Xbox One, PS4, PC
August 28, 2020
Wasteland 3 is a party-based strategy RPG game developed by InXile Entertainment and published by Deep Silver. It’s the latest entry in the Wasteland series and takes place in the cold wastelands of Colorado. The title is released six years after its predecessor, Wasteland 2, which was successfully funded on Kickstarter and released to critical acclaim in 2014. The original Wasteland was originally developed by Interplay in 1988 and was the first-ever video game set in a post-apocalyptic world. It formed the main inspiration for many videogames in its wake, including the popular Fallout series.
For Wasteland 3, a significant part of the game’s development was funded via crowdfunding again – this time through a campaign on Fig. The budget allowed Wasteland producer and co-creator Brian Fargo to assemble a team of experienced developers, many of whom had worked on Torment: Tides of Numenera and the original Fallout games. When it comes to the look, feel, and story of the game, the experience of the developers certainly shines through.
One of the biggest changes with Wasteland 3 is that the game now has a co-op mode. For the first time, you can play through Wasteland 3’s campaign with a friend, and both you and the person you play with retain a local save file on your system. This means that either player has the ability to continue playing solo without the issue of one person having to be the game host. While I haven’t had the opportunity to test out the co-op mode yet, it looks like a great way to break up the traditional strategy gameplay format.
Story-wise, Wasteland 3 takes place over a hundred years after the earth’s destruction. You start the game with two characters in your party, the only two survivors of a Ranger Squad named the November Team. After losing your squadmates, you’ll meet with the patriarch, the self-titled ruler of Colorado. He strikes a deal with you: find his three children and bring them back alive. In return, he will provide you with a base for your team to live on and plenty of new squad members to get your team back on their feet. There’s only one catch: some of his children may not come with you willingly once you track them down. I enjoyed how Wasteland 3 immediately raised the stakes in the first hour of playtime; by creating a beautiful and incredibly harsh environment, it’s immediately clear that survival is key in the game’s unforgiving landscape, and your characters won’t survive for long without forming alliances and making strategic decisions about their survival.
Similar to previous Wasteland games in the series, the game focusses on assembling a party of allies with different skillsets to progress through the story, and you have the option of customising your two starting characters’ looks, attributes, and skillsets from the ground up. The depth of the character customisation system is impressive; you can select each character’s specific skills, character quirks, weapons, facial features, trinkets, and more. The combinations of skills and attributes are endless, and my first hours in Wasteland 3 were mostly spent creating my starting characters. However, if that’s not your thing, don’t fret. The game offers up to four different pre-made character sets, all with different perks and interesting backstories.
Out of all these character specifications, choosing and upgrading different skills will be by far the most important decisions you’ll make before and during a playthrough, whether you’re playing with a template character with certain quirks or creating your own. There’s a wide array of skills to choose from (and upgrade along the way) and, depending on how you combine them, each combination can completely change the course of the narrative. Depending on a character’s skill set, you might unlock more options in dialogue, be more persuasive or aggressive, or start or evade a combat encounter. The sheer amount of variety Wasteland 3’s skill system injected into the game’s story was one of the most enjoyable things about it for me. The characters’ skillset system intermeshes seamlessly with the narrative and you never know what plot twists are just around the corner.
In addition, each NPC character has their own views on the world, and you’ll have to maintain your reputation with each character in your party. Sometimes, choosing a certain option in dialogue will cause certain characters to grumble about your actions and, if you displease them too often, they may walk out on your party altogether.
When you’re on the road, characters will also chat with each other in a realistic and engaging way. The banter between different characters is great and often made me chuckle. A lot of this great-sounding dialogue is undoubtedly bolstered by the excellent voice acting in Wasteland 3; conversations rarely sound overly cheesy, and instead it felt like they added an extra layer of depth to an already engrossing setting. For me, this really brought the Colorado wasteland to life. I never felt like any dialogue was ticking boxes to advance the plot. Instead, I felt like I was an active part of a landscape populated with engaging, three-dimensional characters. Wasteland 3’s story is layered and complex, and the main story takes over eighty hours to complete.
“With a world that sounds, looks, and plays so well, it’s easy get lost in the freezing plains of Colorado for hours.”
Earning your characters’ respect is particularly important when you consider that their varied skills are vital on the battlefield. Like in previous Wasteland titles, any in-game battles take the shape of a turn-based battle on a grid. Each character has a set of action points per turn, which can be used to move across the grid, attack, or use items like medical kits or grenades. As you progress through the game, enemies become more and more ruthless. Having a full and diverse party when it comes to skillsets and weapons certainly makes things a lot easier.
Similar to titles like XCOM and Gears Tactics, a key element of the Wasteland 3 battles is placing your characters on the battlefield strategically. If your character is next to cover, their chances of getting hit by enemies will be drastically lower. Similarly, during your turn you’ll be able to see the percentage of a successful hit whenever you hover over an enemy on the grid.
While battles are certainly fun and there are plenty of different weapons, skills, and enemy factions to spice things up, the combat itself is on par with the latest entry in the XCOM series. While Wasteland 3 pushes the envelope everywhere else – story, character, art, co-op mode, character customisation and so on, battle-wise it delivers exactly what it says on the tag: tactical battles with tried and tested mechanics. The only addition that felt ‘new’ was the fact the vehicles could now be used for attacks and extra cover in battle. This is not to say that battles aren’t challenging: as you progress through the game, enemies get stronger and battles get more difficult. It was just repetitive in places. For me, this wasn’t a dealbreaker. As a long-term fan of the XCOM series, these battles scratched my turn-based battle itch just fine.
What Wasteland 3 lacks in thrilling combat encounters, it certainly makes up for through its writing, stunning graphics and catchy soundtrack. The developers collaborated with Mark Morgan who scored previous games in the Wasteland franchise, as well as Fallout 1 and 2. They also got Mary Ramos on board, who’s been Quentin Tarantino’s music director of choice for many of his movies. These collaborations definitely paid off; I often found myself stopping the game just to listen to the music, even if I was in the middle of a battle at the time. With a world that sounds, looks, and plays so well, it’s easy to get lost in the freezing plains of Colorado for hours.
- Amazing writing and dialogue
- Deep character customisation system
- Beautiful visuals, great soundtrack, and voice-acting add to an immersive world
- Very lengthy campaign
- Battles can feel repetitive in places
Wasteland 3 does an amazing job of keeping players invested in its world through its writing, sound, and visuals. When it comes to worldbuilding and characters, Wasteland 3 leaves its predecessors in the Wasteland franchise in the dust.
While the battle aspect of Wasteland 3 could’ve been a tad more engaging in places, this is hardly a dealbreaker. The game presents strategy game fans with plenty of opportunities to challenge themselves, both on and off the battlefield. With its excellent writing, varied characters, and engaging story, Wasteland 3 is sure to hook you in, one turn at a time.