Games Xtreme delves deep into the snowy wastes of Colorado in Wasteland 3
Wasteland the Third
Welcome to Colorado Rangers. Enjoy the biting cold, the snow, the monsters, and the gangs that want to wear you as a hat. Because Wasteland 3 is full of brilliant over-the-top things and your journey is just getting started.
First though, let's take a quick step into the wayback machine - which is not a time machine.
Wasteland was an interesting game, this coming from inXile Entertainment (plus others) and Brian Fargo you know it's basically going to be strange, full of adult and dark humour, plus it'll have player agency across the board. These are the people who created Fallout, and Wasteland is their tip of the combat helmet to the franchise that's gone a whole different direction.
Wasteland 2 was more traditional, isometric 3d, same humour, turn-based X-Com style combat system.
If you want to know more, hit the mighty Google and check out some wikis and more on the Wasteland series.
We're here for Wasteland 3, and you should be too.
I'm going to preface this by saying the following: Wasteland 3 is the most Fallout non-Fallout game since Fallout became an MMO-style nightmare and is basically nothing like Fallout. Got that?
I'm going to ignore the story, barring the quick summary here which is: Rangers go to Colorado and things do not work out. You're hired by the Patriarch of Colorado to do a thing, and well, let's just say things are definitely setting out on the wrong foot.
This is a Wasteland game, and it follows the great formula set forth by Wasteland 1 and 2.
You get right into the action the moment the short and satisfying intro ends.
Here you get to pick from a pair of pre-gen Rangers, or spend time customising and tweaking your own.
This is a third person isometric RPG and this is one of the core elements of these kinds of games. Wasteland 3 does not scrimp in this area and it's jam-packed with character building which will have build enthusiasts salivating at the mouth parts just thinking of the options to make their character.
Talking of which, let's dive in, because there's a few things I want to say about this.
Ah, Brian and co, I see what you did there, and I've always loved your sense of humour.
Coordination, Luck, Awareness, Strength, Speed, Intelligence, and Charisma.
You have 14 points to spend to create the character with these stats, and you could set all those to 3 and have an all-rounder - making choices in game as to where you go from there. Or you could max out one stat to 14 and have a super strong, but essentially useless character as well. Mix and match these points how to want, with theory-crafters having a field day to find the right starting balance to get the best out of the game's many interconnected systems that use these stats.
Trust me when I say this isn't superficial. Every single stat here feeds into the game's many systems, for example. Charisma will build your strike charge faster the higher it is and that allows you to pull off special moves with various weapons, like sniper rifles. You will be (like me) experimenting a lot with various builds and designs for this game.
Having this level of control as a player just shows that Wasteland 3's developers get it, they understand the fun of player agency and it gets better.
You'll be choosing things like a Starting Weapon, where you can pick from the likes of SMGs, Assault Rifles, Melee Weapons, Pistols, and the long-range stopping power of a Sniper Rifle.
You'll be able to customise your character further with appearance options, and you can make some truly original looking characters in the game. For original, read: outlandish.
You can pick a Background which will further modify the character and make them your own.
Skills like Toaster Repair are excellent for early loot, nerd stuff will let you hack into computers, mechanics will let you work with machines and so on. You can't get every skill, but for every 2 points of Intelligence you'll get a skill point to spend extra to the default amount.
I definitely recommend one point in Hard Ass, and Kiss Ass to take advantage of some of the early dialogue options in the game too.
Quirks further alter a character, and these can offer powerful bonuses at the cost of a detriment that can have adverse effects on the character. Such as Blunderer: Bonuses to damage, but losses on Critical Chance.
This all adds up to a versatile and fun character build system which lets you make a character you want to play, plus since you make two characters, you can set it up so that where your first is weakest on something - the other is strongest and so on.
Putting the Role in Role Playing Game
Wasteland 3 lets you take those two characters you've made, or picked, and turn them into fully fleshed out people over the course of the game. Your actions have consequences, directly at the time, or many hours later when you think you got away with something. I'm not going to give any examples, because one rule I have is regarding story style spoilers - I hate to spoil anything and especially on a game as deep and rewarding as Wasteland 3.
Basically, you'll be able to use those stats and skills in different ways inside, and outside of combat, as well as bring the social skills to bear in various expansive dialogue trees throughout the game. Beware, there are lots of nuanced and hard choices in this game - you won't be able to please everyone all of the time, and it really does depend on how you or your character feel about a particular Non-Player Character.
Another excellent trick that inXile uses here for major characters is their focus on them for the dialogues. For the most part you'll interact with NPCs using a third person slightly zoomed in camera - but for important NPCs aka the Movers and Shakers of the world you get zoom in to their face and body, or the scene they're in. You get to see them larger than life, something that's often only reserved for third person action adventures.
This all helps to add to the immersion in the game, the sense of connection, and creates the right tension/drama for the scene involving the major character.
The role aspect also tends to play into the missions/quests/side quests themselves with various ways to solve a particular situation. I won't go into those, but you'll discover as you play, not every scenario plays out the same way and you have a lot of control. Plus, even if things go south, you can turn a failure into an opportunity for creative problem solving.
Or shoot everyone.
You do you.
Seriously, without spoiling things (that aren't mechanics) - you can wipe whole Factions off the face of the planet.
Oh yeah, Factions. There are Factions here to support, and you'll find out more about those as you dive deeper into the game. That's all I can say on this.
Party of Rangers
Very quickly you'll amass a party of Rangers, these disparate people and pets (animal whisperer lets you have an animal companion) will have their own skills and attributes, their own quirks, and their own likes and dislikes. They'll round out your team and bring various skills to both the open exploration and violence you'll get involved in sooner or later.
There are some amazing side characters here, and I'll leave it at that.
You can have a gang of 4 max, with 2 extra companions to make the whole party up to 6. Then of course there's the animal companions in the game too.
You can control the characters individually or as a group as you explore the area maps, and of course there's the whole world map too where you can trundle around in your Kodiak, an upgradeable Ranger vehicle that can also help out in a fight if it really has to.
The game plays similar to many other isometric CRPG games, and switches to turn-based when combat starts. XCOM style!
Edit: Yes, I used X-Com originally for Wasteland 2, whereas I feel XCOM (new) actually suits the Wasteland 3 approach.
You have access to a Ranger HQ early on in the game, it's a hub, it grows over time - that's all I'll say about it.
RPGs like this can be a pain in the ass. Tallying all the things you want to keep, dropping things, managing your gear and mods and just basically not having enough room for those 300 tins of dog food you found at the back of an old car. Sure, you might not want those tins, but they'd be nice to have right.
Wasteland 3 says: DOWN WITH INVENTORY MANAGEMENT. Yep, that's right, for you can carry as much crap as you want and not have to worry. So, get on and enjoy the game and don't mind the 30 assault rifles you have in your back pocket.
In all seriousness, I love this. It means I can get on and play the game without constantly micro-managing my inventory. I can also stock up on ammo, and that's important - because guns don't come with endless mags of bang-bang.
Nitty Gritty Bang-Bang
So, you upset the bandits, dialogue didn't go well, you made a few wrong choices and the comparison of the one guy's backside to his sister's face didn't go over well. Words aren't enough, it's time for bullets, blades, energy weapons, or frozen ferrets.
Fights in Wasteland 3 are tactical, brutal, and hard. Even on the easier difficulty settings, this game is punishing if you make a mistake. Sure, you'll have a bit more leeway when you get something wrong - but it will still serve you bloody and battered on the floor.
It is reminiscent of XCOM style combat, with cover, various skills, an overwatch/ambush mechanic and a turn-based system. The characters with the highest speed are going to go first but you can freely switch to your Rangers and use them how you see fit. Perhaps you want to leave that sniper until very last, so you can whip that last chunk of health off the bad guy all the way at the back of the map?
Or perhaps you'd like to launch a frozen ferret at the enemy first with the gal who has command of Weird Science weapons.
If you've played an XCOM game you know what to expect. Things you do, movement you make, all costs action points and as long as you have enough to do the thing, you'll be sending the enemy to the sweet embrace of death very soon.
The GUI here is effective, you can see at a glance what things do, where they hit, how far you can move, and just what the shot line of sight will be. Then there's the special abilities and strike meter - over the combat you'll build up that power, and you can unleash it with a devastating shot onto the enemy doing massive damage and maybe even a special effect like bleeding.
Or cryo, you know, from being hit the face by a FROZEN FERRET.
There's a lot of depth to be found in the combat system. You'll need to be on your A-Game especially at the higher difficulties - and you'll definitely need to keep an eye on ammo use. The last thing you want to happen is to run out of rounds for your weapons when facing a huge group of very hungry, angry, and well-armed bandits.
You can play the game solo or with a friend. If you play with a friend, you'll be able to control that squad of 6 and split it how you want between you. Maybe your friend doesn't like managing huge amounts of characters, or maybe you want to spread the load. It's entirely up to you.
It does not support couch co-op.
There's a shared inventory too, so there's no messing about with player inventories as you pick things up. You both get access to it, so you can decide who gets that huge machete and pink teddy bear.
In dialogues one player is in control of the main choice, the other player can also choose, and you can also switch who controls the conversation at any time.
As long as you're on the same map, you can both be off doing your own things. Maybe one person wants to hack bandits to bits whilst the other tries on new pants at the store. You can.
For Solo and Co-op, the game has manual saves, it has quick saves and the load times are pretty good so far.
Experience is Key
Levelling up in the game rewards you with a way to increase your attributes, points for skills, and eventually perks you can apply to your character as well - once more player agency is key here and Wasteland 3 does not skimp on offering unlockable perks as you build up your skills. There's something for everyone, and making a specific build that is good at one thing is highly possible.
Want a killer sniper, you got it.
Graphically, it's a nice-looking game, it doesn't push the boundaries of the genre and honestly, I don't think it has to. The character models and the animations are good, solid, and they work in the context of this RPG. Colorado and its environs are brought to life nicely, and the many enemies you'll face have a unique fun, and very quirky design in some cases.
Voicing an Opinion
Voice work here is stand-out, there are some absolutely brilliant voice performances in the game - some utterly great characters and some moments of pure hilarity that have inXile's DNA all over them. Darkly humorous and tongue-in cheek with just the right level of salt.
Music is the Food of Strife
I love the soundtrack to Wasteland 3, especially the Blood of the Lamb song which plays during certain key combat moments in the game. The rest of the score is excellently done and the soundtrack compliments the exploration and on-screen action perfectly. This is also great stand-alone music just to listen to as you write things like this review.
Hmm, through my huge playthrough I have had a few audio issues, a slight frame-rate drop on the Xbox One X and that's about it. I've been lucky regarding my quests and progress/saves in general. I've read some stories about the various issues that other people are having and I feel for them. I can only go from what I've experienced, which barring those mentioned issues has been pretty flawless out of the gate.
I've written a lot of words for this one. Honestly, I could go on, but all good things must come to an end and Wasteland 3 is a great example of a modern RPG that takes good old tried and tested RPG designs from the early days, improves on them, polishes them and provides a huge swathe of options to: Play how you Want.
From the character design to the whole way you play the game, it is all offering a player a huge choice that's only seen in the likes of early CRPGs. Or games like Witcher 3. Wasteland 3 offers a big campaign, enough side content and missions to keep your going hours and hours in and never actually bores you with its content.
You want to see the next thing; you want to try out the next system. I event started other saves so I could play with character builds.
There are deep and nuanced systems here doing things under the hood that make this CRPG fan more than happy.
In short, this is a game worth the time invested in playing it and the money it'll cost to buy it.