First released on the PC back in September 2014, Wasteland 2: Director's Cut is a sequel to the 1988 title Wasteland, a game that has been credited with providing the inspiration for the Fallout series of games. So, it has quite a legacy to live up to, and some mighty big boots to fill! The question we hope to answer in this review is whether or not developers InXile Entertainment have managed to get the job done.
The game starts with a funeral, after which you are asked to create your squad of Rangers. You have the option of using existing Rangers, or creating your own using the character creator. This proved to be surprisingly in depth, allowing us to tweak almost everything about the person we were making, from their preferred brand of cigarettes to their religious leanings. After creating a chain smoking atheist (because why not?), we filled the rest of the squad with existing Rangers. A word of caution here: the game doesn't do a brilliant job of explaining what skills are going to be vital when you hit the big bad world. You will need to take someone with the "Surgeon" perk as this is the only way to revive characters who get taken out in combat. In Wasteland 2, dead means dead, so if you don't have this perk it's all too easy to lose people. We found this out the hard way ten minutes into the game, when our brave band of greenhorns was ambushed by 3 Gila Monsters who proceeded to rip the squad apart. Another useful perk is "Field Medic", which allows the character to heal their compadres using Medkits, which give a lot more health back than the painkillers that regular characters can use. Other than that, its the usual spread of abilities, from lockpicking to bartering to computer science, all of which will come in handy.
Once our squad was ready, we left the safety of the Ranger Citadel and headed out into the Wasteland. As we wandered the world map, we were put in mind of the world exploration sections of the early Final Fantasy games, particularly VII and VIII. The squad is represented by a Ranger badge, which can be steered around the various obstacles. Every so often a random encounter will be triggered, again reinforcing the Final Fantasy comparisons, although in this game we were given the option of whether to engage or to run away, with a percentage chance of success shown on screen. We seemed to spend the early part of the game running away a lot, as although the Raider encounters are not too bad, the mutated animals of the Wasteland are no laughing matter! As we wandered aimlessly, the map became populated by oases that we discovered, and also settlements and shrines that can be discovered by walking over them, although a higher perception skill will allow these sites to be discovered from further away. All the while, the Ranger Citadel keeps in contact with via the radio, giving out missions and destinations that they want you to check out. Its not a spoiler to say that the Citadel gave us a choice of locations to select fro, first, a town called Highpool which provided the water to the Citadel, or to the Ag Center, which provides the food. It isn't possible to save both, it turns out, so whichever one you choose, you will hear the demise of the other on the radio as they curse you for not helping them. Its a very neatly done system, making you feel that your actions really do have consequences on the wider world.
Another word of caution about the world map: as you wander, there's a water meter in the bottom left of the screen which depletes with every step. If it runs out, your Rangers take damage from dehydration as they keep marching. Luckily, the meter can be refilled at the plentiful oases dotted around (we found three between the Citadel and Highpool) so the yomp can continue. Upon entering a location, the squad are shown in their individual glories once more, and can be moved around as a group, and, in a mode that wasn't explained by the game, can also be moved individually. This helps with preparation for combat, as it's possible to place key members of the squad in advantageous positions before initiating a rumble with the various bad guys dotted about the place. Time spent doing this is time well spent, as an entrenched sniper is literally worth his weight in scrap (the game's currency) and can turn the tide of a battle almost singlehandedly. The camera is quite tight and restrictive and blocks the view of the way ahead more often than not, but can be swung around to give the best possible view of the situation. Swinging the camera around during combat does sometimes produce somewhat interesting results, as on a couple of occasions it looked like we were fighting on a 70's disco dance floor, but it is largely up to the job.
Combat in this game put us in mind of another of the Final Fantasy stable, Tactics, and also of the old Fire Emblem games back on the Game Boy Advance. In fact, with the permadeath mechanic, the Fire Emblem comparison is particularly apt. The ground is divided into squares, and then the battle is played out in a turn based way, with each character having a certain number of action points that can be spent on moving, reloading, attacked and so on. Depending on when you see the bad guys, the first turns of the battle will be spent moving people into cover, which gives a big boost to the chance of evading an attack, and also increases firearms accuracy. The enemies will also make good use of cover, so the battles have a very strong strategy element, with both sides constantly jockeying to gain the upper hand with positioning and flanking attacks. Once the enemies are down, its tea and EXP all round, and then off to the next encounter. The combat is always interesting and challenging, but can start to get repetitive as you advance 50 meters, fight a bit, advance another 50 and so on. It never feels unfair, however, and if the squad is wiped out (which will almost definitely happen, based on our playthrough) then you can always play back in your mind and see where you made a critical error, and get it right next time. Also, the game's autosave system is fairly generous, so these can be used to side step the permadeath mechanic by loading the last auto save, which is generally taken when you first enter an area. But you didn't hear that from us, OK?
The charm of Wasteland 2 comes from the little details in the background, and from the dialogue of the characters you come across. For example, when we went to the Ag Center, we found a room with various plant samples in that we could examine. Doing this revealed samples of a Triffid, Pikmin, and a Piranha Plant. The leader of Highpool despises the Rangers, and the story of why is equally sad and amusing, but we'll not spoil it here. This really is a game where the more you look, the more you'll find. However, it could be a friendlier experience, as a lot of the game's mechanics are either sketchily explained, or not explained at all. As an example of this, the right trigger is used in combat to choose between different modes of attack, whether it be a precision strike (à la V.A.T.S. in Fallout) or ambush mode, where the character doesn't attack that turn but will let fly if an enemy crosses their line of sight. However, in regular exploration mode in the map locations, the left trigger is used to access the character's special abilities, such as lockpicking, demolition and so on. We stumbled across this completely accidentally, as the game's tutorial system had made no mention of these things and how to access them. This made the early section of the game a little more frustrating than it needed to be, as we came across locked chests that we could have opened with lockpicking, if we had only known how to access it. While we're on the subject of these special abilities, they can be ranked up by spending skill points to open up better chances of success in a "Hardass" speech challenge, for instance. The most interesting special ability belongs to a character called Cherry Bomb and is called"Toaster Repair." It does exactly what it says on the tin! As we explored, we came across toasters, Cherry would repair them, and out would pop useful items, rather than delicious toast. This was a small disappointment, but the items were generally fairly valuable, so we took what we could get...
Wasteland 2: Director's Cut is a sprawling adventure, and it never fails to be engaging and the game world is an interesting place to be. The combat can get samey and the range of enemies is not massively varied but the required strategy and different approaches to fights kept us coming back for more. The sense of accomplishment when you take out a superior force by the clever use of cover is very gratifying, and helps to increase the game's longevity. We've put a good number of hours into this over the course of this review and can honestly say that we've barely scratched the surface. If you have even a slight interest in post-apocalyptic games, we don't think you'll be disappointed here.