Well, it's the era of the retro, isn't it? It seems that you can't move without oldies-but-goodies being necromantically resurrected for another bite of the apple.
Brian Fargo is, like Tim Schafer and Gabe Newell, always big news when he gets his mitts into a new game. Because back in the day, he took us to new worlds. Or, perhaps more specifically, one new world in particular - the blasted post-apocalypse wildernesses of the games Wasteland and Fallout.
It wasn't just this relatively untapped setting that he pioneered though. Fallout (and its predecessor, the original Wasteland) were built using robust RPG mechanics that allowed the creation of many different types of characters, not just fighting types. Fallout 1 and 2 were hugely immersive experiences back in the 90s, and were responsible not only in introducing many gamers to RPGs, but also for destroying many, many hours of free time for this reviewer and countless other gamers.
So Wasteland 2, created now after over twenty years of hiatus, must be a good thing. It has to be, right? It's not just Brian Fargo, the project director, who is big news here. The original design team (featuring such industry heavyweights as the sublime Michael Stackpole and Fallout veteran Chris Avellone) are present and correct, and with the additional input from Planescape daddy Colin McComb, or Mr. He-Who-Can-Do-No-Wrong as I tend to think of him, there's just no way that this game could be anything less than perfect in every way. You can create a four-character team, which allows a certain freedom to specialise and explore all of the different skills and abilities the game has to offer.
Many of these skills are pretty similar for the most part, though. Energy Weapons, Heavy Weapons, Handguns, Melee, Brawling... I mean, the combat stuff is not only pretty straightforward, adding to your chance to hit and critical hit, but it's not offering much in the way of tactical options. This is also very Fargo-esque though, being immediately familiar to anyone who has played a Fallout game. After that there's a whole bunch of intrusion skills, like lock picking, safe cracking, alarm deactivation and (when all else fails) brute force, all of which can help you find shortcuts and treasure by bypassing locks. Oh, and there are a bunch of different dialogue options unlocking skills based on different approaches to conversation.
Crafting is limited to a weaponsmith skill which allows stripping junk and obsolete weapons in the hope of getting hold of groovy attachments which can then be whacked onto better weapons to embetter them further. But these again only really seem to bring the odd numerical bonus - scopes give a couple of extra squares of range, and ammo mags might hold more rounds or jam less often. It's all fine, but none of it is really very interesting.
Nor is the story. I know! I know. It's a shock to me as well. But there's really not a lot that you've not seen before. Back when the first Fallout game appeared and we were transported to an amazing, damaged-yet-beautiful world where mutants and cultists harbour forgotten technologies from before the apocalypse and crazed AIs plot the downfall of mankind from abandoned army bases, it all felt wonderfully fresh and original. Wasteland 2 didn't really show me anything in the first twenty hours of play to spark my imagination. It's all rehashed ideas from previous Interplay creations, many of which were great ideas in Fallout 1, Fallout Tactics and wherever else, but when the big reveal in a quest turns out to be the same big reveal in similar quests in those games... well, you'll wonder why you bothered. Bad guys are robots, raiders, mutant animals... well, it's all a little familiar, and I would certainly have really liked to see a little more freshness, both in ideas and options.
Presumably, for many, the reason why you've bothered to get this far is that you yearn for these long-gone times, and just want to lose yourselves in those worlds all over again. And there's nothing wrong with that. As a taste of nineties gameplay it's remarkably accurate, so much so that I really have to wonder what precisely they waited twenty-some-odd years to bring out a new game.
One little touch that I really enjoyed, and it's just a trifle really, was the option to import my own portrait pictures for the characters I created. A squad of Mad Max style trouble shooters based around your family? Your least favourite schoolteachers? The Beatles? This is the kind of gentle customisation I just can't quite resist. When that message comes up to tell you that Ringo Starr was just killed by a rocket launcher, you can't help but salute the venerable drummer of the wastelands and shed a single tear.
While inXile make a big point on the menu screen about not trying to squeeze players with DLC and other money-making ploys, Wasteland 2 is currently as full-price as it gets. But it feels like something you should be able to pick up for a fraction of the price. For the nostalgia buzz from playing through a bunch of vaguely familiar plot ideas set in a radiation-scoured wilderness, I would counsel waiting until the price drops a little before investing your time and money in this. Sorry Brian - see you in a quarter of a century for the next one.