Revisiting the Wasteland, Part 10 – Fight!

Computer role-playing games can have a lot of things going for them. Some of them may have amazing character building options, letting you decide everything from how skilled your character is with a glaive-guisarme to what zodiac sign they are. Others may have incredible crafting systems that let you fashion items of amazing power from the various bits of scrap metal and bat guano you’ve gathered on your journey. Some have dialog options that let you play anything from a silver-tongued devil to a bone-headed lug barely capable of stringing a few words together.

Really, though, when you get right down to it, what most of us are really looking for in a CRPG is some rock-solid combat.

In almost any RPG you can think of, you are going to be spending an awful lot of time killing things, so it’s vital that the combat system be one that’s capable of holding a player’s interest through the entirety of the game.

That combat plays such a large role in CRPGs is really no surprise. CRPGs grew out of tabletop roleplaying systems like Dungeons & Dragons, and those in turn grew out of the wargames of old. And let’s face it, you really can’t get much more combat-centric than a wargame.

In the early days of CRPGs, combat systems branched into two main types: turn-based, and what I will loosely call “real-time.” Turn-based systems were much as they remain today, focused on the idea of the player and the enemy each alternating turns in some fashion, taking their time to plan out their moves. The early real-time games, on the other hand, were nothing like the fighting-game-esque systems of the Tales series, or the AI-controlled teamwork of Dragon Age that we have today. Mostly, early real-time games involved smashing on the attack key as much as you could and hoping that you killed the monster before it killed you.

Wasteland, for its part, uses a turn-based system that hearkens back to it’s CRPG predecessors, but adds a few little twists of its own. Much like a multitude of other CRPGs from the time (and the many years before that), the fundamentals of theWasteland combat system involve the player being confronted with an enemy (or groups of enemies), then issuing single orders to their party members to execute during a single round of combat. For anyone who had played a Wizardry game, or aBard’s Tale, the whole system would look very familiar.

Where Wasteland starts to differ from those others is with the addition of positioning. All battles, once entered, take place on the exact same map the party has been traveling through all game; no separate battle maps, or abstracted spaces where the combat takes place. By pressing the spacebar during combat, the player can see the party’s exact position in relation to any enemies in the area. The distance between the party and the enemies effects both whether you can use melee attacks (only when adjacent), and how accurate your ranged attacks will be (pistols don’t tend to do so well at extreme ranges). On any given turn, enemy groups can move either closer or further away, and the player can choose to move their entire party, or to disband individual members and move them around the battlefield separately.

Again, disbanding can be a powerful tool when used properly, as you can allow your melee fighters to charge forward to meet the enemy while your ranged shooters hang back. The risk here is that if a character is caught by themselves without a medic to back them up, they could be dead by the time you move someone up to help them. Line of sight also plays a part, as any obstacles between the party and the enemy will effectively end combat. This makes hanging out near walls a good strategy, as you can always duck behind them and regroup if things start to look bad.

In terms of per-turn options, Wasteland is actually pretty thin. Characters can either attack, dodge, reload, move, or use a skill. Dodging, moving, and reloading are all fairly self explanatory. Attacks in Wasteland are broken down into two types: ranged and melee. Ranged attacks only happen once per turn, but depending on the weapon the character is holding can be one of three types: single, burst, or auto. Single shot attacks hit one enemy, and that’s that. Burst attacks use up three units of ammo, and can potentially hit up to three targets in a group of enemies. Auto fire burns an entire clip of ammo, and goes against every single creature in an enemy group. It has the highest damage potential, but at the cost of precious, precious ammunition.

Melee attacks, as I mentioned earlier, can only take place against adjacent enemies, but can happen multiple times per turn depending on the character’s skill level with their weapon. Drogo, for instance, can already attack twice per turn with his crowbar, even at this early stage of the game thanks to his high brawling skill.

In my experiences, combat in Wasteland travels in a wave throughout the game. In the early stage, it is pretty straightforward as you have limited weapons and fairly simple enemies. During the mid-game, it starts to feel a lot deeper as you take advantage of new weaponry, and engage in a little more tactical thinking against larger groups of stronger enemies. There is a point towards the late mid-game, however, when it slides back downhill again as your party is usually strong enough to tackle pretty much anything, and combats become a repetitive affair of hitting “Attack” over and over again. Fortunately, at that point combats also tend to go much faster, so at least you don’t feel like you are getting too bogged down. It’s not the greatest system in the world, but it works well, and it keeps things moving.

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No Talking Back On This One!