By Mark "Demius" Bronneberg on September 4, 2020
Wasteland 3 for me is like chocolate for most women (and men of course, I don't want to discriminate). I absolutely love the squad based strategic RPG genre. But before I dig into the game let us start with a little history lesson. My obsession with strategic RPGs and especially the post-apocalyptic genre, all started with Fallout 1. Yes Fallout 1, 2 and Tactics were not made by Bethesda (they did a great job transforming the game into full 3D but let us not mention Fallout 76...). The original Fallout was made by Interplay in 1997, with Brian Fargo as its Executive Producer. But why do I ramble on about Fallout if the game we're playing is called Wasteland? That is because Wasteland was probably the game that inspired Fallout although Fallout is more popular and commonly known nowadays.
The original Wasteland was also developed by Interplay, but earlier. The game was released in 1988 for the Commodore 64. I can still vaguely remember our Commodore 64, my brother TomBsTone and I used to have one, until it broke down and our parents gave us a serious upgrade by buying the SNES! But now I am drifting off again and I promised myself not to write a 26-page essay this time. I never played the original Wasteland. I do not believe it aged well when I try to look it up. Wasteland 2 however, is a different story. After his time at Interplay, Brian Fargo started his own company inXile Entertainment and used Kickstarter to fund this game. The campaign was a great success and they managed to collect over 3 million dollars.
I played Wasteland 2 on my Nintendo Switch. The game had many bugs at launch but was still playable. The story was amazing, gameplay was an upgraded version of Fallout 1 and 2 and I really liked it. When Wasteland 3 was announced I was excited. During the development of this game Microsoft bought InXile and made it a subsidiary to their Xbox studios. But luckily, they did not force them to make their games exclusive. I reviewed the game on PS4, it is also available on PC, Xbox One (Gamepass!) and hopefully will also become available for Nintendo Switch in the foreseeable future. Now to get back to the game and my review. I guess it should not come as a surprise that my expectations were very high, so let us hope these expectations can be met.
In the Wasteland games, you control a group of law keepers called the Desert Rangers. Nukes have destroyed the modern world and you oversee one of the last groups of decent human beings who try to protect people that cannot protect themselves. The plot of the second Wasteland starts with the funeral of Ace (one of the Desert Rangers featured in the first game). General Vargas sends your group to investigate his murder. Ace's lover Angela Deth joins you in this epic quest. You battle synthetics (synthesized robotic human copies), an evil artificial intelligence (where is Arnold Schwarzenegger when you need him...) and mutated beasts or crazy bandits. Wasteland 3 starts where part 2 ended and the plot revolves around the Desert Rangers running out of resources. You travel alongside a caravan of Rangers to post-apocalyptic (and frozen) Colorado. Here the Patriarch is 'king' and he invites you to help him settle the quarrel he has with his kids and in return he promises to help you with your resource problem. This sounds a lot like the start of a post-apocalyptic Game of Thrones and boy do they deliver!
Let us get a few things straight first. Wasteland games are not happy; the post-apocalyptic world is not cheerful. Yes, there are clowns, but they came from the show 'It' and will try to kill you with exploding kamikaze pigs (PETA will love this game). Wasteland 3 is as ruthless as the first games. There are four difficulties, of which I always pick the second one. I wonder which masochistic people pick the third or fourth one. I cannot even remember how many times my squad got annihilated by a bunch of mutated and exploding frogs during this review, but it was a lot. The story is sinister and mature, this is not a game you can play with your kids. Character creation is complex. This also just so happens to be the first welcome change for Wasteland 3. Stats are virtually the same, but you do not have to create an entire squad (6 characters) from the get-go. You only create 2 Rangers at the start and recruit the rest later. Character creation is a lot of fun but can also be a bit frustrating by its complexity (not to me; I love a plethora of options). There are a lot of skills ranging from the use of small guns to experience in toaster repair (yes, toasters are heavenly machines that store epic rocket launchers and this skill helps you open them, or harness the toaster-powers in battle).
Besides a lot of esthetic options, you also select a character background, starting weapon, attributes, skills and can adopt a quirk. Many options brought a smile on my face. The Lethal Weapon background gives you a bonus to melee damage and the flavor text tells about old posters from 1980 cop movies which is a direct nod to the Gibson and Glover movies. You can also choose to be an infamous Goat Killer, which gives you extra critical hit chance. Like I said these games are not cheerful, but there is a lot of (dark) humor. There are also a ton of easter eggs to find, especially for the people that played previous Brian Fargo games like The Bard's Tale. My advice for character creation is to not overthink it too much (haha like that is even possible, stupid advice Demius). As in most RPG games you get experience points to level up. You should give one character high intelligence (I started one character on max) so you can learn a lot of different skills while you play the game and change skills when you need them (higher intelligence nets more skill points per level up). Pick weapons you think are fun (I went for a leadership small guns character and an intelligent sniper). You will recruit story-based characters or can create new and more Rangers at your HQ.
Sadly there is no option to respec your characters (respec is an ability many RPGs have where you can spend in-game currency to refund all spend level up points to a character, so you can reallocate them). This means that if you grow attached to your characters and have evolved them in a certain direction, they are stuck there, or you create new ones at your HQ. I choose not to create any new Rangers, so I was left with only the story-based companions you can recruit. This raised the difficulty quite a bit but made my playthrough more enjoyable because I like backgrounds. Be wary that story-based companions can leave your party if you do stuff they do not like, most of the time they warn you beforehand. Lucia Wesson did not like it when I tried to steal a gun some elderly people had on their fireplace (like they were ever going to use it...). There is online play available, but I did not have the chance to test it yet and read some stuff online about it being a little buggy at the moment.
If and when you manage to pry yourself away from character creation, you can start your new game. The game has a semi-overhead view, you can zoom in or out and rotate the camera. You can control and move one or all characters in your squad at the same time. Once you reach hostiles or make someone mad by picking the wrong dialogue choice, the game changes to combat mode and shifts into turn-based battle mode. New to this game is that you now control all your characters during one turn and after your turn all enemies get to act. This means you can decide the order of your party yourself and this is not determined anymore by the speed of a character. I like this change because it enables you to set up better combos. It can also be dangerous if you leave one or more Rangers in the open. Each Ranger has a certain amount of action points they can spend during a turn. Firing a pistol costs 3 action points, a sniper rifle is much more expensive to shoot. Each weapon has specific ammo (rockets for your RPG are quite expensive but do huge area of effect damage) and capacity, and you'll need to spend action points to reload during combat. If you create a ranger with a lot of action points he can run around the map and fire his gun quite a few times (my gunslinger had +5 action points thanks to 10 Coordination stat enabling him to shoot four or five times each turn). Rangers automatically take cover if you end a turn near a wall or barrel (but do not put them behind explosive barrels please...). Cover gives you defense and dodging ability. Since I have played more of these games the controls felt easy to me. It is clear to me that they designed the game with consoles in mind, so it plays smooth with a controller in hand.
Normally, you don't really play this type of game for the graphics, but I must say that I thoroughly enjoyed the graphics in Wasteland 3. I fired up my Wasteland 2 Nintendo Switch copy for comparison and Wasteland 3 is a huge upgrade. Not only in graphics but also in menu design. During my playthrough I hardly experienced any heavy slowdown, the game ran fine on my PS4 pro. I did miss some emotion during story skits. Most of the times the game stays in top-down view so you cannot really see face expressions during conversations. The times it does zoom-in during chats is nice, so I am a little sad they did not do this more often, only when introducing major characters. Wasteland 3's characters are cool; the Patriarch has silver hair, a nice beard and wields a huge sledgehammer with the American flag as colors. There is even a mechanical chicken in your HQ that makes a great companion if your Animal Whisperer skill is high enough. But the best character by far is Pollo, a parrot that swears at everything you meet (damn you clowns for killing my Polly, I will find you and kill you!).
The sounds are superb, they really aced it with atmospheric music, clear sound effects and top-notch voice acting. Since Colorado has a lot of snow it can be a bit monotone to explore. But to be honest I have not seen the entire game yet. This game is huge, takes 100 hours to complete and DumeeGamer gave me a killer deadline (sad face). Still I think I played enough (close to 40 hours and played most of the Colorado Springs and Denver areas) to give our readers a good view of what to expect. What this game does best of all is set the mood, you really feel the world's pain, which gives the story more depth. I decided to be a good Ranger and save people. I did not even kill bad guys when I had the chance to lock them up in my personal jail. Personal jail? Yes, you can create your own headquarters during this game! You can have a cafeteria, med bay, armory, and garage. You do not really get to build them but recruit people you meet during the game to staff areas and open them up. The Patriarch was nice enough to give you your own space close to his hometown (so he can keep an eye on you). During one mission you can choose to gang up with the local crimelord to cover up something he did and in return he will supply and staff your armory. Or you help the town's sheriff department to take down the crimelord and the sheriff will staff your armory. The thing I liked about this part of the story is the sheriff asks you to save one of her men that was investigating and got caught. After I saved him this guy became my main armorer, which added some nice depth to the people that staff your HQ. This also shows that every mission always has multiple angles and it is up to you to make the tough choices. And know that there are more than 100 different endings, I even saw one after 30 hours, this was not a happy ending for my Rangers.
Another solid piece of advice is to save often and in multiple slots. Sadly, the game still had quite a few bugs when I played it (update 1.10 is releasing next week on consoles and today on steam). Luckily not as many I encountered while playing Wasteland 2 on the Nintendo Switch. Most of the times it auto saved right before a crash and I did not lose too much progress. Just be careful of shops, always save before you open one, because your screen can freeze if you do. Knowing inXile they are probably hard at work to patch out these bugs. I can imagine some of you are curious about how the Wasteland games are connected and I have to say there is a strong connection. They even found ways to let former bad guys return which is quite fun, so it is recommended to have played at least Wasteland 2. But the game is stand-alone enough to still enjoy if you have not. My initial feelings are the story plays it safe, but I still found plenty of ways to approach missions with different outcomes. The game gives you a lot of options. if you want to test different outcomes of a mission, remember that quick save is your best friend. I tried out quite a few different possibility's and really liked the different outcomes that were presented. You will also not be babied, there are no quest markers. So, pay attention when someone hands you a quest or else you will get lost. Luckily, there are already some fan-sites that can help.
One of the best new features in this game is the overworld map. Once you leave a town you get into your badass car (more like a truck straight out of the Twisted Metal games) and can travel freely around the map. The map zooms out quite a bit, looks great graphically, and you can roam around and explore in your truck. Certain pieces of the map are locked off because of high radiation and require you to upgrade your garage HQ so you can upgrade your car's plating. This car can also be customized by putting a disco bot or goat head on top of it or putting some big guns on it. One of my personal favorites is the goat horn, it makes your car give off a squeak before you take a turn. Yes, when battling during random encounters on the world map you can use your car as an extra party member to shoot or drive over enemies. I really love this car and wish I could have one in real life. Oh wait, we do not live in a post-apocalyptic world yet and do not need a big car to drive over mutated frogs.
Maybe I could have seen more of the game if I rushed my playthrough, but these games need to be enjoyed slowly. You need to take in everything they throw at you, read books and letters you find. Listen to random NPCs talk to each other. Find secrets in the world and try to plan how your squad evolves and levels up. I enjoyed every minute of this game and am going to spend many more in this harsh world. After I complete the game, I am also going to try out multiplayer. But first I want to experience everything myself. If you like RPGs like the more recent Divinity games, that are heavy on the story department and present meaningful choices; if you love post-apocalyptic worlds and like to spend hours in character creation or level up screens, look no further and buy this game! I, for one, am definitely going to spend a lot more time in this world to see all it has to offer.