Fallout 4 is the big nuclear wasteland game that everybody is looking forward to, but what most people don’t realize is that Fallout itself started as a spiritual sequel to another game, a classic of the RPG genre that PC players had long revered, but that the developers could not get the rights to. That game was called Wasteland, and it was a revelation when it first released, almost 30 years ago. PC players loved it, and it went on to be held up as a tentpole of RPGs for years to come.
Last year, Wasteland was finally revived, as, after a successful Kickstarter campaign, and after wresting the rights to it back from limbo, Brian Fargo and inXile Entertainment gave us Wasteland 2. It was a good game – a lesser game than the original, sure, but a good game nonetheless. It was also, through and through, a cRPG, a game made with PCs in mind, with a complex battle system, stats crunching, and mechanics like initiative and skill checks to keep in mind.
A year later, this game has been ported to the consoles, and there is a lingering sense that maybe the developers rushed into it, that they are trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. Wasteland 2 was good and all, but it was the definition of a complex computer RPG- how in the world would they make that work on consoles?
"Wasteland 2 was good and all, but it was the definition of a complex computer RPG- how in the world would they make that work on consoles?"
Visually, Wasteland 2 on the PS4 is, as the name suggests, based on the Director’s Cut overhaul of the PC engine, which brings that game up to Unity 5.0.The change was controversial, as a lot of people preferred the original look and artstyle, but I think the game looks fine- the art is simple, and nothing in the world is abstracted enough that you don’t instantly know what you are looking at. The PS4 version looks crisp, although it does lack some of the fidelity options on the PC version. More frustrating is that it lacks some clear optimization, as well as console specific options- there was no way, for example, to change the screen display area in the game, meaning I was either stuck playing with the corners of the game (and therefore, the all important HUD elements) cut out of sight, or finding a different TV to plug my PS4 in.
This was reflected in other ways, too- for the parts of the HUD that I could see, I had to lean in and drag my seat uncomfortably close to the TV just to be able to read. The text was tiny, and I want to point out here that I was playing on a 42 inch plasma screen- more than big enough that it should have scaled to a comfortable font size even at a distance of a few feet. I shudder to think of what the text would be like on smaller displays. Subatomic, probably. Even if the game does output to your screen right, the framerate was a literal drag. Wasteland 2’s framerate drops a lot on the PS4, especially during battles, when there are gunshots, and poison being slung at you from across the battlefield by mutated beasts.
It’s all an issue, and it makes the port seem shabby, almost as though the developers just took the PC code and dumped it onto the PS4, without actually giving much thought to a console environment of playing. The fact that options to scale the HUD or display size, which are increasingly common in even console games these days, are also missing, also paints an unkind picture of the thought that went into the making of this port.
"Wasteland 2’s framerate drops a lot on the PS4, especially during battles, when there are gunshots, and poison being slung at you from across the battlefield by mutated beasts. "
Happily, for as miserable as Wasteland 2’s graphical shortcomings and lack of optimization on the PS4 make you, once you start playing the game, it’s easy to forget about them for a while. RPGs, even PC centric RPGs, have grown a lot more streamlined and easier to manage in the years that separate us from the original Wasteland, but Wasteland 2 gives us a slight peek at that long gone past. Chests litter the world, but can only be opened by a certain class, and only if his or her skill check rolls higher than the chest’s lock level; battles see factors like initiative come into play, and also arcane stats like Luck, which govern how the battle plays out, and now how adept you are at pressing buttons. Death is permanent- if someone dies, then they are done for.
It’s a harsh, unforgiving world, just like the Wasteland that the game portrays, and that can be exciting. Battles play out a lot like strategy RPGs, at least at first sight, with a grid that combatants are placed on, turns for each combatant, a specific number of action points that players can spend however they wish to (you can spend all your action points putting as much distance between yourself and the enemy as you can, or you can go in and try to hit them with multiple strikes, as an example), and positioning on the field all coming into play.
Wasteland 2 adds wrinkles to this system with additional things- for instance, something as simple as unjamming or reloading your weapon now takes up action points; in other cases, it is easier to dispose of enemies by using Precision Strikes on them, and aiming at a clearly weak and vulnerable part of their body. Plus, status conditions abound, and only the field medic classes are capable of healing your party members (the field medic is also instrumental to reviving unconscious party members, so it’s a pretty thorough setback if your field medic dies. Like mine did). It’s exciting, and a lot to keep track of, and even though it can get repetitive, the flavor text describing how the battle is playing out on the log in the bottom right of the screen keeps things entertaining, almost evoking a game session of Dungeons and Dragons with friends. It all works very well, and I am especially impressed with how well the entire interface has been adapted to the DualShock 4 controller- serious props to the development team for that.
"I am especially impressed with how well the entire interface has been adapted to the DualShock 4 controller- serious props to the development team for that."
My issue with battles is that they can be a drag- since you can only run from random battles, you’re going to end up fighting a lot, and it begins to wear you down very quickly. Battles, even with lower level creatures, take far too long to resolve, and even on lower difficulties, they seem to scale up with a frightening intensity, barely giving a player a chance to adjust to the intricate mechanics. Once you do get used to them, there is a thrill to them- just, prepare to do it a lot.
Outside of battles, there’s a whole lot of other stuff to keep track of. For example, you will get multiple distress calls, and multiple missions, and you will be forced to make a choice between one mission or the other. Dehydration is a real thing in the desert, so need to ensure you always have enough water. There are character quirks, which are like unique personality traits, that can influence dialog options and conversations (and also battles, by giving you skills that could, if used right, turn the tide of battle). There’s even different outcomes to your dialog, and how individual people perceive you based on how you talk to them.
All in all, it is a fun, complex, comprehensive RPG, even on the PS4, warts and all- just know what you are getting into, and scale your expectations accordingly. Wasteland may have spawned Fallout, but if you expect Wasteland 2 to play anything like Fallout, you will be disappointed. Go into it expecting an older, far more thorough brand of roleplaying, however, and just might like what you see.
This game was reviewed on the PlayStation 4.
The interface has been translated to controllers shockingly well, a host of mechanics to keep track of, a whole lot of old school RPG goodness
Framerate drops, lack of visual options and optimizations, battles can get to be a drag, HUD scaling is broken
All in all, it is a fun, complex, comprehensive RPG, even on the PS4, warts and all- just know what you are getting into, and scale your expectations accordingly.
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