Wasteland 2 Early Access Review

Wandering in the wastes...again.


Wasteland 2

GameSpot's early access reviews evaluate unfinished games that are nonetheless available for purchase by the public. While the games in question are not considered finished by their creators, you may still devote money, time, and bandwidth for the privilege of playing them before they are complete. The review below critiques a work in progress, and represents a snapshot of the game at the time of the review's publication.

Any discussion of Wasteland must begin with its legacy. The first game was one of those truly seminal works. The eponymous setting and morbid humor stand among the best, and they've been adapted and canonized in the annals of game history. Over 25 years later, Wasteland 2 seeks to pick up where its predecessor left off. As one of the first games to receive huge support through crowd funding and one of the first to hit Steam's early access program, Wasteland 2 can't avoid being caught between its origins and its 21st-century funding and distribution. Thankfully, it deftly manages to balance everything and is one of the best postapocalyptic role-playing games to emerge in a long time--and it's not even finished yet.

Combat is turn-based and tactical, and it works really well.
Combat is turn-based and tactical, and it works really well.

Taking place some 15 years after the first game, Wasteland 2 is set in the same irradiated version of the American Southwest as the 1988 original. Many of the choices and quests from the first game are referenced as either plot points or Easter eggs. The game borrows heavily from the formula of the original: you begin as a team of four potential recruits to the Rangers, a group of paramilitary police officers looking to reorganize and protect the wasteland that what once was Southern Arizona. This team is yours to mold, but you’ll want to put a lot of care and effort into it. Most levels are cramped but loaded with an insane number of things to discover, and to access every area, you need a well-balanced team that can handle anything that’s thrown its way.

When creating my party, I was excited to see that I could accurately role-play as myself. I picked “American Indian” for my race and “Indigenous” as my religion. That detail goes beyond just picking a few cosmetic options and setting off for adventure, though. You’re encouraged to write a backstory for yourself and your characters, and while it may be a bit much to hope that the game could parse that information and use it later, the option calls to mind the pen-and-paper RPGs that inspired the original Wasteland. Information as apparently insignificant as whether or not your characters are smokers, and what brand of cigarettes they prefer, have actual consequence. You shouldn’t, however, get too cavalier when building your party, unless you’re looking for an additional challenge. Wasteland 2’s structure encourages extreme specialization. Points that you can allocate to skills are few and far between, and trying to create a jack-of-all-trades usually results in a character that can’t do anything particularly well, especially in the late game. Instead, Wasteland 2 wants you to make characters distinct so that they mutually rely on one another. While that system drives home party cohesion with severe consequences for death, I wish the dialogue system were implemented so that side characters got more attention from time to time; individual party members’ personalities are typically overshadowed by the character you designate as your primary conversationalist.

Wasteland 2 is one of the best postapocalyptic role-playing games to emerge in a long time--and it's not even finished yet.

While Wasteland 2 might be too rigid to allow you to actually play a role in exactly the way you want, nearly everything else is extremely well executed. Most of the areas and towns you’ll explore are small, which may initially seem like a problem, but there’s a lot more going on than you’d suspect at first glance. Nearly every screen in the game has something interesting in it, from hidden safes to secret caves, and most people will not be able to see everything on a first playthrough. Again, that might come off as a problem--forcing you to play more than once, and artificially padding the length--but most of the things you miss aren't necessary. Instead, they're there to help make the world feel whole. You won’t miss them, but they are surprisingly important. Shadowrun: Dragonfall (Wasteland’s closest recent analogue) suffered from a lack of extras; it was a big game but felt cramped because it was possible to see absolutely everything in every level. The loot system here reinforces the sense of scale. Most items are useless, but many have their own back stories and mythologies surrounding them, while others give you access to entirely new areas. Such specific details go a long way towards making the world feel organic, much in the same way that the thousands of useless wheels of cheese and brooms in an Elder Scrolls game helps bring its world to life.

Wandering around in the wastes can lead to some great loot and fun times, but if you mess around too much, people solve their own problems and aren't too happy about it.
Wandering around in the wastes can lead to some great loot and fun times, but if you mess around too much, people solve their own problems and aren't too happy about it.

Supporting that sense of a deep world is a fluid application of typical RPG character classes. You can train almost any character in any skill, but again, some forethought can help quite a bit. If you have a character you want to specialize in melee combat, you probably want to make sure he has a decent speed stat so he can maneuver around the battlefield effectively. While you're doing that, making him a combat medic and a surgeon might not be a bad idea either. If any party member gets into trouble, he can move off the front lines and heal the victim before he bleeds out. That combination of skills is rare in most games, where melee combat and healing would be split between two different characters. There are a lot of skills you need on your journey, though, and if you want to have someone who can repair machines, handle computers, pick locks, crack open safes, and wield a sniper rifle--all skills you'd expect in a classic rogue--you can't level him up well enough to use him effectively.

There are a lot of raiders and bandits out in the wild, and combat encounters are random. When a hostile group approaches, you have the option to either attack head-on or make a skill check to lose them. If you stand and fight, you often face three to ten bandits on a variety of different minimaps. From here, the game becomes a lot more tactical. Each of your characters has a set number of action points to spend per turn on attacking, healing, changing stances, using items, or moving around. Some maps have extensive cover you can use to help avoid damage, while others favor a quicker, more brutal approach. Either way, consequences for failure are extremely high. Most party members can't stand up to more than a few solid hits. Some enemies can also inflict nasty status effects, which require special medical attention. If your team members take too much damage, they fall unconscious and begin steadily losing health until they are treated. If you fail to get them fixed up in time, they die and are lost permanently. Unfortunately, treating another character in battle is hard to pull off properly, even if you're properly prepared. Battlefield surgery uses up a large number of action points and almost guarantees your surgeon will be vulnerable to further attack. Much like XCOM before it, Wasteland 2 encourages careful combat. Nothing here is technically difficult, but it can be punishing if you're reckless. The narrative also supports that omnipresent sense of care and urgency.

Wasteland 2 isn't much to look at, but it's got everything else in spades.
Wasteland 2 isn't much to look at, but it's got everything else in spades.

After the introductory sequence, the world opens up a bit. You have several main objectives, but provided your team is strong enough, you can break off and do whatever you like. If you faff about long enough, you receive some radio reports that some of the places you were supposed to help are being overrun. Wait a bit longer, and they'll be lost completely. Wasteland 2 is perfectly willing to let you have whatever fun you'd like, but there are also consequences for inaction. You enter the fray during a tumultuous time, rife with political drama and suffering from scarce resources. Whether you answer that call and choose to help secure the Rangers as a salient political force in the region or let the last vestiges of humanity slip closer to extinction is up to you. Either way, Wasteland's writing is its foundation. A palpable sense of humor is communicated both through dialogue and an ever-present printer that curtly summarizes your actions both in and out of combat, and it shines through the melodrama. In much the same way that Fallout's over-the-top violence ultimately reinforces its grand thesis on warfare, Wasteland 2's absurdist comedy helps the entire journey feel more comfortable and relatable. It gives the impression that everyone has adopted a distant affect to deal with the dismal circumstances.

Wasteland 2 isn't complete, but I thoroughly enjoyed my journey. There are a few small issues here and there, like the fact that when you're fighting unarmed, you can't attack diagonally adjacent tiles, but they're minor compared to the rest of the experience. I was skeptical about the idea of making a sequel to a 26-year-old game. From the perspective of a contemporary audience, the original Wasteland isn't just old; it's almost unplayable. Wasteland 2 spectacularly balances the older style of classic PC RPGs and more modern sensibilities. Combat moves surprisingly quickly, and the world feels remarkably alive. This is not a game that I would have ever expected to work as well as it does, but what's here already is far more substantial than most full retail releases.

What's There?

There's a ton of content already. Most players can expect 30 hours at least, though the goal is to have at least 50 hours of gameplay for the final launch.

What's to Come?

The main quest is largely complete. Based on developer blog posts, it seems that the coming additions will be fixes and extras.

What Does it Cost?

Currently $60. The developers have repeatedly said that Wasteland 2 will be cheaper at retail, and the high cost now is primarily to balance early access against Kickstarter backer rewards. If you're pining for a new open-world RPG, this is a great buy. Otherwise, wait for the final release.

When Will it Be Finished?

At the time of writing, there has been no retail release date announced, but the developer blog says we should expect to hear of one by the end of the month.

What's the Verdict?

Despite a few frustrating bugs and the need for some areas to be cleaned up, Wasteland 2 is essentially finished. This is a rich, creative world packed with things to do and places to explore. Good luck out there in the wastes.

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Avatar image for k41m

I'm cheap and I'm a hipster... everything sucks and everything is too expensive. What are they thinking trying to make a profit?!

Avatar image for LegateLeviticus

"game has something interesting in it, from hidden safes to secret caves, and most people will not be able to see everything on a first playthrough. Again, that might come off as a problem--forcing you to play more than once, and artificially padding the length"

What does this even mean? If Inxile wanted to artificially lengthen the game they would have made it so you could experience everything regardless of your role playing choices. Most people don't even finish games nowadays, let alone replay them, which makes this statement ridiculous, Inxile is making the replayability because they want to make a damn good game for people that like RPGs like Fallout 1 and 2.

Avatar image for Goron24

<< LINK REMOVED >> Don't take the statement so seriously. It is merely saying that even if you wanted to you couldn't 100% the game in a single playthrough

Avatar image for hitomo

60 bucks, I mean ... really? hm

I am willing to through that much at Zenimax for the best MMO of all times

but to a bunch of hobbiest that dont want to work for real?

at some point you have to realise, there is a good reason those people

had to went to Kickstarter because noone serious would have given them money

sad story

Avatar image for Voqar

<< LINK REMOVED >> It's remarkable how much cluelessness you managed to put in one short reply. Congrats!

I do agree that $60 is ridiculous for different reasons though. They are basically abusing kickstarter and backers as an excuse to overprice this thing in early accesss. There are a ton of games in early access with far more reasonable prices, and many tied to crowd funding origins, and almost none of them pull the BS that Fargo is pulling here - which just goes to show that maybe he hasn't entirely severed the bonds to his corporate side - this is pretty much typical of corporate marketing logic and the kind of pricing sleaze you'd expect out of corporate bean counters.

If the game was funded by the community then the bulk of any sales beyond backer copies is just profit, right? So by pricing like this isn't it even more of a slap in the face of backers than doing early access at a reasonable price? It's like saying, thanks for funding our game, now we're making obscene profits by overcharging FOR YOUR benefit. We'll take one for the team and make higher profits off of early access copies so backers won't feel cheated. Yeah...

Yep, you don't have to buy this in early access. I buy TONS of games in early access and happily support modest developers. I would've bought this game months ago at a reasonable price. No way in hell I'd pay $60 for this in early access to support what seems like blood sucking corporate greed style pricing with a flimsy excuse for doing it.

Avatar image for revanthedarth

<< LINK REMOVED >> yeah, they gathered enough to produce&publish wasteland 2 from kickstarter and the money they're getting now is pure profit. The fact that $60 is too much, i also agree. But i still think that approach is justifiable. Lots of eye-candy yet hollow games are sold at around that price and Wasteland 2 is *still* worth the price if you didn't back it up at kickstarter.

Besides, the problem with kickstarter is that you get the cash up front and spend it during the development. It's like taking a loan and it leaves you with nothing in your hand after you publish the game, since your target audience already bought it at kickstarter. But inexile isn't in this business just for wasteland 2, right? If the company gets enough cash, they might think about developing expansions (not cheap DLCs i hope) and even new games of the same genre. And that alone makes my heart skip a beat.

I really like old-school RPGs. Not that I don't enjoy elder scrolls, mass effect or similar new-style, simple RPGs, but I'd really like if someone developed games similar to wasteland, fallout, arcanum or planescape torment. Cheap marketing or not, we don't have a choice if we want old school RPGs but to support Fargo. This way, other companies may also consider this genre profitable and develop similar games.

Avatar image for LegateLeviticus

<< LINK REMOVED >> Idiotic statement, maybe you prefer what games you play to be dictated by "someone serious", but they sold the product directly to the consumer. Nobody else matters but them, as they are the ones paying, it sounds moronic to take out a debt when you can get the cash directly.

As for Zenimax, what a joke, I wouldn't pay a cent for that crapfest, nor will most people from what I hear. I hear it sold pathetically compared to WoW and it's only a matter of time before the price drops to what it's worth: Nothing.

Those hobbyists were part of real video games, not the generic crap "rpgs" you're into.

Avatar image for cratecruncher

<< LINK REMOVED >> If you like ESO you wouldn't like this type of game. Play ESO as much as you can. It won't be around long.

Avatar image for Northuz

That's the early access price. The post-release price will be more like $35 or something.

Avatar image for Verenti

I'm frustrated with this one. I put down a few dollars for this game with an ETA of October 2013. Fair enough, Kickstarters have gone past estimations before. It happens. But when they're hideously overtime (by like 200%), they should open up the beta to other backers. As Planetary Annihilation did.

Avatar image for vadagar1

looks like a solid game

Avatar image for charlieboomboom

yay wastelands. Now gimme pool of radiance or the krynn series!!

Avatar image for twofacedbore38

<< LINK REMOVED >> You obviously haven't touched the game. It's far from broken buddy.

Avatar image for wagga_vonka

<< LINK REMOVED >><< LINK REMOVED >> Tbh - this game should have been free. The graphic is horrible - i would say that Fallout Tactics has better graphic. The game is full of glitches and odd story arcs. Even the best part - the turnbased combat, do not have the same powerfull feel the original Fallout games had. The game will sell and be played - but that just is more because this genre is lagging. Post apocalyptic sandbox games where you can blast opponents to oblivion with assault rifles, shotguns and nades have unlimited potential imo. This game do not make it halfway imo.

If Fallout 2 had been updated with the same smooth engine which Xcom enemy unknown runs, you would have a far, far, FAR better game.

Wasted money and wasted potential.

The fact that Larian Studios have made a amazing RPG gem - Divinity Original Sin, for $944,282 just make one wonder where all the money to Wl2 have gone....

Avatar image for chris1980s

<< LINK REMOVED >> Its your $60 to throw away not mine. I think I'd get more enjoyment from flushing it down the toilet than playing this crap tbh.

Avatar image for chris1980s

<< LINK REMOVED >><< LINK REMOVED >> because im not going to spend $60 that I could have spent on 10 extra large cheeseburgers, or something else more enjoyable.

Avatar image for twofacedbore38

<< LINK REMOVED >><< LINK REMOVED >> Oh, so you definitely haven't even touched the game. That's what I thought. How about giving us your opinion when you've actually played it?

Anyway, $60 well spent. I'm loving the game, and the replay value is huge.

Avatar image for gufberg

Its weird how many people don't understand that these Early Access reviews are here for their sake. Its the only consumer-friendly thing to do. Do you guys really think a developer should be asking money for a game without having their product put under scrutiny? Do you not want assessments so you can make an informed decision before purchase? does "Early Access" mean "Above constructive criticism" to you?

That said, this game is shaping up nicely it seems. I won't be buying it before the official launch accompanied by final reviews however.

Avatar image for Caldrin

Will be picking this up when its released.. dont like testing single player RPGs as it will spoil it when it is complete..

Avatar image for hystavito

<< LINK REMOVED >> I backed it and have access but I'm also waiting. I think I have slightly ruined some games by playing them in early access, even ones that have no story to spoil.

Avatar image for Lach0121

<< LINK REMOVED >> Seems I am in the same boat as you.

Avatar image for chibistevo32

If this is essentially 'finished' then I'm worried.

The game is a cluttered mess, from the UI to the combat progression.

The game really needs to help out with the awful micro management involved too

Avatar image for Loyal_Royal

How is it not outrageous that they are overcharging for this game to fulfill kick starter rewards? If Activision or EA had done that, you'd all be calling for their heads...

Avatar image for LegateLeviticus

<< LINK REMOVED >> They aren't overcharging to fulfill kickstarter rewards, Mr. Reading comprehension, they are balancing the cost of the early access to be on par with what the people who kickstarted the game paid. Instead of them having paid more when they are the ones supporting the product.

Avatar image for Krauklis

<< LINK REMOVED >> It's the way every kickstarter project does it, people gave them 60$ to get early access to the game, to give other people the same access for less would be an insult to their early backers, who made sure the game makes made in the first place.

Avatar image for Darkhol0w

Waiting on the full version of this..it's going to be awesome! :D

Avatar image for kozzy1234

Game is fantastic, so is Divinity Original Sin, both shaping up really well!

Avatar image for GSyyjeager_titanyyGS

Damn, can't wait. Also looking forward to the divinity original sin earl access review.

Avatar image for MAD_AI

If it has a price tag attached to it then it has to be reviewed, at least it's not a final verdict.

In any case I'm really looking forward to this game, the first of many cRPG revivals, Pillars of Eternity, Torment, Divinity, all looking great.

Avatar image for aldiggy

Shouldn't review... too soon too soon! The dialog box changed just a day ago and looks already way different from the screenshot. Wait until final release then review would be better

Avatar image for LegateLeviticus

<< LINK REMOVED >> It's fine as long as they review the full product separately.

Avatar image for DanCStarkey

<< LINK REMOVED >> I realize that these things change quickly, but if you look at it from the perspective of "Is it worth cash right now in its current state?" Then I think that's a yes, but it'll be cheaper later. That conclusion isn't going to change no matter what updates InXile issues.

Avatar image for Caldrin

<< LINK REMOVED >> you will get a proper review once its released.. this a review of a work in progress game and he explains that in the review.

Avatar image for BamaGoatt

<< LINK REMOVED >> I disagree this is less a review score and more of an observation on the good and bad of the game. When you are charging people money for it you open your game up to opinions. I think most people understand this game can be improved by next month and could be vastly different a year from now.

Avatar image for xantufrog

<< LINK REMOVED >> I hate these early access reviews for these reasons.

Moderator Online
Avatar image for Death_Masta187

" ...then 2 days later this game was patched making this "review" completely worthless."

I wasn't aware games in alpha needed to be reviewed. I look forward to GS reviewing concept art as a finished game.

Avatar image for DanCStarkey

<< LINK REMOVED >> Would you rather consumers have no tools and no information regarding products for which developers are charging money? It's not a final score, this isn't going on MetaCritic, this is just my opinion of a "nearly finished" game. Take that for what you will, but I'm taken aback by the hostility.

Avatar image for WereCatf

<< LINK REMOVED >>"I wasn't aware games in alpha needed to be reviewed." -- It can serve as a pointer for people on games to keep in mind. Wasteland 2 isn't an AAA-game and therefore there isn't the usual amount of hype and advertising around it and all that, so it needs more word-of-mouth and these kinds of reviews serve that need. Also, a game that earns high marks even during development is unlikely to go any worse after release.

Even if you don't appreciate early reviews I certainly see the appeal and am actually terribly glad about these, makes it much easier to construct a list of things which to keep in mind and to watch progress on.

Avatar image for BamaGoatt

<< LINK REMOVED >> I hear you but it is playable and the $60 price tag I would want it reviewed before buying it. I like the way they have been reviewing early access games without scores but the info needed to help you decide. That said I have only bought one early access game so far that is double fine's awesome strategy game spacebase df9 yes it still needs work but it is very fun.

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