Anytime I think of Interplay’s Wasteland, my happy circuits always overload. There’ve been games I’ve liked, many I’ve loved, but really few that I crushed into a fine powder and drank so that they would become a literal part of me. Wasteland is by far and away one of the coolest games that ever came out of the 80s, and when I found it I fell hook, line and sinker for the apocalypse.
Set some time after nuclear war ravaged the planet, you’re put in charge of a group of Desert Rangers who keep the peace and have an arsenal that would make any hardcore militiaman weep in envy. Instead of just giving you one character to create, you got four — and I’ve always liked RPGs that let me create whole parties. Why can’t we do that more these days?
So pretty much you’re kicked out of your cozy HQ and told to go investigate some bad stuff going down in the communities around you. This wasn’t going to be easy, because Wasteland was a pretty unforgiving game in some respects — it didn’t hold your hand, your characters were initially fragile, and you could contract all manner of diseases and injuries as you went along. Still, the game world just gripped me, even though it looks laughably simplistic today. It helped that Interplay went to great lengths to provide a robust amount of features that aided the player in feeling as though they were really interacting with the world: you had multiple solutions to problems (such as brute-forcing your way through vs. lockpicking a door), the world always remained the same after you did something or killed something (Wasteland was one of the first persistent video game worlds), and everything was described with incredibly memorable details.
Of course, any fan of Wasteland knew of the infamous manual, a sort of bizarre copy protection where the game would occasionally tell you to read paragraph so-and-so or otherwise you couldn’t advance. To make matters more interesting, the manual had a lot of fake-out paragraphs so you couldn’t just read ahead and figure out the secrets. This being before the internet, Wasteland wasn’t instantly spoiled for us by hundreds of detailed guides put out before the game left beta.
Even though it was a hit, Wasteland was the last big post-apoc RPG on the PC until almost a decade later, when Fallout hit. Now, I never really got into Fallout, mostly because I didn’t have a computer at the time that could run it, and because when I did, I didn’t like the strict time limit that the game initially imposes on you to solve a crisis.
However, Fallout 2 was a totally different matter. Fallout 2 was a vast improvement on the original, as long as you put aside the horrendous tutorial that had you fighting ants with a spear (!) for way too long. The world was bigger, the options more vast, and everything I loved about Wasteland I found once more here.
I must’ve played Fallout 2 dozens of times, trying out different character builds and seeing the consequences of my actions. Fallout 2 had a morality system of sorts (BioWare didn’t have a monopoly on that) and the ability to choose really interesting perks from time to time gave me something to shoot for.
One of the neatest things about the game was that when you beat it, there was a whole bunch of epilogue scenes showing you what happened depending on the choices you made during the game. It gave me a big reason to go back and play through it again, just to see what might change.
Fallout 2 not only had a great combat system (turn-based, but still fun), but the creators infused the game with tons of pop culture references and easter eggs to make us laugh. Plus, it had the best opening line of a game ever: “War. War never changes.”
Sure, Fallout 3 was okay, but it didn’t quite do it for me the same way that 2 did (and I’d love to see Fallout 2 get ported to the iPhone, yes indeedy).