Wasteland: A Landmark of RPG Innovations


Wasteland is widely recognized as one of the best games in the history of computer role-playing gaming. More than a decade after its release, people still play it, sometimes repeatedly. Fan sites are abound, and a webring exists to coordinate them. Fan fiction is still being written (hopefully better than the previous "journal entry" you just read :-). There's even a Wasteland-style MUD you can join.

So why was Wasteland so innovative for its time, and why is it regarded so highly by old-school hardcore gamers?

Conceived in 1986 at the tail end of the cold war, Wasteland takes place in "1998" in the nuclear aftermath of World War Three. Post-apocolyptic movies and games have been written before and since, but Wasteland had a surprisingly intricate storyline with sinister motivations; as you progress through the game, you slowly uncover the truth behind what really caused the US and Soviet powers to launch their nuclear arsenal, and what may come next.

You control a party of Desert Rangers, formed by a group of army engineers who were working near a prison when the bombs went off, and subsequently invited the nearby survivalist communities to join them and to help them build a new society. Asked by the Ranger Center to look into a series of "disturbances", you venture out into the desert to the nearby surrounding communities to investigate.

Wasteland was created by Interplay back when they were primarily a development company and not the large player and publisher in the game industry they are today. Interplay was responsible for the Bard's Tale series, and that same craftmanship and flavor can be found in Wasteland. And like many role-playing games of that era, Wasteland lets you control a party of Rangers that followed the standard formula of computer RPGs set by Wizardry back in 1981:

  • A set number of individual characters can be in a party, no more.
  • When party members take more damage than they have hit points available, they fall unconscious and cannot perform any actions.
  • When party members take damage while unconscious, or take way too much damage while conscious, or become poisoned, they can become seriously injured or can die.
  • Each individual character has their own:
    • Armor Class, which affects how much damage they can take (or avoid) based on the armor they're wearing
    • Maximum constitution, which is the maximum number of hit points they can amass
    • Constitution, which is the number of hit points they have remaining
    • Inventory of the items they are carrying
    • Attributes, such as strength, speed, intelligence, that make up that character's abilities
  • Attributes and constitution could be raised only after fighting a number of battles successfully.
  • Members in the party can choose different actions during a battle, such as attacking one set of enemies over another, reloading a weapon if necessary, evading attacks, or using an item.
  • Non-player characters (NPCs) can join the party, and make fighting decisions on their own.

If everything previously mentioned was all that made up Wasteland, then it would merely be regarded as a good game--not one of the best RPGs of all time. What makes Wasteland a great game, even today, were some innovations that Interplay introduced into RPGs that influenced the industry forever.
Continued: Behold the Power of Skills

Table of Contents: Wasteland: A Landmark of RPG Innovations