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Wasteland 2: Director's Cut Nintendo Switch Review

One of the most beautiful facets of Wasteland 2 is its wistful, austere writing. Taking lots of inspiration from tabletop RPGs, Wasteland 2 masterfully brings the best bits of open-ended roleplaying games to the digital realm, bringing the genre’s hallmark nuanced scenarios, deep roleplaying, and rich, atmospheric description along. Several years after its release, it’s coming to Switch, and even now it’s among the best in the recent roleplaying crop.

The Director’s Cut, an updated release that was a free upgrade for most console players, is the edition getting the Switch treatment. There are thousands of lines of added spoken dialogue, but the text still does most of the heavy lifting. The bigger additions are the smoother graphical presentation as well as having more minutiae with which to customize your characters. Perks and Quirks, for instance, give you the option to swap a boon for some persistent disadvantage. While that sounds counterintuitive in a video game, it pays dividends in the actual role-playing: It gives you the ability to further refine your squad and encourage yourself to think a bit outside the box as you work around the traits. For some, that might be a turn-off, but Wasteland 2 embraces it.

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You are, from the start, invited to craft your own troop of folks with whom you will travel the wastes. You can (and probably should) come up with your own backstories and use those to build out your squad. You don’t have to, of course, but having a written paragraph or two, as well as hand-crafted motivations, Wasteland suggests, will help tie you to the world and your team of avatars. And damned if it isn’t dead-on. While Wasteland 2 definitely offers up a decent chunk of narrative assistance for those who want to keep things simple, this is an adventure that pleads for you to give your all and is willing to reward the effort.

As you might suspect, your squad’s goal is to survive in a post-apocalyptic wasteland. And, as is so often the case, it’s obvious that the end of civilization came in the nuclear flavor. Soon after the opening, your crew joins up with the Desert Rangers, one of the only semblances of civilization that has emerged from the chaos.

Your group struggles alongside the people you encounter, and you can be assured that their lives are exactly as dour as they seem. By giving the people you encounter such depth–which, admittedly, still can often descend into cartoonishly exaggerated moral extremes–it can be a genuine struggle to be cruel. Still, kindness isn’t the panacea you’d perhaps hope.

One moment stood out to me when I first played Wasteland 2, and it’s just as haunting today. As I wrote in my original review: “One particularly tough scene had me slowly watching a woman die as she begged my squad to put her out of her misery. Trying to show an ounce of mercy in an otherwise cold and macabre place, I agreed. A child saw me and ran to tell his family–another group I had agreed to help by finding their stolen pigs. They were terrified of me, and left their home without food and water. They probably died.”

Those consequences are made all the richer by your investment and your choice to engage with what the game has to offer. There is an unusually broad number of solutions to just about any problem, and it’s often better to examine as many possible angles as you can before acting. Still, there’s an anarchic resignation that underpins everything. No matter how you act, you’ll often cause collateral damage. That posits a rather severe world, but then again, this is a hypothetical where people really did poison the planet and vaporize one another.

The fuzziness of it all tests your characters, too. And they can (and should) be rewritten as you go. Wasteland 2 doesn’t just hit you with these conditions to wear you down, but to see how your characters respond. This is trying, it is exhausting emotionally for your crew. How do they handle that? Will their spark of optimism be ground away by the relentless struggle, or will it live on? More importantly, why?

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The breadth of options to approach any given scenario or various other challenges is vital to backing that up. While the game has been touted as one where you can kill absolutely everyone, that really isn’t wise and is a self-indulgent waste. In much the same way, it is possible, however unlikely, to make it through just about all of the game without killing people. That’s less exciting for many, but it highlights the real point. The array of choices you can make are a means to an end–how would your character respond to this grim world?

To that end, combat is also remarkably diverse. In much the same way that your team can flex to meet the needs you encounter, combat, too has a lot of different ways to approach problems. At its most basic, when you shift into fights, you’ll be arranged into a turn order and you proceed maneuvering through the area until all hostiles have been dealt with. Non-lethal options exist, but many of your foes are mutants, robots, and other rough-and-tumble, battle-hardened mercenaries. Maintaining control of the field against enemies willing to pull out high-yield explosives is a challenge, to say the least.

But that also hints at the relevant outcomes from the fight. Wasteland 2 is an RPG first, and your battles will have narrative consequences. As a result, your goals are often a little more refined than “blow it all up.” And those going that route will be hard-pressed to care for the members of their team, who are just as vulnerable to the searing hot shrapnel from a stray grenade as your target is–so what you have is an array of options that are constrained by practical considerations.

Wasteland 2 seamlessly translates the myriad diplomatic and social options into a wide set of combat styles and approaches.

How much collateral damage are you okay accepting? How much risk are you willing to accept? When your crew starts bleeding out, will you run a medic over to patch them up, putting both at risk, or press the offensive? These options also have their own contexts within the narrative. How you use your party’s skills to address puzzles and challenges in the main arc will have a big effect on if and when someone comes after waggling their creaky, rusted rifles.

Wasteland 2 seamlessly translates the myriad diplomatic and social options into a wide set of combat styles and approaches. Once again, more investment in the weapons your team carries and uses yields dividends. Having a few different types of weapons and the ability to support each, as well as an understanding of how to use them, allows your group to tackle just about any problem–regardless of whether they marched into or couldn’t talk their way out of it.

In fact, the only substantive complaints are longer-than-comfortable loading times and the lack of extensive touchscreen support for the Switch edition. Given that much of the combat is tactical, and that a touchscreen works as a damned fine substitute for a mouse, the feature is an apparent omission that prevents the Switch version from being the best yet.

Wasteland 2 is still a very special outing. If you haven’t spent your time in this irradiated desert just yet, this is one of the best times to do so–especially since the portability of the Switch reissue lets you take the journey on long treks of your own, or as a dense RPG to curl and nestle in with, as you might with an excellent book. On such a screen, the interpersonal dramas feel a bit more intimate, the tension of sneaking your way pay this or that NPC a bit more tangible. Plus, in the Switch’s handheld mode, the rather dated-looking visuals aren’t so grating. All-told it’s a phenomenal port and still one of the better RPGs in recent years.

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