Old Game Reviews: Wasteland

Wasteland was one of the best post-apocalyptic RPGs and is the progenitor for the Fallout series. It essentially is Bard’s Tale with guns and skills with turn based scrolling combat. Recently, there was a new version produced as a Kickstarter project by Brian Fargo. Although I haven’t played it yet, I did want to look the original classic.

You start off similar to Bard’s Tale in a character creation spot called the Ranger Station. Here, you’ll assemble your team through a character creation menu. You can only bring 4 PCs but can later recruit three additional ones. Unlike Bard’s Tale, you don’t have classes but your abilities are handled through distributing skill points. Your initial skills are pretty important to surviving as for instance, lacking a person with medical abilities pretty much will prevent you from healing injuries.

For the most part, you gain experience through killing mobs and level up automatically once you reach a certain XP amount. You don’t have standard levels but ranks. And skills are partly leveled up through usage. For instance, if you have brawling, you can just go unarmed and wail on someone (like a tank) just to get your skill up faster. Otherwise, you can put skill points you earn from leveling into those skills.

Unlike the Bard’s Tale series, you appear on an overhead map with a generic figure representing your party and can split up. There are a few instances where splitting up is necessary to accomplish tasks. While most random encounters will pop up right next to you (say on the world map), some encounters might be from a distance where you can see the icon of your enemy. If you run from the enemy, they will still be around. But a good tactic would be to avoid high level encounters until you have the appropriate skills, levels and gear.

NPCs are interesting in this game in that you can have issues with them depending on morale. Sometimes they might flat out refuse to cooperate which can make or break a combat situation. So choosing the right NPCs for your party is crucial. Also, you have to be careful in providing an NPC with gear because they might refuse to hand it back.

Now, the real charm for me about this game is the humor. The game is pretty gritty in terms of the post-apocalyptic scenery but the humor offsets a lot of that grimness. For instance, there’s one area where when you hit the wall, the prompt replies, “Bang your head!” And there’s tons of these easter eggs around.

One thing you’ll need to avoid at all cost is dying. This game is “realistic” in the sense that there are no resurrection spells. So constantly saving and making sure that your save points don’t wreck you in the future are imperative to winning. You have autosave points too when you enter an area. If, for instance, you enter a zone where you encounter a devastating experience, you’re better off just rebooting the game rather than running from the area.

Wasteland did had a technical sequel called Fountain of Dreams. That game largely was forgettable and horribly frustrating. I barely made it into the game before giving up. I was so frustrated I lent the game to a friend in high school and he too blew up in frustration. Later on when Fallout was released, people consider that game to be the true follow up to Wasteland. I believe Michael Stackpole, one of the original writers, took part in it. You could see some of the original humor emerging in that game.

Overall, Wasteland was a classic bringing together the remnants of the 80’s Cold War era with RPG elements and some interesting ideas for a skill base system. It’s certainly worth checking out for a weekend run through some day.

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