Wasteland 2: Director's Cut review - The good, the bad and the RPG
"They don't make them like that anymore" is a phrase that swings wildly depending on the context. It's also a phrase that applies perfectly to Wasteland 2: Director's Cut.
8/10; Playstation 4, Xbox One; inXile
For some background, the original Wasteland was released in 1988. Set in a post apocalyptic world, the RPG was the spiritual predecessor of the Fallout franchise. Jump ahead 25 years and Wasteland 2 finally emerges after a successful crowd-funding campaign, complete with the original designers on-board.
A year after the PC release, Wasteland 2: Director's Cut is an upgraded version for the Playstation 4 and Xbox One.
Set in an alternate future where the nukes rained down and ended civilisation as we know it, the player takes control of a group of inexperienced Desert Rangers, descendants of army bridge builders that found circumstances shaping them in to a peace keeping outfit. It's a tale of bringing a sense of order to a world gone mad.
Wasteland 2 is true to its roots and those roots are buried deep in radiation-soaked classic RPG stylings, far from the Skyrims and surreal JRPGs that dominate the genre today. The focus here is on narrative and strategy, rather than the visuals. Having said that, the director's cut is a significant step up from the original Wasteland 2, with many of the visuals rebuilt from the ground up.
Also added in to the mix is a serious bulking up of voice-overs, significantly improving on the PC version's greater reliance on written text. The voice acting is solid and really adds to the characters you come across.
The gameplay remains similar to the original release, with some add-ons and balancing. The most significant addition is character quirks and perks. These traits add some spice to the traditional strength, intelligence, perception etc. characteristics and make each ranger more real.
When you manage to bash through the initial learning curve, the game sucks you in deep. The narrative is great and your choices throughout the game have serious consequences. Quite often you'll make a decision that gets people killed. It's the harsh reality of the wastelands. There's no truly happy ending because even the most masterfully navigated path will be stained with innocent blood. It's wild west life with added cannibals and mutants.
Your rangers are products of their environment, as too are the many characters you meet. You'll regularly be given the choice of selecting the "hard ass" dialogue option, which seems promising until you realise that the wastelands are full of people every bit as bad ass as you. Nice people are rare but good people are there for you to protect.
It's difficult to stay removed from the post-apocalyptic life mindset, such is the cumulative effect of the narrative and events. You'll start by saving your game often and reloading to save a familiar face, but ultimately it'll just hit you: that's life in the wasteland. Deal with it.
At the heart of it, Wasteland 2 is a game that's really not suited for a console. Despite the developer's best attempts, it feels like an unavoidable conclusion.
The controls are the best they can be, but there's just too much to navigate enjoyably without a mouse. Option wheels activated by each trigger are good for repeated actions, and movement out of combat works well with the thumb sticks, but once a fight starts there's a huge slowdown.
Combat feels overly basic, especially compared with the likes of the recent X-Com games or any of the latest turn-based JRPGs. The addition of precision strikes improves on the original version, but using the thumb-stick to move between squares is an on-going annoyance. The fights aren't unbearable, but they begin to grate after a while.
Moving the game camera is also an issue. A mouse-based system will traditionally scroll when you get to the edge of the screen or work with a keyboard. The controller camera options come in three flavours: one that follows the characters as they move, one that allows you to move the camera independently of the characters and a third that locks the frame regardless of the player movements. This is a good work-around, but it's frustrating to cycle between the three options, especially when the frame lock is never the one you want.
While the visuals have been completely upgraded for the next gen consoles, they still feel a couple of years off the pace. Again, they're not terrible, but I'm unsure why this had to be a PS4/Xbox One port rather than include the previous generation machines.
Another console specific factor is viewing distance. Most people will have their PC on a desk in front of them, but I wager that the majority of console gamers have their TV opposite a comfy chair or sofa. At times the writing is just too tiny whether it's in menus or mid-game info. Getting out of your seat to walk to the screen is not what you want from a console experience.
It's easy to find things to bash Wasteland 2: Director's Cut about, but then it's easy to bash a car for not being a very good plane. The developers set out to make a classic RPG and have done a great job of it.
Even with the make-over, it's not the prettiest game, but it has a hell of a lot of character to make up for it.
The major let down comes from the control compromises, but even those are done as well as possible, they're just never quite as good as a mouse and keyboard.
Players should know exactly what they're getting in to and have a good sense of whether or not it's a style of game they like. This is a long haul experience, with 50 or so hours of play. For anyone aching for a Baldur's Gate on their shiny new consoles, Wasteland 2: Director's Cut is essential, but if you have the option I'd pick it up on PC.
Classic RPG fans should make sure to play this game, but be warned, it creates a serious craving for Fallout 4.
Wasteland 2: Director's Cut is available now for Playstation 4 and Xbox One.
(Playstation 4 version played. Copy supplied by publisher.)