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!

Sunday, July 13, 2014

I'll Huff and I'll Puff!

The Wolf Among Us just released the final episode of it's first season this past Tuesday, so it's about time I give you my thoughts on it as a whole.

I chose to play The Wolf Among Us strictly because of its lineage; it's another episodic adventure game made by Telltale in the same vein as their excellent Walking Dead series. I knew nothing about the graphic novels the game is based on. In fact I knew nothing about the plot or characters at all before playing it. So it speaks to the strength of that world just how quickly I was sucked in.

The Wolf Among Us takes the world of fairy tales and merges it with our own to establish an intriguing setting. And these aren't the Disney's versions, mind you; the characters in TWAU are based on the original stories; the dark, twisted, and often disturbing versions that some people may not be familiar with.

Back Story

The setup for the game's universe is that all of these fairy tale characters existed together in their own world, known as the Homeland. However, they were driven out of their lands and into ours by an evil force a few hundred years ago. After the Great Exodus the Tales decided to go into hiding together in New York City.

TWAU strikes a fantastic balance of characters, from the universally recognizable to some you may have heard of and even some that will be completely new to you. Seeing these characters revealed and getting to witness how their personal histories and reputations interplay with one another is simply captivating.

As pure as the driven Snow...

In order to not expose their existence to the Mundies (their term for human beings) the less humanoid Tales are required to use Glamours, magic spells sold at a premium that can make even the strangest of Tales appear human.

Just another seedy bar patron, right?

If a Tale can't afford a glamour or is caught outside without one they are at risk of being shipped off to The Farm, an isolated community for Tales from which they aren't allowed to leave. Needless to say, many Tales view being sent to The Farm as a prison sentence, a sentence the more "privileged" Tales would never have to deal with. 

Meet Colin, one of the Three Little Pigs. He's not so little anymore
As you can imagine this policy, as well as a few others, causes some serious drama that drives everything in the game's universe. But that's all back story.

The Game

Nice tats, bro.

In The Wolf Among Us you play as Bigby Wolf, AKA the Big Bad Wolf. Back in the Tale's Homeland he was one of the most feared creatures of them all. And yes, all of the old fairy tales about the Big Bad Wolf involved him specifically. He was an almost unkillable monster that preyed on vulnerable Tales at every opportunity. However, in the events leading up to the Great Exodus, Bigby managed to redeem himself by saving many of his fellow Tales. And when the Tales arrived in our world everyone was given a clean slate, a chance to start fresh in this strange new world.

Since Bigby was so powerful he was given the duty of Sheriff; he is responsible for the safety of all Tales, many of whom still despise and fear him. This makes for an incredibly complicated character; Bigby struggles to keep everyone in line while also trying to show compassion. He wants to prove that he isn't the same monster they cowered from years ago. And the choices you make over the course of the season influence how well Bigby pulls this off as well as how people react to him.

Get ready for a Bloody good time.

The main plot revolves around a series of brutal murders where Tales are the victims. Bigby is tasked with finding out who is responsible and bringing them to justice. However, with the complicated class politics and sordid histories among the Tales, this is no easy task.

The game love to put you in the middle of heated exchanges between characters, forcing you to deal with the situation. You can side with one while alienating the other, or you can attempt to play diplomat and find an amicable solution. But sometimes that just isn't possible and you can wind up pissing off both parties instead.

The game's strong plot and outstanding performances drive you along toward it's conclusion, but it's the art style that really steals the show. The game's look is obviously similar to the team's Walking Dead series, but it's setting affords the developers a chance to use a wider range of color palettes compared to TWD's mostly brown or otherwise dark and grungy aesthetic. The Wolf Among Us's universe also gives Telltale a chance to play around with more fantastic character designs beyond the human and zombie cast of their other series.

Well aren't you just adorable!


The Wolf Among Us is a fantastic series and now that the entire first season is available there's never been a better time to jump in. You can pick up the entire season for $25 on Steam, XBox Games Store, or PSN. You can even get it for your iPad if that's what you'd prefer. Also, if I haven't convinced you yet, you can download and play episode 1 of the series for free on most of the platforms I've listed above.

If you're a fan of great stories, fantastic worlds, and beautiful visuals, then The Wolf Among Us is the perfect place to find all of that and more.

The investigation awaits.