Almost a decade after the game first appeared on Kickstarter, I have finally completed a run through Wasteland 2. This is a game I backed on Kickstarter in 2012, received a physical copy of in 2014, and just completed in 2022. To say this game took a long time for me to play is an understatement.
I played some of the beta before release and I even tried it when my copy arrived. When I did play it I just didn’t feel the attraction that I hoped for. So the game languished in my collection for years. I would occasionally dust it off but I never made it much further than the Ag Center.
Over the course of the last few months I took the time to play. I have to say that this game has a very rough early game. The first couple of hours puts you on a rail car named “Save Ag Center or highpool”. Of course you can choose to ignore that rail car but it will cost you an NPC. The game has an extra radio tower in the Rail Nomad camp that can cover for the ones you allow to be destroyed but those NPCs are gone for good.
Of the two I tend to prefer Vulture's Cry in Highpool. I understand that Rose in Ag Center has a high intelligence and a good skill selection but I typically cover her skillset among my main Rangers. Aside from her Sniper Rifle skill Vulture’s Cry has skills that I don’t take, which makes her a good add. I do like Ralphy in the Rail Nomad camp which results in a doubling up on Animal Whisperer but that skill sees almost no use in my game.
Once you get past this point, and Ranger Citadel opens its doors to you, The game lets go of your hand and pushes you into the deep end of 1980’s CRPG systems. There is a log book of open quests but it is very different from the typical quest log in modern games. While a modern game would say, “Go to Bart’s Trailer” and include a map marker showing where to go next Wasteland 2 just says, “Investigate rumors about Bart’s Trailer.” No map markers, no hand holding, no nothing. This is how these games used to operate and it can be a bit of a hurdle for younger gamers who never had to figure things out in a game.
Another example is Toaster Repair. This skill doesn’t make a lot of sense to a new player but long time fans of the series know that toasters have cool stuff hidden inside of them. This skill allows you to get those items. With that said, the items themselves are not that useful. You have to find the person that wants the toaster item and that is when you get the cool reward.
Your Ranger Squad
Before you begin the game you have to make the core of your squad. The four Rangers you create will always follow your commands, unlike NPCs that can go rogue if your leader’s will is not strong enough.
It is important that you specialize your Rangers. If you give them too many skills they will suffer in the long run. A good rule of thumb to focus on as many skills as you gain skill points per level. This will allow you to master a few skills and still have a few extra points for skills you only want a level or two in, such as medic or surgeon.
Why medic or surgeon you ask? Because medical supplies require the medic or surgeon skill to use. There is nothing worse than seeing one of your Rangers bleeding out and none of your team members know how to sew a wound.
It is also a good idea to focus on different combat skills for your team. Bullets can be scarce and having multiple members using the same ammo type can quickly result in not having enough bullets for your guns. In the mid to late game some weapon types gain alternative ammo options with 7.62mm becoming a core ammunition for several different classes of guns.
When it comes to melee you have blades, blunts, and brawlers. Blades are low damage with high crits. Blunts are slow but hit hard. Brawlers start slow but can become extremely potent when leveled up. It is not a bad idea to add a melee combat skill as a backup combat skill. You don’t need to max it out but the difference between skill level zero and one is huge.
There is also a mixture of non-combat skills such as lockpicking, perception, weapon smithing, etc. The three NPCs you add to your party can help fill in some skill gaps but the game does provide alternative ways of doing things. For example the Demolition skill can be used to disarm traps, or you can just shoot them. Brute Force allows you to break down some doors and walls, or you can toss a stick of TNT at it! Same goes for locks, though using TNT may result in losing the more delicate items behind the lock!
It is this very varied system that makes the game so enjoyable. It can be extremely annoying to come upon a door that you can’t open because your skill level is not high enough but knowing that you can always try and blow it up means you don’t need to worry about getting stuck.
Some electronic locks have key pads. The code can usually be found nearby. If you don’t know the code you can try a few skills or bomb it. If you screw up there is even a repair skill that can fix the damage you caused.
While the quests in the game are linear at the macro level there are multiple ways to complete each step in the quest. Some quests have their best endings gated behind skill checks but, for the most part, even a bad or mediocre quest ending still moves the story forward.
An important aspect of the gameplay is the combat system. Wasteland 2 uses a turn based and action point system. It works very well even though it does have a few weird exceptions.
Every actor in the game uses a combination of speed, action points, and combat initiative to operate in combat. There is a cover system as well as elevation effects. Cover can also be destroyed by some weapons.
A huge factor in your survival is going to be how well you prepare for each fight. If you just walk into view of hostiles, the hostiles will start the encounter and will get the jump on you. With proper pre-combat positioning you can ensure that the enemy never gets a chance to touch you. Getting snipers in position while the rest of your team takes cover in ambush points allows you to control the field of battle and prevent losing your squadmates. Death is real here, no resurrection magic.
As you increase your combat skills and acquire better weapons you will be able to effectively use the called shot system. This system allows for headshots, leg shots, arm shots, and torso shots. They each have a different negative to hit modifier but also have a chance to inflict special non-hitpoint damage. Head shots can stun or confuse enemies while a leg shot can drastically slow their movement.
You also have the option to wear light or heavy armor. To be honest, heavy armor is not really worth the tradeoffs. Stick with light armor and use proper tactical positioning to avoid damage. If you are relying on armor, with the obvious exception for tank builds, you are going to be in for a world of hurt.
I enjoyed my time in the Wasteland. There were a few instances where I felt the game was being a bit arbitrary or unfair but not enough to make me stop playing. Sometimes it was simply a case of the game locking me out until I found the proper key to get in safely. The game doesn’t have invisible walls to keep you out, the walls are quite visible and consist of radiation clouds or high powered turrets. Eventually you gain gear sufficient to pass them.
There is a very jarring experience when you leave Arizona for Los Angeles. It’s not just the way the writing doesn’t mesh, as if two different groups worked alone on each world space, it is also the way you go from feeling confident in your gear to feeling like you are level one again.
When you leave Arizona you feel like demi-gods. Nothing can stand up to your skills or firepower. The first fight you encounter in L.A. makes you feel like your guns are shooting rubber bullets. Everything is tougher and faster.
All of your Arizona gear will be quickly replaced when you meet your first merchant and your focus on what junk to carry will change because high dollar items in Arizona are not the same as the ones in California. No one wants weapon parts in L.A. so it is up to you whether you want to risk breaking down a gun for the chance at pulling a mod when the part value will be significantly lower than what you got in Arizona.
All in all I do recommend people play this game. I wouldn’t buy it for full retail but it is often on sale. I will say to stay away from the console version. The user interface is too clunky and that will detract from the experience.