Wasteland 3 Review08 Sep 2020 0
Wasteland 3 Review
Released 28 Aug 2020
As far as post-apocalypses go, Wasteland 3’s Colorado hellscape may be on the top of the list of settings no one wants to ever see actually happen. Outside of a few well fortified outposts, the wilderness is cold and barren, covered in decades of snow and awash with radiation.
Gangs of all shapes and forms run wild, looking to do some combination or rob, kill, and eat you. And the only apparent beacon of order and civilization - the local peacekeeping Marshall’s hometown of Colorado Springs, is beset on all sides by forces looking to claim it for their own. In short, everything sucks.
As a pair of last surviving Desert Rangers exiled from Arizona to this new frozen frontier, you stumble upon this bubbling unrest at the ushering of The Patriarch, the dictator of this civilised haven. He gives you a base and promises you the resources to return to Arizona and retake your home, so long as you help him seize back his wavering control over his fraying nation. It’s far easier to do on paper than in reality.
As a tactical RPG, that largely means running around, interacting with a lot of NPCs and factions, and trying to solve their problems. Wasteland 3 offers myriad ways to do this, based largely on how much people know or like you, how much money you have, or what kind of special skills your party of up to six recruits can offer. I felt like almost all of my interactions with NPCs, from vital quest givers to innocuous bystanders, have a wide array of options to engage with. I genuinely feel like I could be missing something possibly interesting or important when an option is locked because I don’t have a high enough mechanics skill.
Part of what intensifies this drama is that quests and possible assignments come at you pretty fast and furious once you get going. That, and many of them involve making decisions where the eventual outcome can be hard to foresee. Lots of these decisions are time sensitive, and usually come at the expense of someone else, whose loyalties could also be gained or lost. In some of the best side missions, like one involving saving a man’s mineral mine from 'martian robots', you never know who is swindling who until the very end.
The various tribes that are divvying up the icy wastes spice things up as well. At their core, they all seem to be different flavors of heavy handed militants, doomsday cult, of anarchic cannibals. The injections of personality here and there do go a long way to making some of these groups feel memorable. Los Payasos are a roving group of Latinx clowns, who believe the whole world would smile more if they just committed to burning it all down. A merchant militia of folks dressed up like movie monsters, and a cult that worships an AI that thinks its President Ronald Reagan make up some of my favorites.
As the previous might suggest, Wasteland 3’s tone is a reliably dark, tongue and cheek commentary of Americana in the vein of early Fallout games. Some of the most consistently funny moments for me were the music gags. Much of the soundtrack of the far future are dark and moody covers of songs like “The Monster Mash” and “Everybody Have Fun Tonight,” which sometimes sub in as battle music and the comedic timing of these moments is truly excellent. When it gets its fringiest, and possibly most obnoxious, is when it folds in some of the more bombastic Borderlands-y kinda of humor that misses more than it hits. Fully voiced performances - an upgrade from the previous game - can often pull some of the more mediocre writing over the finish line.
Where the game finds it a lot more changes from Wasteland 2 is the combat. Here, the denizens of Colorado seem far more manageable early on than in previous games. There’s a little more room for error, smaller encounters without too many super lethal enemies, etc. It really allows you to take the baby steps you might need to fully grasp the mechanics.
Mostly, Wasteland 3 plays like any turn-based tactics game this side of XCOM. Units get action points that they can spend on moving, shooting, and using items and special abilities. Maps are pretty dense with sometimes destructible obstacles to use as cover or break line of sight, adding a bit more positional depth than previous games in the series. It makes for largely the most competent combat in the series, but maybe just an above average in comparison to others in the genre.
The way combat often starts is sudden. Either someone springs an attack on your out of nowhere, a conversation takes a turn and comes to blows, or you stake out your enemy and strike first. An initiative stat each of your characters has will determine who gets the first strike in those first two scenarios, and it can be hard to play around because you don’t know what your enemy is working with. More than one dialogue of mine ended with a mob of men running to a single unit on my squad and beating them to death before I had any opportunity to react. This gets even more devastating as enemies get tougher and better equipped. Unless you enter a map and post your units around the room preemptively, or take the first shot out of combat and start the battle yourselves, it often feels entirely out of your hands whether you’re going to have a good encounter or a bad one.
During the moment to moment action in combat, the cover hopping and overwatching popular in this sort of game is front and center. Wasteland 3 does spice the formula up a bit. I enjoyed the strike system, which basically charges a character-based meter on every successful hit with a weapon, giving them access to a special weapon ability when full. Precision weapons can target particular body parts like Fallout’s VATS system, which usually does extra damage and some sort of debuff. Rocket launchers can use their strikes to launch nukes instead of normal missiles, irradiating the impact zone. These created a great rhythm to battle, creating power spikes to play around that kept even the longer, more sprawling battles feeling engaging. There are some occasional areas where it seems the battles just never stop, and no level of spice could make them feel less arduous.
Some of the most persistent enemies you’ll face in Wasteland 3 are the bugs. Many of them are largely benign or minor annoyances, like parts of the HUD vanishing for a time, or having quick slot items unequip themselves after use. One I encountered relatively early in the game forced me to reload an earlier save to get a quest to progress that was stuck on a step, even though I had fulfilled everything it asked me to do. My technical archnemesis? The load times. At upwards of a full minute between screens, it was almost discouraging to have to walk through some of the larger sections, just to deliver a quest item or restock at a vendor. My rig isn’t state of the art, but Wasteland 3’s load times are equally egregious on consoles.
That said, Wasteland 3 will absolutely fill a void for all you strategy gamers out there looking to scratch that XCOM and/or Fallout itch. What really makes InXile’s doomsday RPG worthy of a 'must play' recommendation though, is everything else. From its clever writing, interesting setting, and dedication to making sure you feel every consequence of all of your choices, it’ll be difficult to find a more roundly satisfying role-playing experience this year.