The game is set in 2087, following a nuclear war between the United States and the Soviet Union. Earth has been turned into a 'wasteland' where survival is the paramount objective. Players control a party of "Desert Rangers" assigned to investigate a series of disturbancs in the desert. The party begins with four characters, and through the course of the game can hold as many as seven characters.
Characters in Wasteland have various statistics (strength, intelligence, luck) that allow them to use different skills and weapons. Experience is gained through battle and solving puzzles in the game.
One of the more notable features of this game was the inclusion of a printed collection of paragraphs which the game would instruct the player to read at the appropriate times. These paragraphs described encounters, conversations, contained clues, and added to the overall texture of the game. The game was also known for such combat prose as "Rabbit is reduced to a thin red paste" and "Thug explodes like a blood sausage", which prompted a "PG-13" sticker on the game packaging in the United States.
Wasteland was first distributed for the Apple II platform and ported to the Commodore 64 in 1987. An IBM platform port followed in 1988. Wasteland was rereleased as part of Interplay's 10 Year Anthology: Classic Collection in 1995, and also included in the 1998 Ultimate RPG Archives through Interplay's DragonPlay division.
Wasteland was a successful computer game, and has been included on numerous "best game" and "hall of fame" lists.