I realize that there was no Internet in 1988, but couldn't the creators have bothered to research what an opossum actually looks like?
Brandon Sanderson had an interesting posting on the Tor/Forge blog a couple of days ago about the use of guns in fantasy. He reconciles his youthful belief that "if it has guns, it's not good fantasy" with the fact that he's included guns--"lots of guns"--in the post-industrial-revolution Mistborn: The Alloy of Law. He ultimately decides that it's the magic, not the technology, that makes the fantasy.
His post got me wondering, though, if whether my aversion to post-apocalyptic CRPGs isn't so much about the post-apocalypse as the guns. I've never been much of a gun guy. I was in a branch of the armed forces when I was younger, so I'm not afraid of them or anything, but I never found them particularly fascinating, and I never learned more about them than what I needed to learn to get through my enlistment. I can field-strip an M16, and I can tell you the difference between an M16A1 and an M16A2, and that's about it.
In reflection, the part I liked least about both Sentinel Worlds and Star Command was trying to figure out which guns I should arm my characters with. I'm having the same issue in Wasteland. I know what a LAW rocket does because I blew up a dumpster with one (for god's sake, make sure you yell "backblast area all clear!" before firing it, or you'll be doing pushups all weekend), but I have no idea how to choose between an AK-97 or a M1989A1 NATO assault rifle, and I really don't care.
So I've decided that my new Wasteland party is going to be hardcore--melee weapons all the way. If they pick up NPCs who use guns, they can continue to use them, but the core members are going to be like Batman: Everything gets channeled into the skills of pugilism, brawling, and knife fighting.
Creating a new party turned out to be a little more difficult than I anticipated. As many of you pointed out, Wasteland supports just one save file, which it constantly writes over whether you choose to save or not. Because you informed me about potential bugs associated with this, I've been backing up the file occasionally (I'm only going to access it if the game gets corrupted). But starting over completely requires deleting the file and then re-installing the original.
I rolled four new characters, focusing on high IQs, dexterity, agility, and strength. I spent a long time on this. There are some games in which the total number of points for all attributes is relatively fixed, so that if you get an 18 score for strength, you're unlikely to get a similarly high score in other attributes. Not so with Wasteland: Each attribute is mutually exclusive of the others, meaning it's theoretically possible to roll 18s in everything given enough time. I kept hitting "roll again" until I had four characters with at least 15 in the core attributes and at least 10 in everything else. When I say this took a "long" time, I mean I listened to almost the entire Smithsonian jazz anthology (I'm linking to it because it's an awesome buy) in the meantime.
Now, on this subject: Has this ever happened to you? You're hitting the "re-roll" key over and over, trying to get that perfect set of stats, but you end up falling into a rhythm, and you accidentally hit the key a nanosecond before you realize the perfect set of stats was just right there in front of you. That must have happened to me 50 times.
Eventually, though, I had my party. And within short order, I had caught up to where I was when I decided to re-start: I went to the village of Highpool, looted the shopkeeper's bedroom, got the clues, found a building in which a pump needed to be fixed (my perception skill suggests that it needs a new engine), entered the cave, killed Bobby's rabid dog (I couldn't think of any way to get past him to rescue Jackie otherwise), and exited. After I left the cave and was attacked by the grief-stricken Bobby, I realized that it's quite easy to run away from combat. I was able to skirt the boy and get out of town without killing him.
Heading away from Highpool, I found an "agricultural center," in which I discovered a bunch of farmers shaking their heads with despair. Here, I got my first reference to the adventurer's journal. Much like Pool of Radiance, Wasteland frequently refers you to a journal to read long descriptive paragraphs.
This one went:
Closer now, you can hear the conversation of the men you saw when you came in. There is a short silence after each man voices his thoughts. They speak of varmints who are impossible to kill. The varmints are stealing their food faster than ever before and they seem to be massing for a major attack. The simple weapons of the farmers are not enough to stop them. They have no idea what to do. One of them jumps as he notices you and they all turn to face you. A stocky man they call Miguel approaches.
I agreed to help them and faced a succession of giant rabits, moles, and other murderous furry creatures, culminating in a battle against Harry, the Bunny Master. Unfortunately, he killed Jackie, the NPC companion I had just picked up. I hope I don't need her.
The game's diabolical AI seems to lead enemies to focus on characters with low hit points. As soon as one of my party members starts to dip a bit, he or she becomes the target of everyone's attacks. If the character's hit points reach 0, he falls unconscious. Less than 0, he becomes seriously wounded. Unconscious characters regenerate hit points as time passes and wake up, but seriously wounded characters get worse as time passes, progressing to critically wounded, mortally wounded, comatose, and finally dead. The "medic" skill can reverse the process, but I only gave my characters level 1 in the skill, and apparently you need a higher level to turn someone from "critical" (which Jackie was) to just "unconscious." Looks like I need to invest more in medical skills.
Aside from that, the all-melee party has worked out reasonably well. After my foray in the agricultural station, most of my characters raised to Level 2. You increase in levels by "radioing" back to Ranger Central for a promotion. One character remains stubbornly at Level 1 because the party gets experience from individual kills in battle instead of party experience. In this, the game is more like Ultima V than The Bard's Tale.
From my time in the armed forces, I learned that rarely do four privates go out on missions without any kind of NCO. The rangers must be seriously understaffed.
I explored a little of the outdoor areas and found the functional edge of the map. I also kept getting notices that it was getting hotter, but I'm not sure what effect that had on my party.
I bypassed something called the "Guardian's Citadel" and instead headed for the Rail Nomads' Camp because the game manual listed it as the third place I should try. The camp is a train yard whose denizens live in the rusted remains of boxcars and use railroad titles (Engineer, Hobo, Brakeman). The "Brakeman" gave me a Visa card to deliver to the "Head Crusher" in the town of Quartz. There were three tents I couldn't enter without some kind of password and an Engineer who offered some dialogue options, but only had anything to say about his fellow trainsfolk. A trader in the train sells an engine, which I could use in Highpool, but for $500. I only have $170. Funny how dollars still retain value in this post-apocalyptic world.
So at this point, I have several options for going forward: Find some folks to fight to earn the rest of the money for the engine (I have a bunch of guns I could sell, but I haven't found anyone to buy them yet), try to find Quartz, or just head out on my own. Whatever I choose, I am starting to get into the game a bit. I like the journal entries, and I'm finally figuring out how to watch the game's notes carefully for indications that I need to use an item, attribute, or skill.