Wasteland 3 starts as it means to go on. This isometric post-apocalyptic RPG drops players right in the middle of a gunfight against a number of marauders. Before you can get into the thick of it though, you’re tasked with creating a characters or simply choose one of the pre-baked character duos to take on your journey. It’s a journey that I’m still fairly close to the start of, but given time, this review in progress will be followed by a full review.
Note: This review is an update to our Review in Progress posted last week.
In the early stages of Wasteland 3, the narrative and gameplay primarily focus the player’s efforts on building the Ranger Base. This is your main hub in the world and it’s your job to build it up by employing and acquiring the help of strangers throughout the wasteland. Sometimes it’s quite obvious that someone will join you, but I’ve also found that you can be rewarded for going out of your way to help someone. It’s an engaging plot device that weaves both gameplay and narrative together in a way that rewards your engagement.
The character customisation is deep in Wasteland 3, with each playable character having the ability to specialise across a number of different play styles. I went with the punk-rockers – cause why wouldn’t you? – who come with a mix of close quarters melee combat and ranged attacks. That’s just one of the character types though and there are plenty of ways to build a team to fit your style.
With my finalised characters, I was introduced to the heart of Wasteland 3’s gameplay; the combat. If you’ve ever played the series’ previous entries, you’ll know what to expect, but for the uninitiated Wasteland 3 plays similarly to the XCOM series. Fights take place across a gridded map, with movement, actions and attacks using the limited amount of AP each character has. Each fight is a balance between aggression, defence and balancing those ability points so you don’t end up leaving a character in a compromised position.
Truthfully, it’s a whole lot of fun. It’s not quite as hard as something like XCOM, but I like it a lot for that reason. I found that Wasteland 3 only typically punished me when I made silly mistakes, like running into a battle without considering positioning or standing a little too close to the explosive barrels that litter battlefields. With some clever thinking and a little foresight, you can really give yourself a tactical advantage on the battlefield. At one point I found myself defending a family from a murderous gang (who I’d angered by killing the leader’s brother). By making the decision to gain higher ground with my sniper, I was able to effectively take their gang down with relative ease. It’s in these moments that Wasteland 3 truly shines, providing some of the best turn-based combat I’ve seen so far this year.
The stellar combat is only narrowly outshone by the game’s brilliant narrative system. Wasteland 3 uses your decisions to shape the wasteland around you, and this pays off in ways that are both big and small.. There are around ten different endings that you can reach, with some decisions having massive effects on certain portions of the game. Even after half a dozen hours you can already start to see the results of some of your decisions playing out, and you continue to see that impact throughout the game.
Dialogue and narrative have always been a core focus of the Wasteland series, but the introduction of voiced dialogue in Wasteland 3 is by far one of the best improvements the game could make. Voiced dialogue adds a new layer of believability, which in turn further immerses you in the world that inXile have created. The solid voice performance mixed with some great writing has made me laugh out loud on more than a few occasions through the game.
Moral choices are fairly common in gaming now, but Wasteland 3 distinguishes itself in how it uses them to great effect. It generally presents you with situations and choices that fall within a morally grey area. There are certainly times when it’s obvious who the evil character is, but there are also moments in which you can empathise with all parties involved, ultimately making the decisions so much more difficult. There’s a particularly tough one early on that resulted in me killing an entire group of people due to the actions of their leader, while a later decisions had me choosing between the lives of innocents and my mission to protect a special set of armour to curry favour with the local ruler. Not the greatest moral quandary, but a touch decision nonetheless.
I really enjoy the little touches in Wasteland 3. Whether it’s a certain dialogue tree, a random encounter or one of the many side-quests, everything feels completely fleshed out. There’s so much to do and see in this world, and the fact that your presence shapes as much as it does sets a new bar for RPG titles of this nature.
The world map is yet another aspect of Wasteland 3 that receives a huge overhaul. Gone is the static map and symbol of Wasteland 2, instead replacing it with an overworld hub and a vehicle that your gang of explorers can travel in. Making your way between the different areas is accompanied by a radio that plays both catchy tunes and distress calls from people around the world. You can also take your transport into battle, using its powerful gun to decimate enemies on the field, but should it take too much damage you’ll then have to repair it.
Wasteland 3 isn’t without its issues. Performance can suffer at times, where enemies can take quite a while to decide to attack in combat, leaving me not knowing what was going on, and The Bizarre area dropped my frame rat down into the teens. Considering I have a Ryzen 5 3600 and Nvidia RTX 2060 well in excess of the game’s recommended specs, that shouldn’t really be happening, though thankfully performance issues outside of The Bizarre are quite sporadic.
I’ve also found myself growing a little frustrated with traversing the world. It’s quite easy to lose where your characters are while exploring an area, only to have to go back to them and point them towards the rest of your team. It’s a small issue that becomes frustrating further into the game as you explore more complex areas. Navigation could do with a little bit of tweaking just to make it a little more user friendly.
Wasteland 3 also features co-op gameplay, letting two players team up to take on the story together, or branch off and forge your own paths through the world. However, only one of you can take part in a conversation at a given time, and there’s no ability to listen in. As you can imagine, it’s quite difficult to follow what’s going on if you aren’t privy to the conversations involving the story and missions, and I’d like to see that improved, especially since co-op combat is very enjoyable.