You hear that? That is the sound of companies scrambling to flog their back catalogue on Switch before the eShop becomes oversaturated. You might think that ship has sailed, but publishers continue to tout impressive sales figures on Nintendo’s ‘homeheld’, so next up is inXile’s Wasteland 2: Director’s Cut – a port of a 2015 upgrade to the 2014 PC party-based RPG. Turn-based XCOM-style combat sounds perfect for Switch, but a handful of frustrating issues stop this version reaching its full potential.
This Kickstarter-funded sequel shares the producer of the first Fallout, a series inspired by the original Wasteland from 1988. A ragtag group known as the Desert Rangers patrol what remains of the USA dishing out post-apocalyptic justice to marauding gangs and mutated critters. Following the murder of a fellow ranger, you create a party of four (or choose from a premade selection) and investigate suspicious radio broadcasts at the behest of your commanding officer, General Vargas.
Along the way, you’ll pick up friends and enemies who shape the story. Wasteland 2 forces you to make choices which can affect the narrative considerably; stealing from a weapons cache in an allied camp, for example, may have dire and lasting consequences, but there’s no ‘right’ choice and you’re encouraged to live with whatever happens rather than reload your last save (although that’s always an option).
Outside of combat, you have direct control over party movement and cycle between members with ‘L’ and ‘R’. Encounters begin when enemies spot you and a grid materialises over the field. All actions during fights – from basic movement to attacks and reloads – require Action Points (AP) to pull off, of which each character has a limited number per turn (a small amount can be carried over to the next). Pulling ‘ZR’ brings up a radial menu of attack options and ‘ZL’ activates a similar menu of skills; surgeons, for example, can suture wounds and revive downed teammates if they have the right gear. The dials also function outside of combat with available skills highlighted in the presence of appropriate objects – a pickable lock, for example.
Using cover or crouching increases your percentage chance of evading attacks and friendly fire must be factored into your strategy. Radioing HQ upon victory bestows points in three areas: ‘Attributes’ for character traits like Charisma or Luck, ‘Skills’ for areas of expertise, and ‘Perks’ which unlock bespoke buffs and benefits. A varied group skillset – from demolitions to dog whispering – is the key to success and tooltips on loading screens give plenty of hints to survive the dust bowl. It takes a while to parse the information, but it’s all there.
Wasteland 2 is built in Unity, an engine with a chequered history on Switch. Loading screens aren’t tortuous but from the look of this port, you’d expect them to be sprier. It looks and feels much older than its years, especially when compared to Switch’s premier XCOM-alike, Mario + Rabbids. To be fair, Kingdom Battle makes Splatoon look sombre, but the bleached palette and repetitive environments had us jonesing for a splash of colour.
A choppy framerate and occasional hitches when opening doors or talking to NPCs don’t help. Worse is the noticeable lag; push the analogue stick and there’s an obvious pause between your input and character movement. It’s not a deal-breaker for this particular genre, but there’s a disconnect and these issues stack up to make a lousy first impression.
Traversal between outposts (beginning in Arizona and moving to California later in the game) is done via a drab overworld map surrounded by the fog of war. You push a location marker over it encountering (or avoiding) random battles. Poxy radiation and your squad’s thirst restrict exploration, forcing you to find oases to replenish your water supply. If only this dry, dry desert could offer a glimpse of a blue sky to relieve the monotony!
Alas, the obstinate camera is having none of it. During normal gameplay, it’s rotated with the right stick and zooms out from the default 45° angle to an almost top-down vantage point, though we constantly wanted to move in closer than is possible. Clicking the stick cycles between modes enabling you to survey ahead but same-y environments make it easy to lose your bearings, so you’re forced to open the map screen (on the upper directional button) repeatedly. Frustratingly, you can’t zoom on that screen, either. Rocky boundaries or buildings frequently obscure your view, filling your screen with ropey scenery textures, and camera issues are compounded in tighter interior areas. A halo effect outlines obscured party members, but it’s far from ideal.
So, it’s not a looker, performance is less-than-stellar and the camera’s a ‘mare. However, the core mechanics are robust and deep, offering a host of strategies for dealing with situations. On top of that, the actual combat is gratifying. Kills can get quite gruesome with heavier artillery and there’s a certain satisfaction in a sniper finding their target or a melee weapon striking a mutated honey badger (damn them all to hell!).
The writing is also entertaining, with a foul-mouthed cast providing some colourful stories. Pumping points into the ‘Smart-’, ‘Hard-’ or ‘Kiss Ass’ skills unlocks new dialogue options and the level of customisation means you quickly become attached to your motley crew. You’ll find yourself reloading again and again to make sure you don’t lose one of your seven treasured team members. Alternatively, losing that one rubbish character with duped skills who keeps messing up your tactics by going rogue might not be the end of the world.
However, UI irritations further mar the experience on Switch. The ‘Very Large’ text option... isn’t. It’s really the minimum comfortable size and everything becomes muddier in handheld mode, which makes text and darker environments a strain. The touchscreen goes unsupported, which is always a shame when extensive inventory management is called for.
The main story is knocking on for about 50 hours, and there’s plenty more if you hunt for every character and quest. Wasteland 2 requires careful, rigorous tactics – blundering into encounters will see your team quickly slaughtered. Overcoming tricky situations is immensely satisfying and we really want to like it more, but when our inbox pings with the latest Humble Bundle email featuring this very game, our excitement only highlights how average this port is.
Wasteland 2: Director’s Cut on Switch is a missed opportunity. While the underlying systems and crunchy combat are enjoyable – and it just about works as a portable experience – a steady list of irritations make an unqualified recommendation impossible. There’s a solid foundation of gritty turn-based combat with some great writing, but a stubborn camera, disappointing performance and a lack of quality-of-life enhancements means the PC 'master race' take this round.