The Wasteland series shares a lot in common with Fallout. However it’s ironic that out of the two, Wasteland has stayed true to its roots. Whilst Fallout strolled into first-person territory, Wasteland maintained its top-down tactical gameplay which was also true to the original pre-Bethesda Fallouts and Wasteland 3 is no different. The third game in the Wasteland series is filled with dark humor, satire, parody and tonnes of Easter eggs all set in a good-old post-apocalyptic setting. It’s a “wasteland” filled with player choice and far reaching consequences. Many to which you wont know what you’ve done wrong until it slaps you with its cold frigid fist.
Wasteland 3 takes place after the previous game and sees the Arizona Rangers venture out of their dusty desert homeland and into the frozen wastes of post-apocalyptic Colorado. The reason for this is that the Rangers have received a distress call from the Patriarch. The Patriarch is the self proclaimed ruler of what remains of Colorado and his rule is being threatened by a few powerful enemies. The Patriarch’s so called enemies happen to be a rival family called the Dorseys who have recently declared war upon Colorado Springs and to make matters worse, the Patriarch’s own children have also rebelled against him and have taken control of a few of the bandit gangs that roam the frozen wastes. With the Ranger’s peacekeeping reputation stretching far and wide, the organisation seems to be the answer to help save whats left of the Patriarch’s hold on Colorado.
Unfortunately things don’t go well for the Rangers and in the opening cinematic their scout force is ambushed by the Dorseys. The only members of the team left alive are our two protagonists who decide to aid the Patriarch however they can. Wasteland 3’s decision making kicks off early as we get to customise these two characters as we wish. Though throughout the game we will be able to recruit and customise up to six party members, and these initial two Rangers will be our primary characters. As with previous Wasteland games there is a wealth of skills and attributes at our disposal. From weapon abilities to lockpicking and bartering (aptly named ‘kiss ass’), there is a skill for all occasions. As with other tactical RPGs its best to create a team that compliments each other, rather than focus on one thing.
Skills are important in surviving Wasteland 3. Whilst your team won’t be fully proficient in everything, each party member that shares a skill gets added to a skill checker. This checker looks at the highest chance of success and uses that character to perform the action. For example you could have two characters who share a charisma trait. When performing the action it will be the one with the highest skill that completes the task , whether they are being controlled or not. It also pays to have each character learn a different weapon skill to the next. This also helps to diversify our team and also adds in conserving ammo. We can only have two weapons equipped at a time and this also adds to a skill check. However this time round the difficulty in these checks soon ramps up and shows that generalisation of skills won’t work.
Each skill we choose also has a part to play when your exploring the world. Certain dialogue options only open up if you have the relevant traits to use them. Traits such as “Kiss Ass” and “Hard Ass” will open up dialogue options to either charm or intimidate NPC’s. Meanwhile the “Animal Whisperer” skill will allow you to effectively tame the local wildlife to fight with you. The scope in which to build your team of Rangers is huge and there is a skill to suit anyone’s play style. Fancy building a team of badass heavy weapon specialists? Sure go for it, but it could cause problems for you down the road.
Shortly after the quite bloody tutorial we are shown what would be our base of operations in Colorado. This base can be used to recruit our new Ranger team as well as support our current party in the field. The character creation tool can be used to create and customise these new recruits or we can meet potential NPC recruits during our adventure. Often some of these party members have history with the other characters we meet which can effect the story in a manner of ways.
Wasteland 3 isn’t frightened to darken the tone of its story (or world) when it wishes. Its quite often that the tone will dramatically shift from one extreme to the next. For example one early mission we go from consoling a new party member in the brutal death of her entire family. To then visit Little Vegas where a goat (yes a goat!) just happens to be the number 1 prostitute in the town. It’s these extremes that make it difficult to become attached to the story. But with this being the harsh world it is its inhabitants seem oblivious to my worries and carry on with their lives regardless.
With my team of Rangers ploughing through Raiders and other delinquents this dark mood soon shifts. As mentioned before we start to recruit people to run our base and start to put right the many many wrongs that are troubling the inhabitants. This also comes down to choice as we don’t necessarily have to be the benevolent rescuers that the Rangers claim to be. We can go down a darker route filled with robbery and intimidation, but if we choose to take this path then don’t expect a warm welcome later. Whilst initial locations are set in Colorado Springs we do soon move into other locations dotted around and then eventually we move onto Denver. We do this by driving the Kodiak which is the Rangers behemoth transporter. The Kodiak is also fully customisable and we can upgrade all manner of its internal systems. If this isn’t enough the Kodiak can also assist us in battle to either steam roll over everyone or set up a mobile cover point for our team. It’s a nice addition but can seem a little overpowered at times.
Combat feels very X-COM like and is a departure from the combat mechanics in Wasteland 2. When we approach an enemy and are either spotted or we attack, we will then enter a combat phase where a handy grid will cover the map. During combat we can use the environment to our advantage and in doing so we can use items to take cover and even target barrels of explosives that seem to litter every combat area. We also need to govern our action-points which are used to dictate how many actions are available to us each turn. Everything from shooting, moving, reloading, switching weapons and using items and abilities are all governed by action-points and each character has a set pool of these points to go by. Combat is also a turn-based affair and we are able to freely switch between our party members between each action until their points have been used. Each of our characters and the enemy can used ranged and melee attacks and combat is quite often a mixed battle of the two. For the most part combat is quick and fairly enjoyable. There is the odd occasion when the enemy seems to have the upper hand and any mistakes on our part can prove costly. There is also a chance-to-hit element at play which is just as awkward in Wasteland 3 than it is in other titles.
Visuals are often uninspiring and the majority of indoor locations feel a little bland. A handful of the outdoor environments do stand out very well and these are littered with intricate details and superb lighting effects. On the odd occasion I did suffer a few drops in frame rate, this was more so if there was a lot of action going on at once. It wasn’t horrendous but felt like a minor inconvenience at times. Character animations are fairly decent but there’s nothing to get too excited about. Most characters are fully voiced though, which came as a nice surprise and is a major step up again from Wasteland 2.
Wasteland 3 also comes with a multiplayer mode which is very unique to the genre. With playing the game in co-op we are able to work together to tackle whole game and its an experience that’s best played for the long haul rather than drop in and out play. Its great to see inXile add in this cooperative option and playing the game this way feels just as good as playing it as a solo player. During my short time playing co-op I never felt that it diluted the gameplay but rather added to the experience.
In summing up… Wasteland 3 isn’t a game for the casual gamer. It’s often very unforgiving and is very reminiscent of older games such as Fallout 1 and 2 and even Baldur’s Gate. Whilst the challenge at times can feel unfairly steep the combat is very quick-paced and rewarding when played in co-op. The environment is as vast as it is dangerous and there is quite literally hundreds of locations to explore. The harsh environment is also littered with multiple choices which have far reaching consequences if tackled incorrectly. Whether its saving a family taken hostage or a ambushed convoy or armour, every decision has a amount of weight to it. Whilst Wasteland 3 could use some technical polish and a little building of indoor environments, it’s a huge RPG that offers hours of gameplay and story.
+ Hours of gameplay
+ Fast flowing combat.
+ Great story.
– Lack of polish.
– Bland indoor environments.
– Frame rate issues at times.
Reviewed on Xbox One X (also available on PlayStation 4 and Windows PC)
A review copy was provided by the publisher.