The original Wasteland, released in 1988, was the sort of game you couldn’t quite get away with releasing today. It was possible to get into unfair no-win scenarios that required a restart, and parts of the game were reliant on you referring to pieces of text that came in the game box. At a recent press-only twenty minute demo of the game at Adelaide’s AVCon convention, designer Chris Avellone (best known for his work on Planescape: Torment) made it known that this sequel is going to take a lot of what made the original game work, while jettisoning its worst elements.
On the title screen we see a Scorpitron, a huge scorpion robot based on a design from the original. While in the first game there was only one of these creatures, Wasteland 2’s post-apocalyptic Los Angeles will reportedly feature ‘a shitload’ of them. This game ramps up the cool parts of the original game, including this horrific monster.
Wasteland 2 is the sort of game that can only really work well on PC. It’s an isometric turn-based action RPG with a huge emphasis on party management to determine how well you’ll handle combat and other situations. It’s the sort of game that promises to let you deal with each situation in any way you see fit. Avellone compared the quest design to Fallout 1 and 2, in that you’ll have the option to talk through situations, use stealth, or go in guns blazing. The characters in your party chat to each other as they go, generating little mini-narratives, and an updating text log keeps track of your every choice.
In the first area he demoed, Avellone showed off the ‘guns blazing’ way of doing things. In the Temple of Titan, the player encounters a cult that worships radiation (apparently another cult in the game is dedicated to ‘good manners’, and will require you to show proper etiquette around them if you want to stay alive). At this point in the game the player has been asked to go and acquire toxic waste to fulfil a mission objective.
On entering the compound where the waste was being kept, Avellone presented two fairly stark options – either kill everyone, or pay proper tribute and talk your way in with money and kind words. When he opted for violence, the cultists revealed that they were in possession of a nuclear weapon and threatened to explode it…but they soon caved and negotiated after a few of them were taken out through fairly simple turn-based grid combat in which Avellone took out several cultists at range with his rifles. This was the only instance of combat we were shown – the emphasis of this demo was on the choices offered more so than the battle system.
This is a fairly simple example of choice, but the demo gave better examples of the reactivity the developers are promising. Avellone promised that every different choice, every stat that you level up, every party member you accrue for your rag-tag bunch of isometric adventurers, will change how things play out. This is a location you’ll revisit, and everyone there will remember what you did last time (if they’re still alive). Avellone said that internal testers are still seeing new content after a thousand hours of play.
The next mission he showed off depended on a very specific chain of circumstances, what he refers to as a ‘special case area’. This mission only appears if you talk to a specific bartender, buy a specific drink from him, use it, discover that it sucks, and go back to the bar to complain to him. The bartender asks you to go and deal with his supply problem, which requires going to a distillery and talking to the hobos who have been hijacking the caravans of alcohol there.
Once you travel to the distillery you can side with the hobos in the argument, you can side with the caravan driver who is being robbed, or you can negotiate a peace…which will happen automatically if you have a man named Scotchmo in your squad, as he will remind the hobos of the ‘Hobo Code’ that they are violating. Without Scotchmo, your negotiations can go down multiple routes – you have separate stats for your ‘hard ass’, ‘kiss ass’ and ‘smart ass’ abilities, which determine whether you use brawn, charm or brains to reason your way through a situation like this. You can also shoot at the folks here – you can shoot at and kill any single person you encounter in the game and deal with the consequences, which will never be game-breaking – but in this circumstance negotiation seemed the best option. And again, the way you resolve this issue will change how things play out in the future.
Wasteland 2 looks like the sort of game that is simultaneously a massive, hardcore PC experience, but also quite accessible for anyone who is more invested in the reactive narrative possibilities than anything else. It’s this reactivity Avellone came back to over and over throughout his demonstration: it looks like the game is going to be a different experience not just for every player, but on every playthrough. Wasteland 2 is likely to be released in September.
James “Jickle” O’Connor is a freelance games critic, journalist and occasional editor, based in South Australia. His favourite game of all time is The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker, and he is absurdly, comically rubbish at most fighting games (except for Killer Instinct on the SNES, which was, incidentally, the first game he ever owned). He has huge soft spots for point and click adventure games, third-person shooters, and Deus Ex.
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