Ports are tricky business. There’s adjustments to controls, interface, performance, and a heap of other things that need to be calculated before a reworked game is competent enough for public consumption. If only it were as easy as loading up the game’s engine and just ticking the “Port to X” option, then everyone would be happy and publishers would make profits rain as everything worked as smooth as butter. Nice digital, fat-free videogame butter.
Unfortunately, videogame butter isn’t something that exists. Sure, that was a horrible sentence and I feel awful for writing it, but my point is simple: nothing is easy when it comes to porting a fairly large game to a platform that wasn’t designed to play it. Even in the world of huge budget blockbusters with a development team of hundreds, like Ubisoft’s Assassin’s Creed: Unity, it can be a nightmare simply getting a game to run smoothly between platforms.
Take InXile Entertainment’s Wasteland 2: Director’s Cut, an updated edition to the original 2014 game that owes its existence to a hugely successful Kickstarter campaign and fanbase that just wouldn’t quit. It’s a game with a length history that’s worth looking into, especially given its creator was responsibles for both the original 1988 Wasteland and – a few years later in 1994 – a similar franchise called Fallout. Brian Fargo may have two hit franchises to his credit, two very similar post-apocalyptic RPG franchises at that, though one would become vastly more popular than the other, and for good reasons.
Whether or not you’re a fan of Fallout, you can at least attest to the fact that it has a very unique and (mostly) focused approach to the subject matter. It holds a very strong aesthetic while capitalizing on one of the most iconic figures in all of gaming. It becomes more apparent why Fallout is successful after spending time with Wasteland 2, which removes most of the heavy aesthetic choices and instead offers up the generic drabness of all other post-apocalyptic games we’ve seen from Mad Max to Rage.
To be fair, Wasteland 2 is perfectly adequate. There are better games in the genre, but it’s serviceable for what it is. I enjoyed much of the story and there’s tons of content worth exploring, much of it smart and a real driving force of intrigue I found engaging. Even when it’s not, the combat can be fun and rewarding, even if the dice-roll percentages could seem a little unfair at times. All of this applies to pretty much every version of the game, but we’re here to talk specifically about the Switch version… which you may want to avoid.
The Switch version is actually a port of the Director’s Cut edition, a 2015 update to the original release for the current-generation gaming cycle. While not be the powerhouse of either PS4 or Xbox One, the Switch is no slouch as we’ve seen it do wonderful things – including ports of games that should have been technically impossible (see DOOM and Wolfenstein II). For a game like Wasteland 2, Nintendo’s console shouldn’t even break a sweat. Sadly, that’s not the case here.
Playing the game in handheld mode brings several issues front and center. For starters, all of the characters seem choppy and the scores of text appears too small and nearly illegible, almost like the developers forgot fans may be playing on the Switch’s 6” screen. Performance really suffers in this mode, with stuttering animation and visibility issues. Maybe docked mode would help ease the pain?
Not really. Playing in docked mode doesn’t help much as the grungy character models still look bad, only now they’re larger and animate just as poorly with spotty framerate issues. At least the text was easier to read, but this isn’t much a consolidation given how jerky everything else looked. I’d kept thinking the lackluster performance was due to the Switch itself, that maybe the console simply wasn’t up to running the game. But then I loaded up Super Mario Odyssey to again be blown away by its visuals, which further solidified my initial gut reaction that Wasteland 2 is just a bad port.
Regardless how you play it, you’ll still notice glaring issues: the UI isn’t as intuitive as it should be, inventory management is cluttered and bizarrely laggy, and load times from level to level were suspiciously long. Even the menu items aren’t free of issues as simple button presses led to obnoxious input lags and delayed reactions. These happened to frequently I found myself actively putting off leveling-up characters just to avoid interacting with the interface.
If I had to sum up this Switch-ified version of Wasteland 2: Director’s Cut in a single word it would be: outdated. This is a throwback RPG that leans heavily into the clunky UI and combat systems from the past, one trapped in a technically mediocre port that doesn’t showcase any of its features in the best light. If you find yourself craving a Wasteland fix on the go, and can look past these issues, you’ll probably enjoy the sprawling storyline and combat mechanics the game offers. I’d recommend taking a nap instead, saving the experience for a better version if you can.