Late last year, a PC role playing game made its appearance on consoles with surprisingly little fanfare considering it arrived a month ahead of its blood relative which just happened to be the most anticipated game of 2015 for many. In 1988, the first Wasteland introduced many gamers to the post-apocalyptic RPG. That Interplay Productions classic laid the groundwork for what would become Fallout and was then practically forgotten as its spiritual successor’s popularity took off.
Since then the Fallout franchise has changed hands and become a universal open-world role-playing standard among gamers under Bethesda, but PC old schoolers never stopped pining for the classic games. Well, Interplay founder Brian Fargo -now running inXile Entertainment- finally picked up where he left off all those years ago and returned post-apocalyptic exploration to its turn-based roots with Wasteland 2 and console gamers were invited too when the Director’s Cut edition made its way to the PS4 and Xbox One last October.
You’d think this would have been bigger news, and I admittedly bided my time a bit to make sure I’d have time to enjoy this one to the fullest without Fallout 4 looming right around the corner, but I knew this game and I would be meeting one fine day. And once I got around to it, I pretty much fell in love with Wasteland 2 before I even began playing it in earnest for one simple reason: you get to build your own party.
I hadn’t thought about this, but it has been a really, really long time since I had the opportunity to craft a party of my very own. I mean when was the last time I got to create a full team of adventurers from the ground up? Some Ultima or Might and Magic game from the 90’s? I CAN’T REMEMBER! And that, my friends, is just not right. It’s one thing to choose from a selection of existing characters or shape their skills as they level up, but another experience entirely to make them exactly who and what you want them to be from the get-go down to clothing, ethnicity, and even an optional biography. It’s been so long I forgot how satisfying it can be.
The next obvious question in that train of thought was “why don’t more games do this?” What kind of filthy casual wouldn’t want to lovingly craft their very own group of adventurers? Why are we being robbed of this classic gaming experience? It’s pretty much standard operating procedure to have gamers create their lead character in modern solo RPGs, but in party-based games you pretty much get what you get and have to work from there.
The focus on story and characters is one reason we don’t see these kinds of games very much any more, but another reason is the increased prevalence of handholding. As games have become more popular, more casual folk are playing them, and while they may fail at hardcore RPGing, their money is at least as green as yours or mine and there’s more of them, so they win.
In the old days, you’d hit a brick wall in-game and could spend hours just searching for a way to proceed. These days, if you run into a locked door, relax; the key is almost certain to be in the same room with you. Ditto any passwords or what have you that you need to progress. And rest assured the game will make damn sure that there is a character is in your party that will have any skills you might need complete with on-screen prompts to make using them insultingly obvious.
In a game like Wasteland 2, if you don’t think about your character builds and necessary skills, you’re going to have a bad time. The game doesn’t give a damn if you didn’t think to give any characters enough hacking skills or the ability to pick locks. You ain’t getting in that computer or door until you beef up your skills. Sucks to be you, loser.
Need more charisma to get the outcome you wanted? Should’ve thought of that before. And keep in mind that different conversation options demand specialized posterior-themed social skills to boot (Smart Ass, Kiss Ass, Hard Ass) so raw base stats won’t get it done either. Didn’t think you’d need anyone with a demolition skill or high perception? Have fun being decimated by hidden traps and mines. Thought it’d be a good idea to make a team of AR specialists? Good luck finding enough ammo for everybody’s rifles while the game gives you endless shotgun shells and pistol rounds. Hope you’ve got some leadership to stop your followers from running into the enemies’ teeth and getting themselves killed too. Oh, and your characters will permadie if you don’t have a surgeon on hand to operate promptly when they go down. Flee, casuals! Flee from this game!
Using angles and cover wisely, gauging distance, assessing risk and reward based on your characters’ individual skillsets; this is what strategy role-playing is supposed to be about. The industry has largely moved towards real time combat, but I hope and pray there will always be a place for thoughtful, stat-crunching, turn-based SRPGs because for those of us who enjoy that style of gameplay, there’s no substitute for the real deal.
Wasteland 2 may look and play like something from the early ‘00s, complete with scattered voice acting, regular crashes when loading, a Bethesda level of bugs, and way too much redundant text conversation, but given the fact that they pretty much do not make games like this anymore, it’s more than worth it if you’re the kind of gamer who cringed at the thought of Fallout becoming a FPS franchise because you actually enjoy having your successes and failures hinged on cold, unfeeling percentages and statistics.
Given the lack of coverage for the long-awaited sequel to the game that was Fallout’s daddy, I’ve got to assume we’re a dying breed. Modern gamers don’t really seem to want the traditional role-playing experience where life and death rests on the roll of the virtual dice and your characters are exactly what you make them and nothing more, but hats off to inXile for keeping the torch burning.
My bumpy trip to the original post-apocalyptic RPG franchise was totally worth it if for no other reason than to once again experience the increasingly rare video game-exclusive joy of creating a party out of nothing and sending them out to explore a hostile and indifferent world not knowing what to expect, but hoping they have what it takes to succeed. And as a bonus, many other characters can join your party and offer their own skills and commentary letting you practically recruit your own army to support your core party.
With great customization comes great responsibility and playing a game that puts my own progress and survival on my own head is rewarding more often than it is frustrating. There’s always a way to proceed, and always a way to obtain the means to do so; you just have to plan for all contingencies and work for what you don’t have yet. Such is life, both in the radioactive wasteland and out, and that’s why the industry needs more games like this.
Not every gamer wants to be pampered with a mandatory party specially designed to beat the next level or limited to a bunch of cookie cutter standard classes. Sometimes, win or lose, we want the option to make a party that’s all ours and Wasteland 2 gave me just that. That and a massive stash of virtual E.T. cartridges buried in the desert, a raider who sings “Bohemian Rhapsody” to himself, and a countryside full of screaming goats. What more could a gamer want?