I’ve enjoyed my fair share of tactical RPGs over the years, and the post-apocalyptic setting featured in Wasteland 2: Director’s Cut seemed like a cold and gritty place to explore. I’m the first to admit that I haven’t played the original Fallout (which some of the developers from this game worked on), but I’m very familiar with squad-based tactics games like XCOM , Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle, and the like. So when this title was announced as a Switch game I thought it’d be a fun one to play on the handheld with the TV blaring in the background. Unfortunately the game’s RNG (random number generator) really killed the experience for me, and a host of other factors detracted from my enjoyment.
When you first boot up the game you’ll be treated to a bunch of story to get your adventure started. It turns out one of your ranger comrades was on a mission to fix some communication towers and has gone missing. It’s up to you and your Desert Ranger squad to seek out some answers and to hopefully restore the radio towers as well. The game does a decent job of walking you through a bunch of small tutorials to explain many of the menus and icons scattered about the screen. As is typical for this type of game, the default viewpoint is from above, giving you a birds-eye view of the terrain.
After the introductory story you set out on your mission and it’s here that I began to have my doubts. Instead of being able to explore the world, you’re stuck on a map with a pointer. You select where you want to go and it moves slowly across the map, warning you if you get too close to radiation hot spots and alerting you to nearby sources of fresh water, which you’ll need to keep on trekking across the desert. This type of travel system isn’t new and I’ve played other games that treat it in the same fashion, but it’s also not fun and I’m not a fan. Still, this makes up a small portion of the game experience, so I put my dislike aside and ventured forth into the first area to look for the communication relays.
Once I made it to the destination the view once again changed to the standard overhead camera. As I began to move my squad I wasn’t a fan of the viewpoint because it was difficult to see what was ahead. Luckily you can change the camera’s angle slightly and also change it to allow you to pan across the map, sort of like you can do in RTS games like StarCraft. While this did allow me to check things out, it just didn’t feel good with the dual analog sticks. I was immediately struck that this would be much easier to play on a PC with a keyboard and mouse and the developers obviously struggled to get it just right on home consoles. After walking a bit into the area I came across a group of armed military types that I thought I might have to do battle with. A decision tree popped up and I told them the Rangers were looking for more good men to join the fight and they agreed and ran off toward our camp. Crisis averted! I soon found myself setting off a trap and taking damage, alerting some other scavengers in the area of my presence and my first fight began.
As is typical with this style of game, half of the fun is figuring out how to approach the situation. There are often all sorts of place to take cover, and doing so increases your defensive and offensive capabilities. Games like Fire Emblem go a step further and tell you an approximate prediction of how much damage you’ll give or take depending on your actions. There’s always a chance of a different outcome, but generally it’s a good indicator. In this game I found the combat to be all over the place. Each of my teammates had different weaponry, and thus I thought I should use them appropriately. I kept my sniper further back, and move my shotgun dude closer to the action. In fact, I had him about two squares away from the enemy and pulled the trigger and he missed the target. OK, that happens in these types of games. The enemies all landed their hits of course, so I got to go again and this time I thought I’d just pull the trigger at point-blank range. Somehow my shotgun again missed its mark. My other ranger was one square away and his pistol also missed.
At this point I was beginning to get frustrated with the combat system, since it felt very lopsided and unfair. I did manage to defeat these guys and moved into a cave where I came across some mutant toad. Once again the random number generator was not in my favor as I had him surrounded and in one round all four of my guys missed and they were all in close proximity. In fact, on one turn the toad moved and stole my weapons – leaving me with just fists to hit him with on the next round – of course those missed their target as well.
Now, I realize that many times in RPGs you have to level up, find new weapons, and gain tactical experience and new skills to effectively take care of the enemies. However, never have I played a game so blatantly unfair, especially at the beginning of the game. It’s one thing if I make a tactical error and leave my soldier flailing out in the open – I deserve the damage. But it’s entirely another problem to seemingly play the game as intended – taking cover to raise stats, reloading guns ahead of time, etc. – only to have the game spit in your face. Despite these issues, I pressed on further into the game and some of these issues, at times, seemed to disappear and I was able to land hits for rounds at a time. Then, randomly, I’d come to an enemy and I’d have three characters in a row have jammed guns or something – totally ruining my strategy I had in place. With permadeath a possibility, my frustration with this game just grew and grew until I couldn’t take it any longer.
Presentation-wise Wasteland 2 is nothing special, and in fact looks like a PS2 game that has been slightly bumped up in resolution. Many of the textures are blurry and the color scheme is so drab that it’s downright ugly. I hope you like a lot of browns and grays because that’s what you’ll be seeing throughout the game. The camera is somewhat sluggish and I never could settle in on a perfect viewpoint. Animations are very canned and there’s just nothing here that really pushed the Switch hardware. The UI is about as ugly as they come with garish pre-rendered boxes and a typewriter keeping track of the action. The entire game just screams late ‘90s. The audio is decent and the voice acting is actually fairly good.
Although I didn’t exactly have any glowing comments about this game, I can still see how some might find some enjoyment here. There aren’t a ton of these types of games on the Switch and there is a ton of content here – probably a good 100 hours. If you’re more of a patient gamer who doesn’t mind the randomness of combat, you probably should check this one out. Just keep in mind that there’s a lot of stuff going on here, with a ton of inventory options, skills to upgrade, and even weapon mods to figure out. This game is definitely not recommended for beginner players, as it would simply be too overwhelming to figure everything out. Had the combat been more fun and fair and some of the gameplay mechanics streamlined, I think I would have enjoyed my time in Wasteland 2. Unfortunately that was not the case and with my limited time I wanted to spend it on more entertaining games.
Wasteland 2: Director's Cut Review
Final Thoughts: MEDIOCRE
Hardcore strategy RPG fans might find something to like here, but chances are you own a PC and have already checked out Wasteland 2. A frustratingly unfair combat system and gaudy graphics leave much to be desired.
Wasteland 2: Director’s Cut was reviewed using a final retail Nintendo Switch download code provided by the publisher.