Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Wasteland 2: Director's Cut (PS4) Review

Following a trend I approve of, Wasteland 2: Director's Cut has made the jump from PCs to consoles and is now exposed to a whole new audience.  It is a turn-based tactical RPG with battles on a grid.  This is how I pictured the first two Fallout games, and according to my pal David, I'm not that far off the mark.  Considering the first Wasteland almost 30 years ago influenced Fallout, it makes sense.  Regardless, I'm always game to try an RPG, so I was eager to try my review copy of Wasteland 2.

When starting the game, you can either go with premade people or make your own.  There are many different options for each character, and even though it was daunting, I choose to go through and make them all myself.  You can make a maximum of four to start any playthrough, so I did that.  You can choose all of their skills and give them a name, portrait, starting perk, age, religion (!) and brand of cigarettes (?!).  You can even give them a bio, which is awesome.  Sure, it's a pain to type it out on the controller, so I only did one, but I do think the option is great.  Too bad you can't zoom in to make it easier to see most of the appearance customizations.  Otherwise, it is hard to tell the different faces apart, even on a big TV.  Since the view is zoomed out anyway, I guess it doesn't ultimately matter, but it feels like an oversight.

You can also choose a starting perk, but they are noticeably less cool.  While some were wonderfully named, they all pretty much had a downside that to me, negated the positive.  Once I tired one, Raised in a Circus, since it was going on a character that wouldn't have the downsides.  Once I started the game, I quickly realized that my character is now a clown.  Red wig and nose, face paint, the whole nine yards.


So, I rerolled my entire party again, since you can't just save characters you make to some list.  As if the starting perks weren't useless enough, some will permanently make your character's appearance messed up.  It just seems like a waste to even have them if they are so bad.  Maybe one or two is useful, but I doubt I'll use any of them.  Even ones that seem great have compelling arguments against them.

While in each area, you move your character group around directly with the analog stick.  There are people to talk to and items to examine.  When you leave an area, there is then a world map that is used to move your party around.  Instead of seeing all members of your party, your group is represented by the rangers icon.  There's also a water level that drains while you move the cursor around, and you will take damage if it runs out.  You can encounter enemy groups or wandering merchants while moving around.  The biggest danger on the world map is the areas of radiation dotting the landscape.  Your whole party takes damage if you move in them, but there are radiation suits you can find to help with that.  An actual fast travel option would have been nice for returning to base and stuff.  Sure, that would negate the canteen for half of the game, but it would be nice.

When you encounter enemies, or a discussion goes awry, battle takes place.  It will take place on the actual area you are in, and the grid is just laid down on the landscape.  Each time a character's turn rolls around, they are granted their AP (action point) allotment.  Every action takes a certain amount of AP.  Movement is pretty cheap, so you can move really far if you don't want to attack.  On the grid, the blue movement spaces are where you can move and still attack, while the yellow ones are just how far you can move.  It's also possible to attack more than once a turn, as long as you have the AP.  Lower cost weapons also help a lot with that.  If you end your turn, you can keep a point or two of AP for the next turn.

There's also a few other things you can do on your turn.  You'll need to spend AP to reload your weapon if you run out of ammo, or to unjam your gun if it locks up.  It's a small chance to happen, but it really sucks when it does.  Spending AP to then fix it just makes it worse.  It's a more realistic system, but it can get annoying.  The last thing I'll mention is the Ambush system.  Give up some AP and your character will wait to attack.  When an enemy moves within range, or pops up from cover to attack, your character will attack.  It's a nice ability if you want to create a small death zone, get some pesky enemies hiding behind crates or punish melee-based enemies.  I'd enjoy it more if your people could attack more than once, but that would probably be overpowered.

At first, I had a fair amount of trouble with battles.  My accuracy was low, so hitting something was a pain.  This in turn wasted ammo and led to more damage sustained by my team.  I turned the difficulty down, and it was slightly better, but still not great.  So, I decided to look into stats and character creation.  Sadly, it turns out that there is some disparity with how useful certain stats are.  Luck is all but useless, and Charisma is mostly useless as well.  Intelligence is best set at one of three levels so you can get enough skill points to stay relevant.  Your accuracy with weapons is based on the appropriate skill, so this makes sense.  Also, while AP is important, battle initiative might be more so, since it determines how often you get your turn.

You can pretty much screw yourself if you make a bad party.  So, I rerolled them and applied the information I learned.  I also started on the easier setting, but probably didn't need to.  I was much more effective in combat and the game was much less annoying.  I'd prefer to not have to scour outside information to make a party that doesn't suck.  I feel it's less forgiving than the similar and recent Divinity: Original Sin in that regard.  However, I can also see that figuring out a great build across your party could make tackling higher difficulties much more plausible.  It's a learning process, so don't be surprised if you also have to start over.  While looking up info, it seems I wasn't the only person to have the same problem and solution.  Also don't be afraid to look up character builds to understand what each stat does and what is recommended and why.  There is no one perfect solution, but there are a lot of bad ones.

It's also really easy to miss stuff or mess up your game in a few other ways.  Early on you get an NPC part member who is pretty good.  However, she will eventually leave your team, so you can't build your other characters around her.  Thankfully I knew that ahead of time, but the game doing that can basically screw you over halfway through the game.  Yuck.  Most other companions will stay with you for the whole game, but only if you recruit them the first time they ask.  If you don't, they are forever locked.  What?  Missable things in an RPG or other long games is a big pet peeve of mine.  It might not be quite as bad in some games, but Wasteland 2 only gives you 10 save slots (not counting the auto and quick save ones).  A long game with lots of choices and punishing consequences should allow more than that.

Another problem with the game is the controls.  Half of them make sense, but the rest just don't gel with me.  I forget how to do certain things because it just doesn't seem intuitive.  Simple functions are made more complicated, and that frustration takes me out of the game.  I wouldn't recommend taking a long break from the game, as that exacerbates the problem.  Healing is pretty annoying, since it is really odd how you select your target.  I've accidentally healed enemies while trying to figure out how to target my own people.  Another stupid thing I've done is accidentally buy something from a vendor while trying to advance their dialogue.  Since there is no sell back, I would either lose money or time by reloading.  Some of these are pretty small, and some personal, but they add up.  It's not always a constant thing, but when these little annoyances creep up, it can be frustrating.

Wasteland 2 has a lot of dialogue, and much of it is spoken.  Your characters get several dialogue options, and even more if you have some of the right skills.  Note that there is a lot of mature language in the game (read: swears), so I definitely don't play it around my kids.  There are a few points in the game where you have to make a decision, which can effect where you can go and who can join your group.  Several of these have an associated trophy, so you'll have to either reload or go through again.  I like that there are good reasons to replay the game, but the completionist part of my brain screams at it.

Overall, Wasteland 2 is a mixed bag.  The game can be really fun.  It has a nice battle system with visceral kills, choices that change your progression and a lot of jokes and references to find.  The game is also pretty long and has good replay value in taking the other choices, alternate character builds and recruiting different NPC companions.  Then there is the flip side.  Base accuracy is really low, forcing you to take a lot of points in the relevant skill to not bleed out money and bullets.  It's ridiculously easy to make a terrible character that will near-necessitate starting the game over.  I would recommend the game to RPG and strategy fans, just be prepared to do research beforehand, or have the time to start over several times.

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