We have updated this preview to the full review, which can be found with this link:
- Developer: inXile Entertainment
- Publisher: inXile/Deep Silver
- Release date: 19th May 2020
- Genre: Turn-based Tactical RPG
- Platforms: PC, Xbox One, PS4, Mac OS
- Reviewed on: ASUS TUF FX505DY
- Game Supplied by: Publisher
I had just started taking my chosen two-person team on their apocalyptic adventure and lost six (non-playable) allies in the opening encounter to a large, quadrupedal behemoth that was packing some serious firepower. We managed to hold off the enemies and, thanks to an enormous cannon of our own, vaporise their heavy armour.
Continuing our mission to find the rest of our Ranger buddies, we came across a private being held hostage, a gun pointed at her head. Engaging in conversation with the marauder holding her hostage, a number of speech-checks came up, including one that was accessible to my team, “Nobody has to die, just leave.” – “What’s the worst that can happen?” I thought. Success! The marauder released my fellow Ranger, shouting back about how he was going to tell his friends we were coming. Meh, could be worse. After a quick chat with our new friend, we set off in pursuit of the marauder. As we enter the area where the rest of his cronies are holed up, we can see that they are holding other hostages. Great! Hero time again! Before we can even think about rescuing them, though, the marauder from earlier has told everybody we are on our way, so they decide to just shoot the rest of the hostages in the head right then and there… Well, shit.
After exacting a swift dose of justice, and eliminating a couple of stray enemies, we arrive at our soon-to-be new home in an abandoned military base. We meet a few new characters, are issued a load of primary objectives to get our base up and running, and are invited to explore the base before setting off on our quests.
During this exploration, we discover a prisoner held in a cell and strike up a conversation. He’s a jovial chap, and quite clearly, more than just a touch mad. It’s unclear how long he has been in there for, but he informs us he has been surviving by licking water from the walls that is dripping through a crack in the roof, and eating mushrooms that he has “self-fertilised”. He wants us to let him out, and though he seems harmless enough, I’m still acutely aware now that an apparently low-risk decision can have harsh consequences. There’s also some pretty convincing evidence from the corpse in the room that he’s not as harmless as he may appear, so I decide to play it safe, planning to revisit him later in my playthrough.
Wasteland 3 may be a tactical, turn-based combat game, but first and foremost it is an RPG. It has more in common with games like Fallout than its chosen genre would have you believe. Even within the confines of the demo, you are confronted with choices that have significant consequences. My earlier decisions when saving someone’s life caused many more to die, and it made me consider my choices much more carefully later in the game.
The characters you meet are varied and interesting, and they are reasonably well voice-acted. As such, I found myself becoming drawn into the story and quests way more than I expected to be. It’s definitely NSFW, with frequent ‘effing and jeffing, and some decidedly dark humour. It is, however, very funny. Your interactions with NPCs offer some great repartee. If you choose the sarcastic responses or those that give a bit of ‘tude, they will call you up on it, and in addition to some witty or comedically annoyed responses, it can also affect your relationship with their faction.
As someone new to the Wasteland series, I wasn’t expecting the level of depth, humour, deep character customisation and interaction that is usually only reserved for big-budget RPGs. I’ve played a lot of turn-based combat games over the years, but this is unlike any that I’ve played before. For the majority, they shoehorn the story in as a means of setting up the next encounter, but with Wasteland, the story is front and centre. That’s not to say that Wasteland 3 doesn’t have excellent combat, because it genuinely does.
I may not have played the first two games, but I can appreciate that the combat mechanics have clearly been very finely honed. In fact, this is where Wasteland really differentiates itself from the likes of Fallout. In Fallout, the stories, cast and locales are the hook, but I don’t think anyone could reasonably argue that it plays well as a first-person shooter. If it wasn’t for VATS, many fights would be a lopsided affair, resulting in your swift death at the hands of a lowly bloatfly as you struggle to actually hit the bloody things. In Wasteland 3, the turn-based mechanic really lends itself well to the RPG setup. You have time to assess, plan and execute your attacks, but it still has a tangible intensity to it. This pacing is helped along by AI enemies that make their moves swiftly. There are no tedious pauses as you wait for enemies to make their attack, and it helps maintain a great flow of action.
I found myself experimenting with loadouts and varying my team members (you can take four Rangers, and two additional characters you meet or that are mission-specific), and there are a whole load of options available to you that affect not just combat, but free-roaming abilities too. Having a variety of skill sets within your team allows you to do things like pick locks or hack computers, gaining access to areas you may not be able to reach or to bypass difficult combat situations by shutting down defences. The amount of choice available is exceptional, and it really feels like you are living your own story, your way.
The Wasteland 3 beta is quite short – only a few hours – but it took less than half of this to get me absolutely hooked. I’ve played through twice now, and I’m gearing up for a third try with custom created Rangers, as there are some areas I couldn’t enter because I lacked skills in certain areas, there are also more dialogue choices I want to try out, and I really want to release that poo-mushroom (shiitake?) eating prisoner just to see what happens.
I played the beta on Steam, and system requirements are very accessible for anyone restricted to lower-powered hardware. My Radeon RX560X equipped laptop ran Wasteland 3 with ease, with the majority of settings cranked up. It’s not a graphically intensive game, but it still captures the apocalyptic wasteland feel very well. As someone who is a sucker for a pretty pixel, I was surprised that I never found myself lamenting the lack of flashy effects and richly detailed textures – It’s all about the story and gameplay, and Wasteland 3 delivers this by the bucketload.
On the beta, you are restricted to mouse and keyboard controls, and they are very simple to use. There are keyboard shortcuts for accessing inventories, loadouts or switching characters, but the majority of it can be executed with a click of the mouse on the relevant icon. It’s a very streamlined system, but never feels restrictive. Controller support will be added, too, as Wasteland 3 is destined for release on consoles as well as PC. For anyone who enjoys big-screen gaming, the simplicity of the controls should translate very well to a controller, but we will have to wait for the full release to confirm this.
Even if you don’t normally play turn-based combat games, this game has amazing levels of tactical depth that the simplicity of the controls belies, yet remains very accessible for newcomers to the genre. If you are a fan of the dark humour and world-building of the Fallout games or The Outer Worlds, there’s a lot for you to enjoy, too, and I highly recommend you give it a try.
I can’t wait to continue my journey through the American Wastelands when the full-release hits storefronts.
Wasteland 3 is out for Windows PC, Mac OS, PS4 and Xbox One on the 19th of May 2020.