(This is part of my journey playing through Wasteland. You can follow the entire series on the Nostalgia Lanes page.)
That’s right, we’re going back. Way back. Back to 1988, when one of my all-time favorite RPGs came out: Wasteland. Even though I had a devil of a time getting it to run on my computer and eventually lost the disks, the memory of pouring through the instruction manual, exploring the radioactive wilderness, and blasting mutant scum with my submachine guns has stayed with me to this day.
Still, I haven’t really played Wasteland since 1988, so it’s with a mix of excitement and apprehension that I take a trip into the past to see how it fares today. I’m playing courtesy of inXile’s recent refurbished edition, which includes some minor improvements such as voice-overs, music, and integrating the story paragraphs into the game. For the record, I’m not going to play with the new graphics or smoothed fonts, since I kind of find those off-putting.
After the barest of minimum ASCII menus, I start a new game and immediately enter the Desert Rangers center. It’s here that you can choose to accept the default four-person party or make your own. And seriously, who wouldn’t make their own? It’s an RPG, for crying out loud!
Wasteland uses the old school system of making you endlessly roll for your stats until you get a combination that you can live with. All I remember from the old days is that IQ is king — the more IQ you have, the more skill points you can assign, and skill points say what you can and can’t do.
Obviously, I’m going for a little theme here. I don’t spend hours rolling, but settle for “good enough” and quickly hash out four characters. I’m sure I’m probably gimping myself somewhere, but at least all of them can fight with pistols save for Piggy, who’s a hand-to-hand expert.
What puzzles me is that Wasteland just… starts. There’s no introduction, no narrative, no nothing. I’m betting it’s probably in the manual, but if you’re just booting up the game today, you’re kind of dropped into this world without any instruction. Just don’t die, be home by dinner!
So without anything better to do, I scuttle off to the nearby town of Highpool. I remember enough that you’re supposed to go here first.
Highpool is a nice community with a stream and a lot of dorms for teenagers. Like, a LOT of dorms for teens. And hilariously the game tells you that “nothing ever happens” in these dorms, which is the most naive thing I’ve ever seen written about teenagers living in close proximity with one another.
As I move my non-animated Fischer-Price figure through a house, it tells me that I’ve discovered a cache under the floorboards. Score! Beaker picks up a new pistol, some ammo, and other goodies.
I finish up this first session by spending a few minutes getting used to the controls. Movement is pretty easy by mouse and some buttons can be clicked, but you’ve got to fiddle with the keyboard a lot as well. Probably the least-intuitive aspect is accessing and manipulating your inventory. My kingdom for a good inventory screen instead of a menu that you have to scroll through!