Platforms: PC, Nintendo Switch (reviewed), PS4, Xbox One
Developer/Publisher: InXile Entertainment
Release: 13th September 2018 (Switch)
Wasteland 2 has a somewhat special place in my heart. On the one hand, it proved to me Kickstarter can bring forth some truly exceptional things in gaming. On the other hand, because it was this intimidating monster I wanted but never got around to actually playing, especially when the Director´s Cut launched. Instead, the PC version only got my attention for a few hours before I never dared to start it again. So, the Switch release seemed like a perfect chance to finally sink more time into this title and I finally did.
Like in many other classic RPGs, Wasteland 2 doesn´t feature a big prologue or story. Instead we´re playing as a team of Rangers in a post-apocalyptic world, solely tasked with the mission to find a lost companion and fulfil his final task. Yet, the journey followed by this simple-seeming quest will surely stay in your memory. Not because of its complexity but because it´s one of the very best examples of a journey.
Like the squad we´re embarking on a grand journey through a devastated, rotten earth, full of despair. Every new mission or goal leads us to another place with its own history and characters, ready to be explored. Wasteland 2 absolutely nails the feel of the wasteland, where big civilizations once bloomed but are long dead and replaced by mere shadows of their former self, simply clinging onto this past. Mainly because every single story is interesting in its own way, either because we gain a new unique squadmate or simply delve into a captivating tale. Due to the fact pretty much everything is told through text alone, the imagination is a huge part of why everything works so well in creating this atmosphere as each and every one of us has a different vision, hence beginning to feel like this group of rangers. Combine that with the constant struggle of survival, since moving over the world map requires water, which is often scarce and valuable and you got one perfect post-apocalyptic atmosphere.
Only the big overall plot is a bit disappointing, as it doesn´t rely tell anything new or is the big focus in any situation. Instead, it´s a very character-driven game, full of little, very well-written conversations and tales. Just like the RPGs of the past. Naturally, they also offer a surprising amount of versatility. Depending on your conversation stats you can select different options, either unlocking new details or places to go. Those rewards alone would be enough to justify investing in those things but Wasteland 2 also offers whole new ways to play missions depending on your character builds.
Gameplay-wise, I would consider this vast amount of possibilities its biggest strength. Either through dialogues or the great level design, it´s often possible to solve main mission in particular in many ways. However, in contrast, or newer RPGs like Fallout 3/4, Wasteland 2 doesn´t gamble in those situations or shows you the different options, instead, they get unlocked in secret, letting the whole thing flow way more natural. Naturally, there are way more possibilities like brute force or stealth as well, all reliant on your stats and skill. The good thing though, the game never punishes you for choosing one in most situations but rewards you for every path differently. Simply because the level design is just so good to support all these different ways most of the times, since areas tend to be tinier but way more connected and filled.
Concerning the combat though, things look more standard, given you already played a few classic RPGs. In short, Wasteland 2 doesn´t do a whole lot of new things but still offers this incredible depth if you really get into it, due to the amount of systems present. The base is a classic turn-based combat system, where you and the enemy attack after each other, move over the map and find cover.
Where it really shines are the various stats impacting the playstyle for every character. There aren´t just a few of them to determine their class, pretty much everything from equipment to every single spent point influences each ranger´s abilities and use cases. Combined with the sheer amount of stuff that´s possible there´s some real depth to be found here. Given, the base classes and things you have to pay attention to aren´t too different from other turn-based RPGs, Wasteland 2 just does it incredibly well, even though it definitely doesn´t reinvent anything.
Last but not least, let´s talk about the biggest flaw of this whole game: The visuals, in both ways. On the one hand, Wasteland 2 suffers the most under its setting, relying solely on brown and grey colours to picture this devastated wasteland. Here and there may be more visual appealing areas with some green plants or so but most of the time, it feels like you´re looking at the same thing for hours. Mainly because there aren´t too many different objects and things you can have in this kind of setting without being creative. Everything just looks so unimpressive and even begins to be annoying over 50 hours. On the other hand, the Switch version doesn´t look particularly good, suffering from more pixelated borders than you´d expect and mushy textures all around.
Generally, the Switch version isn´t a truly great way to experience this game, as the Unity engine delivers some really hefty loading times and mediocre visuals. This 4 years old game doesn´t look breath-taking, to begin with and doesn´t gain anything here. Combine that with the tiny screen in portable mode and huge walls of text raining upon you and you have an often tiring time with this port. It´s just hard to read all this tiny text and stare at the mushy environments for too long.
In the end, Wasteland 2 by itself is a pretty great classic RPG, offering pretty much everything a fan or newcomer could want from such a game. However, maybe one should think twice before getting the Switch version since the portability comes at quite a huge price this time.
[A Review Code was provided by InXile Entertainment]