Once upon a time RPGs were isometric affairs, where you and a party of companions would venture out into a world, lock pick every chest you could find and fight enemies in delicately balanced, turn based set pieces. Then Mass Effect came along and it all became about fancy cut scenes and full voice acting done by Nolan North.
Thankfully, due to the crowd funding phenomena, the isometric RPG is having a renaissance. Even more excitingly we have games like Wasteland 2, Pillars of Eternity and Numenara: Torment on the way, with some of the finest minds in the history of RPGs driving the development.
Wasteland 2 is leading the charge and is expected to land sometime in September, an event we are eagerly awaiting after losing 20 plus hours to the beta version. For it is shaping up to be everything we expected it to be, a deep, involved, enjoyable and highly adult RPG that is set to suck up a chunk of our waking hours.
Set in a post nuclear holocaust world, Wasteland 2 takes place across Arizona and Los Angeles, with you controlling a group of Rangers, a militia that has helped to keep law and order since the event. As your journey begins you and a bunch of new recruits have to head out and fix some radio towers.
It should be pointed out that our 20 odd hours of game play only covered the very beginning of the game, where you and your team have to choose between two destinations, both of which are under threat. The game forces you to pick one, which means that the other goes unsaved, and you then find yourself then having to deal with the consequences of this.
This is the sort of scenario that one would never see in a big budget RPG nowadays, especially one with heavy use of expensive techniques like voice acting and cut scenes. The story, and dialog, in Wasteland 2 plays out in text form, which means you’ll need to read, but it also means that even small decisions can have significant impact on everything from quest outcomes to the interaction between various characters.
In our play through we decided to save the Agricultural Centre when faced with this first choice, which in turn meant that the surviving members of the town of Highpool (the one we ignored), hated us when we eventually turned up, blaming us for not coming to save them when they came under attack. This choice also effected a bunch of side missions dealing with cleaning up our actions at the Ag centre, as well as who joined our party along the way.
Sitting on top of this very traditional storytelling structure is an excellent turn based combat system. Unlike some other RPGs, in Wasteland 2 you end up with a fairly large party (mine had six NPCs), which makes combat quite nuanced, with characters a mix between long and short range gunners and some melee characters.
This is augmented by crafting skills in the game that allow you to break down weapons to find upgrades, which can then be used to augment others. Combat is then influenced by weapon strength, mods and the individual team abilities. Weapons can jam, wounds need treating and members of your team can panic and go rogue. For a game where combat isn’t the primary focus, it is an immensely satisfying part of the game and something that demonstrates the attention to detail given to the game’s development.
Wasteland 2 is shaping up as both a fantastic nostalgia kick for those with fond memories of the golden days of isometric RPGs and a wonderful experience in its own right. Given that we spent a whole day just previewing a small chunk of it, there is a lot of content to be devoured and a huge amount of re-playability to boot.