Monday, December 23, 2013

Wasteland 2 - Early Beta Impressions

I will give you fair warning that the first paragraph or so of this post I will be letting my geek flag fly proudly.  I first played wasteland 25 years ago and have been playing it ever since.  It is, in my opinion, the single best RPG ever made.

When I logged into the game like I do the first time for any game I play I wanted to get a grasp of the movement but was instead immediately distracted by the person I was placed in front of.  Vargas, someone whom I controlled in the original wasteland was now in charge of the rangers.  After listening to his opening parts and exploring the area we start out in I saw the gravestones of some old friends.  Pedros, Vax, Metal Maniac, Covenant, and so many more.  People I knew for over 25 years were all dead in wasteland two.

I then ran into Angela, whom I was glad to still see was alive like Vargas is.  So a second person from the first game survived.  She told me about Thrasher and his recent death and the life he was leading which was contrary to what you might have expected from your time playing him.  She offers to join me on my first quest and that is to investigate the recent death of Ace, another old friend from the original wasteland.

There were no shortages of memories to be thrown around for someone who played the original.  But I will get back to impressions and how the game felt to play and try not to dwell too much about how awesome it feels to be back with the rangers, where I belong.  After years of playing the game I didn't just play a ranger, I was a ranger.

To someone that does not know the story there is nothing you are missing here.  It is all presented well and the characters and tombstones are more there as a throwback to us older players.  You not knowing who Redhawk was isn't going to matter, to you he is just someone that died, and it still shows that this wasteland is a very harsh wasteland none the less, even if you do not have a connection to said characters like I did.

All the details you need to know for your mission are given to you by Vargas, your commander, on your first test as a ranger.  You are given options to answer questions based on the skills of your lead character such as answer as a smart ass or a kiss ass.  Unlike other games however, you can not just choose them, you actually need to have "skill" in being a smart ass before you can answer like one.  It is one of those little details that make this game so much more involved than many other RPGs I have played over the years.

Something that my history with the game made me notice, but most others might not, is the shovel on the ground behind Vargas.  I know I will need that, so I am going to take it.  The good thing is, shortly after we begin our walk we find something that when inspecting it says, kindly enough, "looks like something is buried here".  Well now, I have a shovel so let me dig it up.

This is a gentle nudge in the direction that players will need to think for those that never played it before.  This game does not hold your hand.  It will not tell you "hey idiot there is a shovel over here you missed" by making it flash brightly like in many other games.  If you do not see it, you will have nothing to dIg stuff up, and trust me, you want to be digging up everything you can. 

The lack of hand holding is one of the reasons I love the game, it is also one of the reasons I don't think the game as a whole will hit it off with the larger general market, no matter how much I love it.  People just can not think for themselves any longer and unlike the original, there is an internet now, and guides, and people will know, or be told, to pick up that shovel by someone.

But if you had one of your members with the perception skill that shovel would have sparkled just as brightly as it would in any other game.  Assuming you put the person with perception in the lead of your group and used that ability.

That sets the tone for the game.  You need to use abilities that you use in no other games, in ways you never used them.  The game has a few different skill the original didn't have so far on the beta, but they are all still needed, they were not added for fluff.

As far as movement goes, it took me a long time to get a hang of it.  Actually still do not have a hang of it.  If I could make some suggestions here in my impressions, they need to adjust the movement to be more fluid.

The game uses the often seen click on the ground to move there approach and while there were many places that I would click somewhere to move but it registered as on the wall or in a place where I could not move.  That is not original to this game and some of it will be fixed in the beta I am sure.  At least as much as they can.  My only real issue was with camera movement which uses keys.

As it is now if you hit the Q or E it will turn the camera a 1/4 left or a 1/4 right.  Many times in the game neither work well.  You get obstructed views, blurred views, or just in general give yourself a headache trying to find the right angle to look at something correctly so you can click on it.  If they just made the Q or E free flowing like the A, S, D and W are when moving left, back, right or forward, it would be better.  Making it a set movement amount like 1/4 just doesn't cut it.  If I want to turn my camera 1/16 of the way left I should be capable of doing so.  If I wanted it to move 1/4 I would just hold it down for a couple of seconds and I will get there.  Being locked into that /14 movement just does not feel natural for me, and thus camera movement does not feel natural.

As far as graphics go they are exceptional even if not what some would call astounding.  They did a bang up job on the environments in nearly every detail.  There are many graphical glitches as you might expect in a beta so I will not get hung up on those as I expect they will be fixed, but one thing I will mention which I doubt will get fixed are objects behind you. 

I have this issue with many games, if something is behind your character it should not block your view.  Sure that wall is still there, but I should be able to see through it.  Quite often I was stuck with my back to a wall fighting for my life against killer rabbits that wanted to nibble me to death and had to use that wonky 1/4 turning angle to get some sort of view where I could actually see my characters and be able to click on a piece of land I can move to.  I don't expect them to fix that as no other game I have ever played in the history of gaming has ever managed to ditch the clutter behind your character.

Speaking of clicking on the ground to move, targeting is sometimes a nightmare.  Not sure if that is a beta issue or if that is just design being a little off.  So often I would want to move one step forward but I couldn't because no matter how I spun the camera I could not get an angle that would allow me to click on that free grid space I knew was there.  Here is to hoping they can fix that.  It is more a general annoyance than anything else, but it would surely be nice to see it fixed.

The story is well written, but what would you expect from the same team that made the first one.  Back when games needed a good story to carry it wasteland has just that, and wasteland two does not fail at delivering the awesome story telling you would expect from a game of this genre.

From Vargas who sends you on your first mission to Angela who tells you about Thrasher, to some redneck threatening to rip you to shreds and feed your bits to his dog, every bit of dialogue is real, informative, and just feels as if it is coming off natural.  Something many RPGs seem to have an issue with.  The writing will surely carry this game to the top of many gamers favorite games, if they take the effort to read it all.

Speaking of reading it all, you must read it is.  It is not just about an immersion thing, it is about game play.  People will tell you hints when you talk to them and most of the time they will only tell you the hint once.  If you go back to speak to them they will have a different dialogue.

There is some humor involved as well in the game just like the original where you needed to find the password to Fat Freddies and the person at the door asks you "What's the word?".  Well, everybody knows that bird is the word, and it was.  This time around it seemed our old friend Matt had a thing for Jenny because the combination to his safe is 8675309.

The music is a thing of genius.  I am sorry to say I do not know the person that scored the game but they did an amazing job, as well as the people that work the sounds.  For a beta the sounds seem pretty well finished in my opinion.  It is also balanced well and unlike most games where I need to adjust the value because some things are too low while others are too high, this worked perfectly out of the box for me.  No over bearing backgrounds, solid voice acting, even the static from making radio contact sounds authentic.  The sounds and the music are top notch in my opinion.

Now to the game itself and a sad conclusion I need to make here.  Everything I like about the game is the reason I do not see this game making a big impact in the market or having a huge following.

There are two reasons for that.  One is the no hand holding and two is the persistent world.

I'll delve into this a little further for people that might be interesting in trying the game when it comes out.  This is of course if they do not come to the same conclusion I did and add a little hand holding and a little recovery from mistakes in judgement.

At the moment the game plays like the original for me, same as in 88.  There was no internet, there were no gaming manuals, there was nothing to help you.  You had to figure out everything on your own and if you accidentally double entered past a very important message you could find yourself stuck and needing to go back to a previous save because you were stuck with no way to move forward.

Everything matters in this game, every little word that comes out of some bum half passed out from drinking too many snake squeezings lips even matters.  Every little item you pick up that might seem like junk now could be vital to getting past something later.  There are, as always, red herrings as well, items they make you think are important so you carry them around forever talking up bag space but they mean nothing.

Being early beta and there are so few playing and no message boards or no guides and no hand holding in the game it is exactly the way I like it.  This is how all games should be.  At least all RPGs.  Maybe I am thinking too much about it and when the time comes there will be help books and guides online for everyone to look up and it will not let those people that skipped the paragraph that had the information they needed pay dearly for that like it would me now, but I do not think today's gamer is the same type of gamer I am.  They would not like a game that was a challenge, where you needed to figure things out, where you were alone and your success or failure was based more on how well you played instead of who had read the most tip books, ones that would say, in this case, make sure to pick up the shovel behind Vargas or you will miss out on a butt load of loot.  So I love it, but with no hand holding, I do not think the modern gaming community will.  I do hope I am wrong.

Now the perpetual world where your decisions matter.  Using your "smart ass" skill when talking to people could mean someone that you needed help from might decide not to help you making your mission that much harder.  It could make the merchant you were talking to get pissed off and whip out a sawed off shot gun and put the business end in your face.  There is no turning back now, if you do not fight him you die and if you do fight him he dies and if he dies, he is dead.  Not going to respawn ever.  The only dealer for blood packs in the entire zone is gone.  Forever.  All because you wanted to play smart ass.

And if you think you will just run and if a person or two dies when you are trying to get away, think again.  Because in wasteland dead is dead.  There are no phoenix down in this game.  If your character dies, you are starting from an old save.  If any of your characters die, you are starting from an old save.  Either that or you just do the rest of the game without that character, it is up to you.  There is no way to revive the dead.

That also means you do not have unlimited ammo.  If you go all hog wild and start burning full clips on some killer bunnies when the real fight comes later and you are out of ammo, you better make sure you have the brawling skill or you will never hit with your fits.  And there is no store that has an infinite supply of ammo.  If the vendor you go to says he has 10 clips, guess what, he has 10 clips, once you buy them he no longer has them.  Oh, and he can not buy the junk from you until you buy something from him.  He actually has a cash flow.  If you never purchased anything, he will have no money to buy something from you.

Early in the game you will get two radio distress calls.  One from Highpool and another from the AG Center.  You will only be able to respond to one, that decision will impact the entire game.  If you go to Highpool the AG Center is destroyed.  If you go to the AG Center then Highpool is destroyed.  Your choices matter.

If you can not get a water pump to stop to finish a quest so you decide to blow it up to stop it, then later on when you need to restore it you can't.  Do you know why?  Because you blew it into six million pieces moron.

I love everything I have said there.  I love that I need to watch my ammo and choose my battles.  I love that my relationship with NPCs matter.  I love that when I save the AG Center it has consequences in Highpool.

That is reason number two why I love this type of game but I believe most won't.  Today's gamer does not have any experience in what you do matters.  If you kill garrosh today he is back on reset tuesday (or wednesday).  If you killed some boss in a five man he will be there 4 more time in that hour so you can kill him again.  If you buy 1000 milk from the vendor he will have another 1000 for you tomorrow and the day after.  If you have never purchased something from a vendor he will oddly enough have a cash reserve of billions to keep buying stuff from you.  Things like that, things today's gamer takes for granted.  People have gotten used to that and I do not think it will go over well.

Speaking of not going over well, one thing they will need to change.  Absolutely 100% need to change, is damage and healing.

It works for the old school players but will be a real rude awakening to the current type of gamer.  Damage is permanent.  There is no mana for instant heals either.  You need healing supplies and as I already mentioned, everything in game is limited, as in extremely limited.

In the original wasteland we had the ability to stand in one place and hit the ~ button over and over to regain health over time.  It was basically time wasting but saved me countless healing materials. I have yet to find anything equivalent in the game.  If you are at 33 life and go down to 25, you are at 25 life until you get healed, be it 10 minutes or 2 hours later, you will still be at 25 life.  This means every little bit of damage matters.  None of that "I'll just walk through this poison fog and heal afterwards" because it would be wasting resources, resources you do not have.

I think they should either make healing supplies a little more abundant instead of a vendor only having one or they need to add a heal over time like in the original.  Hey, maybe it is there and I just have not noticed it.  Either way, this will not go over well with the current gamers out there that are used to ending a battle and going back to full health or having unlimited amounts of healing potions or mana.  It adds a lot to the game play in my opinion and is part of what attracts me to the game, but just because I love it doesn't mean others will.

Speaking of things adding to game play my favorite part that is new from the original are the positional requirements.  Something the original could not do, but this one can being it is an open world game.  If Big Bert just went and smacked a pod person in the head with a pipe Cold Eye can not just take aim with his sniper rifle and shoot.  He might hit Big Bert if he is in the way and I am pretty sure that Big Bert is not going to be happy taking a round to the back of the head.

The movement and the design of battle was done amazingly well, even if a little confusing when I first experienced a larger scale battle that was me vs a few mobs.  Coming from all angles you not only have to worry about where is best to make your stand but where everyone is in reference to each other.  Remember, it is not just a matter or winning here, it is a matter of winning and taking as little damage as possible while not wasting ammo.  That is where the excitement and strategy come in.

Some NPCs will join you during your time, sometimes they will let you control their moves, sometimes they will do whatever it is they want to do.  I've had NPCs shoot one of my own characters because they did not feel like moving, twice in a row.  This taught me to work my movements around the idea if I lose control they do not hurt me again.  Other times they bug out where they run one way and then move back to where they started and end up doing nothing, but I call that a beta bug.  Other times you will be making your stand having yourself defended from all sides by having your back to a wall with approaching mobs no longer coming from behind you and one goes rogue and starts running at them leaving you the option of go with them and save them or let them die.  Either way, your nice stronghold you set up to fight off the waves of pod people coming your way is gone.  So much for planning.  I find that both exciting and annoying, but something that really makes you think on your feet.  Maybe I should train one of my characters in leadership so I do not lose control of the NPCs so often. Might be a worthy investment in skill points wouldn't you say.  I am sure Big Bert would agree.

Speaking of that, the skills are all over the place.  There are lots of them and it makes sense to specialize.  Have one person with lockpicking and safe cracking, maybe even with a side of alarm disarming.  Just make sure that person has high dexterity to get the most out of it.  Having some level of field medic on all people is to your advantage and having a few surgeons never hurts either.  The last thing you need is Hex running around with a broken hand which lowers her accuracy, or Cherry Bomb looking hot as usually but more like Micheal Strahan with that broken tooth.  Yes, you need a surgeon to deal with injuries like those that lower stats.  From the big to the small and if one of your characters takes and extra hard hit and gets critically wounded you have a matter or seconds, and I am not kidding, to get them the medical attention they need or you will be moving on without them or starting at an old save point.  The seconds do not wait until combat is over to start ticking off either.  You now lost 2 people, one was knocked out and the other has to fix them up before time runs out, while the rest fight off the mobs.  Things could get really sticky really fast.

There are multiple types of weapons, and skills needed for all of them.  Makes it so you can use everything you find.  Have one person using energy weapons for the power packs, another using a shot gun for the 12 gauge.  You'll find 9mm and 7.62 rounds as well, and each person would need to have the skill to use the weapon they go with, not to mention a weapon for the ammo, so diversifying is best.

Wasteland two is a thinking mans game and while there were many visual issues and some movement issues I could complain about, I love the beta so far.  I am just not sure the gaming community will.  It is a little too advanced for the standard gamer.  But it is just want this old time gamer needed.  A thinking mans game.

It might have been 25 years between releases but wasteland did not miss a step.  It is still a compelling game with real problem solving difficulty involved.  I can't say for sure how long it will be until it comes out, or goes open beta, but I can tell you, I am enjoying my time there.  It is a game well worth playing.

I've only one thing to figure out.  I heard this was supposed to be an MMORPG and I have not experienced that yet, if that is even still in the cards.  Perhaps that is because I am still in story mode, who is to say, but story mode is so awesome, I am in no rush to leave it.  And I don't think I have enough blood packs to get into open combat yet.  Limited supplies make every decision matter.  I like it, I really really like it.

8 comments:

  1. you lucky sob. I can't wait for it to come out. I knew personally half the folks involved in the first one, I'll have to look it up and see how many are still there.

    -roo

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    1. Missed seeing you around Roo, hope all is well.

      Maybe you can keep an eye on it and get into one of the rounds of beta I am sure they will have at a later date as time goes on. I am really liking the game, has the same feel as the original.

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  2. You know fallourt game?
    Seems like you would love fallout 1 and fallout 2.
    give it a try
    Fallout developer took many ideas and features from post apocalyptic games. Like wasteland.

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    1. For the longest time fallout was considered the unnamed sequel to wasteland. It was created by many of the same people that did wasteland, that is why it feels a fair deal like it.

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