Wasteland also broke my computer. This was the time of 5.25" floppies, and disk drives with loud mechanical parts, and my computer was towards the end of a long and storied (primarily gaming) life-cycle. Wasteland's robots and mutated bunnies made my disc drive explode like a blood sausage, and I doubt I got to see more than 10 hours of the game. It was a highly traumatic experience.
So it's with some excitement (and trepidation) that I've entered into the world of Wasteland 2. But it's been very satisfying, and certainly a reminder of how "old-school" RPG's used open world + lots of text + skill checks to craft evocative narratives.
One design aspect that interests me about RPG's is whether the game system gives you control over one player-character (PC) or a party. The advantage of one is that you, the player, can better experience the world through the eyes of your individual PC - and therefore, you have a more personal experience with the crises and challenges that emerge. Planescape Torment is a good old-school example of this, and all the Elder Scrolls games are excellent modern ones. But a party system allows for greater tactical possibilities in combat, which has always been a central feature of Dungeons & Dragons and its many progenitors. Furthermore, a party allows for multiple archetype representation: you can have a brawler, a thief, a healer, etc., etc. and get to role-play each of them.
Wasteland and Wasteland 2 are firmly in the second category of forcing you to control a party of characters, where each should be developed in a particular specialty so that you can deal with as many different challenges as possible. The number of character skills and attributes is, at first, overwhelming - especially if you haven't played a game like this in a while:
Animal Whispering? Toaster Repair? You're tempted to take them, aren't you? As was I. In the end, certain skills are more useful than others (Field Medic, Demolitions, Safecracking), but with 3-6 skills being developed for each of 4-7 characters, you're going to be able to play around with most of them a bit.
One subtle decision that Wasteland 2 has made when it comes to using skills is that it forces you to select a character and their skill when you want to use it in the world. For example, you're exploring a research facility and run across a locked safe in a side-room. You're not an idiot, so you suspect a possible alarm or trap. You have to select a character (left click) with a high Perception skill to inspect (right click) the safe. That inspection reveals a trap. Now, you need to select another character (left click) with a high Demolitions skill to disarm (right click) the trap. Once the trap is disarmed, you need to select another character (left click) with a high Safecracking ability to open (right click) the safe. Maybe the same PC is strong on all 3 of these skills, which makes sense thematically and reduces the "strain" of having to switch characters so much. But maybe the skills you need to meet a particular challenge are distributed among 2-3 party members. Lots of clicking ensues.
The designers could have made it so that, if you have your entire party selected, you can right-click to meet any challenge using the appropriate skill from the character with the highest value. In other words, a lot of this could have been automated to reduce click-strain. And some reviewers have been complaining about this, and for all I know, the developers are going to patch this in. But there's another side to this. When you select a character to test a skill, you've temporarily put yourself in their shoes. This enhances the role-playing aspect of a game that utilizes a party system. I think I appreciate that. It's interesting that a character select via left-click can cause me to make a slight, but meaningful, psychological shift like that - embodiment, or something like it.
Another issue that always comes up for me when I play party-based RPG's is optimal party size - with regards to this issue of personalization and connection. Too many characters in the party, and I start to lose interest in the entire group as a whole - because it gets harder for my cognitive architecture to perceive the individual and unique value of each character. I suspect that optimal party-size in part depends upon some inherent aspect of human cognition and memory load, since it just gets too hard to juggle so much information from more than 7-8 characters (for example). Another factor is probably the breadth of specialization offered by the system. Let's say that there are 20 unique skills in a game, and that each character can become an expert in 2. You could theoretically have a party size of 10 to accommodate the entire range of possibilities. Interesting that you rarely see that solution vs. 4-5 characters who each can specialize in 4-5 skills.
Wasteland 2 parties can increase to 7, and personally, I think that's too much. I max out at 5, and I kind of wish the system limited me to that. I'm pleased with the Hobo I just recruited, but do I really need another shotgun expert? (what a great sentence to be able to write)