Follow TV Tropes


Video Game / Wasteland

Go To
PLAYER is reduced to a thin red paste.
"Your life has ended in the wasteland."

Wasteland is a 1988 CRPG that was groundbreaking in its combination of a gritty post-apocalyptic setting with a nonlinear play style. Notably, the designers sacrificed more modern graphics for extended detail in the gameplay and created a rich backstory that appeared in the game's Copy Protection — a "Paragraph Book" which contained necessary and plot-relevant information, with passages being referenced by number at various points in the game. Woven into the book were numerous Red Herring entries that were never referenced in-game, in order to keep players from skipping to the end of the story.

The game's story takes place in 2087, generations after a global nuclear war in 1998 destroyed most of civilization. In what was once the Southwestern United States, the Desert Rangers — a remnant of the US Army Corps of Engineers — are valiantly trying to keep the peace and enforce some semblance of law and order for the people of Arizona. As the story begins, a small squad of Desert Rangers have been deployed by Ranger HQ to investigate some strange disturbances near the old California/Nevada border. As they scout the area, the Rangers discover evidence of a larger menace threatening to exterminate what is left of humankind...

Celebrated on several sites, most notably at the Ranger HQ Grid, which, as well as having info about the game, has some surprisingly good Fan Fic.

An enhanced version of the original Wasteland with smoothed out depixelized graphics, optional music, voice-overs and an integrated paragraph book has been released on Digital Distribution sites (including Steam and in order to coincide with the release of its 2014 sequel, Wasteland 2. A full remastered version with 3D graphics, mouse controls, and illustrated cutscenesnote  was released on February 25, 2020, a few months prior to the third entry in the series, Wasteland 3.

See also Fallout, the series' Spiritual Successor.

This game provides examples of:

  • Absurdly High Level Cap: The top rank Supreme Jerk is promotion number 183.
  • Action Bomb: The Radiation Angels at the Temple of the Mushroom Cloud explode into a pile of glowing blue dust after you defeat them. Why, yes, it is radioactive.
  • Action Girl: Christina, a mercenary and potential party member who has a unique picture. She likes to use full-auto on her weapons, and starts equipped with an UZI submachine gun.
  • Adaptational Attractiveness: In Wasteland Remastered, Finster's appearance has been changed to match his paragraph book description of being "a handsome, slender man", looking rather like a young Walter Koenig in a lab coat. His old "red-skinned, metal-bodied android" appearance is still used for his Mind Maze incarnations.
  • Added Alliterative Appeal: In the southeast corner of the agricultural center's farm, there are four foot tall pears. They're pleasingly plump, and perfectly prepared to possibly plummet onto passing pedestrians.
  • After the End: "Somehow, life goes on in the Wasteland."
  • A.I. Is a Crapshoot: AI research goes pretty badly awry, and is hinted to have caused the nuclear holocaust in the first place. Notably, the game's main villains are a robot army commanded by an insane Cyborg and an ancient Military AI.
  • A.K.A.-47: Some weapons use their real-life names, and the manual explains that some of the fictional ones are simply future versions of then-contemporary firearms, but many of the game's weapons are still entirely fictional.
  • Ambiguously Human: The triplets in the courthouse have gray skin; Ugly John has a purple tinge. Growing up in a radioactive wasteland with a thin ozone layer can be harmful...
  • Anti-Hero: The player characters can be a group of these depending on the player's style — going straight into near-Villain Protagonist levels (you can, for example, choose to freely butcher the innocent children at a former summer camp because some of them made fun of you).
  • Anti-Villain: Finster believes that with the nuclear holocaust, humanity has proven to be bad stewards of the earth, so he is wiping them out to start over. The PCs are just in his way.
  • Apocalyptic Log: A number are found and related in the Paragraphs, including actual logbooks from the Sleeper Base.
  • Artificial Stupidity: Recruited Party Members are only under a small amount of control by the player. Often they refuse to take orders, or take them too well. They also can't tell between friendly and non-friendly NPCs.
    "Christina rips a clip on the rabbit."
    • VAX and Christina in particular will use full auto (which empties a magazine) as an attack option 90% of the time, wasting precious ammunition. This is especially painful if they're using the rare energy weapons.
  • Artistic License – Military: The promotions you receive from the Ranger Center are very heavily based on the United States Army personnel rank titles. However, one of the promotions you'll eventually receive in the game, 'Commander', is not a legitimately official rank title used in the U.S. Army, but instead is a rank title officially used in the U.S. Navy. Then there are rank titles like 'Argent' which are purely fictional and not based on real life military rank titles.
  • Bald of Evil: Ugly John.
  • Backtracking: There's a fair amount involved for numerous quests, most notably finding the Real Bloodstaff.
  • Beef Gate: The Guardian Citadel can be approached very early, but the game notes that it will be impossible to defeat the defenders until much later in the game.
  • Betting Mini-Game: The casinos in Vegas as well as the Acapulco Private Gambling House in the eastern part of downtown Needles provide these. Naturally, they generally do nothing but drain your cash, unless you invest in a lot of Gambling skill points.
  • Bloody Hilarious: Due to the graphical limitations of the game, the results of combat were described rather poetically, resulting in enemies being "turned into chunky meat kibble", "reduced to an undertaker's nightmare", or "blown into a fine red mist".
    • "Player exploded the [enter creature name] like a blood sausage."
  • Boring, but Practical: Assault rifles are, short of rockets and energy weapons, the most practical weapons around.
  • Boring Return Journey: Averted according to the sequel­. Vargas' memoirs mentions that they were forced to trek back to their base on foot and were constantly harassed by remaining robots, mutants, raiders and other hostiles.
  • Cargo Cult: Guardians and their collection of technology they don't even try to understand.
  • Character Customization: Name, nationality and gender. The first two are entirely cosmetic, the third is important exactly once.
  • Character Portrait: Seen in combat for enemies. They also appear in some dialogues.
  • Creator Cameo: Faran Brygo is an obvious reference to game designer Brian Fargo.
  • Critical Existence Failure: Dropping below 0 hit points results in a number of progressively serious wounded states, and unless the Medic or Doctor skill is applied, the character is gone for good.
  • Cut and Paste Environments: The graphical limitations of 1988 computers means a lot of reused environments and level designs.
  • Damage-Sponge Boss:
    • The Night Terror in Finster's Mind Maze. Thankfully, he's avoidable. Many late game enemies are grinds unless the party is equipped with energy weapons.
    • Finster Leviathan, fought at the end of the Mind Maze, has considerably more health than any other enemy in the game (except for the Night Terror), and is essentially the game's Climax Boss. However, his lack of armor makes him quite beatable, with full auto fire shredding him quite quickly.
  • Dump Stat: Charisma. It affects almost nothing of any value, whereas other stats can be game-changers if balanced correctly.
  • Dungeon Bypass: You can use the sewers to move around towns without triggering Random Encounters. Many buildings have multiple ways through as well, allowing the player to skip through hostile encounters.
  • Dungeon Town: Most major settlements. While the first is empty, the agricultural facility to the west has hostile animals, the town to the north has wandering bandits, etc.
  • Elaborate Underground Base: The Las Vegas sewers, the Sleeper Base, Guardian Citadel, as well as Base Cochise, are all examples of this. While there are several other locations (Waste Pit, the underground ammo depot or part of the Temple of Blood in Needles, as well as Faran Brygo's hideout or the Temple of the Mushroom Cloud in Las Vegas), they don't classify because of their small size or being constructed above ground.
  • Everything Breaks: Not really, but the furniture in the abandoned buildings is described as about to fall apart at the lightest touch.
  • Everything Is Trying to Kill You: Bunnies, lizards, jerks, and cacti are but a few of the Wasteland's many dangers.
  • Exposition Break: Several appear throughout the game, conveniently broken out into paragraphs provided in the manual. The Updated Re-release integrates them as in-game pop-ups with voiced narration.
  • Failed Future Forecast: Being created in 1988, the game world is an aftermath of USA-Soviet nuclear exchange from 1997, with Cold War getting hot.
  • Fat Bastard: Fat Freddy: his name is not a coincidence. His in-game description also recalls the Fat Slob trope.
  • Fetch Quest:
    • Two NPCs request that the Bloodstaff be found and returned to them. The player can turn it in to the first one for a reward in Needles, and then ask for it back to give it to Charmaine in Vegas.
    • In Vegas, Fat Freddy asks the Rangers to kill Faran Brygo for his Onyx Ring. If you end up honoring his wishes, however, he and his gang double-cross you once you report back to him, resulting in another long and messy gunfight.
  • The Gambler: Dan Citrine's skills qualify him as one. You can also discover that he was only captured by Ugly John's gang to retrieve a stash of money. The same goes for Mort. You can also be one by adding in points for the Gambling skill.
  • Gang of Bullies: The kids in Highpool who laugh at your troop of hardened soldiers falling on some slippery rocks. You can kill them if you choose to, although everyone hates you for it and it results in the town becoming deserted.
    • Turns out this was the canon path, as the townsfolk in Highpool in Wasteland 2 are still pissed off at the last group of Rangers who came through town and shot up a bunch of kids. 15 years later.
  • Guide Dang It!:
    • Much of the game's context, backstory, and even basic features are left unexplained in the game proper. This means that modern players will typically have to hunt down game guides in order to figure out how the game's stat system works, and even what you're supposed to be doing in the first place.
    • Like an old-school adventure game, advancing in Wasteland often involves using the correct skill or item on a specific object in the world. Being an RPG, the game gives you much less feedback than an adventure game does, and without a guide you're likely to end up either missing important interactions or trying to use every skill and item in your inventory to figure out the moon logic of the developers.
    • The end game is nearly impossible without energy weapons. These require your characters have an IQ of 23 to be able to even use them. This means you have to create your characters with as near an IQ to 18 as possible and then constantly raise it when given a chance to get to the minimum requirement.
  • Guns Are Worthless: During the first half of the game a decent Brawling skill lets you deal way more damage; later the party reaches Las Vegas and finds assault rifles. The Proton Axe is still a valid alternative until the end of the game, though.
  • I'm a Humanitarian: Hobo Dogs, the local fast food restaurant in the western area of downtown Needles, offers a rather... special kind of food to their customers.
  • Impassable Desert: In-map desert requires a canteen to pass.
  • Insurmountable Waist-High Fence: Usually averted. You can blow up or knock down virtually any door, including several that have key slots (though those generally require explosives to knock down) and a good number of walls, and there are plenty of fences that can be climbed, too.
  • In-Universe Game Clock: The in-game clock runs at different speeds typically depending on the scale of the current map. This makes resting to recover health a lot faster in some locations than in others.
  • Late Character Syndrome: Mort, Ralf, and other Party Members tend to suffer from this.
  • Lethal Joke Item: Broken toasters. Repairing them will reward you with rare energy weapon ammunition.
  • Ludicrous Gibs: Described in loving detail, due to the lack of graphics.
  • Monsters Everywhere: The whole game tends to be this, but especially Finster's maze.
  • More Dakka / Trigger-Happy: Christina, one of the RPCs you can hire, seems to love unloading a full clip of hot lead against any opponent even if it's a wasteful use of spare ammunition and there's only one measly critter. Unless you give her a non-automatic weapon, she will ALWAYS go full auto on her enemies. This makes her a double-edged sword when it comes to combat.
  • Ms. Fanservice / Leaning on the Fourth Wall: The bathtub girl in Paragraph 1, who exists only to remind players not to cheat by reading through the Paragraphs book. Not heeding her advice gives you a Red Herring storyline about a mission to Mars.
  • No-Sell: Armor with a high AC rating will shrug off attacks from weaker enemies without your character taking damage. Be aware that stronger enemies will be able to bypass your armor with better weaponry or melee attacks unless your armor's AC rating is higher than their damage ratings. Power armor, for example, will laugh off any attempt to scratch it from just about any enemy in the game outside of the robots and defenses at Base Cochise.
  • Non-Lethal K.O.: Most enemy attacks knock you out, and you can get back up later (or even mid-combat).
  • "Not So Different" Remark: In the endgame, Matthias eventually asks Team Echo why they've continued to chase him down and oppose him, despite the constant risk to their lives. If they answer that it's because he's an enemy of the Rangers, he'll invoke this trope.
    Matthias: Ah, honesty at last. You hound me because I threaten your status as the alpha wolves of Arizona, just as you hound all others who defy you. At least you're honest enough to admit that it has nothing to do with humanity, or morals, or civilization. Your gang hates my gang, and that's that.
  • One Stat to Rule Them All: IQ. The higher it is, the more and better skills you get access to. You pretty much want to start everyone with as high an IQ as possible.
  • Only Six Faces: Because of used and available technology, each type of enemy has standard portraits attached. Rangers themselves have limited and randomly assigned ones.
  • Only Smart People May Pass: Finster's virtual reality.
  • Optional Sexual Encounter: The three-legged hooker. Naturally, she gives you herpes.
  • Photoprotoneutron Torpedo: The ion beamer, meson cannon, and proton ax.
  • Purely Aesthetic Gender: It influences exactly one thing: which restroom you can enter without getting weird looks from people.
  • Rail Roading: Beautifully averted. While the car takes you from city to city and there are two locations that NPCs need to reveal, you are free to explore the whole map otherwise, returning to any earlier location you like and even trying farther ahead ones.
  • Random Encounters: Everywhere, even in the middle of towns. The only exceptions are Highpool and the Guardian Citadel, who are devoid of these annoying occurrences and make it viable for your party to heal up over time.
  • Red Herring: The manual includes paragraphs not referenced in-game which, if read together, create the impression that the game is really about a war on Mars. This is done to punish players who try to read the paragraphs without being prompted to do so.
  • Regenerating Health: You can get back to full health by waiting. In some versions, when your entire party is unconscious, they may recover after a few minutes. However, if you are sick or became seriously wounded from combat, you must get medical treatment or die unless one of your characters learned the Doctor skill.
  • Rock Beats Laser: A spear is more powerful than a sizeable chunk of guns and other weapons. It's also listed under AT weapons with LAW launchers and sabot rockets.
  • RPGs Equal Combat: While most of your experience will come from combat, successfully using noncombat skills can earn experience as well. In at least one place, this can be abused for infinite experience.
  • Save Scumming: Since the game was on floppy disks, the player had to create copies of the discs to actually play on (as the game discs were read only to prevent someone from permanently wrecking their playthrough). This led to the ability to "regenerate" entire towns, and even Base Cochise, to loot over and over, allowing players to stockpile large armories of weapons that were considered unique. Doing this properly will allow all of the PCs to wield Meson Cannons and Power Axes while being decked in the finest Power Armor. Unfortunately, the 30 space inventory limit prevented truly epic levels of stockpiling.
  • Saving the World: Your ultimate goal is to destroy Base Cochise to stop Finster from exterminating mankind.
  • Sequence Breaking: There's a town (Savage Village) you can't get into without a password, but if you know the password from somewhere else, you can arm yourself with assault rifles very early in the game.
  • Standard Post-Apocalyptic Setting: The game is set in the deserts of the Southwestern U.S., decades after a global nuclear war between the U.S.A. and the Soviet Union. The protagonists are The Remnant of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers that survived the cataclysm and reorganized themselves into a paramilitary force dedicated to protecting fellow survivors from the various mutants, monsters, and punk-like raiders prowling the wasteland. By 2087, civilization is slowly rebuilding itself, with functioning settlements found throughout Arizona and Nevada (and California and Colorado in the sequels).
  • Stat Grinding: Some skills, like swimming, can be improved by repeatedly using them. However, you must have at least one point assigned to them during character creation or level-up before they can be increased.
  • Story-Driven Invulnerability: There are characters who can be attacked and those who can't. The vast majority, including people you wouldn't want to attack, are the former, but a few (like Spam Shade) are the latter. Some of these change types after a given plot trigger, such as if you complete Fat Freddy's quest.
  • Three-Quarters View: The city maps; the main map is Top-Down View.
  • Updated Re Release: The digital distribution version of the game, released in 2014 to coincide with the release of Wasteland 2, smooths out the game's original pixelated VGA-era graphics with a higher-res de-pixelated image quality, adds music and voice acting, and incorporates the game's paragraph book into the game itself instead of having to refer to a physical book periodically throughout the game for major plot events. The save system has also been "fixed" to be a more typical modern save system, as opposed to the original DOS game where saving would overwrite the entire disk with the current world state.
  • Video Game Cruelty Potential / Would Hurt a Child: It is possible for the player to wipe out the town of Highpool, which is populated almost entirely by children.
  • Video Game Remake: Wasteland Remastered, released in early 2020, is a complete overhaul of the game, with more modernized graphics, interface, and presentation, while still maintaining the art style and basic gameplay of the original. It now looks like a high-production value modern Indie game rather than a product of the 1980's. It also adds a new Fallout-style Multiple Endings epilogue that sums up the fate of the various major locations your actions have affected, and ties into Wasteland 2.
  • Wizard Needs Food Badly: When your party walks into a spot of hot, barren desert you begin losing HP by dehydration unless you have at least a canteen in your inventory to prevent it.
  • You Have Outlived Your Usefulness: If you choose to accept Fat Freddy's offer to kill Faran Brygo, he will initially reward you $1000 to spend on his casino. Once you get into Brygo's hideout and answer the two correct passwords, choosing to attack him will result in a long game of cat-and-mouse while fending off his goons in the process. When you finally get to him, he will attack you for one last stand. Once he's dead, he leaves an Onyx Ring. Showing Fat Freddy the ring will cause him to double-cross you and order his goons to kill you, engaging in yet another long gunfight.
  • Zeerust: Being written in late 1980s, the setting's technology is largely based on what was available then — floppy discs, advanced mainframe computers, no desktops on them, and so on.