Wasteland 2 (Switch) Review

One thing about the Switch I find fascinating is how it makes certain games more enjoyable compared to other consoles. A game like Fortnite was one. When I first tried it on PS4, I hated it. When the game came out on Switch, my friend convinced me to give it a second chance, and my entire view changed. Something about having the option to play in handheld mode has drastically improved my time with games I couldn’t get into before. Wasteland 2 was one of those too, after having trying to get into it years ago on PS4.

As I loaded the game up on Switch, I was wary that my experience would be similar to back then. The dialog rushed at me like a hog to slop, and the combat failed to impress me. It was turn-based, similar to X-Com: Enemy Unknown, but altering the formula enough to come across too different to grasp it quickly enough. I had rented the game through Gamefly, and within a day of inserting the disc, I ended up shipping it back out. However, I found that Wasteland 2 rewards you if you’re willing to invest in it. The opening dialog fires a lot of info all at once at you, but if you take your time with the game, the large exposition dump isn’t as taxing as it first appears.

So, what kind of game is Wasteland 2, I hear you asking. It’s a part RPG and a part turn-based strategy, but 100% tactical. The game is very much inspired by two titles in particular, the aforementioned X-Com: Enemy Unknown, but even more so by early Fallout games. In fact, it takes the radiated wastelands of the Western United States from Fallout franchise, but replaces the zany humor with X-Com’s bleak and depressing atmosphere of overwhelming despair - but in a good way.

You play as a group of new recruits to the Desert Rangers, a self-proclaimed police organization that has a dark past. To start off your adventure, you get your first task from the head of the Rangers, General Vargas. He asks you to take over the mission of a fallen ranger Ace whose funeral you’re attending at start of the game. However, it’s pointed out that the Rangers give priority to protecting the wasteland over personal missions, giving you a reason to branch off into side quests.

This pays off quickly, as two distress calls pull you from your main quest and demand your attention. Each location is threatened by destruction, and your group is the only one nearby which means you need to decide which one of the two missions you give your attention to. You’ll soon learn that as you progress in saving one locale, the other starts to fall to their attackers. This sets up a theme you quickly need to learn — the world of Wasteland 2 is a bitter and cold place full of death and sadness.

The anger and spite towards your characters radiates throughout from your very first interaction, which is something I think is perfect. It very much feels like what DLC Dead Money did to Fallout: New Vegas. While the base game was cartoony and comical despite its terrible world, it got dead-serious in Dead Money that was macabre to the max. Wasteland 2 gives off that same bleak, desolate tone, where everything will try to kill you or use you for their own gain.

Another point in the game’s favor is the longevity and pacing. While it can feel a bit slow at first, you quickly realize that it’s doing so to ease you into its world. Missions will take a fair amount of time to complete, and conversations with NPCs can be long but rewarding. They will teach you about the world of Wasteland, and also provide with multiple viewpoints on the same topics. Likewise, the combat mixes into the storytelling, and helps to balance out the personal relationships by providing actions shaking things up.

The turn-based combat system is hard to learn. Each character is given a certain amount of action points to move, attack and use items. When a character runs out of action points or ends his/her turn, it’s time for another character to act. Unused action points can be saved up and utilized on the characters’ next turn. The combat works better than in X-Com games, as it allows for more versatility during enemy encounters.

While taking cover is an option and provides many benefits, there’s more emphasis on placement on the battlefield. Remaining in the open isn’t a guaranteed death sentence like in many other similar games, thanks to the skills that determine characters’ turn orders and their available action points. Skills also influence weapon proficiencies and what kind of items characters can use. It’s all very Dungeons and Dragons to build up characters to their maximum potential. 

The controls, however, were a major bugbear for me, and I found the HUD lacking. Having to open the map to try and figure out your location became tedious as there’s no mini-map to assist in navigating. The grid-based battlefield is fine enough, but the character movement is a bit clunky at times due to the camera angles. To be fair, I had a broken, drifting analog stick during a majority of my playthrough, but even after I replaced it, I still had issues properly moving markers around.

One of the biggest flaws lies with the art and audio direction. While some somber tunes that play from time to time can be quite effective, the lack of music elsewhere does a disservice to the overall aesthetic the game is attempting to build. Likewise, the visuals are a mix of brown colors that come across bland overall. On the other hand, the lack of graphical finesse puts the emphasis on the story and the combat.

The combat does a great job at adding a compelling, strategic gameplay, but it’s ultimately the world and story that Wasteland 2 eventually hooks you in with. Many characters are given voice acting to add personality to them. The writing behind the NPCs is also expertly done, giving them complex traits that allow them to convey their character quickly and effectively. It’s especially true with companions, who will join your four core Rangers from time to time. Angela, a fellow Ranger, is an early addition, but you’ll quickly find yourself with a full party of seven to help protect the wasteland.

Given a true commitment, Wasteland 2 comes together very well. Despite some annoyances here and there, and even with a broken analog stick, I kept trying to sneak in to play wherever I could. And that’s what make the Switch version the best choice in my opinion. The ability to play bite-sized pieces of the game on the go can result in you progressing at slower pace, but that only makes the game more enjoyable.

For those unaware, Wasteland 2 was a kickstarted game that amassed nearly $3 million in donations back in 2012. The developer inXile Entertainment clearly spent their time and resources to make a fantastic experience that has an identity to stand on its own despite being clearly inspired by other games in its genre. I’m truly grateful that I gave Wasteland 2 another chance, and I recommend you to do the same as well. If you want a stylish, character-driven adventure in the pits of despair, Wasteland 2 is here to scratch that itch!