Platforms: Xbox One (reviewed), PlayStation 4, PC
Wasteland 3 doesn’t try to hide what it is. Developed by inXile Entertainment the game looks and feels like a classic computer role-playing game, and it revels in its old school style. That said, while the game may give off that classic computer game vibe, in no way does it feel old. The proper refinements have been made to create a polished turn-based, exploratory adventure that will keep you busy and enthralled for a very long time.
Welcome to the new end of the world
Set quite some time after the fall and semi-rise of civilization, Wasteland 3 follows the events of Wasteland 2. Don’t worry, though, because if you haven’t played this game’s predecessor, you’ll be just fine here. This third installment does a decent job of building its narrative and world both early on and as you explore the harsh landscape it’s set in.
The world — or what’s left of it — has been restructured. There are warring factions, murderous groups, and twisted politics — and you’re right in the thick of it. As a surviving member of the Desert Rangers, you find yourself in the middle of all the craziness, so along the way, you’ll assist multiple factions, build your rep, and take out hostile enemies.
There’s a brilliant charm to the world of Wasteland 3. Initially, you’ll get this dreary, post-apocalyptic vibe from the game. While that vibe is certainly prevalent throughout, you’ll eventually find that, for all its talk of death and themes of a world ravaged, it doesn’t always take itself too seriously. This is great because it allows for a little bit of welcome silliness in what is an otherwise desolate landscape. Simply put, it’s cool being able to interact with robotic chickens and enlist the aid of animals as you battle both human and machine for the greater good.
Your squad, your rules
Player choice is a major component of Wasteland 3. That much is evident in the moment-to-moment action during battles, the various branching dialogue options, and at the start of the game when putting together your team. Before you get into any sort of combat, you select a duo of characters. You can choose from multiple preset options or create your very own characters. The presets are good and present you with solid characters that complement each other well, but the character creator is the way to go due to the level of depth and control it gives you.
Characters are made up of an array of attributes, skills, and abilities that play into your performance on the battlefield, exploration of the world, and interactions with other characters. You’re given a limited number of points to assign to your characters that affect how they handle different weapon types. Do you go for the big, explosive guns or stick with a tried and true assault rifle? Do you make your character a brawler or arm him or her with a basic yet reliable pistol instead? This barely scratches the surface of what you’ll mold your characters into.
At the start of the game, as well as the deeper you get, you’ll be able to increase and alter your characters’ stats. You can make them expert lock pickers so they’re able to access high-tier loot on the world map. You can give them the survival skills necessary to take down big animals, or make them animal whisperers and befriend hostile creatures. You have control over how well your characters handle elemental weapons, how adept they are at crafting armor upgrades, and how convincing they are when speaking with faction leaders.
Sure, you’ve seen a lot of this in other RPGs, but Wasteland 3 executes its stat-managing and character-building as well as the best games in the genre. It also provides some of the most exciting battles you could hope for in an RPG.
Combat in Wasteland 3 is turn-based. As such, you’ll want to be smart about how you position your characters. If you have even a base level of experience with RPGs, you’ll pick up the flow of battle almost instantly. Though it may look intimidating at first, inXile Entertainment has done an excellent job of creating a game that’s as deep as it is intuitive. There are a good amount of layers to the battle system, but the game isn’t esoteric. Straight up, even if you haven’t played many CRPGs, you shouldn’t let that dissuade from playing Wasteland 3.
The battles you engage in are some of the most fun you’ll have with the game. This is thanks in large part to all the class variety. It’s fun taking a big, brutish character and pummeling rival soldiers. It’s just as fun playing traditionally, hiding behind cover, and picking off bad guys with an AR. And you better believe it’s highly entertaining taking a flamethrower and literally burning past heavy enemy defenses. There are countless ways to dispose of threats, and when you eventually take control of heavy machinery and combat vehicles, things get even more action-packed.
Silver-tongued devil or loudmouthed troublemaker
The amount of control you’re given over how your adventure plays out extends far outside the battlefield. You’ll meet countless NPCs during your travels and engage in a lot of conversations with branching dialogue options. What you say to these characters will determine whether they take a personal liking to you or keep a strict working relationship with you. Typically, you won’t want to burn any bridges, especially with friendly folks, but sometimes that’s inevitable — especially if you’re helping out a rather unpleasant character.
Your characters’ social traits, which you also level up individually, allow you to talk your way out of or into situations. If you’re a hard-ass (one of the game’s actual social stats), you’ll use your no-nonsense powers of persuasion. If you’re a kiss-ass (again, this is an actual trait in the game), you can be a lot more polite when it comes to getting what you want out of a character interaction. You can form bonds with characters or create hostility. Similarly, you can talk your way out of battles, or you can rile up your enemies.
A true CRPG, whether you’re playing on console or computer
Wasteland 3 is very much a true CRPG. It’s a throwback to both Wasteland and Wasteland 2 before it, as well as classic entries in the genre like the original Fallout. That said, it doesn’t feel dated. In fact, the way battles, dialogue, and exploration flow is really smooth.
The game may mimic classic computer games, but even if you’re playing on console as I did, it just feels great — for the most part anyway. While I never encountered any major control issues, moving characters around hub areas and in battle could feel stiff at times. It’s nothing game-breaking, and the controls are solid, but you’ll notice it at first.
RPG veterans and newcomers welcome
It’s worth pointing out — emphasizing even — that Wasteland 3 is one of the most inviting RPGs of its kind to come along in quite a while. If you’ve never played a CRPG before, this is a great place to start. The game is deep, and there are a lot of nuances for fans of these games to really dig deep into. But if you’re newer to the genre — if you’ve never even played a game like this — you’ll be surprised by just how well the game eases you into the experience.
I wouldn’t quite label Wasteland 3 a “my first CRPG” experience, because it’s certainly not stripped down in any way or lacking challenge. But a lot of its systems are streamlined in the best possible ways. This makes it fairly stress-free to follow the main mission line, explore off the beaten path, and just go around looting different areas.
Multiple difficulty settings allow for players of all experience types to find the right challenge for them. I played on the default setting and found it to be the sweet spot — not grating or frustrating, but challenging enough to make victories feel worthwhile. I would recommend the default difficulty setting for most players, even newcomers, as it’s balanced and never feels taxing. That said, if you’re a seasoned — and sadistic — RPG enthusiast, the higher difficulties should provide you with what you’re looking for… you punishment-loving monster.
A marriage of classic and modern design
When it comes to games like this where the camera is predominantly fixed at an isometric angle, it can be easy to miss the mark on visual presentation. Thankfully, Wasteland 3 looks pretty great. Technically, it’s fairly strong, but it’s in the world design and locales you’ll visit where the game thrives. The team at inXile has created a living, breathing post-apocalypse that’s finely detailed and rich with sights to see.
Character designs are also pretty cool thanks to the diversity of both playable and non-playable characters you’ll come across. You’ll see the expected tropes like soldiers, gunners, and guards, but there are also cowgirls, marauders, and preppy jerks.
Speaking of which, the voice acting for the majority of the game’s characters is remarkably strong. I say “remarkably strong” because in a game this big with as many characters as it has you’d expect a mixed bag of voice acting talent. Thankfully, that’s not the case, and what you get is great voice work from start to finish. It’s not just the line delivery, either — each character is infused with a unique personality, and no two characters are alike. The mix of hard-nosed realists and goofy jokers is nice, furthering the balance between overly serious and sporadically lighthearted.
The music of Wasteland 3 is suitably dark and brooding — the world as we know it sort of ended, after all. I’m not sure how much TV shows like Netflix’s German sci-fi thriller Dark or the wonderful-but-sadly-short-lived Colony influenced the dev team, but certain sounds and chimes reminded me of both those shows. Then there’s the folk music that pops up at certain times, which sometimes fits and sometimes doesn’t but is still pretty good regardless.
The technical performance of Wasteland 3 is mostly strong. I didn’t encounter any frame rate issues or sound glitches. That said, the game did crash a few times at random. The game auto-saves regularly, so I didn’t lose too much progress and either way these crashes weren’t a common occurrence.
It’s a wasteland out there
It’s easy to get completely lost in the world of Wasteland 3. You’ll talk to an endless cast of NPCs, go on crazy missions, battle gangs of enemies, and find reasons to explore outside the mainline of objectives. You can even play in co-op mode if you’d like to experience the game with a buddy. While I didn’t get the chance to test out co-op before the game’s official launch, it’s an intriguing addition, to say the least.
There’s so much to love about Wasteland 3 that it’s hard to talk about it in just a couple thousand words. The game stays true to its CRPG roots while streamlining and smoothing out all of the systems longtime fans of the genre are familiar with. The result is a game that’s both complex and inviting, deep and intuitive, challenging, and accessible. You’ll spend hours upon hours playing the game and never getting bored. You’ll likely sit down to play for a bit before realizing an entire afternoon has passed — I know that happened to me a few times.
Wasteland 3 is more than just a time investment for the player — it’s a fantastic, memorable, and wholesome RPG. This is an RPG that gives you a stellar dystopia to visit and battle in and adventure through. Wasteland 3 is a classic-styled CRPG refined for the modern era, and it’s both one of the best games in its genre and one of the best games of the year.