Wasteland 3 review for PC, PS4, and Xbox One
Video game developers love a post-apocalyptic setting. Hundreds of titles are set in the aftermath of civilizations collapse in the face of nuclear war, zombies, civil unrest, environmental upheaval, or vague McGuffins. A post-apocalyptic series that rose above the rest was Fallout, which mixed catastrophe and desperation with humor to great effect. However, Fallout almost didn’t exist. Instead, it was meant to be a sequel to 1988’s Wasteland, but when Interplay couldn’t obtain the OP, a new series was born. After a long hiatus for the franchise, Wasteland 2 was released in 2014, and now a sequel, Wasteland 3 is coming out.
Wasteland 3 feels like what we would have got if Fallout had never left its CRPG roots. It’s a long, sprawling game with tons of nooks and crannies featuring lore and adventure. Unfortunately, it’s not without issues. The game inXile Entertainment has crafted is a true spiritual successor to the first two Fallout games and an excellent sequel, but it’s also buggy, and sometimes obtuse and frustrating.
Rocky Mountain High
Wasteland 3 is a direct sequel to the previous game. After the events of Wasteland 2, the Desert Rangers have lost their stronghold and are in desperate need of shelter and supplies. Luckily, they’re contacted by Patriarch Buchanan of Colorado, who requests their help in subduing his twisted progeny in exchange for support.
The game starts with Ranger Team November heading towards the Patriarch’s palace in Colorado Springs. Unfortunately for the Rangers, the Patriarch has many enemies, and Colorado is just as full of hazards as Arizona. The Rangers are ambushed by the Dorsey Family, a gang of brutal hillbilly outlaws. Only a few Rangers survive the attack, including the two you create before the game starts.
From there, the game has you fight the Dorseys and make your way to Colorado Springs, where you finally meet the Patriarch. He gives you the use of the abandoned Peterson Air Force Base, which you make your headquarters. The tasks you must complete to receive the Patriarch’s support in rebuilding the Rangers revolve around his children. Victory, Valor, and Liberty are all claimants to the throne, and each one of them is twisted in their own way.
Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil
The Patriarch’s plight is far from the only one you’ll experience in Colorado. Wasteland 3 is full of characters that are down on their luck and others that are despots, thieves, and murderers. Unfortunately, there’s a fine line between good and evil in post-apocalyptic America, and you’ll often find yourself deliberating over the best course of action.
The quandary at the heart of Wasteland 3 is whether or not the Patriarch is worthy of your devotion. He’s a benevolent tyrant, and you’ll learn that there are significant issues with class in Colorado. The Hundred Families, descendants of the wealthy that survived the nuclear fire in posh bunkers, backed the Patriarch’s rise to power. These social elite live in comfort in a walled enclave inside Colorado Springs. On the flip side, there’s a major issue with refugees coming from the wartorn plains of the east. These refugees are treated as pariahs and left to starve to death.
Despite the issues with Colorado’s political structure, it’s hard to think of a better alternative. The Patriarch provides stability and keeps the worst of the outlaws and gangs away from his holdings. Wasteland 3 consistently challenges your loyalty to the Patriarch’s plan and gives you the power to choose whether you want to support or oppose him.
You’ll deal with a lot more than just the Patriarch in your adventures around the Colorado wastes. You’ll run into gangs who worship an over-the-top, AI version of Ronald Reagan, find a hippie commune of robots, and more. There are quests and settlements littered all over the place, and you’re rewarded for exploration.
What the game doesn’t make incredibly apparent at first glance is the fact that many side quests have a time limit. When a character asks you to do something quickly, they mean it.
An example of this is the Monster Bizarre, an old mall converted into a bazar by a monster mash-loving gang. This gang has discarded their old, violent ways, and now works with the Patriarch to provide a trading outpost. However, trouble is brewing in the warrens beneath the Bizarre. When you first visit, the Monsters’ leader asks you to investigate the source of the explosive pigs that have been killing his patrons, but you’re free to ignore it. However, if you do, a clown gang will emerge from the tunnels and kill everyone in the Bizarre.
The element of timing gives Wasteland 3 a sense of urgency that isn’t felt in many open-world games. These aren’t isolated events either. Throughout the game, you’ll find time-sensitive quests that require you to act fast. However, many times you’ll have to choose between one quest or another. This adds some replayability, as it’s impossible to complete all these timed quests within the constraints the game sets.
There’s also a lot of variety on how you can complete a quest. Failing to complete a quest in the way the quest giver wants doesn’t necessarily mean a complete failure. Many quests offer branching paths, which allow you to roleplay your Rangers in a particular way. You can be a tyrannical enforcer, a sadist, or a morally upstanding beacon of hope.
How you behave determines how factions will respond to you. Increase your reputation with them, and any member will be more helpful to you by default. Alternatively, if you mistreat a group, its members will become hostile to you on sight and will engage you in combat in the worst-case. Your overall fame increases as you cross Colorado as well. You’ll start as a complete unknown, but eventually, news of your exploits will spread, and people will react accordingly.
Unfortunately, like in real life, you don’t always know what effect your actions will have down the line. I wish the game would have some pop-ups spelling out the consequences of your decisions more clearly. Sometimes I would pick a choice I thought helped a faction only for it to make them angry.
War Never Changes
Wasteland 3‘s weakest element is the combat. It’s a turn-based, tactical affair that’ll be familiar to those who played Wasteland 2 or games like XCOM. Each unit gets a set amount of AP, which it must spend to perform actions like moving and using weapons and abilities.
I found combat to be somewhat confusing in Wasteland 3. Sometimes it seemed like my characters did an adequate amount of damage to enemies. Other times, facing the same foe, it felt like my party was shooting BB guns. Each character (player-controlled, NPCs, and enemies) has an armor rating, which factors into the damage equation. However, it’s relatively nebulous to how ammunition and weapon type figure into this.
I also found the melee/brawler weapons to be almost useless. A major tactic in this game is to attack enemies from as extreme a range as you can. The AI likes to group up in Wasteland 3 and target one character until they’re dead. If you can stay as far away from enemies as possible, your characters will stay alive longer. If you use a melee-focused character, that’s no longer possible. Instead, you’ll wade into the middle of an enemy formation, and when their turn comes up, every single one will target your melee fighter and kill them.
There’s nothing really innovative or offensive about the combat in Wasteland 3, but it is extremely buggy, at least in the build I played for review. I had units regularly just stop responding to commands, which is a massive handicap when you can only field six units at a time.
There were also random other glitches throughout the game. One, which happened in combat, involved an explosive barrel. I shot the barrel, and the explosion just kept spawning over and over. Then, the game started scrolling through my character list rapidly without any input from me. It was a game-breaking bug and required me to reload from my most recent save.
Other glitches were also found throughout the game. However, they were minor in comparison to the ones I experienced in combat. I had triggers misfire, dialog not play (the game is fully voiced), but nothing more major than that.
Wasteland 3 | The Final Verdict
Wasteland 3 is a marvel of a game, especially from a small studio like inExile. It’s not without its flaws, but the excellent writing and enthralling world overshadow those. The combat is competent, but nothing special. With the amount of content the game has, I’d have liked to have seen a snappier system that allows players to be more experimental with character builds.
In a year where some excellent RPGs have debuted, Wasteland 3 goes toe-to-toe with the best. The 80-100 hours of content are full of surprises, and you won’t want for things to do in the game. This title is what Fallout should have become, if not in gameplay, then in narrative content.
We received Wasteland 3 on PC from PR for review purposes.