Review: Wasteland 2: Director’s Cut
Although many consider the Fallout series synonymous with post-nuclear-apocalypse roleplaying fun, it’s actually the Wasteland game of 1988 that first enamoured gamers with the idea of eking out a life in the dangerous post-nuke Americas. Wasteland 2 is a top-down RPG with turn-based combat the hearkens back to the PC RPGs of the late 1990s and early Millennium — a genre making something of a Kickstarter-led renaissance in recent times.
Although Wasteland 2 has been available to PC gamers since late 2014, Wasteland 2: Director’s Cut is being released for the PC, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One on 13th October in North America, and 16th October worldwide. PopBucket’s been putting the PlayStation 4 version of the RPG through its paces, discerning not only the added polish and voiced dialogue added by this enhanced edition, but also ascertaining just how well the PC game fares on consoles.
Wasteland 2: Director’s Cut puts the acclaimed top-down RPG through the popular Unity game engine, adding additional voiced dialogue features to the game, and generally polishing the visuals. The graphics are functional, yet rich in personality — although occasionally clunky, there are some blackly humorous death animations that elicited numerous laughs from us as we played. Ever punched someone so hard in a game that his arms fall off?
The Director’s Cut adds new Quirks and Perks to character creation, which range from Psychopath and Heavy Handed to Affable or just out-and-out Asshole. These have positive and negative effects on your gameplay — your Asshole Desert Ranger, for example, will have a boosted capability in intimidating NPCs in the world, but will be functionally incapable of smooth-talking or using more gentle diplomacy.
That said, violence is a frequent friend in Wasteland 2: Director’s Cut, and the game’s difficulty settings allow you to tailor just how strategic you’ll need to be to clear out raiders, mutant animals and haywire robots. Friendly fire is also a consideration that needs to be taken, and the grid-based taking-turns system feels akin to XCOM: Enemy Unknown, albeit without benefits like Overwatch or fully destructible terrain. You can still destroy cover that enemies are behind, though, and use cover to your own advantage as well — and the game innately rewards keen thinking and strategy. One encounter we faced with a troupe of killer robots, each of which were stubborn in the onslaught of our conventional weapons (although weak to energy blasts from laser fire), was able to be turned around through cunning use of the Computer Science skill.
Weaving through the fight as her squadmates drew the robots’ fire, our canny hacker was able to reprogram several of the robots in the fight to our side, turning the tables in what would otherwise have been a high-casualty encounter. Permadeath in Wasteland 2: Director’s Cut is a bitter sting to face, particularly for characters you’ve created yourself — yet having the option to use brains as much as brawn to win the day makes every encounter unique and satisfying.
Although it comes with a tutorial, Wasteland 2: Director’s Cut is a tried and true old-school RPG, in the vein of Baldur’s Gate or, indeed, the original Fallout games. As such, there’s a lack of hand-holding and in-your-face directives that some gamers may find confounding at first, if only because we are today so used to everything being laid in plain sight. This is where Wasteland 2: Director’s Cut will reward commitment and curiosity — it’s a game that can fully absorb despite any lack of fanciful graphics and sweeping vistas, instead using powerfully evocative writing and descriptors as you journey throughout the wastes to vivify its world. The presentation of the game also allows a degree of complexity to manifest without haranguing the engine, although we noted a degree of slowdown on our PS4 review copy for reasons we couldn’t quite fathom. There doesn’t seem any reason as to why the game should be taxing the hardware.
The story campaign and its host of side-missions presents a lengthy and enjoyable tale, with plenty of references to the original Wasteland, yet none so obscure as to thwart newcomers to its world. The game also has a sly and black sense of humour, as well as the occasional shout-out that feels funny rather than forced. It’s a fine balance, and a fine game, not to mention one that can genuinely stump a player and force them to think carefully about the skills of their team and the best means by which to progress an encounter — violent or otherwise.
Althouigh clearly designed for the PC crowd, we’re pleased that games like Wasteland 2: Director’s Cut are making their way to home consoles. The interface has been translated to console functionally, and the game’s lack of graphical flash is more than compensated for in the richness and confidence of its world. It also hails back to a time when RPGs could provide hours of content by virtue of having much simpler game engines, making this title flush with secrets, adventures and the means by which to use unconventional strategies to advance your goals.
Wasteland 2: Director’s Cut provides a patient gamer with a gaggle of rewards, and the character advancement and combat alone present a nuanced system well worthy of the attention of any player. Dive deep enough into its irradiated heartlands, and you’ll find a customisable and crafty caper that proves that sometimes — just sometimes — modern games designers really do make ’em like they used to.
Wasteland 2: Director’s Cut is out on 13th October in North America and 16th October worldwide.