Wasteland 2: Xbox One, The Desert Rangers are back in town

Fans of Wasteland are patient people. They’ve not had much choice. The original RPG was released back in 1987, with its sequel not arriving until late 2014 on the PC. Yes, 27 years for a sequel. Even by standards of continental drift, mountain erosion and George RR Martin’s typing, that’s a hell of a wait. Fans agreed, though, it was more than worth it.

Chances are that even if you’ve never heard of Wasteland, you’ve heard of Fallout. They’re cousins of a sort due to rights issues, Fallout could only be a spiritual successor. Aside from being post-apocalyptic role-playing games, though, the two are very different. Fallout is 1950s paranoia turned into desolate future, while Wasteland is more traditional science fiction with its tongue firmly planted in its cheek and killer mutant rabbits in its fields. It’s also a party-based RPG, with you in command of a team of four Desert Rangers rather than just one scavenging hero. Your duty: to be the beacon of hope and law the Wasteland needs, whether it appreciates it or not.

This doesn’t always go as planned. Not far from your home base, for instance, you’ll find the AG Center, where scientists work feverishly to grow the food that everyone in the area needs, and Highpool, where they gather the water. Early on, both send urgent help requests, and your team are the only Desert Rangers in the area. You pick Highpool. You arrive, you take out the bandits threatening them, you save the town. Heroes, right? Perhaps. Either way, though, as you save that place,  AG Center still burns. You hear it on your radio. Every step that saves one town dooms the other, even as they beg and plead for help. But you’ve made your choice. You can only listen as their disbelief that you didn’t pick them turns to anger, to despair, and finally a resigned, “Don’t come. There’s nobody left.” By the time you arrive, it’s indeed too late.

In short, Wasteland 2 pulls no punches. It’s an unapologetically hardcore role-playing game from the school of hard knocks. Just for starters, characters don’t have one speech skill, but three Hard Ass, Kiss Ass, and Smart Ass. Your party members four to begin with all have their own skills ranging from lockpicking to toaster repair, which can also open up options. With a skilled thief, maybe you can find a secret code that will avoid a bloodbath. With a good sniper on hand, perhaps you don’t want to. If you have to throw down, the range of skills means it can be on your terms, once you’ve carefully positioned everyone.

Hard Fought
Those fights are turn-based affairs, where cover is absolutely not optional and you have to be sure you brought enough bullets for everyone. The mechanics are relatively simple, but effective. A machine-gunner, for instance, is death at mid-range, but useless when surrounded. A grenade in just the right place can swing a whole fight, just as the click of a broken weapon can snatch defeat straight from the jaws of victory. If party members die, they’re gone for good and that includes if they bleed out after a fight because your medic ran out of bandages.
Every step that saves one town dooms the other, even as they beg and plead for help
None of this is being toned down for the Xbox One version, as indeed it shouldn’t. This version is actually more complex than the original PC release, with features such as targeted shots, and a new Quirks and Perks system for even more character customisation. If you found Dragon Age: Inquisition too streamlined, or have tired of Final Fantasy’s recent love affair with corridors, you’ll love Wasteland 2.

It does, however, remain to be seen how well it will make the jump between platforms. The interface especially is designed for a desktop monitor rather than kicking back on the sofa for 50+ hours, and it was a bit fiddly even on PC. On top of that, there’s a lot of text to read (over 550,000 words of it) that both complements the primitive graphics and gives details they never could the smell of a new area, for example. It’ll take more than swapping a mouse for a controller to make it feel at home. Fingers crossed that inXile has as good a plan for this as it did for resurrecting the series in the first place, and that it won’t take quite as long before a third instalment rides out to continue keeping Fallout company in the wastes.

Back to the future
Wasteland 2? What was Wasteland 1?
Wasteland was a mix of top-down exploration and menu-based combat, from an era when RPGs loved to hold players down and kick their teeth in. How primitive was it? to fit on floppy disks, its plot/dialogue were printed in a separate manual. When something happened, you had to look it up by number, gamebook style. Really! Wasteland 2 continues that story, but don’t worry about being left out. it’s set years later, and everything is explained again as needed.

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