Wasteland 2: Director's Cut

Wasteland 2: Director's Cut

Written by Eric Hauter on 9/13/2018 for SWI  
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I have spent several hours attempting to negotiate a truce between two warring factions in Wasteland 2. The groups used to live together in harmony, working together to keep the railroad running in post-apocalyptic Arizona. Somewhere along the line, things went wrong. It is unclear what happened, but lines were drawn, the factions separated, and the killing began. Railroad shipping has ground to a halt, cutting off precious supply lines to outlying areas. As a Ranger, it is my job to keep the peace. As part of that, I need to resolve this issue and get the trains running again.

The leader on one side lost a daughter and an arm in the opening salvos of the conflict. Now, after years of hostilities, the one-armed leader is currently holding the opposing leader’s daughter in a cage, threatening to hang her unless the opposing leader agrees to A) cut off his own arm, and B) return a religious artifact that is claimed by both sides.

I have been running back and forth between the two factions’ camps, delivering messages in an attempt to open lines of communication. Though I have been warned by both leaders not to interfere with the conflict, and I have been mocked by citizens in the street for even trying, I am committed to at least attempting to save the life of the young lady in the cage.

After some carefully applied pressure and some verbal gymnastics, I finally manage to get both sides of the conflict to the bargaining table, so to speak. They have agreed to meet at a neutral location. Both sides are hopeful for reconciliation, if only to get the trains running again. The faction leader that still has both of his arms has even agreed to sacrifice his arm, if that’s what it will take to save his daughter form the one-armed leader’s faction. The only sticking point left standing in the way of peace is the matter of the religious artifact, which both sides cling to, well, religiously.

 

With both sides assembled, I carefully open face-to-face negotiations. I have managed situations like this in video games many times, and I am confident that I can navigate this tense situation so long as I think through what I say and tread lightly.

The one-armed leader quickly brings up the religious artifact. I mention that the other side is unwilling to give it up. In an explosion of violence, the one-armed leader’s party attacks without warning. Bullets fly, blood is splattered, and in a matter of seconds one of the two factions is completely wiped from the face of the earth. The one-armed leader thanks me for helping draw out his enemies, and walks away laughing, on his way along with his followers to hang the young lady in the cage.

I don’t reload my latest save and try again. This is just how things go. Life comes at you fast in the Waste, and one wrong step can result in the deaths of many, many innocents. I’m shocked, but I’m also used to it. This isn’t the first civilization I’ve caused to be wiped from existence.

Wasteland 2, the 2014 isometric RPG that was a Kickstarted sequel to the 1988 original Wasteland, has come to the Nintendo Switch, with all of its glorious old-school charms (and hardcore, “I-don’t-give-a-crap-about-your-feelings” difficulty) intact. To be clear, this is a port of the Director’s Cut, which added a ton of recorded dialogue to the original release and smoothed out some of the UI quirks.

The main storyline of Wasteland 2 has players leading a party of new “Desert Rangers” out into the Waste, the post-apocalyptic wreckage that is what remains of Arizona after long-ago nuclear devastation. The newbies are on a trial run. If they succeed at their mission (the previous Ranger that attempted the mission is being buried in the opening scene), they will become full-fledged Rangers, gaining access to the Ranger Citadel and joining a long tradition of down-and-dirty public service. If they fail, well, they die.

The Rangers immediately face a situation where they are making life and death decisions for strangers, and every decision they make ripples out through the rest of the game. Characters exhibit unexpected behaviors, and are connected to each other in wild and unpredictable ways. You never know what triggers your actions are pulling, which can either come back to haunt you or reward you in surprising ways.

I have attempted to get started on Wasteland several times in the past. As a fan of the Fallout series (which is in turn spawned as a spiritual successor from the original Wasteland), Wasteland 2 just felt like something I should love. I excitedly purchased the PS4 version a few years back, but bounced off quickly, determining that this game was perhaps not well suited to console play. About a year later, I took a swipe at the PC version, only to find that I was intimidated into inaction when faced with the game’s character creator. No matter what choices I made when creating my party, I felt like I was doing something wrong.

It was only during this current playthrough on the Switch (when I didn’t have the option to walk away) that the game clicked with me. Somewhere in the first ten hours or so of Wasteland 2, I realized that I had fallen in love with this game. It didn’t matter that I had picked weird skills or set up my party a little strangely. Your party isn’t supposed to be perfect. In fact, the idea that your team is a little wonky is hard baked into the story of the game. You are going to make mistakes, and not have the skills you need in particular situations. The game is built to prevent you from being overly prepared for your time in the Waste. As a player controlling a party of rookie Rangers, you are supposed to feel like a noob, and feeling like you are in a little over your head is par for the course. Wasteland 2 is supposed to be a little messy. Once you stop worrying and learn to love the fact that you are going to get your teeth kicked in a little here and there, you can begin to appreciate Wasteland 2 on its level instead of trying to mentally jam it into a slot it simply does not fit into.

It was in this spirit of “trust Wasteland” that I decided to take the story as it came to me. I would not reload when I miserably failed (unless, of course, I wiped in combat). I would not save-scum when attempting to open safes and toasters (yes, toasters. It’s a thing). When I made an unintended misstep and the game punished me by destroying an entire civilization, I would accept what I had done, and try to move forward. And for the most part, I stuck with this policy. The only time I broke my own rule was the time that I inadvertently bumped the analogue stick, making my party take one step too far over an invisible, arbitrary line, accidentally triggering a battle that I had never intended to start. That one felt a little cheap, so I closed my eyes and reloaded.

But for the most part, I remained true to my vision of a “pure” playthrough of Wasteland 2, and as a result, the game’s stakes felt much higher. I was also much more attached to my party, and proud of their progress. I had one character that I named after my 5-year-old daughter, and I was endlessly amused as I slowly developed her into a hatchet-wielding maniac. By the end of the game, she was able to one-hit almost any enemy, and she still had time to excel in her studies of electronics and safe-cracking. Proud papa.

So yes, I learned to love Wasteland 2, and I’m kicking myself for waiting so long. The turn-based combat is great fun, and there are a lot of little secrets and mysteries to drive the player forward. But there are a million reviews of Wasteland 2 floating around the internet, and I imagine if you are reading this one, you might already be familiar with the game and are wondering how it plays on the Switch. Wasteland 2 on the Switch is not terrible. But there are some issues that might make certain users reconsider.

Having Wasteland 2 on a portable system is awesome. Let’s get that out of the way right here. I found myself playing in the car parked outside my kid’s school, failing at parenthood and making them wait to go home until I finished a battle. But there is one giant barrier to playing in handheld mode, and that is the font size. I have played a lot of games on Switch at this point, and I have railed against other games for having tiny fonts, but Wasteland 2 is by far the most egregious offender. I had to do that old man move, where I squinted, pulled my glasses down on my nose, and moved the Switch closer and further from my face in an attempt to read this thing. For a game that is as text heavy as Wasteland 2, I should not have contort myself in order to read vitally important information. I know that the development team had a look and feel to preserve from the original release, but for certain people, this version of the game will be simply unplayable, which is a shame.

Other than that, the port to handheld mode works pretty well. The UI/Control scheme takes some time to get used to, but once you lock in on it, things become second nature. There are some control aspects that aren’t explained terribly well (healing party members in battle is a nightmare to figure out), but once you’ve got it, you’ve got it.

Docking the game clears up a lot of the usability issues, as the font size is totally appropriate for a larger TV. The controls map over the Pro Controller nicely. But, while I was able to read everything much more easily, I found that the rest of visuals (which had been crisp and appealing in handheld mode) became washed out and a little blurry in docked mode. Wasteland 2 is not a game that you play for its high-end graphics, but it is also not without its charm. I threw in the PS4 version by way of comparison, and it is safe to say that the visuals in this Switch version suffer a bit in comparison. It’s not a deal-breaker, but it is worth noting.

So yeah, I had a great time playing Wasteland 2. But the next time I play it, I will be playing a different version. The Switch version is fine if that’s all you have, but I have three versions of this game at my disposal at this point, and the Switch version is clearly the least of them.

Wasteland 2 is an awesome game that is somewhat difficult to get started in. The Switch version, while serviceable, does have some issues that make it a less than ideal system to play on. If you are a fan and you really want Wasteland 2 in a portable format (and there’s nothing wrong with that), then obviously this version will meet that need. But for players entering the Waste for the first time, there are other versions that might serve you better.

Wasteland 2 is quickly becoming a modern classic – and deservedly so. If you have not played this game, you really owe it to yourself to give it a shot. But some usability issues on the Switch might not make it the best choice for newcomers to a game that some already find difficult to parse. This version of Wasteland 2 is serviceable, but not ideal.

Rating: 7.4 Above Average

* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company.

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About Author

Howdy.  My name is Eric Hauter, and I am a 45-year-old dad with four kids, ranging in age from 1 through 17.  During my non-existent spare time, I like to play a wide variety of games, including JRPGs, strategy and action games (with the occasional trip into the black hole of MMOs).  I was an early adopter of PSVR (I had one delivered on release day), and I’ve enjoyed trying out the variety of games that have released since day one.  I’m intrigued by the possibilities presented by VR multi-player, and I try almost every multi-player game that gets released.

My first system was a Commodore 64, and I’ve owned countless systems since then.  I was a manager at a toy store for the release of PS1, PS2, N64 and Dreamcast, so my nostalgia that era of gaming runs pretty deep.  Currently, I play on PS4, PSVR, PS Vita, 3DS, Wii U and a janky PC.  While I lean towards Sony products, I don’t have any brand loyalty, and am perfectly willing to play game on other systems.

When I’m not playing games or wrangling my gaggle of children, I enjoy watching horror movies and doing all the other geeky activities one might expect.

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