Monday, November 14, 2011

Wasteland: We Who Were Living Are Now Dying

What should we read into the fact that he's wearing an LAPD hat?

I had rather hoped to have a "Won!" posting tonight, but I'm stuck in what I think is the final game area (Base Cochise). Since I last posted, I resurrected Max the Android, explored a vacant military base, wiped out the defenders in the Guardian's Citadel, cloned one of my characters, and entered the base. But I'm going to save the story and mythology for the next posting. Here, I thought I'd talk about combat, since I otherwise haven't described it in detail.

You begin some distance from your enemy.

The combat in the game is based on the same system used in The Bard's Tale II-III, which means that it's simple and familiar, but not terribly sophisticated. When you initially encounter enemies, they can be up to 90 feet away (I guess your ability to "move silently" has some bearing on this). Enemies more than 20 feet away require ranged weapons to hit, so if you only have melee weapons, you have to try to close the distance by using the "run" command each turn. Here, I wish I had The Bard's Tale III's spell that yanks enemies into melee range.

Running is also how you flee combat, and the terrain comes into play here. If you run more than 90 feet away, you flee, but you can also flee by running off the edge of the map or around a corner so the enemy can no longer see you. Unfortunately, most of them don't pursue you, so you can't just lurk around the corner waiting for them to come to you.

My party splits to take on multiple groups of robots.

Often, enemies will attack you in multiple groups, some at different distances than others. Theoretically, this should create a fairly tactical combat scenario, as you have different fighters target different groups depending on their skill. In reality, I rarely get into this level of detail. Since a character can only attack one group at a time, and if another character finishes off a group before his attack, his attack is wasted for the round, I simply try to spread out the attacks among multiple groups.

During each round, you have 7 options: run closer, or away (either a single character or the whole party), use an item or skill (such as using "doctor" to heal a seriously-wounded character), try to "hire" the enemy (only works on certain NPCs), "evade" (don't do anything for the round), attack, change weapons, and load or unjam a weapon. You have to load when your ammo runs out, of course, but you might also want to do it as it runs low if you need to fire off an entire clip on auto. Weapons jam about 1 out of every 50 times you fire them, requiring you to waste a round unjamming them.

Combat options. Note that things aren't going well for the party. But though everyone fell unconscious at some point, I still won--see below for how that happens.

There are multiple types of weapons in the game:

  • Melee weapons: fists, knives, crowbars, axes, chainsaws, proton axes
  • Throwing weapons: throwing knives, spears
  • Clip pistols: M1911A1 .45 pistols and VP91Z 9mm pistols (the first is a real designation for a common military service pistol; the latter appears to have been made up for the game)
  • Rifles: M17 carbines and M19 rifles
  • Submachine guns: Mac 17s and Uzis
  • Anti-tank weapons: manglers, sabot rockets, LAW rockets, and RPGs
  • Demolitions: TNT, grenades, and plastic explosives
  • Assault rifles: AK97 assault rifles and M1989A1 NATO assault rifles
  • Energy weapons: Laser pistols, laser carbines, laser rifles, ion beamers, and meson cannons

Some of the game's many weapons.

As you saw, when I first started the game, I determined to be a melee-only party, but this swiftly grew untenable as my characters were mowed down over and over while trying to charge into melee range. So I capitulated and started arming myself with guns.

Not only did the axe kill the bastard, but daring to attack such a tough foe with a melee weapon raised my skill level.

I made the mistake of spreading skills for different types of weapons throughout my party, and I realized later in the game that I had screwed it up: lower-level weapons soon become utterly ineffective. Now, late in the game, I've found a couple of proton axes that serve as good melee weapons (when I can get into range), but all of the skill points I've invested in assault rifles (not to mention the ammo I've saved for them) avail me not as clip after clip refuses to have any effect on higher-level enemies. This makes sense when I'm shooting at armored robots and tanks, I guess, but it doesn't make a lot of sense when my enemies are friars and nuns. The good news is that as long as the character has 1 skill point in the weapon, he levels up reasonably quickly through constant use.

I suppose I shouldn't complain, though. I've found "power armor" for all of my characters, and this renders many of my foes' attacks just as ineffective as when I try to shoot them with submachine guns. Still, if I were to play the game over again, I wouldn't waste any skill points on clip pistols or submachine guns. I might give one or two of my characters melee skills, but I'd save the rest of my skill points for automatic and energy weapons.

I also made the mistake of saving up a bunch of anti-tank weapons instead of using them...well, on tanks. I now have about 20 RPGs and LAW rockets in my inventories. I've been trying to burn them, and I do find they perform tolerably well on a lot of enemies. More important, they blast open a lot of doors. I missed a key or two somewhere, so I'm glad the game gives me the opportunity to just destroy the steel doors.

A LAW rocket does its job against a robot. Note the fanciful descriptions of the damage and death. They were cute, but I usually had the scroll rate set so fast that I never really read them.

At this point, I've given all my characters energy weapons. I guess power packs for them are in limited supply during the game, but I keep finding new caches and have never came close to running out. I did find that the laser pistols and carbines stopped working well on enemies, though, and I had to give everyone rifles, ion beamers, and meson cannons.

Back to combat, though. For submachine guns, automatic weapons, and energy weapons, the game lets you choose whether to fire a single shot, a burst of shots, or empty the entire clip on "auto." I wish I'd chosen "auto" more often because by firing bursts, I ended up losing a lot of hit points and having to retreat from the areas, heal up in the desert (time passes so slowly indoors that it takes forever to wait and heal), and return. I've already entered and exited the final base about 15 times.

These guys were horribly deadly and worth burning entire clips on.

When enemies reduce your hit points to 0, your characters fall unconscious. If they really beat you down, you might become "seriously" or "critically" injured. At that point, you need attention from someone with a medic or doctor skill because otherwise you keep getting worse until you die. Unconscious characters heal and eventually wake up. The odd thing is, enemies won't target unconscious characters, and a fully unconscious party doesn't "die" in combat--everyone's got to be at least "serious." This has created some weird situations in which I've won tough combats even though everyone's been knocked unconscious. A couple of characters will wake up, have time to fire off a couple of shots, and then get wounded into unconsciousness again. Then a couple more characters will wake up, etc. Because of this quirk, it's been a while since I've suffered a full-party death.

In the video below, which I took a few days ago, you see me wandering around Las Vegas, but you can see a battle with some tanks starting at around 00:55. Note how it starts them all at 95 feet away--if I wanted to run towards them, it would take 9 turns, so I really need to just start shooting, which I do, in bursts. I decide to arm Damyata, the person with the highest AT weapon skill, with a LAW rocket. Note how Philomel's rifle jams, and I have to waste a turn unjamming it (02:07). Note also how I can't tell the three NPCs who to target or how many shots to fire, which is why I have them armed with single-shot weapons so they don't waste entire clips. My bullets aren't doing much damage to them, but Damyata's LAW rocket does a reasonably good job (02:23).

Throughout the video, I'm clicking on the options so you can see what I'm doing--the game supports a mouse this way--but in most of my play, I used the keyboard, which is much, much quicker.

Note how ACE's "rifle" skill goes up to Level 4 (03:33); the manual says that skills are more likely to increase when you're using them on tough enemies, and I suppose shooting a carbine rifle at a tank is about as tough as it gets.

Anyway, the combat lasts a long time, mostly because I'm shooting at tanks with bullets, but no one dies. One thing I find annoying is how the game gives all the experience to the characters who struck the killing blows, no matter how much everyone else contributes to the damage. In this case, Philomel made out like a bandit (05:35).

An attack against human scavengers a few minutes later (06:00) is much easier, but look at the phrase when they die: "sends him to meet his maker just as he peels off a final shot." That happens a lot, with robots, too. Even though my character kills the enemies, they manage to get in one attack.

I end the video messing around a bit on the inventory and character screens. You can reload out of battle, which saves you from having to waste a round in the next combat.

The analogous combat screen in Bard's Tale III.

Having described all of this, I can't say that I love the combat system. It's not consistently dangerous enough to make you meticulously plot your tactics, and even when it is, you can usually escape out of the area, rest and heal, and try again. While classes of enemies respond to different attacks, the overwhelming strategy is just to use the most powerful weapon you have, try to conserve ammo when you can, and keep firing until you win. It looks like they tried to implement a more tactical battle board by giving you the ability to split your party through the "run" command, but in practice it takes so long to position multiple characters around the battlefield that it's less hassle to stand in one place and shoot. Except at the very beginning, I've found that I simply sleepwalk through most combats.

As I indicated, I think I'm in the final base, but it's full of tough robot combats and computers that I'm not really sure what to do with. I feel like I missed a lot of stuff somewhere, so I'm eager to finish it (if I can) and look at a walkthrough. Either I'll have a "won!" posting tomorrow or I'll be begging you for help.


  1. So, what's with these computers you speak of? Do they just have the worst UI ever or what (I mean they don't say "type password" or "must insert access keycard" or anything you could ask an NPC)?

    For right now explore as much as you can before you have to GtHOoD! Though this may not apply if money is scarce right now and that is the only way to restock on supplies at this point.

    Hmmm... Can you start a dialogue with a robot? Surely, they might provide a hint as to the purpose and functions of their own base.

    Hope this gets the stuck-near-the-end-of-the-game-solving-juices flowing.

    - Giauz

  2. Giauz, I appreciate you trying to give me hints. I was actually only moments away from winning when I posted this, but I didn't know it at the time. "Won!" posting coming tomorrow.

  3. Awesome. But I know next to nothing about this game and only about a hal-hout worth of playing like a doofus. So, considering you thought I was giving you hints, was I close to the solution(s)?

    - Giauz

  4. What how did half-hour turn into hal-hout. Damn bugs or insomnia.

    - Giauz

  5. Talking about healing up between combat situations... For some reason pressing ESC or whichever key it was to speed up time never worked for me and, as is said in this blog entry, waiting to heal up takes forever. I there some trick to it, or some hidden DOSBox config I have overlooked?

  6. Giauz, actually, no. Your commments didn't make any sense. But as you'll see tomorrow, I messed up so much on my way to the end, that I just assumed I overlooked what you were talking about.

    'Nym, you have to hold down ESC to make time pass. But it also increases random encounters. I found that if you hold down V instead, you get no random encounters but time still passes.

  7. I suppose if you already won the game you won't be too excited about playing more of it, but did you ever find Finster's Mind?

  8. Now that you've won, I suppose this doesn't matter, but I believe you can create macros. So I would go somewhere safe (like an abandoned building) and record a macro of me holding down escape for 30 seconds. Replaying the macro was instantaneous, so every time I pressed the key to run the macro, 30 seconds of escapes would flash by in a fraction of a second.

    -Daniel Ryan (first post, btw)

  9. Sounds like a few people will be disappointed in your won posting and post-mortum.I'm guessing a midrange score?

  10. "...but it doesn't make a lot of sense when my enemies are friars and nuns."

    All the residents of Guardian Citadel wear power armor, whether it shows on their artwork or not. GC is an early predecessor to Brotherhood of Steel.

    One of my favorite gaming experiences was conquering the Citadel immediately after Quartz. This is possible, though it takes all the anti-tank weapons possible to find at that point.

    As for the weapons, the meaningful skills are Brawling 2 for early game (it does more damage AND gives more xp than pistols, level 2 gives you an extra attack), assault rifle for midgame and energy weapons for the late game. One character should have anti-tank skill (two if you want to play safe).

    Medic is a waste of points IMO, Doctor is strictly better and becomes available as soon as you begin to seriously need it.

  11. Kennon, I took the time to explore Project Darwin and do the Finster's mind puzzles, and I'll talk about them in tomorrow's posting. I agree it was worth seeing, although I guess the entire base only served to give me a security pass, which is why it wasn't terribly necessary.

    Daniel, thanks for posting! I didn't figure out macros until the end, but I was just able to use them to speed up a combat with a foe with thousands of hit points, so thanks for reminding me.

    'Nym, I talk in the final rating posting (tomorrow) about how it would be interesting to play the game again with different skills and a different approach. I agree with you.

  12. "Even though my character kills the enemies, they manage to get in one attack."

    Because all ranged combat happens simultaneously.

    Melee combat follows. The speed attribute influences the order of melee attacks.

  13. Heh, I've noticed something with that weapons that is worth posting here again (after posting on previous Wastelands post).

    M1911A1 is, as you've noticed, the real designation of an existing firearm (have you used it, by chance?) - it's also the only _real_ one used in the game, as long as your list is exhaustive. But all the other have something in common; they are modeled after real designations, but more 'advanced': Mac 10 became Mac 17, M16 became M17 and M19, AK-74 became AK-97, and even M1989A1 seems to be modeled after M1911, but much newer (four-digit designations were quite common in late nineteenth and early twentieth century, and they were denoting the year in which particular weapon was created; M1911 was created in 1911, of course).

    So it seems that every other weapon got an upgrade, but M1911A1 is still going strong. ;)

    1. So... we're in 2016 and there's still no M1989A1? Why?!

    2. We guess would be expense cuts. In 1989, there were first signs of Communism ending (with first Polish free elections, and later there was whole Berlin wall stuff and USSR dissolution), so less reason to create a new weapon. ;)

  14. There are lots of valid criticisms of Wasteland's combat here, and I agree that it is pretty simple. I find I mostly focus on easy and repetitive questions about what group to target and whether it warrants a single, burst, or auto.

    But I think it's also worth mentioning that Wasteland does a pretty good job of not giving you too much combat. I've recently read through your coverage of Bard's Tale II and Might & Magic II and was reminded about how many endless swarms of enemies get thrown at you.

    Wasteland's combat is simple, but I think it does a great job of giving you close to the right amount of it. Having replayed it multiple times, I've never felt bogged down in combat (as long as I increase the combat message scroll speed). It's well paced, it allows you to focus on the game world, and I think that's part of the reason I return to it more than other games of the era.

    1. There were a couple of maps that felt overly combat-heavy, but I agree with your point overall. I mind simple combat less when it's at least quick.


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