Friday, November 4, 2011

Wasteland: I Will Show You Fear in a Handful of Dust

Can't we all just get along?

Here I am in this post-apocalyptic wasteland, and you'd think that the few survivors of the nuclear fallout might be eager to get along, to rebuild society. Instead, they've mostly descended into cliches: gunmen, bikers, and vagrants, all eager to kill anyone with anything remotely valuable. In my visit to the town of Quartz, I utterly depopulated the place.

Before that, though, I managed to get all of my characters radiation-poisoned. Here's a tip, kids: When wandering through the desert, if you see a bunch of radiation symbols everywhere, don't walk on them.

"The ground seems to glow here" was another clue.

Radiation poisoning keeps your characters from regenerating hit points, and from ever waking up if they're unconscious. The manual says that in such circumstances, one should "get medical help as soon as you can," but I had no idea where to find any. My "medic" skills did nothing. Bit-by-bit, enemies chipped away at my remaining hit points and wiped out my party. I had to restore the backup I made of my character files just after character creation.

Then I found an infirmary in Highpool. Aargh.

Retracing my steps again wasn't so bad, for two reasons: Jackie lived this time, and I managed to find a cave I had previously overlooked in the agricultural center

Also, this time around, I decided to sell the fruit I had collected in the agricultural center (I have no idea what it does), which gave me enough money to buy the engine from the Nomad's Camp and thus save Highpool.

Their thanks was accompanied by cash and goods worth more than the $500 engine, too.

After retracing my previous steps through the Rail Nomads' camp, I headed off to find the city of Quartz to give the brakeman's visa to Head Crusher. The city turned out to be on the other side of some mountains. Outside, there was this broken-down jeep, but I couldn't figure out any way to repair it. Maybe that comes later. It is funny that the game highlights this one jeep, though; wouldn't there be broken-down cars everywhere? If not, what happened to them?

There's no "mechanic" skill.

In Quartz, I found a ton of abandoned buildings like this, with nothing in them:

But there was also a lot of adventure in the city. There was a store that finally bought all of my unwanted guns and ammo. There, I bought axes for my characters, TNT for my demolitions expert, and a Geiger counter (I just figure it will come in handy).

It was in the bar that things really took off. There were a couple of role-playing encounters like this:

I went with "chill out" but ended up having to kill them all anyway.

Walking through the patrons, I started to hear rumors about "Ugly's gang," which was apparently holding the town's mayor hostage in the courthouse.

This latter bit of intel came from a teenager who I saved from being raped in the men's room.

The kid also told me of a bar patron named the Riddler. The Riddler asked me three riddles. The first, I got wrong, which annoyed me because I'm usually pretty good at that. See what you would answer:

After rejecting GRAPES, I went with MILK, thinking that for breakfast you "eat" milk, along with cereal, with a spoon, then drink it for dinner. It was wrong. He wouldn't give me another chance at it, so I didn't feel bad Googling it to sate my curiosity. TOAST was the answer. Dammit.

The second riddle, I got; something like, "It's in the middle of America and Australia" (R). But for the third, he asked me how I could compliment the waitress, Ellen, in 8 letters or less. I didn't know, but the bartender (whom I had to split my party to talk to, because only one character could belly up to the bar at a time), for $10, told me to check the graffiti on one of the tables. I had been writing the graffiti down, and I assumed that the words (URABUTLN, UQTU) were codes of some kind. But it turns out they're meant to be read phonetically ("You are a beauty, Ellen"; "You cutie, you"). With the former, I charmed the waitress and got from her a key to her room at the local inn.

Heading over there expecting some action, I was instead surprised to find her wheelchair-bound daughter, Laurie, who reiterated the plight of the hostages in the courthouse. She gave me some grenades and the password (MUERTE) and wished me luck. That's nice and all, but I was looking forward to citing Wasteland as the first CRPG sex. I guess that will have to wait.

Over a couple of hours, I stormed the courthouse and rescued Mayor Pedros and a guy named Dan Citrine. The battles were tough, pitting my axe-wielding rangers against armed gunmen who started shooting while I was some distance away. If you have melee weapons and your enemies have ranged weapons, you have to charge through a hail of bullets to get into melee range. Fortunately, hit points regenerate quickly in the wilderness areas, so I just kept leaving town and waiting to recharge.

Closing the distance between armed enemies in combat.

In the courthouse, I found a clue as to the password to Ugly John's hideout and stormed that, too. After a bunch of combats, I ran into Ugly John himself, who had fastened a bomb to Mayor Pedros's wife, Felicia, and was willing to give me the code for his life. It was interesting role-playing decision, but I decided to kill Ugly John and trust my own "disarm" skill to deal with the bomb. Fortunately, it worked, and Felicia became my third (and final) NPC. Pedros, Dan, and Felicia all prefer small arms, so I'll humor them and see how I like it.

This could have gone badly but didn't.

It sounds like a reasonably successful play session, but throughout it, I collected a series of mysteries that I wouldn't mind a hint or two (if you don't know the difference between a hint and a spoiler, please refrain from commenting) to solve.

1. I went to the town in the first place to give the visa card to Head Crusher. I found Head Crusher in the bar, but he won't talk to me and "using" the visa card on him doesn't do anything.

2. The bartender told me that a guy named Ace wants some help dealing with problems in Las Vegas. But I can't find Ace anywhere I look. (Maybe he's in another town.)

3. I keep loading up on items that don't seem to serve any purpose. Ropes and canteens I've figured out, but what do I do with maps, clay pots, jugs, jewelry, books, matches, fruit, and hand mirrors? I've been holding on to a few of each and selling the rest.

I've bought pick ax and a gas mask just in case, but what is everything else for?

4. I've risen a few levels; a couple of my characters are Senior Specialists now. Each level up allows you to allocate a couple new points to your attributes. But how do you raise your skills? I've actually discovered that some skills increase by using them; my perception and climb abilities have both gone up this way. But my pugilism and brawling haven't budged despite using them extensively, and neither has lockpick. I've got a handful of skill points to spend, too.

My climbing skill increases as I climb a fence in the middle of combat.

Despite these mysteries, I've become a lot more comfortable with Wasteland and I feel like I'm in the groove now. One thing I like about the game is how you can use multiple means to accomplish the same things. Faced with a locked door, you can try to pick it, force it open with your strength, blow it up with TNT, pry it with a crowbar, or (in some cases) get the key from an NPC. When I needed to enter Ugly John's hideout, I could have fought my way through the front door, delivered one of two passwords (found at different places in the town), or sneaked in through a secret entrance and down a skylight. Even solving the riddles and meeting Laurie wasn't technically necessary to solve the quest, although it did make it easier and more fun.

Without knowing how to deal with Head Crusher or find Ace, though, I'm a bit adrift at this point, so I'm going to randomly explore some towns and such and see how it goes.

One final note: In Quartz, I explored a graveyard and was attacked by undead! Way to mix genres, Wasteland!

It's not just an's a zombie apocalypse!


  1. Just checking: you do know how to initiate an encounter, correct? I believe in the Apple II version it was the E key. I remember being very frustrated at first when I'd see people standing around that I couldn't talk to and that wouldn't initiate conversation with me. I'm guessing you do know how to do this based on the recap, but I thought I'd mention it.

  2. Yes, I've had to use that a couple of times to pick up NPCs. But it doesn't work in the case of Head Crusher.

  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

  4. Good update, I was eager to see you play this masterpiece. And yes, this is one of the first RPGs allowing you to solve quests and approach problems in different ways, mainly based on your character skills (the skill system was definately a first, as well) - I bet you'll be even more suprised when you play Dragon Wars, which not only allows you to approach situations in different ways, but also gives you consequences for your actions (e.g. you can decide to sell your party to the slave market and the games becomes MUCH harder, you can destroy cities if you do something stupid, the slave camp goes deserted if you attack someone, etc.) - another masterpiece of RPGs which unfortunately got far less attention than it deserved, mostly because people dismissed it as yet another BT clone... and here's my usual wall of text :D

    Ace isn't in another city by the way - you just have to search thoroughly Ugly's Hideout. Oh, and the broken car you find near Quartz has something to do with him (it's pretty useless, actually, but still nice, at the very least because it reminded me of Fallout 2's car)

  5. Honestly having cars just laying around so long after "the End", or at-least cars that are still car shaped never made sense to me. I always figured that they would either have already been salvaged for parts and pieces or have rusted away.

  6. All of your skills will increase with use, the difficulty is in finding a way to exercise them

  7. Well, as for Head Crusher, look at it like this. would you want to talk to someone standing over you?

  8. your starting to see why wasteland is a brilliant game, the openness, the ability to not just hack/blast through everything, talking works too.

    a lot of what you have brought up become more apparent later

  9. You mentioned in your previous post difficulties with the Medic skill, so I'm going to share a tip from my own days playing Wasteland: if you use a skill and it fails, that doesn't mean you can't try (try, try, try, try, try) again. Use Medic, like, a dozen times on each injury, and if you make some progress, try it some more. You'll very quickly make progress in the skill; by the time I got to the end game, my specialist Medic could nearly raise the dead.

    As for spending skill points, I THINK you need to find specific locations for that... libraries, maybe? It's been a while.

  10. Really good read... this is one that I started years ago and never finished. I will have to put it on my list to get back to...

  11. "In Quartz, I found a ton of abandoned buildings like this, with nothing in them"

    So did I. So in Vegas I didn't bother, and missed a lot of important info. So when you get to Vegas, make sure you explore every inch of the town.

  12. The repetitive empty buildings is one of the dumb things about some of the areas. However, as boring as it is, there ARE occasionally buildings with things in them, so you really should search them all.

    To raise your skills, you can either use them in the "real world", or you can find somewhere to "exercise the mind". You'll figure it out once you come across the first one.

    Pugilism is only used when you fight with your bare hands (IIRC, as explained in the manual), brawling is your main base melee skill. It WILL go up, but it just takes awhile.

    As far as the "undead" goes, the Fallout series retconned the ghouls into being radiation mutated humans. If it makes you feel any better, you can think of the "undead" in Wasteland this way too :-)

    I think the open-endedness of the Quartz encounters was what blew my mind when I first played this game as a kid - it was the first experience I had with multiple solutions to solve the same problem, where you actually could, you know, *role play*. I suppose it wasn't the first CRPG to do this, but it was the first one that I played.

  13. Hehehe. You've made at least one mistake in the above post, but it is something that you will uncover with time, so I'm not going to correct you --Don't worry, it isn't a gameplay mistake or anything like that.

  14. samtam90 and d3dbetc., thanks for the hints. I was able to find Ace and use the car and to talk to Head Crusher. The latter was a little counterintuitive, though.

    Fred, I really appreciate your tip. Based on it, I started using pick lock and medic multiple times, and you're right: it eventually works. Usually. I couldn't save two people from dying from radiation poisoning, unfortunately.

    Petrus, I also appreciate your tip. I might have skipped some otherwise. Kennon, thanks for explaining the skills. I did finally find a library in Needles.

    Akhier, you make a decent point about cars, I guess. I just realized the manual doesn't specifically tell you how long after the nuclear war the game occurs. Without electricity, cars would soon become fairly useless after the gas pumps stopped working.

    Stu, I think the game has brilliant ELEMENTS, but I don't know whether I'd call it a brilliant game. I'll try to reserve judgment for my final rating, but right now I'm just not sure all its innovations fit together well. And combat is a bit of a bore.

    Canageek, I assume you're referring to the sex thing--see the post I just put out today. If it's something else, I'm very curious.

  15. Yep, the sex thing. I read a Let's Play on way back. They made up bits of the plot, so I can't comment on that, but I remember some things, mostly amusing ones.

    They did Needles before the other cities, with lots of grinding, then walked through everything else with ease. Even then, I don't remember the bloodstaff bit making sense.

  16. Hey, great blog! As a long time fan of this genre - ever since I first saw Ultima IV as a kid - I'm really enjoying reading as you go through classics I remember fondly, as well as games I never played.

    Wasteland is a particular favourite of mine - I bought it on the c64 on release, and have played through it a number of times in the decades since. Obviously it has dated, but for its time I think it was sublime - and still enjoyable today.

    Regarding your progress - there are several major areas still to come, including some you probably haven't even heard about. You've made good progress - but the game isn't about to finish.

    I would advise you to return to the sewers and explore more thoroughly. While IIRC that isn't the only way to progress the story, it's pretty important. I won't say more for fear of spoiling you.

    Re melee - I didn't see you mention it, but melee kills give double experience over ranged. That said, at the stage you're at, it becomes pretty challenging to reach enemies hand to hand, as you've found. IIRC, level 8+ pugilism + 8+ brawling makes a barehanded fighter do obscene damage. Proton Ax is deadly also.

    Re weapons - you'll struggle to go too much further with assault rifles, nevermind weaker conventional weapons, especially if you haven't been training the skills. But note that, unlike conventional clips, you cannot buy energy clips anywhere. Without cheating, they are scarce and precious (and not worth wasting on weaker laser weapons, nor full auto).

  17. You will never lose me as a reader, no matter how long your gaps go. I know that salves your worries, so I made sure to tell you. I hope you sleep better now. I am enjoying every one of your wasteland posts. Excellent work!

  18. Illarion, I really appreciate the tips. Keep commenting!

    William, thanks. I'll get past this slump soon.

  19. I remember getting stuck in a few situations where I was trying to use a skill/attribute/item in a direction that made sense to me, but the game wanted me to press the space bar instead of an arrow key to use it in my current space. That was always unintuitive to me, so it's worth keeping in mind.

  20. I got the TOAST riddle wrong too. Damn as well.


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