team. It was a little annoying, but there is something satisfying is building up a complimentary team, even more so when you start to realize how these characters will support each other.
Unfortunately, Wasteland 2 Director’s Cut is so awkward and clumsy to control on console that some of the level of detail and immersion is lost as you fight to have your character act, and interact as they should. Some mistakes, however, are little more than mere misunderstanding. Accidentally using your last health kit on an enemy because you don’t know how to change the target is one thing, but not letting you use them at all is quite another. More than once I found myself riled up by the system that couldn’t comprehend my orders. A lot had to be changed in order to port this from the keyboard and mouse set up it was so obviously build for, but the transition is not seamless, and can be difficult. The most obvious and infuriating is an early instance in the game where you can go to a Aguricultural Lab overrun with beastly animals and triffid-esque plants. Some of these aforementioned plants act as mines and cover the ground with some seriously hay-fever inducing pollen. Now, in the PC version of the game you move the party by clicking on the necessary ground, whereas in Wasteland 2 Director’s Cut you control one character as the rest scurry behind them, sometimes. There is nothing more annoying than having your medic injured because they willingly hung around an exploding plant while the rest of the team bailed.
I’d hold off on Wasteland 2 Director’s Cut for now
You can tell that Wasteland 2 is the direct sequel to a decade’s old game as well from the sheer difficulty of the beast. Wounded teammates might not influence your adventuring through Skyrim or Thedas much, but they can be the cause of game altering shifts as you scurry through the Wasteland. There is no auto heal here, nor abundance of healing supplies: entering combat without a fully prepared party is a good way to lose one or two.
Combat itself is done in turn based sections, with your character’s stats affecting the order of turns much like in pen and paper RPGS. The map will devolve into a grid, and your characters will be given a select amount of action points to spend moving, and interacting on the combat map. Your options are overly complicated, but the lack of a dedicated tutorial can make some decisions taxing. Mainly you can use a skill, attack, move and take cover. Thinking carefully before confirming course of action is essential as the enemies are unforgiving.
Combat can be annoying sometimes in Wasteland 2: Director’s Cut, as hits are random percentages much like XCOM, meaning your lead character can crucially miss and cost you dearly. Though that is something veteran, and strategy gamers should be aware of, and those who aren’t will quickly learn to take into account. Where combat gets even more annoying, though, is at the very moment of entry. You will catch enemies wandering around while you are, and combat is not always automatically engaged. Instead, you’ll have to awkwardly command your team to attack a given enemy, hoping that the order will be followed through before combat can begin properly. When rushing to save someone, it is so annoying to stand around impotent as the enemies attack them over and over again, unable to join the fray for no discernible reason.
And this isn’t the only glitch with combat that riddles a strategic mind of its enjoyment. Sometimes, Wasteland 2 will just plain lie to you. You might see that your character can move across the grid and attack an enemy with their given action points. But once your character has made it within striking range, you’ll be told that in fact, you cannot attack, and you’ll just have to wait for the enemy to thank you for delivering yourself so eagerly into range. And to that random camera jumps that will take you far and wide from the action and you’re in for a deeply underwhelming experience.
Wasteland 2 is an upsetting game, because it shouldn’t be so much of a chore to play. Players of the PC version are vocal and happy with the experience. It is a challenge, a throwback to the true RPGs of yesteryear. It offers a competent story with some difficult choices, and a good sense of humor, with some stellar voice acting to really help immerse yourself into the life of a desert ranger. And all this is true for the console port as well, except that it just doesn’t feel right. The controls are awkward, the systems unexplained and unclear and the combat wholeheartedly disappointing in its current state.
If you are looking for an RPG to sink your teeth into, I’d hold off on Wasteland 2 Director’s Cut for now, just while the Desert Rangers gear up and prepare themselves properly for what the wasteland holds.
The developer himself said that it had been a challenge to port the game to consoles, and it’s just one that isn’t complete yet right now; hopefully, inXile will be able to fix these issues via patches, because there’s nothing quite like this on consoles at least until Divinity: Original Sin Enhanced Edition hits later this month.
The graphics, at least, is a definite improvement thanks to the switch to Unity 5 and the introduction of Physically Based Rendering. You won’t be quite amazed with Wasteland 2 Director’s Cut, but it’s prettier than the original game was.