Waste­land 2

EDGE - - GAMES - InXile

PC

Waste­land 2 is many things. It’s am­ple com­pen­sa­tion for the fans who in­vested almost $3 mil­lion via Kick­s­tarter to res­ur­rect the se­ries after its 1988 orig­i­nal. It’s also a con­vinc­ing ar­gu­ment for the rel­e­vance of a clas­sic form of game born of early com­pu­ta­tional con­straints. But misty-eyed back­ers might be dis­ap­pointed by what it isn’t: Waste­land 2 is a bustling, if scruffy, RPG in its own right, but it’s no new Fall­out.

You as­sume com­mand of a band of up to seven Desert Rangers, the last law in the wastes of a post­nu­clear USA. It’s a fa­mil­iar set­ting, but con­sid­er­ing Waste­land’s sta­tus as the elder states­man of ir­ra­di­ated role­play­ing, it feels some­thing like a com­ing of age. InXile knows the ter­ri­tory best, and this par­tic­u­lar no man’s land takes pains to dis­tin­guish it­self.

Life abounds in Waste­land 2. The scenery tran­si­tions from scorched desert to LA swamp by way of gi­gan­tic mu­tant veg­etable gar­den. In its clut­ter and set dress­ing, Waste­land 2 is var­ied and ex­cit­ing. Ru­ined high­ways are choked with vi­brant de­bris, and the swamps of the later game are con­vinc­ingly sticky. Zoom in too close, how­ever, and your char­ac­ters re­sem­ble an early Lara Croft; pull out too far, and the broad strokes of the waste­land are stretched and sim­plis­tic. This might have been a ma­jor grievance given InXile’s in­tent to craft an RPG be­fit­ting mod­ern sys­tems, but it’s clear that the ef­fort has been ex­pended else­where.

InXile es­ti­mates it will take 70 hours to reach the end of Waste­land 2, and that’s a dense 70 hours of re­lent­less, fre­netic ac­tiv­ity. The first mis­sion to re­cover tech from a fallen com­rade ram­i­fies some­thing fierce, sprout­ing a tan­gle of roots that feed the main story. Should you choose to pur­sue their snaking trails, you could find your­self em­broiled in a turf war along a de­funct rail­way, branch­ing off fur­ther to ex­punge thieves from the tracks, or med­dle in for­bid­den ro­mance.

Yet you might as eas­ily not. Waste­land 2 does what few dare, clos­ing off swathes of con­tent in re­sponse to your choices and the pas­sage of time. Choose: the dam un­der Raider as­sault or the farm that’s be­ing de­voured from within. Choose: thirst or hunger. This early dilemma is a state­ment of in­tent, one on which InXile con­sis­tently de­liv­ers. The hec­tic set­ting, rife with ner­vous en­ergy and un­fore­seen con­se­quence, in­stils the sen­sa­tion that there’s not enough law to go around. The strain is in­ten­tional: the re­play value here is im­mense, and the true im­pact of your ac­tions on the world may only be grasped after sev­eral playthroughs.

Th­ese ac­tions carry a strong sense of agency thanks to com­pre­hen­sive character sheets. Six pri­mary stats gov­ern base at­tributes such as health, ac­tion points and speed, and support a wealth of spe­cific abil­i­ties: an­i­mal whis­perer, sniper ri­fles, toaster re­pair. Their di­ver­sity presents an ex­cit­ing but short-lived dilemma. Ex­cit­ing be­cause the first points feel cru­cial, as if a squan­dered level could bring your ini­tial team of four to its knees. The im­pact of th­ese de­ci­sions is clearly com­mu­ni­cated, too. Even the typ­i­cally opaque Luck stat makes its pres­ence felt, flam­boy­ant pop­ups an­nounc­ing each lucky miss or crit­i­cal fail. Waste­land 2 tri­umphs at tele­graph­ing its math­e­mat­i­cal in­nards.

To­wards the mid­dle of the game, team size chal­lenges this tried-and-tested for­mula. When your sol­diers are stretched thin, there’s grav­ity in the place­ment of each skill point. Muster the full seven troops and you’re guar­an­teed a non­de­script sol­dier for almost ev­ery oc­ca­sion. What be­gan as a strug­gle for sur­vival, racked by thoughts of what could have been had your strate­gies been sharper, be­comes a mat­ter of cy­cling to the right tool. Out­side of scripted choices, the ab­so­lute com­mand you ex­ert over your en­vi­ron­ment strips much of the character from your patch­work army. Com­bat is their re­demp­tion. The menu-bound bat­tles of yore have been trans­lated into an en­gag­ing turn-based game of tac­tics with care­ful ref­er­ence to XCOM: En­emy Un­known. Un­der fire, each party mem­ber plays their part, and you come to know your re­cruits by the weapons at their dis­posal. How you choose to ar­ray your team is just as im­por­tant as their weapon types. Ex­plo­sive foes will dev­as­tate the party that rushes in blind, and ex­tra at­ten­tion must be paid to ri­fle­men, whose aim goes to pieces when en­e­mies get close. Each en­counter is a com­pelling scram­ble of plan­ning and ex­e­cu­tion (or poor plan­ning and re­cov­ery), which keeps even ran­dom at­tacks while trav­el­ling tol­er­a­ble.

Though based on firm foun­da­tions, gun­fights aren’t with­out foibles. The cover sys­tem is im­ple­mented with­out en­thu­si­asm. Tu­to­ri­als stress the im­por­tance of the eva­sion and ac­cu­racy bonus that cover con­fers, but most bat­tles aren’t staged to make use of it. Im­prob­a­ble lines of sight – straight through walls, for ex­am­ple – ap­ply mi­nor sta­tis­ti­cal penal­ties. In­deed, the in­ter­face as a whole can be de­scribed as par­tic­u­lar, with much mous­ing over ob­jects to find in­ter­ac­tive sweet spots.

Waste­land 2 suf­fers for cut cor­ners and rough edges, but the sit­u­a­tion isn’t so gloomy as a list of slip-ups sug­gests. They nig­gle rather than frus­trate, and the as­tound­ing breadth of the mis­sions is enough to dis­tract from finicky sys­tems and low-res tex­tures. As such, this game is a strong suc­ces­sor to the orig­i­nal, although it never quite rises to the height of the se­ries that fol­lowed. In­deed, the im­por­tance of Fall­out’s 1950s kitsch to the ap­peal of a ru­ined fu­ture has never been so pro­nounced as in its ab­sence. The waste­land it­self is less char­ac­ter­ful – more dark than dark hu­mour. Waste­land 2 has car­ried the stan­dard for a com­puter RPG re­nais­sance with ut­most cred­i­bil­ity, then, but it’s hard to see it leav­ing a legacy of its own.

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