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August 2022

Wasteland 3

Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Genre: RPG/Strategy
Publisher: Deep Silver
Developer: InXile
Release Date: Aug. 28, 2020


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PC Review - 'Wasteland 3'

by Cody Medellin on Sept. 8, 2020 @ 12:00 a.m. PDT

Wasteland 3 is a party-based role-playing game with an emphasis on deep reactivity, replayability, and strategic combat.

Buy Wasteland 3

The original Wasteland was released in 1988 on the Apple II before being ported to MS-DOS and the Commodore 64. The game was an early RPG set in a postapocalyptic open world with a deep narrative and gameplay style that was so influential, it became the inspiration for the Fallout series that would arrive nine years later. Unlike that series, however, it would be over 25 years before a sequel arrived, taking some hints from the modern gaming landscape without making drastic changes like adopting a first-person perspective. Its success meant that Wasteland 3 didn't have to wait too long to emerge, which is good news for fans of the series.

The story begins a few years removed from Wasteland 2. The Arizona Rangers are in dire straits, and when all seemed lost, they receive a radio call from a man in Colorado called The Patriarch. As the leader of the state, he can offer the group the supplies and resources to rebuild their forces — for a favor. His children — Liberty, Valor and Victory — have been exiled, but they have returned upon hearing of his deteriorating health, and they want to take over his mantle. To get those precious resources, you'll need to take care of the children as you see fit.

The story is fine but not truly spectacular. Aside from the threat of the three children and their armies, you also have a faction of murderous hillbillies called the Dorsey Family as a constant thorn in your side. You have to appease refugees, the Marshals (the Patriarch's police group), the upper class folks, and other mercenaries. You've seen this in titles like Fallout, and similar to that series, the characters make the narrative memorable. While your Rangers don't speak too often, all of your companions do, and depending on who you've brought along, the conversations can be fascinating. The same goes for the enemies and characters you meet along the way, from the person enamored with the art of cloning to the cult that reveres a digital version of Ronald Reagan as a god.

The brief bouts of humor also breathe life into an otherwise ordinary tale. Granted, you have to be a fan of (or at least tolerate) dark humor to appreciate it, but it is a nice break from the apocalyptic dourness. For example, there's a gang dressed up as classic movie monsters and another dressed up as clowns. Early on, you can befriend a cat that wears a Ranger hat but only if you offer him a pack of cigarettes; you'll appreciate this, since he ends up being a very capable melee fighter with tremendous travel range.

Wasteland 3 starts off with you selecting which two rangers will survive the trek to Colorado. While you can select up to five of the pre-made duos, each with their own specific skills and backstories, you have the option to create both characters from scratch, and this is where you get a taste of how much freedom the game offers. Instead of being defined by your class, you're given points to tailor your characters however you see fit. Some of the attributes are expected, like stealth, strength, and the ability to hack into machinery. There's proficiency with different weapon types and even more specific things, like the ability to tame animals or fix toasters, a skill that seems useless until you start to recover some good loot. You can even opt for some character backstory to permanently gain traits like being a former outland bandit or an aristocrat forced into living the hard life. No matter what you choose, you're never locked out of other choices, so possible combinations include a mime proficient in explosives or a sadomasochist who can befriend animals, but you'll still want to aim for a well-balanced party. It's almost impossible to make everyone good at everything, unless you really grind to get every possible attribute point.

As in any classic RPG, the traits and associated points play a huge role in what you can and can't do. Boosting your hacking early on can let you disable a bunch of turrets, while a boost in awareness uncovers secret item stashes and alternate pathways. Those traits are also useful in conversations; for example, having a high hardass level means you may cause people to run away or stand down, and a high persuasion level can result in more peaceful resolutions.

Conversations play a large role in the game. Every choice can open up new pathways for different solutions, so you can either boost or deteriorate your relationship with the various factions, which can grant more opportunities for goods or shut you out from loot. Those choices can also lock out various threads and quests, some of which can be significant chunks of the game. Just about everything you do matters, no matter how big or small it may seem.

When you aren't talking your way in or out of trouble and transforming relationships along the way, you'll usually be engaged in one of three main activities: base building, fighting, and driving. Building a base is your first main quest, but you'll be working on it until the end. You start with the usual things, like finding a mechanic and someone to maintain munitions, but it isn't long before you stock up with essential and non-essential folks, like a doctor and museum curator, respectively. This is also where you'll pick up recruits for your party or create them from scratch. Compared to everything else you do in the game, it isn't super involved, but it is a nice break from the gameplay cycle.

The combat system in Wasteland 3 feels similar to the modern XCOM titles or Gears Tactics. Whether you sneak up on an enemy, a foe gets the drop on you, or you engage on equal ground, the game transforms from a free movement system to a grid. Everything you do is governed by action points, so whether you're attacking, defending, moving, or using items, it costs action points, and the number depends on player stats and the item or weapon being used. Instead of having certain units take their turn, this plays out like a strategy game where you spend all of your points so that everyone in the party performs their actions before the enemy does the same. If you've recruited animals and robots, they'll perform their actions after the enemy and before you.

Finally, you'll drive your giant truck to go from one major spot to another. That doesn't seem too exciting, since you're maneuvering through the game's equivalent of an overworld, but the constant need to upgrade the truck to account for radiation clouds and lighting strikes provides a little excitement. You'll encounter random battles, and your truck can come in as an extra party member with a machine gun to shred enemies.

All of this culminates in an experience akin to some of the best modern RPGs out there. You can explore a variety of places, and each one feels different. Wasteland 3 lives up to the ideal of being an open world, as there are no locked areas. One of the more intriguing features is that you can revisit areas to see who else has taken up residence. For example, you can clear out a convoy ambush in a town but return later to find that overgrown bears have settled in. The game sports a ton of different endings that require different trigger points and can hit at any time, so while the developers boast that the game has an average playtime of between 80-100 hours, it's possible to drastically cut down that time just by chance.

There are also some nice accessibility features. Co-op play has each person controlling three party members, something that can be done without specifically creating a new save file. Although the keyboard and mouse are usually the tools of choice for a game like this, controller support is also present, and the layout is good enough that you can switch between both and not feel like you're missing any functionality. The game also has four difficulty levels and an option to toggle friendly fire, a godsend since things can get hairy even on the easiest difficulty, where there's a high chance of your party getting bunched up and being forced to shoot over one another.

There are a few things done in the name of streamlining that you'll appreciate, even if they aren't new concepts. Other games may make it tedious to collect loot after battles, it's easier in Wasteland 3, since you can simply go to one body and the game lets you cycle through each corpse's loot pile until they're exhausted. You still need to individually go to each crate and box to loot those, but this is a start. Similarly, it only takes one button press to sell your collected junk to any merchant, rather than picking one piece at a time. You can always switch characters, but you don't need to in order to use a particular skill; you can activate it with anyone as the leader, and the game lets the correct party member go up and perform the task.

The only negative things that can be said about the game can be attributed to odd design decisions and general bugs. The biggest thing you'll notice is that the game has no pause feature. Bring up a menu during a conversation, and the chattering still goes on in the background while you fiddle with menus. The same happens when you're not in combat and you see people milling around the environment, bumping into your party and moving things around. One can argue that the lack of a pause state makes sense if you're playing co-op online, but that argument breaks down since the pause feature is also absent in solo play. The notifications for when your character has attribute points to spend is barely noticeable, so you can easily go through a few skirmishes and never realize that you have points to spent so the fights can become easier.

As for bugs, they're minor issues, like the game not responding to key inputs for the first few seconds that you enter a new area or a lack of confirmation when you press a button to activate a switch. The major stuff, like save files not working in co-op or dialogue choices playing out of order, seem to have been fixed as of the latest patch, but it's worth keeping an eye out for new bugs. Also, the game suffers from lots of loading screens since the areas aren't too big and travel between them is constant. The loads are tolerable on both SSD and NVME drives but can be tedious if you're running the game on standard mechanical HDDs.

For the most part, the presentation is well done. With the game set in an isometric perspective, all of the attention is paid to the variety of backdrops. Every place you encounter has character, such as lived-in homesteads and the ridiculous busts and statues that litter every major area. Compared to most postapocalyptic settings, everything feels taken care of instead of barely habitable ruins. The characters are surprisingly well detailed and animated, since you never get an up close view of most of them but you'll appreciate their design more either when you're in the menus outfitting them or seeing a few of the major ones in close-up cut scenes.

The audio side of the presentation is where things start to get dicey. In particular, the NPCs tend to repeat lines, so incidental conversations and comments get old very quickly. The downtown area alone has you passing by people who use the same greetings every time you pass by, while a few people will say the same thing. Considering how often you'll go back and forth in areas and how often you'll pass by these people, it's tiresome to hear the same things. However, it's excellent that every major and minor single character you meet is fully voiced, and their performances are all well done. The same can be said for the score, which goes for a low-key Western vibe whenever there seems to be nothing going on. Things ramp up for battles, but they're more exciting when vocal tracks are included due to the high energy they give off, even when the lyrics suggest something more somber.

Wasteland 3 does everything you expect from the series but in a sleeker package. From the freedom in building character abilities to your approach to the missions or which ending to strive for, there's plenty that's within your control, and those variations help if you want to play through the game multiple times. The story is interesting thanks to all of the decisions you get to make, and while your created characters don't add much personality, your companions are chatty enough to make encounters worthwhile. If you can forgive the occasional bugs, you'll find Wasteland 3 to be a top-notch RPG.

Score: 8.5/10

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