First look: Wasteland 2

Not long ago, a colleague sent me an e-mail that screamed: "I CAN'T BELIEVE YOU HAVEN'T PLAYED WASTELAND!" and included a link to download the game, which was released in 1988.

Wasteland is a turn-based role-playing game set in the post-apocalyptic world of 2087, following a global nuclear war in 1998.

You control a team of four Desert Rangers - self-appointed protectors of the wasteland - who are assigned to investigate disturbances in south-western United States.

The game was critically acclaimed, but a sequel was never made.

The Fallout role-playing game series is actually Wasteland's spiritual successor. And I love the Fallout franchise.

So when a crowdfunding campaign for Wasteland 2 was launched on Kickstarter in mid-2012, I immediately put my money in to be a backer.

You see, as a backer, I get to play the beta before anyone else.

Free to wander around

As in the original, you start off with a squad of four rookie Desert Rangers. You can choose from characters already formed or create each character on your own.

It is imperative to have a squad with differing skills and abilities to survive the harsh conditions of the wasteland. So, I went for a sniper, infiltrator (aka lockpicker), techie (aka hacker) and a combat medic.

You play the game via a third-person 3-D view. You can rotate the camera view by pressing the scroll wheel of the mouse and moving the mouse sideways or zoom the camera by turning the scroll wheel.

The user interface is intuitive and straightforward. A mini-map at the top right of your screen tells you where you are going.

A nice touch is the old-school dot matrix printer at the bottom right of the screen. It delivers all the messages - just in case you did not catch the dialogue.

Non-playing characters such as your captain have plenty of things to say. However, your squad has no voice.

The music soundtrack is exactly the same as its predecessor's and immediately evokes nostalgia.

This beta puts you in a quest to find several missing radio repeaters and your radio will prove an invaluable asset in this game.

The world map looks a lot like Fallout and you are free to wander around. There are radioactive areas you need to avoid, loot for you to uncover and random encounters, such as with raiders, to experience.

But be mindful that travelling will use up the water your squad carries. Thankfully, there are oases and settlements that will allow you to refill your canteens.

Like in a real wasteland, you will find resources such as field dressings and bullets to be in short supply.

Combat is initiated by one of your squad mates or by the enemy when it comes across your squad.

In true turn-based gameplay tradition, every move requires action points, or AP for short. Different weapons require different amounts of AP and some characters need fewer AP for each move.

Not too late to sign up

Positioning and finding cover are important if you are to win battles. Obviously, you will hurt your squad mate if he happens to be in the line of fire. A well-timed flanking move can be the difference between victory and death.

The graphics look much better than in the Fallout series, but some areas seriously lack detailing.

For example, in one area, the bridges are nothing more than white slabs of wood. One hopes that this is because this is still a beta build.

In this beta version, two towns will call your squad on the radio for help. You can rush to either one town with water or to the other with food. I will leave you to decide - and to find out the consequences.

Even in beta, Wasteland 2 looks very promising and on track to offer what the original delivered - an immersive and persistent game world in which your decisions really do have an impact on the outcome.

If you missed the Kickstarter campaign, you can sign up for the early beta via Steam gaming store by paying US$59.90 (S$76.50). You will receive the full game when it is released.

For the record, I did get the original Wasteland and a remastered copy (free, because I was a backer of Wasteland 2) and finally did play the original before I tried out the early beta.