A diary of sorts, wherein I moonlight as a games writer. Under haphazard construction.
Not gonna lie, I’ve been too busy playing Wasteland 2 the past few days to actually find time any to write about it, and soon I’ll have played so much that I’ll probably start forgetting stuff. I’m making myself sit and write a bit now to reflect on the awesome start I’ve made before progressing any further.
I say “awesome”. It’s been a hell of a lot of fun at least.
The story of Wasteland 2 begins with your party of greenhorn Desert Rangers being despatched on their first mission: to investigate the assassination of one of the organisation’s elites. It’s serious business, and a job that’s perhaps a little too dangerous for rookies. But because resources are stretched thin and the pro teams are all occupied, the task falls to you. C’est la videogames. Best of luck.
Unlike their tabletop brethren, “roleplaying” games on PC often require the player to make a certain amount of effort to actually play the role of the characters they are given. Either we get a blank slate, only to be written upon if we go out of our way to do so, or a character with a personality so malleable that they’ll never hold a shape on their own, no matter which dialogue option you choose. Whilst loads of games do a good job of encouraging consistency through things like Mass Effect’s Paragon/Renegade points, or by weaving stories so linearly around the characters that it’s difficult or impossible to stray from their path, actually thinking about who your character is and how they’d act is pretty much always optional.
Assuming the role of a team of clueless rookie vigilantes in Wasteland has been pretty much effortless, however, because the game is really fucking difficult.
You stride out into the desert armed with your smart-assed toaster repair skills, a big stick and now idea whatsoever how to swing it, and you get chewed up hard. There are no toasters to repair, nobody to wittily back-sass, and you can’t hit shit. If it weren’t for the wonderful man at the Citadel gate who gave you a free sawn-off scattergun, you’d be spending most fights doing literally nothing but run around and get shot, but even pointing that in the right direction without catching allies in it’s cone of death’s a challenge. Because oh god is friendly fire a thing in this game. You realise very quickly that you’re gonna need to learn how to crack safes, or else the competent members of the party are gonna run out of ammo and medkits. You’re gonna need to get better at repairing things that aren’t toasters to overcome obstacles. You’re gonna need to learn to mod weapons. You might want to take some practice with that shotgun.
This is how my team have all been doing.
At level 9 and around 12 hours of play, Element has repaired two toasters, an industrial robot, a pump and a well. The first toaster opened to reveal a can of spray paint, the second an 8″ vinyl record. I still have no fucking clue why, but I found someone to give the paint to at least. Toaster repair’s a delightfully enigmatic business, which I’m sure will pay dividends eventually. Reparing the robot allowed me to circumvent a fight which I later decided to jump into anyway, and by repairing the pump I was able to prevent the spread of a mutagenic fertilizer without shutting the farm’s irrigation system down entirely. The well, my toughest mechanical challenge so far, scored me a FAMAS from it’s owners, which I then sold, because it was a bit crap. For the most part, Element just opens things, or digs them up with his trusty shovel. He’s got the best luck in the party, so even if there’s not a combination lock which needs cracking, he’s the designated box-opener because he always gets the most stuff. His inventory is always overloaded with crap as a result, often including stuff that he should have long since given to another character.
I reluctantly gave him some points in shotguns a couple of levels ago because he was so shit that it was actually starting to become a liability. Oh, and Leadership, because it felt like somebody ought to have some, and that it’d be funniest if it were him. Ultimately, he’s the closest the party has to a jack of all trades because without anyone relying on him to either kill things or keep people alive he’s had the most room to dick about with whatever’s seemed useful at the time.
It turns out Slick wasn’t as useless in combat as me after all. The dude had a knife, and knew how to use it just as well as he knew how to sweet-talk someone. Due to some absolutely fucked up probability rolls, he proved to be the most effective fighter in the party for a shockingly long time. Bear would fire at an overgrown maggot, missing a trio of 70% rolls in a row, before Slick rolled in and sliced it up with a string of crits. Since his starting flick-knife’s the only bladed melee weapon we’ve found so far I started giving him Pills’ old pistols, and it’s gotten to the point that they now provide better damage output. When ammo runs critically low, and so far that has been almost always, he can do without, but I really hope we find him a bigger knife soon, or a sword or something. Where Element now cracks combination locks, Slick ended up learning to pick regular locks to get us through the dozens of locked gates and doors we’ve already come across. He takes traps on the chin and gets patched up by Pills. His luck’s the worst in the party, so he’s forbidden from opening any chests. If he does anything else particularly well, it’s not springing to mind, but as with Element, his abilities are spread quite widely. Not needing ammo has actually been really important, because we’ve been forced to weather at least one fight without bullets, so it’s cool he has that going for him, even if it means he gets shot by friendly fire a lot.
His kiss-ass conversation skills have been of as little use as Element’s smart-ass ones, but then, we have only been to three settlements so far, and two of them were in the middle of being consumed by overgrown mutated plants and wildlife. You just can’t butter up pod-people. Presently Slick feels like the least effective in combat, because his best skills are with that one tiny knife and we are no longer fighting maggots.
Hunter Bear was supposed to be a nice reliable ranged combat pick with her assault rifle, but to begin with even Pills did a better job at killing things. That’s not saying too much to be fair, though, because Pills proved to be a fucking beast with a pistol, but for a while Bear was more useful as a backup healer and wilderness guide than anything else. As ammo ran low in the middle of our first major mission, however, her higher damage per-shot meant that she more or less carried us through a number encounters. With better guns and more skill ranks, luck became less of an issue, and being able to pop pod people at a distance so that Slick and I didn’t have to get caught in their messy acidic explosions by going toe to toe meant that keeping Bear’s assault rifle fed with 5.56 rounds quickly became the single highest priority of the party. Particularly when Pills’ medkits were running out and we couldn’t afford to soak the damage. Now she has access to a three-shot burst she does a better job of priority target removal than a sniper. Bear actually got a hand-me-down pistol before Slick, because generally her skills have been more focused, and she’s a better shot, but it’s only for emergencies.
Her hard ass completed our conversational keyring from the outset, but opportunities to deploy it have been limited, so it’s not gotten any harder as she’s levelled up. She has however used some spare skill points to learn how to charm animals, but this skill has been used exclusively for luring goats into minefields and acquiring a herd of loyal cows.
Pills is perhaps the most focused member of the team, which speaks volumes about how much we’ve needed a medic. To begin with, her pistol was the most effective means we had of killing things besides Slick’s knife because it was just able to reliably hit things. Element would swing wildly with his stick or make an ill-advised shotgun blast, Bear would spend all her action points for the turn on a single, careful, terrible shot, and Slick and Pills would just walk in and get the job done. More points in pistols, then more points in first aid, and more points in surgery, which is the second medic skill that you used to revive people when their life drops below zero. Whilst Bear has kept us moving forward, it’s really Pills’ all-round reliability that’s kept us floating.
I think of her as the team’s patient leader, so why mess with a winning formula? Well, a. because we found a fucking sniper rifle, so now she’s a terrifying long-range marksman as well as a pistoleer, and b. because we found an actual surgeon, relieving her of some of her medical duties. Enter Rose!
Rose is an old lady scientist we picked up on the course of our first mission, and if I hadn’t wanted to keep her existence a secret for the purposes of this surprise reveal, I’d not have been giving Bear and Pills all the credit for our survival thus far. When Rose joined us she was three levels higher than the rest of the party, packing more ranks in surgery, pistols and computer science than anyone else, and a unique named pistol that uses 12-gauge shells and fires in a cone like a shotgun. Bloody hell, in other words. She’s the reason nobody else has had to learn how to hack a PC yet, and why getting Element killed has been more of a joke than a major tragedy. She and Element squabbled over shotgun ammo for the longest time, but he only ever got any if the shells were in abundance and she was running low on trauma kits to revive him with after another ill-advised melee attempt. Once or twice he actually surrendered all his ammo to her mid-fight in order to run off and hide in a corner, although to be fair, that is the official routine for anyone at risk of dying permanently. Rose’s effectiveness did begin to wane a little as her signature Thorn ceased to scale effectively against new enemies, but then we just gave her a .38 magnum and she took over Pills’ role as most reliably deadly member of the party. This meant that Element was free to keep all the shotgun shells, which was just as well given that he was stating to learn how to use one.
We also gave Rose the laser assault rifle we found to play with for a bit, and within a few levels, promptly learned how to use that with terrifying efficiency too. It’s not quite as good as the magnum, but since 4/5 party members ended up with a gun requiring pistol ammo, it seemed like a good idea to diversify a little.
So after investigating the scene of Ace’s murder and picking up his mission to use some nearby radio towers to get a lock on a scary new transmission, this is where we now stand.
##Minor quest spoilers below!##
Our heroes have liberated the AG Centre farms from the clutches of the mutated plants, bugs and farmers and found the sinister figure responsible, and cleared up two neighbouring locations where infected seeds were spread by the pigeons of a well-meaning idiot. We checked out the ruins of Highpool, which was sacked by raiders whilst we were busy in the AG Centre fungus caverns, and paid a brief and violent visit to the Red Scorpion Militia’s Happy Valley. After getting into some trouble there and running too low on ammo and medical supplies to finish the fight we started, we’ve travelled back to HQ to resupply, now that our victories have earned us the right to enter the main Ranger Citadel.
##End of minor quest spoilers!##
From greenhorns, we’ve actually grown into something resembling a functioning team of vigilantes! Bear and Pills open most fights from the most advantageous positions they can with a volley of deadly long-ranged fire on the priority targets, Element and Slick move up to engage enemies as they close the distance, and Rose fills in any gaps left by weapon jams or unlucky shots. If they’re hard pressed, Bear and Pills both have pistols to fall back on, but more often they’ll try to fall back to somewhere else to shoot from whilst the others keep them busy. They’re the least likely to shoot wide, so they’re the only ones I trust to shoot from any distance into the midst of a melee anymore. Outside of combat we have the tool for most jobs, but so far that’s sort of come second to trying to see it through the next fight. It’s always possible to come back later with spare skill points and find all that ammo you could have been using if only you had more useful skills from the outset god dammit.
It should be pretty obvious just how much I have been enjoying this game, and after these 12 opening hours it feels like I’m now surfing atop the learning curve. I can’t wait to press on further into greater danger now that I feel like I have a chance of actually surviving it. With a couple of adventures under their belt and a number of near-death experiences each, my whole team have this quite authentic forged-in-battle feel to them, particularly now I’m getting a better grasp of the (fairly rudimentary) tactical combat myself. It’s not complicated stuff, or particularly deep, but managing ammo, positioning everyone to avoid friendly fire and prioritising targets does take some learning.
Oh shit, I just remembered what my favourite moment so far has been! That’s totally getting a post all to itself later, though, as well as a more descriptive review-y sort of one I suppose. Later, though. Now this one’s off my conscience I’m gonna go straight back to playing more. I’ve got a score to settle with some Scorpions.