Aside from a few rough edges, Wasteland 3 is a masterclass in post-apocalyptic adventuring.
- Developer: inXile Entertainment
- Publisher: inXile Entertainment
- Release date: 26th August 2020
- Genre: Turn-based RPG
- Platforms: Xbox One, PS4, Windows PC, Linux, Mac OS
- Reviewed on: Xbox One X
- Game Supplied by: Publisher
Wasteland 3 continues directly from where Wasteland 2 ends.
The Rangers have set out for Colorado to meet up with a man called The Patriarch, who is in control of the region. While he initially tries to portray himself as a benevolent leader, the statues he has erected of himself and the brutal tactics of his private army of Marshals belies his true character. So, more Kim Jong Un than Barak Obama.
The Patriarch is having problems with his three patricidal children, each aligned with a separate faction, with designs on his position as ruler of the frozen wastelands. In return for the Rangers help in rounding them up, he has promised to provide them with the food and resources they need to rebuild and survive.
I had just started taking my chosen two-person team on their apocalyptic adventure and lost six 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, vaporised 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. You are constantly 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 all very well voice-acted. As such, I found myself quickly becoming drawn into the story and quests. 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.
When you begin Wasteland 3, you have two playable characters to choose. There are five pairs of pre-created characters available (with unique verbal interactions), or you can make your team from scratch. I went down the custom route, which gives you the freedom to create unique characters. In amongst the expected choices of faces, punk-inspired haircuts, overly styled facial hair and face paints, you can also choose to make them gigantic behemoths or comedically tiny. Another interesting option is their voices, which not only affects the tone of their speech, it also opens up some varied dialogue within the character interactions, which is a nice touch.
Character classes are prevalent in Wasteland 3, but they aren’t pre-assigned. By allocating stat points into various skills and attributes, you can create your own unique class. If you get into the game and decide to switch up your playstyle, though, it’s easy to just move a few skill points around and adapt your character and weapons to something that works for the way you want to play.
While you may be tempted to create a jack of all trades, it’s far more beneficial to create specialist classes. As you progress through the game, you will build up your squad with new recruits. Some squad members you can recruit are generic characters you can find in your base of operations and aside from the class you specify, don’t impact the story. You can, however, recruit two additional squad members that are specialist characters, and many of these, depending on the region or mission you are on, can open up additional dialogue or interactions.
Yeah, I’ve got skills. What you gonna do about it?
All of the members in your squad can be levelled up and assigned perks, weapons and armour just like your main characters. It opens up a tonne of options for tactical combat depending on your team’s perks and abilities. Given the full voice acting and branching narrative, it’s worth investing a few points into some of the dialogue skills, as these can open up additional opportunities for avoiding or gaining advantages in combat. You are of course free to switch your team members out, and with a few changes, you can completely change the dynamic of your squad.
There are other active skills that can help you out in battle besides combat focussed ones. Things like lockpicking and computer hacking can give access to advantageous positions to mount your attack, help you find files to blackmail/persuade your antagonists, or bypass security systems, turning them on your enemies. Having a good spread of these abilities within your team is hugely advantageous. When choosing which skills to upgrade, Wasteland 3 conveniently shows you which other characters in your squad share the same skills or abilities, and also at what level. This is very handy if you are about to level up a dialogue skill without realising another character already sits at a higher level, so you can invest those points somewhere more useful.
Fight, fight, fight!
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.
Your characters have a limited amount of AP (action points) available to move, attack, reload, throw grenades etc, or use abilities. There are also a few end-of-turn options for if you don’t have enough AP to perform another attack, or if you already in a defensive position you don’t want to leave. If you have enough AP left, you can set up an ambush move, so if an enemy tries to rush you, any of your characters who have used ambush can launch an attack when they come into range.
Engagements can be tense and deeply tactical, especially in the latter stages where some encounters must be treated as puzzles to crack. You can build up a Precision Strike move, that can be used to deal extra damage to armour, inflict bleeding or even damage a robot’s systems and turn it against your enemies. Dealing damage is only half of the equation, though, and you need to take care of your squad, too. Managing your characters health and making proper use of cover and positioning is essential to success.
Understanding your squad’s strengths and weaknesses is a fundamental part of battles. Depending on your weapon loadout and skill assignment, you may have a character who can make two or more attacks per turn if they forgo movement. Likewise, you could build a character with enough AP to move in and deal out heavy single-attack damage, and still be able to retreat to cover afterwards.
The Wasteland 3 cover system is very intuitive. A simple shield will display whether you have full or limited cover, and from which directions. When you position your character, line of sight indicators appear for each enemy, so you can quickly see whether you are in a dangerous position. The better your cover, the more likely enemies are to miss or have to move into the open to get their attacks in. With the shoe on the other foot, attacking enemies behind cover can rely on performing flanking manoeuvres, but you can also utilise the destructible cover system and just blast your way to an enemy if changing positions is too dangerous.
You will sometimes find situations where you are pinned down by turrets or other defences in addition to human or robotic opponents. These can sometimes be shut down by locating a generator or terminal mid-combat. This can be risky, as it often requires making a rush past other enemies to reach them. Although it may be essential to do so, this can leave your squad-member exposed and open to follow-up attacks.
Down, but not out.
If you have a squad-member knocked down-but-not-out, it’s not over for them. You have a limited number of turns to reach and revive them, and depending on your rescuing character’s first-aid level, you can restore a decent amount of health to your fallen comrade. Thankfully you find a decent amount of first aid items and proper management of these is crucial. If you take serious enough damage, this can cause debuffs or damage over time injuries that will keep chipping away at your health until you use something like an injury kit or sutures. It’s highly recommended you keep a healthy stock of first-aid supplies.
Whenever possible, you need to heal any debuffs or injuries before you kill the last enemy, as they continue to inflict damage at an alarming rate. I nearly lost a couple of people due to their health ticking away after the battle, with no way to pause the game while you frantically search for and equip the right healing items. Even if it means letting the enemy get one more hit in, it’s definitely worth it to save the stress afterwards.
Connecting the combat and narrative is a fully fleshed out world, filled with exploration, resource hunting and numerous side-quests to discover. Wasteland 3 centres around your main hub zones; Colorado Springs, and your base of operations. Locating your Ranger Base is one of your first missions, and when you arrive it’s bare bones. As you progress, you can find and recruit NPCs that will return to your base and run different areas, such as your armoury or medical centre. Having these NPCs opens up the ability to heal up, repair your vehicle, recruit new companions and restock or purchase weapons and ammo.
Come along for the ride.
In a first for the Wasteland series, you can now play in drop-in, drop-out two-player co-op. We couldn’t test this game mode, as there weren’t any matches available. From what I understand, you can play through the entire game co-op, and even split up to take on different missions simultaneously. Because of the faction system, it’s likely that unless you are communicating with each other and share the same goals, you could end up making conflicting decisions, which opens up unique opportunities for emergent gameplay.
I reviewed Wasteland 3 on the Xbox One X but also spent some time playing the PC build. They’ve done a very good job in translating the controls to a gamepad, though there is a key difference that affects the Xbox version, specifically when it comes to movement; In combat, it doesn’t cause any issues, as movement is predicated by the amount of AP you have, but in open-world exploration navigating the world is a little bit janky.
On PC, you click where you want to go and your characters take the most direct route if it’s possible. For example, if you see some loot on top of a building, just clicking where you want to go will see your characters find any ladders or paths to reach this point. Playing on a console, sometimes the route may be concealed because of the camera angle you are viewing or just not intuitive to locate. This can lead to slight frustration occasionally when you know you must be able to reach a location, but can’t work out how.
This is compounded when you can get stuck on seemingly arbitrary bits of scenery or hidden obstructions. It’s not frequent enough to spoil the game, but when combined with the slightly clunky character animations it doesn’t feel as smooth as its PC counterpart. Thankfully, this is the only key difference between the two, and the overall gameplay and story are equally good whichever version you play.
Wasteland 3 does an excellent job of drawing you into its world. Sometimes, even the most simple of quests can provide you with moral dilemmas. Do you help the drug-addict retrieve his stash and hand it to him, flat out refuse, keep it for yourself, or try to extract some cash from him in exchange for it? This kind of option comes up in even the most simple of actions, but often the choices are far more significant. How you respond to these events can affect your relationship with the many factions represented in Wasteland 3, but also with individual characters, and they all have rewards and repercussions. It all adds up to making you deeply invested in the story and the people within it.
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, atmosphere and gameplay, and Wasteland 3 delivers this by the bucketload.
Washed in the blood of the lamb.
It wouldn’t be right to write a review of Wasteland 3 without mentioning the amazing score and songs woven throughout the campaign. There’s an inspired selection of music, perfectly chosen to capture and set the wasteland tone. From melancholy, soulful songs, to upbeat songs filled with elation, it’s one of the best soundtracks to have been put on a game in recent years. The rest of the in-game audio is of a very high quality, too. From the howling winds while you explore through blizzards of snow, to the hustle and bustle and random conversations you hear in the hub areas, the audio helps bring this wasteland to life.
Wasteland 3 is a massive, epic game, that is sure to keep you engrossed for the 80-100 hours it takes to complete. inXile has done an amazing job of creating a sprawling post-apocalyptic world, crammed full of humour, moral dilemmas, interesting characters, a compelling narrative and solid gameplay. The skill trees and combat systems have depth, without being overly convoluted, and there’s a solid range of weapons and abilities to keep each fight feeling fresh.
The movement is a little clunky on Xbox outside of combat, but it’s made up for by all of the other positives that Wasteland 3 brings. Crucially, it has that all-important, “Just one more quest,” hook, that keeps you up until 3 am.
Wasteland 3 releases on Thursday 26th August 2020 for Xbox One, PS4, Windows PC, Linux and Mac OS.
It will also be available Day One as part of Game Pass for PC and Console.