Wasteland 2 Beta Preview: The Isometric Apocalypse Returns
Editors Note: Please note, this is a preview based on a Beta build intended for backers of the Wasteland 2 project and is intended to improve the final product. It is not fully representative of the final product.
The original Wasteland was a game ahead of its time in 1988 and introduced gamers to the first post-apocalyptic RPG. Fallout, something of a spiritual successor, perfected the art in 1997. Gaming has come a long way since the 80’s and 90’s, and while Wasteland 2 admirably attempts to marry the old school style of the original with modern gaming touches, something seems to have been lost in the translation. There is a lot to like in Wasteland 2 in its current Beta form. The setting of an Arizona wasteland is fun to explore, the voice acting is very good, and the music is excellent. But some clunky interface problems and a few questionable design choices can induce an amount of work and frustration that tends to spoil the overall experience.
The game begins with a very in depth character selection and customization screen where you are tasked with either selecting or creating your four party members. There are some brilliant touches here, such as the ability to write your own dossier. It has no impact on the gameplay, but I felt very connected to my womanizing ex-detective main character Tex. The skill tree, too, has nice touches. While you’d be hard pressed to ignore improving your shooting and healing skills upon leveling, I couldn’t resist putting a few points into Smart Ass and Toaster Repair.
Then the nostalgia hits as you are presented with a very brown, very dusty isometric view of your environment. Your first task is to discover the fate of a fellow ranger who’s gone missing. It’s just enough of a carrot to get you setting out in the wasteland, hoping to make it to your destination without dying of thirst, radiation, or roaming bandits. I was entirely enraptured with Wasteland 2 for the majority of the introductory mission.
Then something bad happened; one of my characters was felled in combat. The interface told me he was bleeding, and would be dead in 100 turns. That’s an eternity in this turn-based combat game, so I wasn’t too concerned. I’d finish off the bandits, then tend to my wounded. Once combat ended however, my comatose patient began spurting blood. I was now informed he would be dead in 37 seconds. So began my infuriating struggle with the interface of Wasteland 2. Using skills is overly complex and doesn’t always work the first time you click. With no tutorial to explain things, it is difficult for the player to know that bandages and blood packs do nothing to help a dying friend. Only a character with the surgery skill is capable of helping. Even then, the success rate of surgery is poor early in the game and the clock is ticking. Furthermore, a success is no guarantee of returning your comrade to the land of the living, as it may only improve him from almost dead to only mostly dead. In one instance, I performed surgery 33 times before finally reviving my sniper.
And that is a microcosm of the frustration Wasteland 2 can produce. At every turn as you struggle with the interface you’ll ask yourself what you’re doing wrong, for certainly you must be doing something wrong if you can’t simply pick a lock by clicking on the locked box with your thieving character. The good news, however, is that these inconsistencies and complexities can be fixed. The underlying game is one I want to play, if the game would just get out of my way and let me. As a beta, I couldn’t recommend shelling out $60 unless you truly understand you will be a part of creating the game players want, and there will be some growing pains along the way. But Wasteland 2 is a game to keep an eye on as it continues to improve through community feedback. It may end up being an RPG all fans can enjoy.
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