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.
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’.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.