Wasteland: No directions. No clue.

So after adding some more hours in Wasteland, I have to admit, that the leap back to a more ‘older’ style of game & play is a challenge. And not a small one at that. Most of all, I am so used to what a modern AAA or AA game already provides a player to ‘smoothen’ things up. Too often, I have a hard time twisting my brain around to understand what is expected from me in Wasteland. Slowly and steady I start to better manage and read the game, but sometimes I am still amazed, what depth the game is offering.

So after adding some more hours in Wasteland, I have to admit, that the leap back to a more ‘older’ style of game & play is a challenge. And not a small one at that. Most of all, I am so used to what a modern AAA or AA game already provides a player to ‘smoothen’ things up. Too often, I have a hard time twisting my brain around to understand what is expected from me in Wasteland. Slowly and steady I start to better manage and read the game, but sometimes I am still amazed, what depth the game is offering.

In the last decades, my mind has somehow been set on ‘belittling’ older games, as being ‘not so complex or fleshed out’ and ‘they were more simple in gameplay and story’.
While the first claim is already far from the truth, the second is clearly and tremendously underestimating what this game is dishing out so far. So, in my last hours of play I was hard at work to get rid of my misplaced high-nose-thinking and more focused on valuing the game for what it is.

With that being said, I have to report, that I still feel lost and aimless within the game so far. And I clearly ‘blame’ the over-styled ‘modern open world design’ for that; showing me markers, hints, question marks, and basically pulling my head constantly in some direction of interest. Backtracking in a game is never cool, but backtracking in the way you play a game is terrible.

So no visual directions here in Wasteland; just text. I will try to write up my meandering through the game below.

Into the Wasteland

After leaving Highpool and the ‘Bobbie Incident’ behind, I started looking for the Nomad’s Camp somewhere to the North. On my search I found two other places of friendliness & interest. First, the Guardian’s Citadel, which seemed to be some dark and brooding place; it was also clearly indicated, that I should not be there. I mean they literally told me to “Go Away! Leave!”. And I did.
Second, I found another place to the North-East and died before I could arrive there. Obviously by radio-active pollution, which was visually indicated after I was in the middle of it. Well, I could have also read the info at the bottom, step-by-step describing my horrible death by radiation.

I found the Nomad’s Camp after the reload and was greeted by the Brakeman, who invited us to visit him before we leave again. One caboose was owned by some Dr. B. Bilious Balfour who is into Snake Squeezins (some strong alcohol), so he can have his oracle visions. Also, no entry to the three tents here, so I went to the Brakeman and he gave me a quest to deliver a Visa Credit Card to some dude named Head Crusher in Quartz. No directions where that may be, so I left and explored more of the surroundings.

More to the North-West and over a bridge I found a place called Needles and a bunker with a sign ‘The Servants of the Mushroom Cloud’. Seems like more the religious types with a smiling bishop rubbing his Ruby-Ring. He had a quest for me and asked to help solve the murders here in Needles: His second-in-command has already been sent to do that. “Mkay!”, I said, and moved out to look around.

Leather Thugs rule the city and attack, and attack, and …

Needles is a rather large place to explore with a lot of Leather Thugs hanging around constantly attacking. And clearly I am not strong enough yet, as they did grind me down with their constant assaults. Between some buildings I find a woman called Christina, and being so surprised by this named character I press ‘hire’ as an option. And! – She is joining my party! She is way better equipped and skilled than I am, and oh so suddenly, with her UZI-power, everything becomes way more smoother and life a bit easier. After lots of fainting, I at least found some Snake Squeezins and lost my hope to survive any longer in this place. I returned to Dr. Balfour, who gave me a prophecy. “Beware the man who has lived longer than the Wasteland.” Wow. What a revelation.

Christina is a hirable NPC and together with her UZI a tremendous help.

Although, I have not found Quartz yet; but Las Vegas to the North. I entered there and got another quest called ‘Trouble in Las Vegas’. Again, I felt that being here is a bit too early and wanted to complete the Quartz quest first, so I left and looked more to the South.

Quartz itself is located west behind the mountains of the Agricultural Center. I could have guessed, that it should not be too far away from the starting area, but … well… now at least I know my surroundings.

In Quartz are lots of buildings to explore and lots of the same buildings at that. After entering four of these ruins, with all in the same layout, no loot and bitten by Scorpions and Snakes, I stopped and looked for more remarkable spots in the village and soon found Scott’s Bar. I entered and everybody stopped talking and looked at me. In the Remastered version there is some surprisingly cool background music loop running there.
After the crowd has acknowledged my ranger-supremacy, they continued minding their own business. The bar is huge (did not look like that from the outside) and I found the counter at the South-West, with some punks blocking my way. They try to be strong, but I am stronger. The barkeeper is too far away for contact.

Scott’s Bar – looks small from the outside, but from the inside it’s vast.

In the South-East corner there is some private card game happening, and when I approach them, they just attack. In good defense I cleaned up this round of illegal gambling, looting some money and ammo. But no sign of Head Crusher except a graffiti on the wall. There are other graffities on some tables too like ‘DRINK’, ‘URAQT’ and ‘URABUTLN’.

Some teenager is threatened in the toilet, and after helping him, he told me that Quartz has been taken over by ‘Ugly’s Gang’. They have also captured the mayor. I can ask him something, but I cannot find a keyword that triggers. Also, I have already overheard some conversations in the bar mentioning this dire situation.
Another strange guy wanted to play riddles with me and mentioned the waitress running around being busy. I solved his riddles, with the last one being the solution to ‘URABUTLN’ – You are a beauty Ellen and ‘URAQT’ – You are a cutie. Who would have thought…

Tying up two nots

Clueless, what to do with that information, I found Head Crusher sitting in the South. I gave him the credit card and he told me to go to Atchisons Tent in the Nomad’s Camp. The password is ‘Caterpillar’.

Stepping out of the bar I saw the Courthouse building. When I approached the goons at the door asked for a password. Well, I thought … I have a password, but ‘Caterpillar’ was – obviously – not it. So I used ‘My Gun” as a password, attacked and killed the whole first floor in a frenzy. On the second floor another goon asked for a password. I decided that it could be better to go for the story and the real password first and not butcher my way through here. No, clue where to find that though.

So first, let’s finish this other quest from the Nomad’s Camp, as more riddles await in Quartz. So back to the camp, but which tent could it be? The first one won’t let me in with my password. The second one did and as we sat in the tent smiling at each other, they started pulling out their weapons. Still smiling they attacked me. Still smiling, I died in there. They obviously were quite happy about this.
Reloading and into the third tent. They were not smiling, but just happy with my help in Quartz and gave me a hint for their thank-you-treasure-stash. I just needed a shovel to dig it up, kill the six guys that waited and ambushed me, and loot.

**Time-warp here, because I really struggled at this stage for almost an hour. Also, I looked that hint up; I was so frustrated.**
To talk to Ellen or the barkeeper in Scott’s Bar, you have to split(!) one party member from your group so you can approach the counter. When you tell Ellen ‘URAQT’ she will give you a key to a room at the Stagecoach Inn with the words: “You will know what to do.” Well, right.

Took a while to find the Inn, which was… larger from the inside, than the outside. I found the kitchen, broke some eggs and robbed the cook by incident. He complained but… Ranger’s business. I then found Ellen’s room and Laurie, her sister in a wheelchair. They are both planning on getting rid of Ugly’s Gang and she provided me with the password to enter the Courthouse: ‘Muerte’. Seems like my solution at the Courthouse and the password were not so different after all.

It turns ugly

Back to the Courthouse then. At this stage I learned how to use Crowbars (oh the possibilities) and what a Mangler is good for. Ignoring the hint from Laurie to bypass the goons, I went in and killed everyone on sight (and saved my Manglers for later). I also met Huey, Louie, and Dewey who all had a bracelet with a number inscribed on it, that I inspected after I have axe’d them to death: Huey 11, Louie 27, and Dewey 16. Again, no clue what that could be good for.

Huey, Dewey and Louie’s room and a victim I could not safe.

Finally I reached the third floor and the grunt guarding the prison, acknowledged my Ranger-supremacy and left without a fight. Must have spotted the bloody axes. In the prison I found a graffiti “Darwin = Proteus” and a guy who ran away without a word after I freed him. The latter triggered a quest update and left me even more confused. And Ugly’s Gang is still in town and I have no idea where they are.

So I started backtracking, if I missed something along my aimless trail of blood & confusion.

  • Back to Scott’s Bar. Overheard another conversation about Ugly’s Gang. They were seemingly fleeing from the desert and took over control. Interesting.
  • Back in the Courthouse in the Mayor’s Office I found a piece of paper about a hideout called Thanatos. But there seems something to be scratched out and ‘kaput’ has been scribbled below. Also some loot: four leather jackets (AC 1, finally!), 400$ and some ammo.
  • Back, and frustrated, to the Nomad’s Camp. Being there I wanted to sell my stuff, and saw that you can buy an engine here for Highpool! Brought it south and fixed the engine. Quest completed. Happy teenagers all around.
  • Back to Quartz and back to my problems. While I strolled around aimlessly, running into cactus (cacti?) and crawling through sewers I finally found…

The Hideout

The secret Alleyway to the Hideout… The Courthouse is just behind me.

Actually I found the Alleyway first. Sweet mother of… this was just behind the Courthouse! Excited I entered and found a way up to the roof with my rope. Running around there were glass windows and I burst through them into the building, which is the long sought hideout from Ugly’s Gang. There is an army of Pistoleros in the building and I killed all of them. And some of Uglys’ ugly dogs.

Running through all rooms I found another cellar with a prison and a dude in there called Ace. Named NPC? Let’s try hire and he joined us, so now we are six. He also would appreciate our help in Las Vegas, because he was looking for help in Quartz to fight a war up there. Seems like my next place to wreak havoc without a clue.

In Ugly’s office I found a map of Quartz. Several buildings were marked on it and one was interesting, labeled as SEKRET. This building lies diagonally to the Southwest. Better take a look later.

Ugly John doing ugly business using Felicia as his hostage.

Next, I – finally – found ugly Ugly and he held poor Felicia (where is the mayor?) hostage with a bomb in her lap. He demanded we let him flee and he would give us the code to defuse it. I denied and killed him quickly. While still wondering how easy the fight has been, the bomb still kept ticking and Felicia became a bit nervous. When checking the skills of my party, Ace seemed the most proficient with Demolitions so he did it in his first try.
Felica was saved, she was pretty happy about this positive change of circumstances and I wondered if I can hire her – to test the named NPC rule. It worked, but she was so weak, I kicked her out of the party again. Forever, the game let me know. Ok. Maybe I should have pooled the money first…

Still missing the mayor though. They said he was a prisoner. So I backtracked once more to the Courthouse, the only prisons I have found so far, and up to the third floor. I opened all cells and there he was in the last cell – the mayor. Interesting, that I could see the guy-who-ran from the outside of the cell, but not the mayor. Anyway. Lost & Found.

Happy End! Quartz has been freed from this Ugly episode.

Party? Let’s go to Vegas!

Time played: 7h 12min.

At this stage I have more the feeling of ambling around aimlessly and finding or solving quests more by pure luck or coincidence.

The games’ world feels very close to more modern open world games, just with missing question / exlamation marks. This is really a challenge for me, as I have to re-learn this understanding of what you can do within the game with your skills.

I hope that I will find more of a main story in Las Vegas, because I am not really sure what this is all about so far. Just the experience of non-interlinked quests in several hub locations?

Or is there a main story at all?

The Incompletionist

(Game #1) Wasteland Remastered (1988)

Wasteland, released in 1988 for the Apple II, C64 and DOS-PC, was seen as a successor in spirit for the well received Bard’s Tale series, both produced by Interplay Productions; a studio run by Brian Fargo. And interesting enough, Wasteland has been categorized at its time as an Adventure game (I always thought about it as a cRPG) and even made it to IGNs Top 25 PC games of all time, praising it “one of the best RPGs ever [to] grace the PC” and ranked at place 24th. Well, what an interesting game to start this journey!

Wasteland, released in 1988 for the Apple II, C64 and DOS-PC, was seen as a successor in spirit for the well received Bard’s Tale series, both produced by Interplay Productions; a studio run by Brian Fargo. And interesting enough, Wasteland has been categorized at its time as an Adventure game (I always thought about it as a cRPG) and even made it to IGNs Top 25 PC games of all time, praising it as “one of the best RPGs ever [to] grace the PC” and ranked at place 24th. Well, what an interesting game to start this journey!

My brother and I never owned or played the game (I bought a PC several years later) and it was somehow before my RPG time, although we read about it in various magazines*, and at the time at least the post-apocalyptic setting has intrigued me; most cRPGs I had an interest then were in the Bard’s Tale tradition and set in a more classic high fantasy world, like D&D Goldbox titles or Might & Magic.

* We used to buy computer magazines together and often discussed on the games and reviews.

Wasteland Remastered has been released in February 2020, produced by Krome Studios and published by inXile Entertainment (Brian Fargos’ current studio) and stays true to the core game and mechanics, but with updated graphics (3D models in Unity), sound, and even with some voice lines (intro and the journal entry paragraphs). Also, running it in 4k is good for my eyes and the overall appeal of Wasteland feels not at all dated; but the mechanics do… but more on that later.

Running in 4k makes for an easy access to old cRPGs

Setting-wise it is your good-old post-nuclear-war-apocalyptic scenario, with remains of human life surving in the more remote parts of the world; here it is a prison, that has been re-institutionalist into a Desert Ranger-HQ. We are one, actually four, of these Desert Rangers and will start with three missions to check out the surrounding, and see where we can help.

Creating your Desert Rangers

After starting a ‘New game’ you have the possibility to create a party of four characters and this is where I first clashed hard with old game reality. In my defense: I played AC: Odyssey and AC:Origins, Cyberpunk 2077 and other more comfy games lately, so I was quite confused and flashed how underexplained everything is. There was no manual coming with the game (bought it from GoG), and I did not want to start immediately checking a guide on the Internet.

You get a ready party of four guys ‘n’ gal, but in good tradition I deleted those to create my own Desert Rangers with my own names. And hit the wall really hard. There are seven attributes (Strength, Intelligence, Luck, Speed, Agility, Dexterity and Charisma) and you can re-roll on randomized values up to 18. I had no clue what is good or needed and what is not for skills or anything, so I spent several minutes to get a good roll or at least a roll on core stats like Strength or Dexterity above 16. Which was hardly possible in combination with other half decent rolls on the other attributes. Additionally your Constitution (your Health) is also randomized in a more narrower frame around 30 (+/-2); seems like.

With no clue, what is what and which skill benefits from which attribute, I created a character, set a name and nation and tried to create the next, when I saw that I have no gear at all and would start empty-handed. Ok, that were just too many unsolved question marks at once, so in my desperation I did something I have never ever done in any cRPG game:

I started with the pre-made group. The. Pre-made. Group. How low can you go…

So my Desert Rangers are now:

  • Hell Razor – general-type soldier with ‘Brawling 2’.
  • Angela Deth – red-haired Vasquez-type with ‘Clip Pistols 2’.
  • Thrasher – another general-type soldier with ‘Brawling 2’ but AP Weapons (no clue what that is).
  • Snake Vargas – looks like a true Desert Ranger, and comes with ‘Medic 2’.
Don’t you mess, with Angela Deth.

Into the Wasteland

My three mission are (1) checking out what’s low in Highpool, a settlement to the West, (2) something’s afoot at the Agricultural Center with food-production running low, and (3) check on the Rail Nomads camp to the North-west of the Ranger Center.

Movement is done on a top-down map with our representative 3D-figure in the screen-center that looks like one of those table-top figurines. Having no clue of anything anywhere, I just headed out and as I am a righty I naturally turned left (means West) and soon hit ‘Highpool’. This settlement is nestled between mountains with tons of playgrounds for kids, a bar/shop/casino, a hospital with a doctor and a broken engine room. There seems to be some tasks needing doing, which I gathered from a list in the bar: cave, adults: raid outlaws, Jackie – is in cave?, Bobby’s dog?, and fix water purifier (written exactly like that on the note).

I also met a teenage called Bobby to the South, and he seemed rather upset because he lost his dog. Conversations are done with typing in keywords, which was quite a re-experience; I had totally forgotten this has been a thing in my last 30 years of gaming. So you type ‘cave’, and Bobby will tell you there is a cave behind bushes and you should not go there, because it is forbidden. Typing ‘dog’ and he tells you he beat-up his dog so he learns something. Mkay. Riiiight.

I looked for the dog in the valley, but could not find anything, I also bounced against the mountain walls but nothing for secret doors (*cough* JRPGs *cough*). I also could not do anything about the broken engine yet, so I headed out again and moved further to the West.

Combat and distance

Soon after leaving Highpool I had my first random encounter with Red Lizards. There is a distance / range system in place I had no clue about at first; I realized though, that my guys ‘n’ gal kept missing when above 22′ and could melee with crowbars when they were 14′ close. An hour and 24 fights later, I realized that you can press ‘Map’ and see your 3D-figure again behind the combat windows and the monster as another 3D-figure. Finally I could see the distance between my party and the monsters on the game map. Using the ‘Run’ command, your party can close the distance or move away in any direction. Suddenly everything made more sense, and I stopped wasting bullets, that i started running out of quickly.

Combat itself is a traditional “set-action, run action” system for the party; I guess based on your ‘Speed’ attribute. Then all skill checks are done, and you repeat. This goes quickly and follows the also traditional combat experience of “How can you miss so often?”, “How can rats do so much damage?” or “How the hell can I recover my constitution again?”
Input is with either mouse or keyboard numbers; I used the keyboard because it is a lot quicker, when you get used to the commands. You can also do your own macros, but I am no sure if I explore this path. After two hours though, I got why they patched that feature in after release. The micro-management is real.

The Agricultural Center (AG)

After my uneventful stop at Highpool I moved further west to the Agricultural Center. Entering the compound, a lot of men were debating a situation of a ‘varmin-plague’, that seemed to ravage their fields. And as I am already here, and with a quick re-assuring glance at my Desert Ranger Batch, I volunteered to help and solve that plague. When I entered the fields an old man also warned me about a Bunny-Master. I was wary.

Nine strong men discussing what to do about these bunnies and their master.

Here again I completely misunderstood the game and what it expected from me to do. I was more or less looking for – visual – cues on where to go. The doors to leave the compound were barred. I could not enter anywhere, unless into some caves below. And every other movement I had random encounters with Lizards, Rats, Bunnies or Prairie Dogs, or any combination of these varmin. But no Bunny-Master or any other hint of what I should do or go.

So I entered the cave in hope that I find the Bunny-Master in there, because I remembered that old fool talking about some armored bunnies. I fought my way through and my constitution was melting down to 1 really quick. The struggle was unhealthy and I somehow made it through, but my Rangers dropped unconscious every fight and after one round recovered back to 1 constitution point. I could not find out how to heal and camping was not an option, because I was always interrupted with random encounters of that varmin, everybody talked about above. When I walked around a bit my constitution did regenerate though, but very very slowly.

Finally, no ammo remained, so crowbars out. No constitution remained, so I avoided the fights as best as possible. I staggered to the exit and saw some armored bunnies to the east. Armored bunnies – of course! I immediately attacked.

The armor seemed to make a difference, as I made no damage or even a dent in those fluffy bunnies steel armor. So again a tactical retreat and out of the cave, where I exited to the world map and remembered the function to level up. To do that, you have to call-in at your HQ and they will promote you to the next level. You get two points, that you can freely distribute on the attributes or constitution of your character.

At this stage, as you can maybe gather due to my higher level of knowledge(!) about the game mechanics, I found the in-game manual and could get some basic bearings at least. Concludingly, it probably makes sense to spend all my points on IQ for a while, because this will yield you skill points, and obviously they are important, as skills are not only about combat but also for Climbing, Medic, etc.

When I re-entered the AG I could not re-enter the fields with the bunnies, so I had to re-load. Lucky me I finally started to understand more about the game and what it expected me to do. Not much progress was lost too, as I saved before the armored bunny fight. Did my level-up then and back-tracked through the cave to the fields above. And, when I walked through them aimlessly, I found the Bunny-Master! Just like that on a field with no markings. It was just – a field. With corn. He attacked me with his personal Bunny-Guard, but I butchered him with crowbars, and brutalized the bunnies. When the job was done, the old man was waiting in the field, congratulated me on my successful murder and rewarded me with a permit to enter their root cellar. Inside I found a lot of garbage, a pistol, some ammo, plastic explosives and a grenade.

Harry, the bunny master. A grumpy chap, not in the mood to chat.

Resurfacing, the shop was open and I could sell some things for some dollars. Mission successful, I could not believe it. Full with motivation I went back to Highpool, because there was something else, that I have learned on my quest into the bunny cave.

Back to Highpool

Because: At the bottom of the screen, you have several actions available. Of importance now is ‘Use’ and the other is ‘View’. When you click on one of these, you can ‘use’ a skill or an item and you can ‘view’ around an area to spot something. Oh, the possibilities!

I already saw such a spot within Highpool, some bushes and a tree-trunk that seemed rather suspicious, so I went there to inconspicuously ‘view’ around. And you have not only to ‘view’ and be on correct field, but also ‘view’ into the correct direction. Anyway, after some ‘viewing’ around I found a hole to a cave, that suddenly appeared as a hole on the map, but could not climb down. So back to the shop in Highpool, spent all my dollars on a rope, ‘used’ the rope and finally climbed down. In the cave it was dark and further moving in you have to ‘use’ a skill to ‘climb’ over a pile of fallen rocks.

Bobby giving us the crucial hint to the cave. Probably, he shouldn’t have.

After defeating this obstacle with pure skill, a white wolf with a bloddy muzzle attacked me; characterized as rabid! I thought, “What the hell! This was for sure the beast that killed Jackie, Bobby’s dog!” So I rightfully crowbar’d the dog into bloody goo and looked for Jackie in the cave, but could not find him. Confused I went back outside and found a grave, written on it: “My dog Rex, gunned down by vigilante Rangers.” While I pondered this interesting turn of events and wanted to leave the town, Bobby appeared out of nowhere, accused me of killing his dog Rex and immediately attacked us! I charged him straight on and quickly brutalized the punk with these trusty crowbars. But … who is Rex?

*Quest completed*

Oh. Kay.

After exiting Highpool, Hell Razor, Angela Deth, Thrasher, and Snake Vargas looked at each other, mildly puzzled but united by the same thought: “What a harsh and brutal life, and sudden end to it. What else can you find in this Wasteland, I wonder?”, Hell Razor spoke aloud. After some seconds of silence and deep thought, Thrasher, after wiping the gooey remains of Bobby from his crowbar, added solemnly: “But someone … someone has to do it. Someone had to do it. Right?”

Snake Vargas, shouldering his rifle, mumbled below his breath: “Sure, lad. But … who or where the frack is Jackie?”

Time played: 1h 57min.