Tuesday, July 22, 2014

The Butchers of Arizona

Wastleland 2 is set to officially release next month for the PC, but has been in Early Access for some time now, which is where I first encountered it. The project began on Kickstarter and has been moving steadily towards completion ever since. I've played it on and off after each update just to see how the game has evolved and I must say that it appears to be coming along nicely!


The original Wasteland was released in 1988 and it is the precursor to the Fallout franchise. In fact, it was made by the same developer, Interplay. Following the success of Wasteland as well as a few of their other games(like The Bard's Tale series), Interplay found that they had enough money to begin publishing independently. However, since Wasteland was published by EA, they didn't own the rights to the franchise. Rather than spend a bunch of money to buy the rights to their own game, the team at Interplay opted to take the lessons learned from making it and apply them to a brand new game. Thus, the Fallout franchise was born.

Unfortunately, the years were not kind to Interplay following their success in the late 80s and early 90s. The company eventually shut down, with the rights to Fallout famously being bought by Bethesda Softworks. The rights to Wasteland were eventually acquired by inXile Entertainment, a company founded by Brian Fargo who was one of the leads on not only Wasteland 1, but all of the early Fallout games as well. Fargo had left Interplay to found inXile some years before their closure.

In early 2012 they took the project to Kickstarter, asking for $900,000 in funding. By the time pledging closed the game had received $2,933,252, easily making it one of the most successful video game Kickstarters ever. Fargo and his team have been diligently releasing updates and generally keeping fans in the loop ever since as the project has moved forward.

I'd say there were a few more people interested in the game than they thought.


So, the setup for the Wasteland universe is this: In the late 90s a larger meteor shower set off hostilities that had been brewing between a number of different countries for years. When the meteorites fell, a few nations assumed they were being nuked by their enemies, and they launched their warheads in retaliation. This misunderstanding would spell the end for the world as we knew it. The nuclear holocaust wiped out most of the world's population and destroyed much of its plant and animal life while mutating many of its survivors into horrible abominations that plague the Wastes to this day.

A group of US Army engineers who were stationed in Ariziona when the bombs began to fall took over a newly-built federal prison in the area in hopes of surviving the fast-approaching apocalypse. They kicked the prisoners out and eventually invited a few survivalist communities to join them once the dust had settled. This group would go on to form the Desert Rangers, self-proclaimed protectors of the Arizona Wasteland. Meanwhile, many of the exiled prisoners that managed to survive in the Wastes went on to form Raider gangs that would become the bane of every honest person trying to eke out a living in the harsh new world.

Ultimately, at the end of Wasteland 1, the Rangers led an assault on the local Cochise military base to destroy a rouge AI. This AI had designated humanity as its enemy for some unknown reason, and it had begun producing robots to hunt and kill any humans found surviving in the Wasteland. In the end the Desert Rangers defeated the Cochise AI, but suffered heavy losses in the process.

Wasteland 2 takes place 15 years after the first game, but you don't need to know anything about what happened there. The new game does a fantastic job of dolling out the backstory as you go along; there's ample opportunity to ask the Ranger vets about the old days and how they came to be. The Rangers have spent the last decade-and-a-half shoring up their numbers after repurposing the Cochise military facility into their new base of operations. And now it's time for the Desert Rangers to reestablish themselves as the law in Arizona.

Always respect General Vargas, he's your main line of communication as you traverse the Wasteland.

You play as a squad of brand new recruits, and your first task is investigating the death of a veteran Ranger named Ace. You're told that he was sent to install some signal boosters so that Ranger HQ could more clearly pick up a series of unknown radio broadcasts they've begun receiving. The massive radiation clouds in the area have begun to recede, allowing for radio signals to travel farther and even people are beginning to venture further out than they'd been able to since the bombs dropped..

Your mission is to finish the job Ace started and find out who killed him. I don't want to give too much away, but I will say that you're going to have a lot more to deal with than just a few sporadic groups of Raiders and mutants.

The game does an outstanding job of creating a grounded world with believable characters and interesting scenarios. It also strikes a decent balance between drama, mystery, and even comedy to keep things fresh as you explore the world around you.

Gameplay Impressions

The first thing you will do in Wasteland 2 is create your 4-member party of Desert Rangers. These will be the most important choices you make when starting a new game; the skills and attributes you choose will greatly affect how and even if you can solve certain scenarios. 

You can choose from a list of pre-made characters with all of their stats and skills already assigned:

Big Bert don't take no sass from nobody.

You can edit these character's if you'd just like to make a few adjustments, or you can create your own, fully customized characters from scratch, assigning all of their skills and attributes as you see fit:

Needless to say, you'll have a lot of choices to make.

The sheer number of options you have to choose from can be quite intimidating. This is as it should be, however, since the choices you make here will determine you effectiveness in the game to come.

You will also have access to a vast array of options to customize the look of each of your Rangers. You can even type up your own backstory for them and then save the character off to be used in subsequent playthroughs.

With the character creator, you'll be able to make the Wasteland weirdo of you dreams!(or nightmares)

Having a balanced and versatile party is key to success in Wasteland 2, and the game will not hold your hand! Didn't bother to give anyone the "Field Medic" skill? Then you won't be able to use any of those first aid kits your find. The only person with the "Surgeon" skill went down in the last fight? Well, now there's nothing you can do but swear vengeance as you watch them bleed out. And death is permanent in this game. So now, that character is gone forever and you've got to pull a replacement from the new recruits back at Ranger Citadel. You can recruit other companions for an extra hand in combat, but these characters will never be full-fledged members of your team and can even go rouge in the middle of a fight and throw off your careful planning.

Wasteland 2 drops you right into the thick of it and the game expects a lot from you. However, if you have an appreciation for the PC RPGs of old like Baldur's Gate or the new wave of savage games like Dark Souls, then W2 will definitely scratch that same itch.

The game's combat has you spending Action Points to do everything from moving, to shooting, to using items. Managing your AP effectively can mean the difference between life and death, so every action requires a great deal of thought so that you don't screw yourself over in the middle of a fight.

Nearly every battle feels like a real threat; nothing can be taken lightly. If you do you will find your squad hurting in a bad way, very quickly. This lends W2's combat a highly tactical feel, and the satisfaction you get from making it through a particularly tough encounter is very rewarding. It's that sense of accomplishment that really pulls you through the game. The team at inXile have created a very addictive formula that can keep you playing for hours on end.


With the finished product just on the horizon my anticipation is at a fever pitch. I can hardly wait to see what the full game has in store for me and I hope that this article has gotten you excited too. Wasteland 2's success could be instrumental in continuing the recent resurgence of computer RPGs that respect the player's abilities and truly challenge them to beat it. Keep an eye on Steam for the final release, the Early Access version is currently available for $60 and includes some cool extras(like a copy of the original Wasteland), but the developers have said that the final version will likely be priced lower than that.

Happy hunting Rangers, and I'll see you in the Arizona Wasteland!

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