Wasteland 2 is a return to the days of pre-Fallout post-apocalyptic RPGs, from the same minds and souls.
The internet can be a funny old thing. One minute you’re feeling positive about your last-generation title making the leap onto Nintendo Switch, and the next thing you know it’s being critically demonised for technical issues and poor performance. A few months ago, that was Wasteland 2; a game that was hand-crafted by the team behind the original (and dare I say it “proper”) Fallout games. With a few patches though, Wasteland 2 seems to be running just as well as it did on the Xbox 360, but is this really the kind of thing we want from Nintendo’s versatile console?
In a word, yes. Yes it is. Wasteland 2 is a proper, old-school RPG, filled with tough decisions, dead ends, enemies that will bite your head off as soon as look at you and the kind of salty language that you’d never see in a Mario title. That said, Wasteland 2 is in good company alongside the likes of Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle, Disgaea and Valkyria Chronicles, each of which brings its own blend of strategic, turn based action to the table.
The story of Wasteland 2 takes a more serious angle than these others, however, with a dark and twisting tale set in post-apocalypse America. This is a world cut from almost identical cloth as the Fallout series it inspired — the bombs have already fallen, the crops have turned to ash and the few sources of water are green with radiation. Mutation among terrestrial creatures has resulted in all manner of horrors, not least the camper-van sized scorpions that sit proudly beside the options of the title screen.
Were it not for the Nintendo Switch, I wouldn’t actually have played Wasteland 2 to the extent that allowed me to really understand what makes it a worthy addition to the Switch library. Although I have it on the Xbox One, I struggled to get into it — perhaps because it felt a bit dated even at first release, or maybe because it’s bloody tough. In both respects, Wasteland 2 is unforgiving; it looks and feels like a game from perhaps ten years ago, rather than five. The user interface is slow and clunky, demanding a lot from players — especially during the first few hours. Difficulty wise, Wasteland 2 is very, very hard, especially if you choose to build a custom party and ignore the game’s advice — as I did in my Xbox playthrough.
The other thing that might have changed since I first played Wasteland 2 is the inclusion of more features in this Director’s Cut version. It’s hard to know exactly what has changed, but even as I explored the headquarters of The Desert Rangers (an organisation that the player begins aligned to) I felt much more engaged than in the original. The voice acting is good, the story flows and I found myself rapidly sucked into the investigation of a possible murder that kicks off proceedings.
From this humble beginning, Wasteland 2 builds out with bigger and bigger choices — the first of these forces the player to choose between going to the aid of two different communities, both of whom appear to be in dire straits. These choices often yield both an overt outcome and a hidden one — with some having an impact much later in the game that can easily be traced back. These are the kinds of choices that I loved in Fallout titles, so finding them here felt welcome and exciting.
Combat, whilst slightly marred by the very traditional RPG stylings, is good. The player controls a party of characters with specific skills such as rifles, shotguns, pistols and melee, a cover system introduces a tactical element. Some cover is permanent and hard, whilst some is temporary or partial — as a result it’s necessary to manage the battlefield effectively and use all your skills. Environmental possibilities such as explosive barrels or land mines further come into play, so it really feels as if there’s never a dull moment. Enemies range from gangs of ruffians that are easy to defeat with the right setup to large, terrifying foes that can be much more deadly.
Of course what is best about this is that Wasteland 2 can be played either docked or in handheld mode, which serves to completely negate the occasional millstone that RPG’s of this size and scope can present. Ten minute sessions on the train are as viable as three or four hour marathons on the couch, but either way, Wasteland 2 lasts for more than forty hours should you want it to — or more if you want to complete all of the side quests and curios that it offers.
Most importantly, perhaps, I’ve suffered from none of the technical problems that early reviewers mentioned. Wasteland 2 does have some Switch specific problems that are the result of control schemes or text size, but given the scope of this port, that’s understandable. Even if there are occasional technical issues, they are vastly outweighed by the additional benefits of playing anywhere, anytime and for any amount of time.
Wasteland 2 is now among my most played Nintendo Switch games this year and I still feel that there’s more to come from it. If you like classic RPG’s and can stomach the occasional slog through a bewildering array of menus, then Wasteland 2 is worth a look. It lacks the candyfloss charm of most of the other tactical games on the Switch, but what it delivers instead is a gritty, involving and tactically satisfying experience that is both unique on Switch and familiar to fans of the genre on other formats.