Wasteland 2: Director’s Cut Crams More Sand-swept Carnage Than Burning Man Onto The Switch, But Not Before Making Some Concessions
It’s been nearly a year since Wasteland 2: Director’s Cut first released on the Switch. And, if you’re a lover of physical media like me, you may have been fence about diving into the game as it was only available on the eShop. Thankfully, InXile has, at long last, given the game the retail treatment, and it was worth the wait. Now we cartridge connoisseurs can finally see what all the fuss is about in this sequel to Fallout creator Brian Fargo’s cult classic 1988 CRPG.
Wasteland 2: Director’s Cut is an ambitious title, to say the least. Easily the most complex RPG to find its way to the Switch, the game puts players in the boots of a newly-minted Desert Ranger tasked with investigating the death of one of his own. Of course, things quickly escalate. Before long, your band of misfits will venture from the wastes of Arizona to the ruins of sunny California, leaving a trail of murderous mutants, crazed cultists, and badly-dressed bandits in your wake.
Big Things Chug In Small Packages
However, that’s not to say the transition from PC to the Switch has been a smooth one. To call it an elegant port couldn’t be further from the truth. Then again, that’s not surprising given this is a port of a pretty ambitious title. Still, it’s clear from the moment you first arrive in the Arizona desert that the game has some serious performance problems on Nintendo’s hybrid console.
Whether you’re going toe-to-toe with mutants in battle or wading through the game’s myriad menus, Wasteland 2 always chugs. Frames frequently drop while exploring the ruined world, and merely bringing up your inventory or radio menu can cause the game to lock up for several seconds. All of this comes together to create an experience that can be excruciating at times. During my review playthrough, there were times I’d even wait a bit to level up my characters. Sure, I could have used the extra perks and firepower. But sometimes I didn’t feel like wading through the laggy and unintuitive menus to do so.
Add to this some genuinely archaic visuals and bland textures, and you have a game that looks and feels much older than it is.
Despite these issues, as glaring as they may be, Wasteland 2 is a sublime experience once you get past its many quirks. Developer InXile Entertainment has done a masterful job bringing the apocalypse to life here. The writing is exceptional, and often hilarious despite the game’s admittedly grim tone. And each character is surprisingly well fleshed out, with complex motivations and objectives for doing what they do.
Adding another layer of depth is the game’s open-ended nature. True to its CRPG design, there are numerous ways to go about completing your objectives. Want to massacre everyone who gets in your way? Good luck, killer! Want to minimize your body count and use your technical wizardry or stealth? Go for it. But you better hit the books before you find yourself in hot water after failing to get past a computer’s countermeasures.
Of course, to do this the right way you’ll need to craft your party carefully. If you don’t start your journey with a well-rounded squad, then you’re pretty much dead on the dunes. Ideally, you’ll want multiple healers to revive downed allies (permadeath is a thing, after all), demolitions experts to defuse traps, skilled hackers, and more. Having a silver tongue doesn’t hurt, either, as you’ll want to get the best deals possible on gear or talk your way out of trouble. Hell, you can even write up a unique backstory for each of your characters if you feel so inclined to make them truly your own.
If you’re an impatient player, then this might sound a bit overwhelming. And justifiably so. There’s a lot to take in if you want to get the most of what Wasteland 2 has to offer. It’s truly a game that gives you as much as you put in. But if you don’t have the time to bother with all the minutiae, that’s okay. You’ll be happy to know you can choose from a pre-baked list of desert dwellers and call it a day.
Wasteland 2′s combat is a bit tough to come to grips with at first. However, once you get the hang of it, the game’s battles are tense and satisfying.
The conflicts take place in a grid-based fashion similar to most strategy RPGs. Each character has their movement and attacking range defined by the gear they have equipped or weapons they’re using. For example, snipers are dead-eyed at long range but pretty much worthless in close quarters. Shotgun users, on the other hand, are devastating on the frontlines but ineffective at mid to long ranges. To make matters worse, the spread of their buckshot can make them risky to use around allies.
That said, mastering the weapons you have at your disposal is vital. You’ll also need to keep a keen eye on your environment unless you want to meet your end in a hail of gunfire. Flanking and using cover are an absolute necessity. Just be sure to be aware of your surroundings, as some cover can be destroyed, leaving your squad open to some punishment.
In the beginning, you can usually win by just pushing the offensive. However, before long, you’ll need to take advantage of more complex strategies to survive. One fun trick is to use your tech savvy to hack into robot baddies to turn them to your cause. Another solid plan is to spring ambushes to interrupt the enemies’ attack and put them on the defensive. These are just a few examples of the tricks at your disposal in Wasteland 2. There are tons of skills you can master to keep the conflicts exciting and give you an edge on the battlefield.
Nothing’s Ever Easy
Perhaps unsurprisingly, a world teetering on the brink of ruination isn’t an especially kind one. And this is certainly true of the one InXile has created for Wasteland 2. Happy endings are few and far between here, and you’ll find yourself continually making difficult choices throughout the game’s 50-hour campaign. As a loyal Ranger, it’s your job to tend to the hapless denizens of the desert. Keeping the peace is easier said than done, however. For example, early in the game, you’re tasked with saving the Ag Center, which is under attack from violent vegetation, or a town that supplies water to the populace.
Deciding how to proceed on your quest is never easy. Choosing to lend your assistance to one location spells certain doom for the other. And even after settling on which area to progress to, your problems don’t end there. Each quest has numerous tasks you’ll need to complete and various ways to go about doing so. And the way you choose to achieve your objective can cause unforeseen problems down the road if you’re not careful.
Again, this degree of freedom can be a bit overwhelming at times. I often found myself wondering if I was doing things the right way, especially when solutions had me bordering on morally gray actions. Thankfully, the game supports multiple save slots, so you can feel free to experiment as much as you like. Or, if you’re stubborn like me, you can try to play through the game a second time to explore all of the different narrative options available. Talk about replayability!
It’s The End Of The World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)
No, the Switch version of Wasteland 2: Director’s Cut isn’t perfect. If you’re looking for a silky smooth and streamlined experience, you should probably play the PC, Xbox One, or PlayStation 4 versions of the game. Still, despite its technical issues, as numerous as they may be, there’s something fantastic about being able to play such a sprawling epic on the go. And for some, the appeal of portability alone will make the game’s performance concessions well worth it.
If you’re a Switch owner who’s yet to experience Wasteland 2, now’s your chance to enjoy one of the most satisfying CRPGs to release in recent years. And though its performance is less than ideal on Nintendo’s console, the gripping story and staggering amount of freedom the game offers make it well worth your time.
Final Verdict: 4/5
Available on: Nintendo Switch (Reviewed), PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC ; Publisher: InXile Entertainment ; Developer: InXile Entertainment ; Players: 1; Released: May 17, 2019; ESRB: M for Mature; MSRP: $29.99
Full disclosure: A retail copy of Wasteland 2: Director’s Cut was provided by the publisher.