By – Jarrett Riddle

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Wandering the desert wastelands of Arizona and California with your loyal companions, your closest friend and second in command collapses in the sweltering heat. Breaking out your canteen, you make a mental note that there are precious few drops left, and that if your friend receives the water, you’ll likely end up in the same situation before long. As you raise the container to his mouth, the sounds of gunfire permeate your surroundings. Glancing behind you, you spot a gang of drug-fueled bandits donned in gas masks and scraps of clothing stolen from past victims heading right for you. Welcome to Wasteland 2, inXile Entertainment’s long overdue sequel to the 1988 CRPG Wasteland. This time, however, your mission is bigger and badder than ever before thanks to some handy additions courtesy of the Director’s Cut. Does this new version make the trip into the wastes worth it again?

Wasteland 2 was a huge Kickstarter success, obtaining nearly three million dollars through the backing site alone while gathering even more support via PayPal donations. It was obvious people were hungry for a deep, story-heavy role playing game set in an apocalyptic western America. In September of 2014, they were fed just that, and it suited their appetites just fine. The result was multiple awards and future support from fans who knew Brian Fargo and company could deliver. Not only did this lead to the incredible overfunding of Torment: Tides of Numenera, but also to a new, expanded edition of the game.

Bear in mind, Wasteland 2 is still the same grizzly, old-school desert romp as it was, but some major changes and improvements have been worked in, some more subtle than others. After the quirky live-action introduction video plays out showing the funeral of Wasteland 1 veteran Ace, it’s time to create a party of hardy desert rangers to bring justice to the wastes and avenge his death. All the aspects of creation are here from the original version; decent appearance customization options including everything from hair style to body size, age, religion, smoking preference, and an optional write-in biography for the characters. Past these aesthetic choices, attribute and skill points are available to be allocated. Here is where the first of many director’s cut additions is found in the form of quirks.

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After deciding on the appropriate stats of a character, you’ll also have the option of giving them a quirk that applies both a permanent advantage and disadvantage to that person. Some quirks include Manic Depressive that randomly changes your attributes by +1 or -1 every 10-15 minutes and Psychopath that gives a bonus to critical hits upon each successful attack but with a decreased chance to hit and bonus lost upon missing. These allow you to make each of your four created rangers even more different from one another, and easily increases the replay value and fun of making new parties. It also brings more personality to the mix, as creepy, worn dolls of varying appearances and poses are associated with each choice. My personal favorite is the Jason Voorhees hockey mask-wielding doll on display for the Psychopath quirk.

So now the journey into the wastes begins. Snake Vargas, a preset character in Wasteland 1 turned legitimate, will be your commanding officer and who you will report your progress to via radio. On your way to investigate Ace’s death, you’ll come across the angry but experienced ranger Angela Deth, who, like Snake, is making her second appearance. She’s especially ticked about Ace, as they were more than just fellow coworkers, so to speak. Now with your four created rangers and Angela Deth in tow, it’s your duty to seek out the truth about Ace and help those in need. Along the way you’ll meet lots of interesting characters, some of which you’ll be able to recruit, and others who will try to put a bullet through your skull. Tough decisions will need to be made, which can end in lands being prosperous or wiped off the map. Just remember: you can’t save everyone.

Something new you may be quick to discover is a revamped character screen, now covering the entire play area and displaying everything you need to know about each squad member without the need to scroll through multiple boxes, but organized neatly in tabs so things don’t get cluttered. This may seem like a minuscule, if not pointless change in the HUD, but it’s one I find to be of great importance, as you’ll spend quite a bit of time here and it does indeed look better than the old one.

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Another area of note on the same screen is a brand new category: perks. Upon gaining enough experience, you can assign helpful perks to that person which add benefits like being able to carry more and having more health. Most of the better perks require levels to be met in certain attributes and skills. For instance, one bonus that decreases the penalty for being adjacent to an opponent whilst holding a sniper rifle can be unlocked by putting enough points in the sniper category. Another perk, Tactical Positioning, is accessible once the level requirement in perception is met, and increases damage dealt to foes with their backs turned. These add a great sense of character progression and uniqueness not found in the original version.

You’ll be needing all the perks you can get, as hostile encounters are frequent. To me, this is where the greatest improvement comes into play. For the 2014, there were many reasonable complaints about the balance of such encounters and the weapons used by your party and enemies to solve them. Raiders were often completely merciless and hard to avoid, making any trek from one place to another a gamble. Now the enemies have smarter and more reasonable placement at the start of such battles, and can often be bypassed entirely so long as the team has decent outdoorsman skill. Still, fighting is unavoidable in this inhospitable land, so the fact that weapons are more useful now certainly helps. One of the most commonly heard issues with the original was how assault rifles were obviously overpowered, minimizing or negating entirely the use of other weapon types. While assault rifles still pack plenty of punch, other character builds are more viable than ever. My current party includes a blunt weapon melee attacker, pistol slinger, shotgunner, and sniper. For the most part, everyone does their fair share in combat, and it’s only handy rather than essential that the rifle-toting Angela Deth can pick them off with the rest of the group.

With an engine upgrade to Unity 5, Director’s Cut has revitalized graphics that take advantage of the new technology. The original didn’t have a AAA appearance and neither does this version, but character models, shadows, and water effects are all noticeably sharper, and it seems to me like loading times are a bit shorter as well. My increasingly aging computer is easily able to play the game at moderate settings and can get away with better than that in denser populated locations. I get some slowdown when visual effects like smoke litter the screen, but for most players out there with modern computers, the experience should be smooth as silk even at higher settings. Besides, there’s plenty of video option tweaks like shadow detail, vertical sync, and texture quality for those who want to maximize both framerate and attractiveness. All mainstream resolutions are available, too, including 1920×1080 which I use. Overall, if you were satisfied with the look of the original release then you should be all smiles with this one.

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There’s good news on the sound front, too. The game retains the wonderful, atmospheric soundtrack of industry vet Mark Morgan, but also adds thousands of lines of voiced dialogue to the fray. Many of the more important characters you come across in your journey will now be fully voiced by talented actors, adding more depth to the already rich setting. Truly, nothing bad can be said about this addition as the voice-overs are superbly done and give once average personalities that extra little spark they need to be memorable.

Controls remain the same, utilizing the keyboard and mouse for navigation and all actions. With the game also seeing a console release, I half-expected there to be full controller support. There isn’t, though; strangely, a few buttons work, such as for changing the active team member and crouching, but I didn’t find a way to successfully move anywhere with my 360 gamepad. Most people familiar with Wasteland likely wouldn’t want to use a pad anyway, but it does strike me as slightly odd that some actions can be performed while others can’t when using one.

Wasteland 2 is well known to have a bucket load of bugs and glitches, and the developers have certainly taken note. Many frustrating and even game-breaking problems are eliminated in the Director’s Cut, including a load of broken quests and events. As with most any game of this size, bug reports will vary, but during my time I only experienced one major issue. When preparing to initiate an attack on a horde of enemies from the rooftops above, Angela Deth went rogue (as rangers you didn’t create from the beginning tend to do) and started acting on her own. This was a regular occurrence and one I didn’t mind too much, only this time after climbing down a ladder she began to run in place without ending her turn, effectively stalling the combat round permanently and forcing me to load an old save. Thanks to the quick-save key and an autosave feature that records the game at player-set intervals, I didn’t have to repeat too much, but it was irritating nonetheless.

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Conclusion – Is It Worth Your Money?

Wasteland 2 set the standard for crowdfunded games to come: A detailed, open world, multiple solutions to nearly all conundrums, deep customization, and strategic turn-based combat. The Director’s Cut retains all of these great elements and only adds more. If you enjoyed the original release, you owe it to yourself to give this version a play. For those who are new to the world of Wasteland, there is no better game to immerse yourself in than this one. So grab your double-barrel and join the desert rangers for an excursion you’ll never forget.

Wasteland 2 Technical Summary:

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  • Time Played – 25 Hours
  • Widescreen Support – Yes
  • Windowed Mode – Yes
  • Resolution Played – 1920×1080
  • Bugs/Crashes Encountered – Some
  • DRM – Steam, None if purchased via GOG
  • System Specs – 3.7GHz AMD A10-6700, 768MB Radeon 8670D, 8GB RAM
  • Control Scheme – M/KB
  • Acquisition Method – Review Copy
  • Availability – Steam, GOG
  • Demo – No
  • Saved Game Location – SteamApps\common\Wasteland 2 Director’s Cut\Build\WL2_Data
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