Oh my. How did they mess up a turn-based, post-apocalyptic RPG so badly? The framework of a decent game is here, but at every step Inxile has made extremely poor decisions. I don’t know how most of the mechanics in the game made it live considering the extremely long and public beta testing. Unfortunately, this was also not a result of them spending resources on story, interactions, graphics or the user interface. Pretty much everything here is a bit shoddy and I am extremely worried about Pillars of Eternity now.
Lets start with the character creation since that is the first thing most people will see. There are attributes like Awareness and Speed and skills like Kiss Ass, Energy Weapons and Mechanical Repair. The former have almost no effect on the latter despite common sense suggesting it should. The lone exception is that Charisma works with the Leadership skill. In fact there are 7 attributes but the only thing of import that they affect is the number of Action Points and your Combat Initiative which determines how often you get a turn. That is seven attributes to determine two statistics, which means that most of them are far too similar. The two attributes that don’t affect these stats, Luck and Charisma, are essentially dump stats unless you really want enough Charisma for all the possible NPCs to join you. Seeing as they are all dull as bricks, I don’t see the point. It might have been better to go with a pure skill system if this is the best they could do with attributes.
The skill system has the major flaw that there are just too damn many of them. For instance, there are three speech skills: Hard Ass, Kiss Ass and Smart Ass. Furthermore each is used like once or twice to any effect during the course of the entire game. Why is there Alarm Disabling, Mechanical Repair, Toaster Repair, Computer Science, Lockpicking and Safecracking? This should be at most three skills. Why are First Aid and Surgery different skills? Why does every weapon type need its own weapon skill? Is using a blunt weapon that different from an edged one or just using your fists? What do we gain from this fine granularity of weapon skills?
The worst part is that the skills vary hugely in their importance in the game. Mechanical Repair and Disable Alarm can safely be skipped. The speech skills are pretty useless too. Among the weapons, edged weapons are the best melee until the end of the game when blunt takes over, but both pale in comparison to brawling endgame. Still, melee is weak in general. The Pistol skill is worthless, submachine guns are OK at the beginning and fall behind quickly. Heavy weapons are useless because the game thinks that guns jam every 10th bullet and the ammo for energy weapons is way too heavy. The real problem is that assault rifles are by far the best weapon for the entirety of the game. Their range is comparable to a sniper rifle, but they can burst giving them the highest damage potential. Sniper rifles take a ton of AP to fire while doing considerably less damage than a bursting assault rifle. It may have been balanced if ammo were at all a problem, but the stuff is effectively infinite.
In order to make these skills useful the wasteland is littered with trapped and locked chests and safes. Nevermind asking why you would place explosives on a chest you were trying to protect or why all of these things are just lying around when resources are so scarce. Know that you will be spending far too much time disarming traps and unlocking stuff. Then you will constantly be juggling items to stay under your weight limit. On top of taking a needlessly long five seconds to use one skill, even at max skill you will still have a chance to fail. In fact you will have a chance to critically fail and be unable to try unlocking the chest again. So the game is built for save scumming for no good reason. The worst part is that for the most part these things contain pittances like a few rounds of ammo, no matter how difficult it was to break in. This entire setup caused huge pacing issues for me and endless frustration at loading screens and I cannot fathom why they chose this skill system and the multiplicity of locks and traps they put into the game.
This analysis of stats leads to the atrocious combat. Most of the time your group will be all balled up at the beginning of combat since it is rarely worth the considerable amount of effort to split them up before engaging. Wasting AP moving is usually a bad idea unless cover is very close. Thus by the end of the game you are mostly standing still picking off enemies from afar as they run closer to you. XCOM this is not. There are no special abilities and the tactical movement is essentially nonexistent. The ambush system in the game is awful. They will often all trigger at once or just fail to trigger for reasons unknown. I should point out I was only playing on Ranger difficulty, which is right below the absolute hardest difficulty, but above the recommended setting.
What about the plot and roleplaying you ask? Here is a summary of most of the game. Go place radio transmitters around Arizona. Now go place radio transmitters in California. Gather cat litter and zeolite to pass our contrived attempt to gate content with radiation. Learn about tired scheme for AI to take over world just like Fallout Tactics or Wasteland 1 or any other myriad sources. Game over. The overarching plot is really unmotivating and bland.
The individual areas are a little better, but most can be boiled down to there are two equally bad choices and you are forced to make one. This is fine a few times, but literally every major decision in the game is like this. You need to balance this with at least a few opportunities to bring good into the world, to actually fulfill the role of a Ranger bringing law and order to the people. Instead these “dilemmas” often leave one feeling powerless and impotent. If no matter what you do everyone is screwed why even make a choice? Why continue playing?
The freedom to resolve situations is nowhere near as broad as in Fallout 1 and 2, but it is better than most recent RPGs. What holds it back are some excessively narrow or even buggy triggers that often force you down paths you were just exploring or suddenly making everyone aware of your intentions. When I find out the nuke is actually a dud, this information should not be broadcast to everyone in town. But it is and an opposing faction decides to makes its move and my choice of who controls the town is made for me. Stuff like this happens all the time and it makes my narrative power feel janky and buggy. Unfortunately, dialogue is badly written and mostly consists of pressing all the dialogue options. This is one area where Bioware has actually made some progress recently, though I dislike how they have shortened your options to emoticons in recent games. Bioware games have natural dialogues rather than lists to exhaust. Speech skills in Wasteland 2 add very little in the way of options and most things are solved with guns. The NPCs are poorly optimized and have no personality. You get some emotes and a quick ending screen for your party members and that is about. None of them really even have a quest to flesh them out.
On the technical front, this game is ugly.
I think what really kills it for me is how terrible and frequent the combat is and the aforementioned trap/unlocking system that really slowed the game down. You can’t avoid it because you never know where an important item may be. So huge swathes of the game are joyless to get to the merely adequate roleplaying parts. There are so many blatantly bad ideas it strangles all the good parts. Inxile does not seem capable of even rudimentary analysis of their game systems and it makes me very wary of their future projects. I cannot in good conscience recommend this game to anyone.