Developers: inXile Entertainment | Obsidian Entertainment
Publishers: inXile Entertainment
Brian Fargo has been waiting a long time for the opportunity to create a true sequel to Wasteland. True, we've had Fallout and Fountain of Dreams, but those were spiritual sequels more than anything else. The Desert Rangers have plenty more stories of their own to tell yet.
Wasteland 2 is something of a modern take on retro stylings with its aesthetics enormously reminiscent of the Infinity engine's heyday. Instead of some big-name Kickstarter projects with lofty ambitions that far exceeded their crowdfunding budget (*cough* Double Fine), inXile have had a plan and stuck to it. When I caught up with Brian at this year's Gamescom, he explained how fashioning the game using the Unity engine, and leveraging Unity's expansive Asset Store allowed the team to move much more efficiently than they might have otherwise, both in terms of expenditure and time management.
Being a game constructed around deep, tactical, turn-based combat, the isometric view works marvellously, and players will have the opportunity to work out the perfect party combinations for their groups of four player-created Rangers, and up to three other NPCs. A familiar-looking attribute system makes a return, with CLASSIC comprising Charisma, Luck, Awareness, Strength, Speed, Intelligence, and Coordination. Thre'll be 32 skills in which to specialise, across three disciplines: Combat (e.g. Blunt Weapons, Bladed Weapons, Anti-Tank-Weapons etc.), Knowledge (e.g. Picklock, Safecrack, Alarm Disarm, Demolitions etc.) and General (e.g. Detector, Outdoorsman, Evasion, Leadership, Folklore etc.).
It seems odd in places, almost defiantly archaic in its approach at times, but I don't mean that in a bad way. What's clear is that Fargo and his team have stuck to their guns, that this is most definitely the game that they always wanted to make. As such, Wasteland 2 is a game that will appeal most to the generation that grew up with its predecessor. This is a game born out of a specific time for a fairly specific audience, and, to their credit, inXile are refusing to compromise on that. There are reams and reams of text, with ham-stuffed voice acting only accounting for small amount of the game's incredibly hefty script. Tucked away in the corner of the screen is a persistent journal, constantly adding depth and shade to the proceedings being played out before the player, like a text-adventure being constructed in front of you. Some will no doubt find that offputting, but, to me at least, this is glorious. We have modern aesthetics conveniences afforded by the engine, but the story remains paramount. Context is key -- giving the player enough information to make decisions for themselves, and having the world react accordingly. The custom UI yields nothing that resembles a karma bar or a convenient binary colour-coded system to determine "good" choices from "bad".
"We don't judge morality as developers," says project lead, Chris Keenan. "We let the characters in the game decide." Players have to make decisions based on their own moral compass and the narrative's context, and then the logic of the game will determine the lasting impact of those actions. In the demo we're shown, two settlements are under siege, but you can only save one, and your choice will return to have an impact on the game world later on. You can kill anyone in the game, but once you do, they're gone for good, along with any quests or other things of interest that they might have brought to your attention later on. The Rangers come across a wretchedly ill woman who begs them to kill her. Her husband left weeks before to search for a cure but hasn't returned and she can endure the pain no longer. The Rangers choose to euthanise her this time and, just as luck would have it, the husband returns home shortly afterwards and sets upon the Rangers for murdering his wife. Nobody wins.
We get a taste of the turn-based combat too. Infiltrating a Red Skorpion base, the sniper is sent on ahead to clear the fog of war, he takes a position high up on the ridge overlooking the bas and gets an instant accuracy bonus, and a nice little evasion boost from the large rock behind which he's taken cover. There's a readily identifiable "traffic-light" system used to give players visual feedback regarding range. At green range, players get a bonus to accuracy, with red severely decreasing the chances of a hit. With the other Rangers going in for relatively close quarters combat, one of the Skorpions unleashes the Discobot, which does a pretty damn good job of distracting the nearby Rangers by pulling funky shapes.
Exceedingly dark elements mixed in with a little light relief, this is the Wasteland way. If anything, my time with Wasteland 2 assured me that we need games like this now more than ever. As we jump to a new console generation and once again fall in love with shinier prospects, inXile are preparing to deliver a game stuffed with the very best thing a gamer can ask for: choice. And Wasteland 2 is nothing if not a game all about player agency.