Early Thoughts on Wasteland 2
As you may have heard, Wasteland 2 shipped on Sep 19th.
I’ve been looking forward to this came since its debut on Kickstarter, desperate for the world. Post-apocalypse! Roleplaying! The heredity of my most-loved of games, Fallout and Fallout 2.
I’m a sucker for sci-fi.
So I backed the game, and waited, and I worked hard to avoid any media, ignoring the backer updates and developer videos that I received. I wanted my experience to be pure, untainted by access to material that wasn’t yet ready and might spoil my experience.
I’ve only been playing for about 10 hours as of this writing; if you’ve played any, I’ve done the first mission and now have access to the Citadel and my troops are around Level 7. I’ve walked the wastes and lived to tell the tale, shed blood and had mine shed in return.
Ten hours in, and I wish I hadn’t backed this game. It’s not a great RPG, and barely scratches “adequate” as a game. It’s juvenile, sexist, and the core mechanic is a poor imitation of X-Com: Enemy Unknown.
Let’s start with the initial sexism in the game. I rolled a party of all women, and two of the character portraits were extremely questionable. An initial facepalm, but nothing severe, just tone-deaf against the current anti-sexist movement in gaming.
The next incident was after I’d completed the first mission and had entered the Citadel, I was asked if next time I could save a brothel.
The third incident, I was exploring the Prison complex, and stumbled over a slave pen. Story-wise it made sense, so I could forgive it… except for the abused corpse of a woman that was being used to make things Serious and Dark. That’s how you know that they’re bad people, you see. They hurt the women, that you couldn’t protect, because you’re supposed to protect them, in your strong male role.
At the Prison complex, you run into one of the bad-guy factions from the previous game. Up until I reached their fortress the stories I was being told oscillated, from cautious optimism of their motives to others telling me that raiders could never change.
As soon as I heard of this faction I thought “They’re going to be evil.” And, predictably, they are evil. That’d be okay if they were evil in a sensible way, but that’s not the case. They’re evil for the sake of being evil, setting up a slave plantation (yes, really) but without a broader sense of the motives of what, if anything, they’re trying to do.
I refused to pay a tax, and was attacked. Just, attacked. No options for dialog or non-violence skills, just flat-out attacked, because they’re the bad guys and that’s what bad guys do.
Oh, and one of the first NPCs you find is named “Angela Deth.”
This is the part that annoys me the most. Games rest on a bedrock of mechanics, and if your mechanics are flawed, the flaws ripple through the entire game.
As an RPG, it ignores the considerable distance that the industry has come since the late 1980s. Your party starts out ridiculously incompetent and moves, by level 7, to merely concerningly incompetent.
Consider that against the backstory of the world. You’re being trained to be a soldier, by soldiers, in a hostile environment where your predominate means of resolving conflict is shooting at it. Training that leaves your freshly rolled troops unable to shoot, and they continue to be unable to shoot for some time.
It’s a classic RPG mechanic to make your party mewling kittens, but it doesn’t make sense within the context of the world. It’s not challenging to be unable to hit targets, it’s frustrating and left me relying on Angela Deth for a considerably long time.
As a “classic” RPG, it encourages min/max behaviour. I rolled some fairly typical troops, and one who has maxed intelligence. She gets 5 skill points a level, the others get 2-3. She’s now the best shooter, unlocks most things, and I’m starting to open some of the speech skills. By contrast, the others can almost hit stuff when they shoot!.
It leaves me frustrated, because the optimal path isn’t a balanced or sensible party, nor does it encourage roleplay. Instead, it’s one that has high intellects and nothing else, because that’s the only path to non-frustrating marksmanship.
Squad Tactics that Aren’t
The Kickstarter page makes mention of the original Wasteland offering squad-based tactics, allowing for split parties and more advanced tactics. Having that as part of an RPG would be excellent… if that’d happened.
Unfortunately Wasteland 2 treats your troops not as a squad, but as a party, and the map and AI design (so far) reflects it heavily. Very few maps have had any sort of cover or ability to split my party, forcing gameplay of a long march up a corridor. In X-Com, I would park my sniper and slowly move my squad forwards; in Wasteland 2 I try a similar approach and my sniper is quickly out of range, or the enemy AI nonsensically runs right towards me, shooting at point blank range with their rifles.
Rifles which are optimal at range, of course.
This behaviour makes perfect sense for a classic, party-based game; your party is going to be together and you are going to want to be able to pound the enemy as a group. Unfortunately, trying to spread out as a squad, use crossfire and ambush tactics don’t work.
It’s like no one at inXile actually played X-Com, and if they did they certainly didn’t learn anything from the experience.
The Torment reboot is also being made by inXile. I backed it, and now I’m worried that everything wrong with Wasteland will carry forward, leaving me with another immature, poorly thought out, sexist game that I wish I hadn’t spent money on.