Wasteland, developed by Interplay and published by EA in 1988, is a turn based RPG set in a post-nuclear holocaust, late 21st century, southwestern United States. You command a party of Desert Rangers who are tasked with investigating a series of disturbances in towns, outposts & wilderness locations, which eventually lead the Rangers to uncover a conspiracy which threatens what remains of civilization.
The game was a radical departure from Interplay's previous works, "The Bard's Tale" series, which focused on traditional swords & sorcery. Wasteland employs the standard RPG elements of a customizable party system, loot gathering, character leveling and other familiar characteristics, but set itself apart from the rest of its contemporaries with its setting and tone. It would employ modern day weaponry, such as machine guns, pistols & explosives, and a deep skill system which was used in combat, exploration and puzzle solving. Although Fallout would be cited as the spiritual successor to Wasteland, the 1950s inspired art deco approach that Black Isle would use in designing their series did not originate here, nor did its humor. Wasteland took itself somewhat seriously, although the technical limitations at the time would work in its favor by providing entertainingly morbid descriptions such as "exploding them like a blood sausage" or "reducing them to a thin red paste" as combat results. Another fresh idea in Wasteland's design was the ability to recruit NPCs to join your party that had unique personalities and behaviors.
Characters could refuse to follow an order, refuse to share gold & ammunition or even desert the party entirely.
In order to save space on the floppy discs, and serve as a basic form of copy protection, the game manual included a series of 162 paragraphs. While exploring, you were prompted to turn to a specific entry that related to your current situation including vital clues for solving problems and added additional context and atmosphere to the game's narrative. It was considered a form of rudimentary copy protection. It would also be peppered with a variety of false leads to discourage players from simply reading through the text and convince a number of them that there was a separate storyline involving a journey to Mars hidden within the game.
Wasteland also played with the ideas of consequence and no-win situations. An infamous example is a crying child you meet in an early town. If the player asks the child (Bobby) about topics seen on a bulletin board, they will learn that another child (Jackie), and the boy's dog (Rex) have gone missing in a nearby cave. If the player goes to rescue Jackie, they will have to fight and kill Rex, whom it is implied has gone rabid. If they kill Rex, Bobby will harass the player every time they return to town, crying "You killed my dog you filthy Rangers!"
In the November 1996, 15th Anniversary issue of Computer Gaming World Magazine, Wasteland was named as the 9th best PC game of all time as of it's publication date. Packaged with the issue was a CD-Rom which included the full game.
Interplay later used Wasteland as a template for the development of the Fallout franchise after departing EA which held the rights to the name. After the successful Kickstarter campaign in 2012 for Wasteland 2, its developer inXile made a deal with EA to include copies of the original Wasteland for free with all copies of Wasteland 2 going out to backers of the campaign. In Summer of 2013, it was announced that Wasteland would also be officially re-released on Gog and Steam.
Wasteland differed greatly from Interplay's previous work with the Bard's Tale series in various aspects of its gameplay although it shares several design concepts in common such as the interface. A small window on the upper left quadrant of the screen displayed the world as in the first with the party listed below and a text box in the upper right quadrant of the screen displaying messages and encounter options. Random enemy encounters would provide combat opportunities within the game against mixed groups of foes which would now use ranged attacks. The game eschewed the traditional 3D grid based system used by the Bard's Tale and other titles (such as the early Wizardry and Might and Magic titles) and instead displayed the world from a top down grid perspective with 2D movement. The game could be controlled with the keyboard, or entirely with point-and-click buttons using a mouse.
As with most RPGs of this type, party setup and character selection were left entirely up to the player, but there were no longer any classes to work with or fantasy races to choose from as there were with the Bard's Tale. A character's abilities would be determined by the extensive skill system that replaced the class system adding flexibility to their development within the party. By picking and choosing who would specialize in what as they progressed through the game, the player was challenged to build an effective party of Desert Rangers to meet the demands of survival within the Wasteland.
Unlike the Bard's Tale titles, characters could not be transferred from any other RPG likely owing to its post-apocalyptic nature and the extensive differences within its game system concerning character builds.
Wasteland would continually update its own disk with permanent changes. This had the effect of both making a persistent world, and one with permanent consequences. Killing certain NPCs, along with many actions, became actual choices that could not be undone. Death was also permanent. Characters that succumbed to extensive injury would eventually die if they did not receive sufficient medical attention in time.
As the disk overwrote itself during play, owners were naturally encouraged to make a copy of the disk and play from the copy. This would also introduce several creative cheats in the process by revisiting certain areas with a clean disk allowing a player to grind back through certain "finished" areas again for additional equipment and experience.
Players create new Desert Rangers at the Ranger Center, their HQ. Although a party can have seven characters, players can only create four of their own. The last three slots are reserved for NPCs that can be hired into the group as they are encountered in the adventure. If a party is already stacked with four characters, the player has to delete one of them in order to create the needed slot. There is no in-game method with which to save your characters as there was with the Bard's Tale, contributing to the survivalist ideas that Wasteland would extensively use as a part of its setting, although the player could save anywhere they wished. Parties could also be disbanded into separate groups making it possible for one party to encounter combat while another is somewhere else.
During character creation, the player can determine their name (up to 13 letters), sex, and even their nationality (U.S., Russian, Mexican, Indian, or Chinese) to add some descriptive variety to their party. Their core statistics are rolled up and can be re-rolled if the player is not satisfied with the results. At the end of this process, players can then select which skills a particular character can have.
Statistics in the game have a different meaning than they do in typical fantasy RPGs. Because of its adherence to real-world values and situations as seen through the post-apocalyptic lens, certain changes had to be implemented in order to make the formula work. Players used to focusing on particular races and statistics for their warrior and mage classes would be challenged in working with Wasteland's different take on the system, introducing a new experience to the genre.
A character's profile could be viewed by simply hitting the number key next to their name as listed onscreen showing their abbreviated statistics along with various other pieces of information.
- Strength (ST): This is used to determine whether a character could overpower enemies in hand-to-hand combat, break down doors, or perform other physical tasks such as lifting and moving certain items.
- Intelligence (IQ): This is probably the most important attribute that any character can have as it has a direct consequence on which and how many skills they can master in the game. Many skills, especially the more advanced ones such as Medic and Bomb Disarm, are only available to characters that have a decent level of intelligence.
- Luck (LK): This determines how perceptive the characters are when it comes to finding things, avoiding damage, and it also improves the odds in fighting hand-to-hand.
- Speed (SP): A high Speed statistics aids in escaping and overall quickness.
- Agility (AGL): Acrobatic abilities are enhanced such as being able to dodge blows and even jump on tables. Hand-to-hand combat ability is also improved by how agile a character is.
- Dexterity (DEX): Differing from Agility, this statistic focuses more on fine movement such as that used to aim weapons well and pick obstinate locks. A high dexterity is worth having not only for combat but also for getting into places where you might not be wanted.
- Charisma (CHR): An important statistic that determines how NPCs will react to a character and whether or not they want to sign on with your party or trade equipment.
- Skill Points (SKP): After creating a character, this value is equal to their current IQ. The more skill points that are available in a character's pool, the more skills they can learn. Additional points are awarded during promotion.
- Rank: As experience is earned, the party can radio back to the Ranger Center for a promotion and essentially "level-up" in the traditional sense. Two points are added to a character's maximum constitution (their hit points) and two points are given to invest in any other attribute. The game does not follow the D&D inspired system from the Bard's Tale and it was possible to improve statistics to unheard of levels.
The second screen of the character's profile would display their equipment and the items that they have. Characters can carry up to 30 items and dropping any one of these to make room for more would cause that item to disappear forever. It is also where a character can unjam a weapon which loses the clip it was loaded with necessitating a reload. This is also the screen where characters can trade equipment with each other but with NPCs that have joined the party, their willingness to do so is determined by how charismatic the character is.
The third screen shows the number of skills that a character has learned. The starting list of skills available at character creation is not a complete one as listed in the manual. Additional skills such as Toaster Repair can be learned from other locations, often requiring a high IQ level. Using skills also contributes to their growth. As skills improve, the number of skill points needed to take them to the next level also increases dramatically.
These are the bread and butter of a character's existence within the game. Without a good mix of skills to keep everyone out of trouble along with a few specialists for unexpected surprises, a party of Desert Rangers has little hope in surviving the dangers of the Wasteland.
Certain skills are only available at the Ranger Center during character creation making it important to take advantage of them before completing the process. As noted before, there are also special locations out in the wastes that have additional skills that characters can add to their collection. Many skills are passive as they improve your chances in combat with certain weapons while others can be used outside of fighting in order to solve certain puzzles.
The skill point requirements for a skill double after it is increased forcing players to specialize a few of their characters in certain areas in order to make the best use out of their promotion.
Here is a list of the skills available at their IQ levels with the initial cost of the ability in parenthesis:
- Brawling (1): This determines how well a character performs in hand-to-hand combat. The higher the level of this skill, the more attacks a character can dish out with their fists.
- Climb (1): Just like it sounds, this allows a character to get over walls, up cliffs, and out of pit traps.
- Clip Pistol (1): One of the most important starting skills a character can have since your first weapon will be a pistol of some kind. Also determines accuracy and how well a character can repair one in case it breaks.
- Knife fighting (1): Determines how well a character can knife fight. Not exactly the most useful of skills unless the player intends to often bring a knife into a gun fight.
- Pugilism (1): Punching ability is determined with this.
- Rifle (1): Rifle accuracy is determined with this skill.
- Swim (1): Players may occasionally encounter certain areas cut off by water. This will help the party get across them.
- Knife Throwing (1): If you run out of bullets, this can be handy.
- Perception (1): Concealed items and odd things are noticed more easily with this.
- Assault Rifle (1): This is an incredibly important skill to have once you find your first AK-97 or begin using the M1989A1 assault rifle as your weapon of choice. As will all weapon skills, a high level in this means that a character will be able to more effectively deal with jams and can load it at a much faster rate.
- AT Weapon (1): A character with this skill will be able to use weapons such as LAW rockets. Not particularly useful except for one or two situations since there aren't that many tanks, or LAW rockets, in the game.
- SMG (1): Useful for weapons such as the Uzi and MAC 17. Ideal for spraying groups of enemies with hot lead.
- Acrobat (1): Useful for agile characters in getting over certain obstacles in a hurry, but not very useful in combat.
- Gamble (1): Not only determines how well you'll do in playing the game, but also helps in knowing when you're being played.
- Picklock (1): Very useful in most any situation where you need to go somewhere that someone doesn't want anyone to go.
- Silent Movement (1): This is the sneaking ability in case the player doesn't want to get into a firefight with a guard post, missing out on some easy experience and loot.
- Confidence (1): Coupled with a high Charisma stat, this allows a character to persuade nearly anyone to do anything for them.
- Combat Shooting (1): This shows up in the IBM PC version of Wasteland and doesn't seem to have any real use in the game since the individual weapon skills appear to take care of everything else.
- Sleight of Hand (1): Allows a character to perform sleight-of-hand tricks to amuse NPCs, but won't keep mutants from tearing you apart in the wastes.
- Demolition (1): Helps a character set charges and the like without turning into a fine blood mist while doing so.
- Forgery (1): A character can forge papers and recognize the same with this skill. Not very useful.
- Alarm Disarm (1): Helps to disable alarms which isn't very useful considering that nearly every encounter ends in a bloodbath anyway.
- Bureaucracy (1): A social skill that helps talk to those stuck behind a desk to get your way by cutting through the red tape.
- Bomb Disarm (2): Important in defusing explosives and keeping the party alive.
- Medic (2): Stabilizes characters that have been gravely injured to keep them from dying. An important skill for every character to have.
- Safecrack (2): There are a few safes out there that have survivied the holocaust and this will help get inside of them.
- Cryptology (2): Helps in figuring out codes, but it doesn't see much use in the game making it marginally important.
- Metallurgy (2): Aids a character in identifying and working with some basic metals. Useful in one specific area for extra loot, but not much else.
- Helicopter Pilot (3): Allows a character to pilot a helicopter which can only be used once and only if you don't crash and kill everyone. Can be learned only at a specific location.
- Electronics (3): Can be used to access still-active terminals and other electronic devices.
- Toaster Repair (3): You can repair toasters with this. Very useful at one point in the game to earn lots of extra stuff.
- Doctor (3): Just like the Medic skill, only more advanced.
- Clone Tech (3): Can be used to clone a character at a specific location. The clone has all of the statistics and skills of the original making it possible to create an incredibly overpowered party of your most powerful character. It can also be used to clone NPC characters and they'll behave just like the originals. Only available at a specific location.
- Energy Weapons (3): Skill used to operate any weapon requiring a power pack. This means laser rifles, meson cannons, and the Ion Beamer.
- Cyborg Tech (1): Used in one specific area of the game but not necessary to complete the main quest.
There are quite a few places that are still standing after the bombs had fallen in the Southwest along with many others that don't want to be found.
- Little Old Quartz: A small town beset by bandits and struggling to stay alive after being extensively damaged by the nuclear attack.
- Xenophobic Needles: Slightly larger than Quartz and home to a few odd cults. They don't like visitors, but are willing to trade goods and know the reputation of the Desert Rangers.
- Lovely Vegas: Legend has it that the "house" was betting against a Soviet missile hitting the city and since no one wins against the house, it survived relatively intact. The city continues to party as if the war had never happened and is large enough to avoid being conquered by the desert scum roaming around outside. However, that doesn't mean that something isn't lurking in the sewers just waiting for an opportunity.
- Deadly Deserts: Filled with all sorts of dangers that range from the remnants of biker gangs to bloodthirsty mutant monsters, the desert also hides a few surprises that range from hidden bases to irradiated zones that can melt flesh in a heartbeat.
Time also plays a role in Wasteland and scales depending on where you are. It passes more quickly on the overland map than within an interior space, for example. Players can also save anywhere in the game.
Encounters and Combat
When the party encounters a random enemy, a descriptive list is given at the start. Any group of monsters within 10' (feet) of your party are within melee range. Some monsters, however, will also use ranged attacks especially in a game that uses firearms. Combat is divided into a series of rounds and it is up to the player to decide what they should do next.
The player's options during such an encounter are are:
- (R)un: This allows the party or one of the characters move towards or away from the encounter. Useful for closing range on distant enemies to improve the chances of hitting them with weapons unless the party already has exceptional skills.
- (U)se: Tells a character to use a skill, an item, or even an attribute to perform a task. Depending on what is chosen, the player may be prompted in what direction should the action be taken.
- (H)ire: If you run into an NPC that may not want to kill you, you can try to hire them with this command.
- (E)vade: Makes the character try and avoid getting hit in combat.
- (A)ttack: The Wasteland is a dangerous place and this is a command that will most often be used. If a character is using a weapon with optional fire functions such as Single shot, Burst, or Autofire, the player will be additionally prompted as to what they want to select. If there's only one group attacking, they'll be automatically selected.
- (W)eapon: Allows a character to pick another weapon with which to fight.
- (L)oad/Unjam: Reloads a weapon with a fresh clip or attempts to unjam it.
A player could hit the ESC key at any time to roll back to a previous character and decide a new action for them. Once all selections were made, the results are calculated in the background and shown onscreen in the text window of the interface.