You're sent out from the Ranger base to take over a mission that saw a veteran ranger named Ace killed. (Old-school Wasteland players will find a ton of nods to the first game, from Ace to Angela Deth to the entire Arizona map.) As you can imagine, a simple mission to find some radio towers escalates fairly quickly into a threat the likes of which the Rangers haven't seen in twenty years.
It's almost funny to say this considering the circumstances, but nevertheless a lot of Wasteland 2 will feel very familiar if you've — yes — played Fallout. Especially the old isometric Fallouts. The humor is similar, the factions are similar, the aesthetic is similar, the turn-based combat is similar.
But to say Wasteland 2 is derivative is a disservice. Make no mistake, this is a damn great game. Eschewing the happy-go-lucky pseudo-50s of Fallout for a grittier, Mad Max/Boy and his Dog feel, I'm almost amazed by how fresh Wasteland 2 feels despite its well-tread setting.
That's no doubt thanks to the writing. Once again, the written RPG proves it's King of Story. Freed from the shackles of voice acting — though some key characters have a few spoken lines — there's an insane amount ofmuch depth in Wasteland 2. Flavor text adds a layer of post-nuclear neglect that the best AAA graphics still don't quite nail, and dialogue gives depth even to one-and-done characters.
Voice actors wouldn't have been able to keep up with this game, anyway. Wasteland 2 offers insanely branching gameplay options depending on your dialogue, skill set, and gameplay choices; you're free to wander the world map as you please, and you can kill anybody in the game — including your Desert Ranger Superiors. If you'd like, you can even let both the food and water station burn at the beginning of the game. Wasteland 2 will reshuffle its narrative accordingly.
Not that there's always an emotionally satisfying choice available. As shown in the Highpool versus Ag Center example, Wasteland 2 isn't afraid of kicking your teeth in with choices. It's stressful: You never feel like you're doing a good job, never feel like you've succeeded. My career as a Ranger is studded with civilian deaths, and I can't help but feel like some of those were preventable if only I'd known how. That hurts. There are also just as many situations that have no good outcomes. Instead you're damned if you do, damned if you don't, and you just have to live with your choices.
It's tough wearing the badge. It's wonderful.
Did you eat your spinach?
It's also tough to be a Ranger for other reasons, though. Wasteland 2, I love you to death, but damn do you hold on to some of the most frustrating aspects of old CRPGs.
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