Wasteland 2 (First Impression)

I’m 23 hours into Wasteland 2. What do I think so far?

Choice is limited.

During conversations, you don’t choose what to say. You choose topics on which to gain more information. There’s no way to role-play the good guy, the charming guy, the greedy guy, etc.

During questing, there have been almost no choices. There is one major choice early in the game — save the Agriculture Center or save Highpool — but you’re not given any context on either, and there seem to be no repercussions on either. You’re being asked to choose between two unknowns with no stakes in the decision.

The first good choice I noticed came when I was escorting a prisoner out into the wasteland. I had made a deal with him to let him escape in order for valuable information. Not only did I get to decide whether to honor that offer, but I had to deal with the repercussions either way. It was a small, brief moment, and more would have been nice.

Additionally, many objectives can only be resolved in one way. For example, there’s a wagon stuck in the mud and the only way to free it is with the “bash door” skill, a skill you may not have. Sure, not every quest needs to be resolved, but some of us are a little OCD about completing quests.

Text is great.

The writing is enjoyable throughout, and adds interest to the quests. Without the text, the game would be too combat heavy, and that would certainly slow me down. Every time the dot matrix printer starts going, I stop to immerse myself into the moment.

Your first quest is to investigate the murder of a fellow ranger while, also, completing the quest he was on: planting transmitters on radio antenna in order to help track down a mysterious radio signal. Mechanically, it’s simply “Go to location X”, but the high level of mystery did a great job at capturing my attention.

There’s also a good bit of humor mixed into the writing. I found a DNA sequencer machine, and used it to scan my group. I learned that one of my characters bears the mark of the beast, another stinks when stressed, and another has a 3rd nipple. Elsewhere in the game, I found things like a cache of old Atari games buried in the desert (i.e. ET), and shrines either depicting a giant TV or giant cats.

Characters are So-so.

None of the characters who I’ve met have really stood out. Each of the characters I’ve met feels like they actually inhabit the wasteland, but there are no zany or off-beat or larger-than-life or scary or cool characters who really stand out one way or the other.

But there have been some stories which hooked me. One short story that really caught my attention was from a girl calling out on a radio broadcast that I picked up. The lines were simple, but sounded lonely and scared. As I walked, I’d hear her asking: “Elroy? Where are you Elroy? Elroy are you there? Please answer me.” Later, I heard her broadcasting again, “Please, if you can hear me, please come back. Don’t let me die alone. I can’t take the pain any longer.” It’s such a simple, but effective, way of taking advantage of the fact that the players are always hooked up to their radios.

Combat is good.

There was one trouble spot, for me. I hit a wall when I reached the prison/Damonta where I struggled to get through fights. Guys had 150 health, were doing significant damage to me each round, and I was doing around 10-or-less damage per hit. I took the time to re-equip my gang (switching from M1s to M4s was huge, getting armor was helpful) and focus my skill points a little, which led to me regaining heroic status once more.

That aside, I find that fights range from trouble-free to leaving me a little banged up. I’ve had to re-load a few times, more so early on when I was first learning the combat system. It’s a nice difficulty curve. Otherwise, the biggest obstacle in getting through a level is carrying all the loot.

One thing I really like about the combat is that each map only has 2 or 3 combats. When you trigger a fight, you’re nearly clearing the map in the process. Fights feel more meaningful in this way. There’s no excessive, uninspired “popcorn” fights. Nor is there the weirdness of a major gun fight happening in one room while the inhabitants of the next room stand around waiting for you.

Performance is Poor

Or, rather, I should say that performance was poor. Now it’s fair.

I discovered that DX11 is enabled by default, and while it doesn’t come with any DX11 features, for some reason it was a major drain on my frame rate. I was struggling to get 30 FPS consistently on the fastest settings at the worst resolution, and was at times averaging around 18-22. When I realized I could disable DX11, I found my frames jumped to the 70s and 80s. Thankfully, the latest patch disables DX11 by default.

However, it’s still disappointing overall. While I could play the latest Batman with DX11 enabled, all settings at Ultra, and still lock 60 FPS, in Wasteland 2 I have to keep everything at poorest quality and the lowest resolution to maintain a range of 40-80 FPS.

Levels are Big

The AG Center, that is, was huge. I think I was there for about 10 hours of game time.

That said, most levels still feel fairly large. It doesn’t seem to contribute to the overall performance (smaller levels retain similar FPS rates to larger levels), so it’s fine in that respect. And it’s enjoyable to wander around the maps and explore.

Map Design is Sometimes Good

The level design is generally OK. Nothing special. Sometimes the levels aren’t laid out clearly, and it takes a minute to figure out what you’re supposed to be doing or where you’re supposed to be going.

The mini-map isn’t as useful because it doesn’t rotate to match your heading, leaving it more confusing than anything.

But there have been times where the map design has been more exciting. I found one combat map that featured a tower in the center, and a cliff along the back side of the map. The enemy had snipers positioned on the tower, and others ranged around it. It felt like some kind of assault-based FPS map, and I enjoyed the strategy that resulted in it.

Economy is Well Balanced

Aside from some guy at the Citadel who said he’d pay double for pain pills (he offered me $32 per bottle LESS than what I’d paid — though maybe he meant double what anyone else would pay), I’m finding the resources are limited enough to leave me feeling uncomfortable, but common enough to let me get through the game. I feel poor, though I continue advancing. It leaves me with a “skin of my teeth” feeling.

Bullets are the primary example of this, but also actual money. I always have some, but never enough to leave me feeling like I’m skating through the game, or unable to get through it.

The system of skill points emphasizes the feel of older RPGs where not all skills/attributes seem to be equally useful, and you need to play through to the game to figure out how to play through the game. However, the economy of skill points is fine in that you can afford to make plenty of mistakes and still progress, but I can’t help but wonder how the game would go if I re-made my characters with my new-found experience.

I’m typically finding that with skills and money, and to a degree bullets — I tend to do my best to hoard them and only open up the “purse strings” when things are getting hairy. For example, in most RPGs, gaining a level is an exciting things where you marvel over your upgrades. Here, I’ll level up 2 or 3 times before agonizing over whether to spend points on a skill.

Worth noting: Persuasion strikes me as unbalanced. I invested 4 skill points (a significant total) into “hard ass” and in 23 hours I’ve had one opportunity to use it. On the other hand, I’ve come across at least a half-dozen times when “smart ass” was available as an option.

What do you think?