Q: What makes a good RPG
A: Everything about Wasteland 2
Wasteland 2 is what happens when you give the granddaddies of gaming a budget to run free with, without the restricting demands of publishers breathing down their necks. Ball crushingly difficult, complex and one of the most satisfying experiences you can find in RPGs. Wasteland 2 was a great game on its initial release in 2014, but in many ways it was more effort than it was worth. Ugly, broken, poorly optimized and filled with some outdated principles that frustrated players to the point of murder-suicide. But near the end of 2015, developers inXile Entertainment gave us a little early Christmas gift when they released the Directors Cut, which made efforts to improve on the original formula. Did they succeed? (Spoilers: They totally did)
But before we talk about what they improved, lets look at what Wasteland 2 has always been.The game was funded through Kickstarter in 2012 after it received some serious attention from fans of the first, genre defining game for the Apple II in 1988. Wasteland, for all you apocalypse fans out there, is what can be credited for the birth of the Fallout series. Yeah, really, it was first. The sequel looked to modernize a few things, but keep the same solid foundations of exploration and RPG mechanics that made the first so darn good. You take control of four handcrafted desert rangers, the last real lawmen in a post nuclear desert filled with raiders, monsters and an overwhelming amount of subtle pop culture references. Your fellow rangers are dying mysteriously, followed by odd broadcasts flowing over the radio and its your team’s duty to get your butts demolished finding out.
Wasteland 2 is not a friendly game; at no point does it hold your hand and tell you everything will be okay, instead it punches you in the gut, offering only the cold instruction that maybe you should think about being better at the game. You team members will die permanently if you don’t pay attention or the games RNG dice rolls decide they just aren’t liking the confidence you keep showing. Saying the wrong thing or turning up too late will reward you with a horrible outcome, often with the deaths of countless innocents. There are so many possible resolutions to the games lengthy, well written quests that you can so often walk away feeling like you missed something important. In all likely hood, this is the case, but Wasteland 2 doesn’t care. It never explicitly tells you you have made a bad choice, it simply offers you whatever consequences can be found with a utterly neutral mentality. Even reaching these ambiguous conclusions is a struggle, as combat it brutal and unforgiving. Taking the form of a turn based, random chance system, Wasteland 2 stacks the odds firmly against new players by limiting ammunition and medical supplies in battle. Why would anyone want to play this miserable slog to the grave? Because it works so well, thats why.
Wasteland 2 is the very definition of ‘harsh. but fair’. It offers a huge amount of information to allow you to make decisions, craft strategies in combat and patrol the desolate world. Vast amounts of beautifully written dialogue and descriptive flavor text highlights what it may not be able to show visually, helping you to absorb anything vital to continue. Penalties that work against you in combat apply to foes, who often have clear, exploitable weaknesses which help to even the odds when you are close to being overwhelmed. And with the randomly generated outcomes of actions, Wasteland 2 expects you to abuse save slots and roll back on catastrophically failed actions. Impatient players take a snappy dirtnap, while gamers with self restraint will grow to love how carefully crafted the games complex systems are. Constant rewards are offered to ease the pain, such as new weapons, companions and quirky locales to explore, without drowning you in meaningless gear that gets thrown into the nearest bargain bin back in town. There is always a reason to sink time into Wasteland 2, be it a conclusion to a long running quest or just the chance to upgrade your precious team with something more powerful than the pea shooters that you currently own.
Wasteland 2 is without a doubt a frustrating experience which can often throw utterly unfair chains of crushing defeats your way without respite. Missing a point blank shot with a 95% chance to hit will lead to furious key board smashing within seconds, with brittle knuckles reduced to dust against desktops when loot filled safes lock your low skilled characters out permanently. Worse still is how many important items or characters can be very easily missed for good, as the game expects you to work out most things for yourself. But this is certainly less endearing when the engine decides to break scripting for quests, locking you out of rewards for the rest of the game. There are no objective markers or in game hints to help out here. Eventually, things begin to go your way as characters are upgraded, but Wasteland 2 soon offers even harder challenges that show you were only just barely keeping up with what it has hidden behind the radiation clouds.
So, what does the Directors Cut fix? The reality is that the Directors Cut adds very little apart from a host of fixes, a few minor updates and a graphical overhaul. However it would be a terrible lie if we were to say they didn’t go a long way. Visually the improvement is leaps ahead of the vanilla experience, with characters that no longer look like poorly molded claymation figures and an environment that drips with a new found level of quality. Animations and effects rain mostly the same, so don’t go expecting anything too crazy, but the effort is greatly appreciated. Within game play little has changed, with the execution of the ability to target individual body parts for certain unique effects, even if it is somewhat under utilized. At best they make the shootouts that much more tactical, but at worst they hardly seem to do anything whatsoever.
Where the update truly matters is the technical and audio department, and helps make this the definitive edition to pick up. Hundreds of new voice clips have been included to reduce the amount of reading silent exposition you had to contend with previously. The recordings are fitting, if clearly a little rushed at points. Particularly amusing mistakes included actors reading off their own character descriptions in conversations, random emphasis of the wrong phrases and even a violent, unscripted sneeze at one point. It adds a lot to the experience of Wasteland 2 to hear an old school team trying so very hard to catch up with their peers, and failing so admirably in the process. For the most part, it is an excellent addition, with some genuinely solid performances throughout. Technically, the game has for the most part been fixed, aside from a few negligible bugs. At no point did we find ourselves locked away from objectives or items thanks to a random error, nor did we find the disastrous performance issue that were so prevalent previously. Ignoring a few crashes and unobtrusive visual glitches, it was a smooth ride during our 60 hour campaign.
Wasteland 2: Directors Cut is a non negotiable purchase, seriously. It was the best RPG of 2014, and it can technically be considered the best RPG of 2015 with the visual and technical update. There really is no experience like it out there, and if you have a few sick days that are going unused you better start looking at taking them. Oorah, Rangers!