With the current COVID-19 pandemic occurring at the time of this writing, it seemed appropriate to take a look at some games that prominently feature the end of the world as we know it, or at least the post-apocalyptic landscape of the time after. The third game in this series is Wasteland released in 1988. It was originally developed by Interplay and published by Electronic Arts, but was re-released in 2013 by inXile Entertainment as an add on for purchasing Wasteland 2.
As a game released in the 1980’s, the era of the Cold War, the apocalypse here is that of nuclear war. You have to dig up a copy of the old manual to get any introduction to the game ( you can find a copy here, here, or in the Steam Library -> Properties -> Tab Local Files -> Browse Local Files -> Extra folder). But, to summarize, in the futuristic (from the time it was published) date of 1998 the United States and Soviet Union engaged in a nuclear exchange that decimated a large portion of the civilized world.
The date the actual game takes place is a little unclear. The history in the manual is noted as coming from a book written in 2087. However, it is unclear if that is the current time period of if the game is supposed to be part of this book, so occurring sometime between 1998 and 2087.
At any rate, you control a small group of Desert Rangers tasked with investigating disturbances in what used to be the southwest portion of the United States. The Desert Rangers are a community formed out of what used to be a group of Army Engineers and other survivors, that seems to have appointed themselves as the law enforcement of the region. More or less an old west style Texas Rangers set in a post apocalyptic desert.
The style of game play would probably best be categorized as a turn-based role playing game. Since this game was made over thirty years ago, it lacks a lot of the features modern players might expect from a current-day user interface. There is a lot of focus on keyboard controls, very little in the way of explanation about anything in the game, and some open text based quest dialog.
Having played the original version, I noted some updates in this re-released version. In the original game, to save disk space, rather than put long text descriptions onto the floppy discs, they were instead in an actual paper booklet. The game just told you which journal entry to read during events. These have been moved into the game in the 2013 version and have had voice-over narration added to them.
My memories of the original are a little foggy now, even though I played this game for many hours back when I originally got the 1988 version. However, I don’t recall there being a front end interface when starting the game quite like there is now. The sound tracks also seem to have been updated, as well as some of the graphics.
For how old the game is, it is fairly impressive the amount of flexibility it gives to the players. Your characters have items, skills, and stats that you can attempt to apply to locations in the world. However, it is also a much less directed game than a lot of other role-playing games. You don’t have a clear objective starting off and are essentially left to wander through the game to try to figure things out.
The combat in the game is turn based. You select a set of action for your team, and then it scrolls through the various results, where the faster characters go first. Impressively, monsters exist on the main map instead of just a simple combat window. It shows their distance and, if you have ranged weapons, you may be able to fire off shots at them before they run into melee range.
When your characters get dropped to only slightly below 1 health, or CON, they become unconscious. Instead of losing when all of your characters are unconscious, you briefly exit combat and time passes until someone wakes up. It is quite nice of the enemies to wait until you heal. But it is occasionally annoying when you get stuck in a cycle of being knocked out over and over.
If you get dropped well below 0 then you become seriously injured. You won’t automatically recover from this unless you have someone with the medic skill apply it to the wounded character. If a character dies, then you can dismiss them from the party and create a new one at the starting location to replace them. Technically they don’t even have to be dead. If you don’t want to use the default party, then you can give them the boot and make new characters.
This game is probably best known for being the precursor to the wildly popular Fallout series. Apparently Interplay could not get the rights back from Electronic Arts for Wasteland at that time. So instead of making an official sequel, they released a new game set in a similar post-apocalyptic setting.
Even though I have nostalgia for this title, it is hard to go back and play this game now. The interface is best described as clunky. The early difficulty is quite high and you’ll probably end up restarting quite a few times. Unless you are a big fan of old school games, or played the classic version and want to relive that experience, this game probably can be skipped.
I don’t feel that it would be fair to rate a game from thirty years ago by today’s standards. If you want to check it out, then you can find it on Steam here. InXile also recently released a remastered version, essentially redoing the game with a modern design. I have not played it yet, so I can’t comment on how it compares, but that is also available on Steam here.