Wasteland 2 is slow, hard, draining, long, complicated, and intense. Though I didn’t exactly "enjoy" my time with Wasteland 2, I think that’s the point. So I won’t let my “fun meter” affect the score below. I am ready and able to recognize that this game is well-made, built with love, and an extremely valuable affair.
But man, Wasteland 2 is brutal. I don’t mind bleak storylines and pressured settings in games, nor do I mind tough difficulty (heck, one of my favorite recent games ever is FTL: Faster Than Light). I like a challenge, and Wasteland 2 has that in spades. Its fans signed up for this type of unrelenting experience, being Kickstarted by hardcore fans as a sequel to the original game, so this game should be applauded for sticking to this theme and never letting go. It’s unapologetic in its depth and difficulty.
Wasteland 2 is an over-the-head, tactical, turn-based, party-based RPG that features grid-style combat like Final Fantasy Tactics and Banner Saga. You create and control the fates of four characters, while your party can fit seven, and you’ll level them up and task them with certain aspects of your adventure.
When you get into combat, you’re basically tasked with managing all of these party members, making sure you have enough supplies and ammunition while battling back all manner of monsters and humans. The AI can seem a little dumb at times, or maybe a little overbearing. Getting into a fight with a group in one small region might pull in others who you had no idea were even around. Or you can try and be strategic, though the enemy can bum-rush you and absolutely wreck you before you even properly set up. That last bit only speaks to the difficulty of the game.
Each fight, no matter its importance to the actual storyline in Wasteland 2, feels tough and involved. Some one-off battles can absolutely destroy you, so you won’t ever feel like you’re grinding away with a set of one hit kills just to move on. In fact, that sense of huge scope can be applied to all areas of the game. You’re Rangers in this title, so your job in the narrative is to protect the citizens of this post-apocalyptic world. In one of the first scenarios you encounter, you’re sent into an area and told to help someone with a mutant plant problem. This problem, which is basically a side quest, took me hours to complete.
That goes for the game at large, and only a few of the missions leaned toward the tedious side. The side quests weren’t simple “grab me 10 wolf teeth and come back.” They felt just as expansive as the main storyline, and they absolutely help develop the grand scale of the game's world
That scale, though, sits below a game that’s rather ugly. It works, don’t get me wrong. The graphical style is simple and muddy enough to work really well with the doom and gloom tone of the experience. Just don’t come into Wasteland 2 expecting your socks to be rocked off by visual splendor. The game never looks broken or bad by any stretch; it just looks dank, dirty, and dark. Which, hey, is probably the point. It goes to further reinforce the bleak setting of the experience and the overall impression of hopelessness.
The main gripe I have with Wasteland 2 is its overly complicated skill system. Like I said above, you specifically control four party members. Each party member levels up and gains Attribute points, for inteeligence, strength, luck, and a few more, and Skill points for everything like Assault Rifles, Alarm Disarming, Medic, Animal Whisperer, Hard Ass, Surgeon, Safecracking, Outdoorsmen, and Brute Force. They’re super specific things that, when enough points are awarded, will let you access specific conversation points or unique content in the game.
My issue here is that the complexity and convolution in the skill system is almost too old-school. I get that this game was built for fans of the original, so they should love getting into this in a huge way, but when I’m presented with points to distribute in a sheet of around 30 skills, I feel overwhelmed. Moreover, being able to smash in-world objects isn't controlled by the Strength attribute, which might be your first though, but instead depends on the Brute Force skill. It takes a bit to sort through the confusion, but I eventually figured that Attributes apply only to combat, recovery, and growth mechanics. Skills, on the other hand, provide advantages and can grant access to unique areas.
Once I got a hold of it, I wound up restarting my game. I built a party with four very specific characters, with one being a sniper with skills bound in Animal Whispering, Sniper Rifles, Perception, and Outdoorsman. Building my party with four characters hand-crafted in this way removed the impression that I was wasting points. This reset, whether it was the right or wrong way to go, made the experience much more enjoyable for me.
Wasteland 2 won’t be for everyone. It’s a challenging game that only rewards those willing to sink real time into it. If you like your tactical battles with simple presentation and old-school RPG design, you won’t like this game. It’s deep, and it feels that way right off the bat. But if you liked the original title or fancy long sessions in games like Fallout 2, you will absolutely find plenty to love here. I know I said I didn’t have fun with the game, but that’s because it was almost too much for me to bear during a holiday season. But for the gamer who wants to settle in for a really long ride with a well-written, lovingly crafted, difficult game set in a solid post-apocalyptic world, Wasteland 2 is great.