The Nintendo Switch has become an amazing platform for new gamers eager to try old favorites. The portable nature of the console makes bigger games more accessible. Titles that seemed intimidating on PC become appealing on a handheld console that can be enjoyed in bed or on transit. Wasteland 2: Director’s Cut, for example, is a fantastic game built with PC gamers in mind, and one I likely wouldn’t have experienced had I not played it on the Nintendo Switch.
If you have yet to play this game, but you’re interested in the idea of an old school isometric post-apocalyptic RPG, then it’s worth giving it a shot on Nintendo’s portable. That being said, the experience isn’t perfect, and navigating through menus and walls of information — of which there are many — can get annoying. This isn’t the best version of the game; it’s the most convenient.
InXile funded Wasteland 2 with a successful Kickstarter in 2012 and launched it in 2014; the project was led by Brian Fargo, founder of Interplay. The original Wasteland was the game that inspired the original Fallout, a title Fargo also worked on, and DNA from both the first Wasteland and Fallout are heavily embedded in Wasteland 2. That general experience has been faithfully replicated, while some of the unfortunate parts of the old games like companion AI, limited models or voice acting, and smaller or less detailed environments have been improved upon. The Director’s Cut improves on the original 2014 release even further, with new (and more sophisticated) voice acting and better character creation.
In Wasteland 2, you are one of the Desert Rangers, an organization made up of former military engineers who survived a nuclear apocalypse and set out into the wasteland to protect and defend the innocents left behind. A veteran ranger is dead, and the understaffed Rangers must discover who killed him and why.
You’ll notice the strengths and weaknesses of Wasteland 2 on the Switch within its first hour. On one hand, the game’s devotion to older RPGs and their values means that character creation is tough and obtuse. It feels like you don’t have enough points, even spread across a party of Rangers, to purchase all the skills, stats, quirks and perks you want. An array of pre-made characters are at your disposal, or you can create your own custom Ranger. Once you’re in game, that frustration melts away. Talking to characters like Angela Diaz and General Vargas at the Citadel is natural, organic, and compelling. By the time you set out into the wasteland, I felt hooked into the story.
“Talking” isn’t a tiny part of the game. Speaking to a Ranger or a survivor reveals a lot about the world, and the writing is compelling, with varied characters and interesting mysteries and choices. Highlighted keywords allow you to inquire further about a character’s dialogue (or, if you want to play a disinterested or more clued-in Ranger, you can go ahead and choose to pass over the world-building keywords.) The dialogue can be a strain to read if you’re playing the Switch on a TV, from the couch; it’s perfectly fine to read on the handheld Switch, however, and I found myself preferring the portable screen to a traditional console experience.
Combat also feels fantastic on the Switch. You may have spent a long time deciding how to build your character, but actually executing on that strategy rewards the effort. Maneuvering your characters around and through cover, gunning down bandits and making choices on who to attack (and where to hit them) — all of this comes easily and feels good to do, even when you’re controlling a whole squad of characters. The scaling difficulty settings makes fighting fun, varied, and challenging without crossing over to irritating or grind-y.
The problems with Wasteland 2 often manifest between the bits that keep driving you forward. The Switch port of the game does not take advantage of the console’s touch screen, and the menu systems can feel opaque and dense. I spent a decent amount of time juggling party members. One served as my lock-picking expert, another as my go-to trap detector. Want to send a ranger ahead to scout? Be prepared to manually shuffle through each party member to ensure they wait behind in a safe zone. Eventually, these little rituals of switching to the right person and selecting the right option became muscle memory, but the switching never felt organic or enjoyable.
Woe betide the ranger who doesn’t explore and dig around, too. You can miss out on everything from ammo to a new, powerful companion in the starting area if you try to blindly blitz your way from objective to objective.
None of these problems are deal-breakers; instead, they just feel like the nature of the beast. InXile wanted to re-create a classic and bring it into the modern era, along with a freshly ambitious story that lasts a few dozen hours. That’s no small feat, especially on a portable, even if there are little kinks here and there that need to be ironed out.
You can’t exactly sneak in a few minutes of Wasteland 2 on Switch here and there like you can with rounds of Into the Breach. The game demands longer sessions and more attention. But for players who haven’t delved deep into the wasteland and have periods of time where they can pull out the Switch — on a plane, in the back of a car, during a lunch break — this version (like so many Switch ports) may be the perfect entry point.