Time Well Wasted
There seems to be an interesting trend in the industry lately. Nostalgia is king, with pixel art platformers and collections of retro titles being announced every other week, it feels like. Not that this reviewers complaining, as I will use any excuse to dive back into an old game or a new title in a forgotten genre, if only to show developers that there are people who crave an old school challenge, and sweet, sweet pixilation in our games.
Thanks to platforms like Kickstarter and IndieGoGo, these titles are becoming more and more abundant, and it warms my admittedly cold heart to see throwback titles on my shiny new consoles, particularly my portable powerhouse, the Nintendo Switch. The latest in a long line of excellent ports coming to the Switch is Wasteland 2: Director’s Cut. Developed by inXile Entertainment and published by Deep Silver, this game is an isometric, turn-based RPG, and a sequel to the original Wasteland, which launched on PC way back in the technological stone age of 1988.
As alluded to before, this title received funding for its original goal of a PC version exclusively through crowdfunding. Apparently, people were eager to get their hands on this sequel, and the project reached its goal very soon after being posted. So there’s demand for this bit of nostalgic goodness, but was it worth the two-decade wait? In short: yes. The PC version received acclaim, and a console port was soon greenlighted shortly thereafter. When that launched, it boasted a few upgrades, notably a graphical tune-up and some extra customization that earned it the Director’s Cut moniker. Jump ahead three years from that point, and here we are. Nintendo’s little hybrid-console-that-could is selling like hotcakes, and inXile and Deep Silver are ready to bring their success and Nintendo’s success and make a success sandwich, but, like, with games.
I’m happy to report that the transition to the Switch was done with no caveats. By that I mean that this is the full experience that came to other consoles three years ago, which is mostly a good thing. I say mostly, because short of portability there isn’t anything new or exciting that has been brought to the table. My first thought when I heard that this game was coming to the Switch was that the touch screen would be a perfect alternative to the ol’ mouse and keyboard, if any of the hundreds of strategy and RPG titles on mobile app stores are any indication.
Sadly, there is no touch screen functionality at the time of this writing, though it theoretically could come in a future update. What this means is that the Switch experience achieves parity with its more powerful console brethren. This isn’t to downplay the game itself, which is still an impressive and expansive entry in the now-niche genre of isometric, turn-based RPG.
The meat and potatoes of the game can be summed up in a few brief sentences. You as the player assume the role of the Desert Rangers, and the plurality is no accident. The player can choose up to four playable Rangers at a time, and the choice extends to either pre-defined characters with pre-defined stats, or starting from scratch. The customization options are welcome, and even favorable as a means to better balance your team, as I felt the pre-defined options seemed a bit lacking. If you feel overwhelmed by the stat options available, you’re not alone. Thankfully, having a team of Rangers rather than a single character gives you more opportunity to experiment a little, and hey, you could always start a new game with new builds, right?
The story is intriguing to say the least, and is meaty enough to carry across the games two distinct world maps. Your team is notorious, galvanized by crimes and violence committed against it, and it is your job to find some sort of justice in a fallen world. This is helped by an impressive amount of voice-over work, something that was harder to come by back in the day. This is a modern convenience I thoroughly enjoy, and it, combined with the superb writing, created an involved story with real consequences to player actions and choices.
The combat takes the form of turn-based attacking, with the majority of defense taking the form of cover that must quickly be utilized. It’s admittedly simplistic, and became borderline monotonous towards the end of my first playthrough, but it functioned well-enough to carry the game through. In addition to this, there were a few welcome strategic wrinkles, with stats determining how often a weapon may jam, or even determining the attack order.
More interestingly, the three teammates not being actively controlled by the player will choose to go rogue in certain battle scenarios, if some odd player decisions are being made. This helped the world feel more real, and raised the stakes that teammate permadeath didn’t raise on its own. All in all, there’s a lot of game to go through, with quests being long enough to remain engaging, but rarely seemed to drag on.
Weapons abound in the wasteland, but besides guns, there are also an array of melee weapons to use as well, though I preferred the pew-pew. Notable upon the Director’s Cut‘s original release was the addition of the Precision Strike system, which of course returns for the Switch iteration. This allows the player to target individual limbs or armor, in order to prevent the enemy from using said limb, which can turn the tide in your favor, as it did for me on numerous occasions. It very much reminded me of the VATS system in the 3D Fallout titles by Bethesda, and I hope to see something similar in future installments of the Wasteland series as well.
From a presentation standpoint, the game is nothing to write home about, unfortunately. The graphics were serviceable, especially when playing undocked, but it’s hard not to notice the flaws when playing on the TV. This isn’t a problem that is exclusive to the Switch version, as the original console releases weren’t especially praised for their graphics. The color palette used is appropriate for the setting, and everything ran smoothly, but it definitely didn’t impress me in the visuals department.
The music, on the other hand, was sublime. It was mostly ambient noise between conflicts, but it still managed to hit the right chord. Once conflict arose, it picked up, and set the pace and tension perfectly. It makes sense, as composer Mark Morgan was the same who did the music for the first two Fallout titles, themselves isometric RPGS at the time, so he has plenty of experience with barren wastelands and grizzled survivors to set the tone for.
This is most assuredly a game to sink your teeth into. It offers dozens of hours of classic RPG story, with a turn-based gameplay that has just enough strategy to make it through the campaign. The presentation is a mixed bag, with dated visuals set to a great and fitting score, but the option to play on the go alleviates some of the complaints. Anyone looking for a solid throwback to the RPG days of yore will find plenty to love in this title. If you’ve never played an entry in the genre, this is the place to start, and the version to start with in my opinion, as it can be enjoyed anywhere, with no sacrifice in quality.
If you’re ready to throw down in the wasteland with the Rangers, Wasteland 2: Director’s Cut is available on the Nintendo Switch on September 13th, and available now for PS4 and Xbox One for $39.99, and Steam for $29.99.