I still remember when it was first revealed that the Wasteland franchise would be coming back. With a massively successful Kickstarter campaign (that I’ll admit I threw a slightly obscene amount of money at) the franchise was reborn with Brian Fargo’s inXile Entertainment. That game was a flawed but enjoyable experience, showing that the team knew how to bring the franchise back again, but that they could do with some more time and a bump in budget. Now, following a successful crowdfunding campaign for Wasteland 3 and their purchase by Xbox, inXile have proven that with a bit more money and time, they know how to make a fantastic game.
With Wasteland 3, the Desert Rangers are back again, this time travelling to the frozen wilds of Colorado in a last-ditch effort to seek the resources they need to keep their order from collapsing entirely. These resources will come from the hands of ‘The Patriach’, who introduces himself as the owner of Colorado. All the Rangers need to do is travel to Colorado, round up his kids before they can manage to tear the state apart and deliver them to him. For that, they’ll earn all the resources they need to rebuild themselves and once again become a force to be reckoned with. Of course, things go wrong almost immediately, and nearly the entirety of your team is wiped out, meaning you’ll effectively need to start from scratch.
That ties in perfectly to Wasteland 3 allowing you to build your own party from both characters you meet and ones you create. While you’ll create or select an initial pair of characters (which basically allows you to start playing the game in co-op pretty much immediately), the rest of your team is made up of ‘recruits’ that are supplied by the Patriach or by story-centric characters you’ll meet along the way. While the recruits can be useful for fleshing out a squad with additional skills you might not already have with you, they’re effectively silent and can be pretty ignorable. Instead, it’s the story-centric squad mates you meet that truly bring life to your party. They all have unique personalities, backgrounds and stories that really bring life to the story of Wasteland 3. I found myself growing quite attached to some of the characters as I played through the game, which really spoke to how well fleshed out they were.
What really helped this was the quest and story writing of the game. While there were definitely times when the writing wasn’t fantastic, the story and writing are largely pretty good throughout the game. The dialogue largely felt believable, while each character had their own unique flow to their speech. The voice acting was largely well done, and even the more insignificant NPCs had some pretty decent lines to deliver in the game. This was both helped and hindered by some of the decisions I had to make in the game, which felt pretty impactful at the times I made them, although a couple of them were quick made to feel superficial afterwards.
Outside of the story, much of your time with Wasteland 3 will be spent in the midst of combat. There are plenty of combatants in the Colorado wastes and they’re more than willing to put some holes in you. Combat in Wasteland 3 takes the form of turn based strategic RPG battles. After initiating combat, you’ll be able to move your characters into cover, before unleashing torrents of bullets or lashings of melee attacks, towards your opponents. Positioning is paramount, with the game’s hit percentages sometimes being pretty brutal. You’ll also find your team can get wiped out pretty quickly if you’re not careful with your placement and cover. There’s plenty of status affects to inflict on enemies (and for them to inflict on you) with the different weapons the game includes, while there’s also plenty of special attacks you can unlock as you progress. Combat feels varied, deliberate and decidedly visceral and brutal, as explosions rip through opponents and blood pools on the ground. It can sometimes feel a little too brutal at points, especially early in the game, but I also appreciated the level of attention I had to pay to the combat.
Completing combat encounters and quests provides you with loot and experience, both of which are utterly integral to being able to proceed. Loot can be anything from usable items, equipment, modifications or junk (which can be sold for some cold hard cash), and you’re not going to get far if you don’t pick it up. Experience, as your would expect, pools and eventually causes your characters to level up. As they level up, you’ll unlock attribute points that can be used to bump up your stats, skill points that can be used to upgrade existing or unlock news skills (such as explosives, first aid or bartering) and perk points that can unlock new special attacks or passive perks. You’ll unlock all of these at an extremely steady clip, so you’ve got plenty of opportunity to upgrade your characters and extend their skillset if you want to. You’re never going to feel like you’re not progressing with your characters.
Outside of its writing and systems, Wasteland 3 is a massive visual upgrade compared to Wasteland 2. The environments are significantly more detailed, as are the characters, while the new zoomed in character conversations are a fantastic addition. Given we’re in a wasteland, the environments and their proliferation of refuse and ruins can sometimes be a little samey at points, but they still look good. Getting around that world isn’t always great though, with the controls in the game feeling a little bit clunky compared to some other isometric RPGs. One main cause for this, in my mind, is that the camera controls aren’t amazing. Zoom and angle are tied together, meaning that as you zoom in, your angle also alters to be more parallel to the ground. Being a fan of having a zoomed out and somewhat parallel view in isometric game, I found that the game’s curve never quite hit the camera sweet spot I was looking for. There’s also the weird decision where you need to use the mouse and keyboard to trigger controller support within the game’s options, despite the game recognising you have a controller connected.
Overall, Wasteland 3 is both a massive improvement on its predecessor and a fantastic game its own right. It’s filled with good writing, interesting quests and deliciously difficult turn-based combat. There’s plenty of freedom to create your own dream team, although doing so robs you of the more interesting interactions that come from the game’s more fleshed out characters. The environments can get a little samey at points and the controls can feel a little clunky at points, but they aren’t major detractors. If you’re looking for a new isometric RPG, you won’t go wrong with Wasteland 3.
Rocket Chainsaw reviewed Wasteland 3 on Windows PC in 1440p using a Ryzen 1600x, 16GB of 3000MHZ DDR4 RAM, and an MSI Evoke OC 5700XT graphics card, with a copy provided by the publisher. The game is also available on PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. For more information, check out the official website.
- Fantastic combat mechanics - Characters and story are well written - Plenty of scope of upgrade and customise your rangers - Great visual bump compared to Wasteland 2
- Controls can sometimes feel a bit clunky - Custom characters can sometimes be forgettable