Wasteland 2: Director’s Cut Review

Wasteland 2 is the sequel to one of the godfather of modern western RPGs, Wasteland, which came out way back in 1988. Setting the stage of a post-apocalyptic America that’s controlled through bartering, muscle and fear, Wasteland opened the door to bring some of the more niche elements of the tabletop-style PC games to a broader market. After all, TSR had been making plenty of awesome D&D inspired games for years (especially the Dragonlance entries), but fantasy has never appealed to as large an audience as straight up sci-fi. And, by all accounts, Wasteland 2: Director’s Cut, is a marvelous and fantastic sequel/prequel to the original game. But, as you’ll soon find out, either through this review or first hand experience, Wasteland 2 finally bucks the meme that’s been regurgitated for over a year now: not every game is perfect for the Switch. It’s still great. But it ain’t perfect.

Wasteland 2 takes place approximately 14 years after a nuclear war between the US and Russia finally happened and decimated the world over, but especially North America. You’re placed in the position of a squad of Desert Rangers, the new face of order and law enforcement in a changed and evolved world. Things may be a bit more brutal than they once were, but there still needs to be someone to keep the peace, however skewed that idea may be. In this case, it seems that a fellow Ranger by the name of Ace was killed while trying to do some recon and set up some seemingly important but otherwise mundane repeater units in the radio tower. General Vargas, leader and head of the Ranger Citadel, tasks you with taking up his cause. It’s a little confusing, because Vargas is a holdover from the original Wasteland, but Wasteland takes place (technically) about 70 years after the events of this game. In any case, your squad of four Desert Rangers is sent to investigate what got Ace killed. What unfolds is a truly massive story, taking into account evolving AI, traitors amongst us and a fight to decide what is going to help the future of humanity. It may seem daunting, but let me assure you: this is what you do. You’re a Desert Ranger. Not every story has a happy ending.

Wasteland 2 is an amazing RPG, mixing in the best elements of tabletop character sheets, dramatic and sprawling storytelling and grid-styled, turn based combat. You have the option to let the game generate you a standard troop of four Desert Rangers, but players who are really invested in the game will want to take the time to customize all of your units. It allows you to play to your own strengths as a gamer, be it someone who’s more prone to ranged attacks and espionage or the brutal, face-to-face ideology of melee and “murder first, figure out answers later.” The game, by all accounts, is an open book: you can create any sort of party that you want, even one that might instantly and immediately fail upon setting out, and the game will let you do that. If you’ve spent any time with fantasy games of this scope (such as the Baldur’s Gate series) then you’ll want and need to understand your character’s strengths and weaknesses down to the very numbers of their stats. Minute details such as whether your character is stronger with pistols, sniper rifles or assault weapons will make all the difference as to how the game proceeds. Hell, if you get someone who you dump all their stat points later into their Smart Ass trait, you might find yourself making friends with the wrong people and pissing off the “good guys.” It all depends on how the character is balanced and upgrades.

Wasteland 2 is also all about choices. If you strictly, simply, completely follow the main storyline and ignore all deviations, you’re still looking at an easy thirty hours of gameplay, and that’s with total tunnel vision. Which, by the way, is impossibly hard in this game. Every step of your journey will feel like it opens out onto a fork in the road, as you’ll be heavily bombarded with notices from Desert Ranger HQ about other groups and parties that require your help and assistance. The choices can be tricky to properly ascertain: sometimes you’ll get little heads up and help from other NPCS to suggest if a particular path is going to be too hard for you at your current state, but most of the time you’ll be allowed and even invited into buffaloing into certain death. One of my first times playing I didn’t quite understand which way to go, and headed off in the opposite direction from where Ace was last headed. The result was getting pulled into helping some folk in a mine cave-in and then getting killed by a bunch of honey badgers. I was so mad that I respawned from the start and immediately tried to kill General Vargas (because my default reaction to disappointment is to turn every game into GTA), and he promptly shot all four of us dead without breaking a sweat. Like I said, a game of choices, even bad ones.

But all those choices urge you to leave no stone unturned. The install size of Wasteland 2 comes in over 12GB, and the graphics, though utilitarian, aren’t glamorous or spectacular. It’s incredibly reminiscent of the titles that lead us here (and inXile knows that’s what fans wanted), so the isometric approach really cuts corners on flashy animations or beautiful landscapes. Don’t get me wrong: the Director’s Cut does look significantly better than the original release, and players should still appreciate it. As a result, all that data is dedicated to events, areas, NPC dialogue and additional items. If you bother to take the time to ask around at base, you get to pick up a fifth member of your squad. You’ll be asked to decide things with a limited timeframe (save one place or another) and change the course of the entire game. It’s insane to think that something that you did around the five-hour marker controls who may or may not help you survive the end of the game. Even though you might take several weeks to play through your first time, there’ll be nagging questions about what you did or didn’t do that will, eventually, prompt a second playthrough.

Getting into the meat and potatoes of Wasteland 2, your interface and interaction with the gaming world is a chimerian mix of top down RPG, point and click adventure and tactics style combat. The overworld map is pretty simple in its presentation, given that you’re working out of an irradiated desert, but the fog of war gradually lifts over time to reveal just how much territory you’re expected to patrol and investigate. Additionally, you’ll be constantly reminded about your water levels, something that players would do well to not ignore. It’s a simple mechanic that can easily be taken care of by making sure to stock up before leaving posts and cities, but it will totally end your game if you find yourself dying of dehydration too far from civilization. The maps for Arizona and Los Angeles are also starkly different, giving you the idea that maybe some places were slightly better preserved once the strikes began. Still, clouds of radiation hang over some sectors, and you’ll need to decide if you have the right equipment (or simply the right level of bravery/stupidity) to cut through and make it to another place. This is all on top of a growing list of “things we might want to do to stay alive.”

Life outside of combat is one that SHOULD take a long time, as your future in the game depends heavily on what you do when you’re not grinding for EXP. Every NPC you interact with will have different things to say and ask and answer, and many of these branches depend on the stats of whichever party member you have engaged on that topic. The imposing figures can usually bully out answers, the sly will trick out secrets and the charismatic will have people tripping over themselves to spill their guts. Don’t count on your savvy to be the answers to everything, though: more than a few characters have no time for your charm and would rather throw down with you once they realize you’re trying to take them for a ride. Instead, also be ready to go on minor fetch quests to find items and information hidden either in this bunker or somewhere much further away. Like I said, if you choose to dive into the side quests, you’ll happily be sidetracked for days before returning to the original thread. There’s a very good reason that Wasteland was the inspiration for the Fallout series: both games do wonders in letting the player forego their main mission and dive into errands that payout in large and small dividends. I literally had a scroll bar show up on the number of Ongoing quests that I was running, and none of them were time sensitive: I was everyone’s go-to boy.

Like all great RPGs, you’ll end up amassing a gargantuan number of items over the course of your journey, and Wasteland 2 does its best to make this a highly varied situation. You’ll find the standards (shotguns, knives, SMGs) but you’ll get plenty of weapons and armor that only a world gone mad could provide. Have you ever, in your life, run into a gun called a Mangler? It works fantastically at doing what the name says. Maybe you’ll find some, maybe you’ll barter and buy them (how we can rebuild the economy after a disaster I’ll never know) and just maybe you’ll be able to build them. The focus on crafting isn’t nearly as heavy as it crops up in other games, but it’s presented most realistically here, as players can cobble together broken weapon parts, discarded bits of metal and god knows what else (why would you carry a human brain around?) to make something that resembles a glass cannon. Be sure to keep track of the inventory of each character, because you may end up carting around over 100 unique items at a time, and you don’t want to forget about what you’re packing when the time comes to either heal up, reload or simply trade a nudie magazine for access to the underground.

Combat is pretty unforgiving in Wasteland 2, in that you really need to remember which way you’re supposed to go before you head in the wrong direction. The game isn’t unfairly balanced in terms of difficulty: the monsters, mercenaries and wild animals you encounter are scaled to your appropriate level (and difficulty setting) as long as you’re where you’re supposed to be. If you can follow directions and listen to Vargas for the first few hours, ignoring too many of the distress calls, you’ll get into plenty of fights to let you level up, get new EQ and basically become better at the game. Each character’s turn is divided up into action points used to attack, move and use items (and unjam your gun, which happens far too often). Understanding your character and your strengths means making good choices and ending the fight faster: don’t let your medic get on the front line with a pocket knife. Once you’ve got some notches in your belt and you go back to those distress calls that went up, you’ll find you can carve through those honey badgers pretty easily, picking them off from a distance with pinpoint accuracy and some good rounds, and suddenly the combat and quest rewards come rolling in. A good Desert Ranger follows his commander.

As weird as it sounds, my umbrage with Wasteland 2: Director’s Cut may not even be with the game itself. On the one hand, the fact that it’s been ported to the Switch and that it’s fully playable, from start to finish, is nothing short of a miracle. All the voice work is intact, and it’s passionate, dramatic and drives you to want to talk to more people. The Precision Strike is a work of art, allowing players to think tactically and carefully about each of the moves they make. You should absolutely load this game up the first time on the big screen, because the small screen is simply too tight to display all of the tutorial information that comes at you after your first outing (and by God, there is a LOT). I have, in my hands, a complete, massive RPG experience that can be taken on the road and played at any time. This isn’t just a great game for long commutes: this is a “I’ll be in the Arctic for the next six months and the Internet isn’t remotely fast enough to download new stuff.” This is a beast of a game, and it fits on the Switch, and mostly works on the Switch.

Fans asked for control support. They begged for it, and it was baked into the Director’s Cut, which made everyone quite happy. If you used it. I’m more of a mouse-driven person when it comes to this level and gradient of RPG, especially in the combat: you’d hate to muck up and click the wrong panel or cycle the wrong way for items just because you’re fidgeting with the buttons. It’s simply just not my choice. And it works well enough, but it just doesn’t feel great. Combat already takes a long time: it takes even longer when you’re working with the controller. You kind of screw up everything, taking your damn time, and you almost feel the wrath-driven AI robots tapping their feet impatiently as you try to sort out if you want to heal or try to strike for your next turn. I would happily, HAPPILY give this game a full ten if I could find some way to make a mouse work. I know it’s a Nintendo API thing. I’m sorry. I really like using the mice for this kind of deal.

But the scenario I described above affords you no luxuries, and, if you had to make the controller style work (as I did and every other Switch adopter will), then you’re going to figure it out, and, if you don’t know better, it works wonderfully. You’ll be so busy trying to figure out how to deal with The Children of the Citadel that you won’t really care that it could be easier with a different set of hardware. You’ll just know that this is the Western answer to all of those acoldates and boasts from people who’ve put 80+ hours into Xenoblade Chronicles 2 or Breath of the Wild. This is the real deal, and it’s got the purest, strongest flavor of post-apocalyptic justice and decisions that you could ask for. You’ll be neck-deep in the lore of the game for untold hours, literally turning into days and weeks (or longer) and just keep going. And good news, Ranger: if you like this, the third one is coming out next year. So don’t fuss about the small stuff like I do, that’s my job. Just grab your hat, your gun and your crew: there’s plenty of wrongs to right in this new world.

REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Nintendo Switch code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to editor@bonusstage.co.uk.

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