Hot Action in a Cold World
InXile’s Wasteland series is a somewhat lesser-known, but equally beloved post-apocalyptic RPG as the Fallout series. But while Bethesda changed the game from a top-down, isometric RPG to more and more a first-person shooter with RPG elements, InXile has stayed the course. What they have produced is a solid party-based RPG that neatly rides the revival of the classic western CRPG and easily places them on the same level as Larian Studios and their excellent Divinity games and the upcoming Baldur’s Gate 3.
An RPG stands or Fall on its Story
Wasteland 3 follows on from the previous game with the Desert Rangers leaving Arizona at the invitation of the Patriarch of Colorado. He needs some muscle and the Rangers need food and supplies to help them survive and rebuild after the Cochise affair destroyed their infrastructure and severely depleted their ranks.
Unfortunately for these desert rats, they are easily ambushed on the way in and only a few or as little as three members of what looks to be at least a twenty strong party survive the ambush on a frozen lake. And thus, begins your journey through this snowstorm covered wasteland to rebuild your Ranger platoon while navigating the politics and factions of this new land.
From the above description it all seems simple, nothing near as complex as the Divinity story or the journey of the Bhaal Spawn, however, the complexity lies in the simplicity. You are a stranger in these lands and have pledged your service out of necessity to a man that at first seems harsh but fair, but is he really? His police force, The Marshals, seem to be your brothers in arms, Rangers by another name but are they. And what about the 100 Families, the Founding Families of Colorado. These are all factions that will watch your actions closely and whose opinion of you will change with the wind.
This is where the game shines, each conversation you have is fraught with possibility, arresting someone and handing them to the Marshal’s curries favour with them, but it may lead to losing the respect of the local underworld or even the Patriarch. At the same time you have ample opportunity to role-play as you may not believe that the slightest wrong should result in an agonising and cruel death sentence, but allowing that to happen may just get you that resource that you so desperately need. You must balance your morality with necessity and that leads to compromises. The question you must ask yourself is when does a compromise become business as usual, when have you gone too far?
In many ways, these choices remind of the ones in The Witcher 3 or even Microsoft Game Studios stablemate Obsidian’s, The Outer Worlds. Your choices matter and that includes how you want to play the game.
This choice system spills out into the world map, as you explore the world and travel to new destinations you will be confronted with competing for timed side quests. The first time you leave the relative safety of Colorado Springs you will have to choose between saving a family of three generations being held hostage or helping a convoy bringing much-needed weapons to the Marshals that is under attack. Because they are in opposite directions you can only do one. The mechanic is tried and true and to be fair a bit cliched as it creates a forced moral conundrum, but it is effective and does put you as the player on the horns of a dilemma having to way up to your relative faction reputations against your needs and your own role-playing path.
While the game revels in moral choice, your quest variety does not reach the heights set by The Witcher 3. Broadly each one will fall into an archetype of hunting down villains, retrieving equipment or helping someone with some chore. I say broadly as the writing of the quests and the choices presented as well as the capability to resolve in different ways, although I am yet to find a wholly non-violent or unexpected resolution ala The Outer Worlds, ensures that they never become too repetitive. I do think that a bit more variety would not go amiss, but honestly, I was having too much fun to worry too much about it.
Wait Your Turn
Wasteland 3 happily sticks to tradition of this being a party and turn-based RPG. Quite simply you will run around and backtrack often and when you drop into combat you get to take turns in dealing with your foes. There are no fancy initiative mechanics that add layers of strategy as you get in some JRPGs and what looks to be coming in Baldur’s Gate 3, you simply enter combat and it’s either your party’s turn to go first or the enemies – there are no mechanics to delay or accelerate turns and change initiative order. There is not even character by character turn sequence, instead all of your party goes and then so does the enemy. That is a little disappointing as it really does limit the opportunity to plan attacks and pull off spectacular feats, but combat does not suffer for it.
Just like Divinity, you have a certain number of Action Points with which to move, attack and plan for the next round and like XCom, cover and flanking are all tools in your arsenal. Stand in the open and you will be slaughtered but take cover and move to flank and you will be rewarded with less damage to your team and more to your enemies. Thankfully, percentage to hit is not as capricious as XCom as I have yet to miss with a shotgun while standing right next to an enemy.
Combat is simple, but each party member will have special attacks or abilities that can turn the tide of battle. If you come up against robots, having someone with a hacking ability in the party can disable and at higher levels take over some enemies. And in addition to that, successful attacks builds up a special attack for each character, my particular favourite being the Precision Shot that allows you to target a specific body part reminiscent of VATS or Phoenix Point’s combat system.
Damage taken in combat can be persistent as injuries stay with you until you visit a doctor for some treatment. These will affect your movement, AP or accuracy depending on the particular injury and rolling into battle carrying four- or five-party members with these injuries can be disastrous. Having said that, though, I found that the level gatekeeping is fairly accurate and that on Easy or Normal difficulty the game is not particularly punishing. Normal is a fair challenge and you may lose a couple of party members to unconsciousness, but you will invariably win. The two higher difficulties prove more challenging even when you are over-levelled for a quest. However, if you want to play on easy, but with a couple of difficulty modifiers, the game allows you to customise that and that is a welcome development.
I am not a big fan of most of these post-apocalyptic games simply due to the dull desert browns and reds of the desert setting. Fallout lost me around Fallout 2 and while Atom RPG looks right up my alley mechanically, the setting just puts me off. The same can be applied to Wasteland 1 and 2 seeing as they were set in the red sands of Arizona. The change of scenery to the white desolate wastes of Colorado should then also not appeal to me, but it somehow does. The backgrounds are detailed and beautiful, early on your journey through God’s Garden, a small but cool map adds to the atmosphere. The frigid wastes also add to the game as the attitudes of the NPCs and the factions all make sense given this frozen tundra that they must eke a living out of. The fact that death sentences are simply leaving “criminals” to the mercy of the sub-zero climate is a small detail that makes sense and terrific use of the environment to add to the mythos of the game.
Character design is once again well crafted, but as with all these isometric games telling who is who from this perspective can be a challenge. Thankfully, the game has an extensive character customisation palette to choose from as you buy, scavenge and craft different sets of armour allowing you to create distinctive PCs. This also extends to the weaponry, from mundane guns to truly weird rocket launchers like the frozen ferret launcher that, well launches frozen ferrets. You even have a skill called weird science that is a pre-requisite to use some of the weird items.
Character customisation extends well beyond cosmetic as it should in a CRPG. As always completing quests and random battles will reward you with loot and XP. XP then lets you level up and once you achieve that you can add points to your cardinal skills that govern HP, saving throws and the like as well as put points into upgrading your various skills and every other level from level four you get to choose a passive perk that is connected to your skills. So, if you put points into Sneaky Stuff (by the way not an accurate in-game description, but we are an SFW website), you can unlock various perks that enable you to ambush creatures or spot and disarm traps. It is not at all complicated but thankfully allows you to create a truly rounded party that can handle every situation. Something I am very glad to see is that in order to streamline the experience, it doesn’t matter which character in the party you have as the leader, as long as you have all the party selected if you click on a trap to disarm the game will automatically choose the PC with the highest disarm traps skill to do the job. No having to remember who your most charismatic PC is to ensure that you can charm the socks off that vendor to get the best discount.
One area of design that really impressed me was the soundtrack. Normally I don’t notice these things, but I have to mention that the song played over the battle on the dam at the beginning of the game is wonderfully atmospheric and apt for the scene being set.
There are (minor) Bugs Both on Screen and In the Engine
Wasteland 3 was built on Unity, an ageing yet robust and mature engine. My recent review of Desperadoes 3 showed that the engine can run with little trouble. And for the most part, a more complex game like Wasteland 3 runs without a hitch. Framerate is acceptable, with my review system outputting a steady average above 60FPS. And I experienced no crashes or any other bugs in the game, all boding well for launch day. However, I did experience one evening where framerates dropped to single digits during combat, drawing out the battle. Thankfully, this seemed to resolve itself on both my desktop and the two hours I played on the laptop. Unfortunately, Wasteland 3 does have the long load times, even when loading off an SSD that Desperados had. This is likely an engine issue, but with this game, it is worse simply because every time you change areas or enter and exit a major building the game is loading that map. This leads to a somewhat disjointed gaming experience as you click on a map transition point and then wait for maybe up to a minute for the map to load. Once loaded though, there are no issues with loading times etc as everything is loaded in allowing you to complete this part of your quest.
The performance issues are minor and, in the review guide, the developer has stated that they are aware of some minor bugs and that they will have these patched.
Not a Waste of Time
Wasteland 3 hits the notes for me – it is a turn- and -party based CRPG, that challenges you in conversation and choice and in combat. The setting is something that I can only ever remember seeing in the survival sim Frostpunk and it makes a refreshing change from the usual desert setting. Character progression and classes and builds. The choices at least feel consequential and not just some scripted linear pathway that the developer wants you to follow. And if you are looking for length, oh boy are you getting value here. The game is estimated to be an 80-100-hour opus, that’s double Wasteland 2 and will definitely keep you busy.
Wasteland 3 is available for Xbox One, Xbox Game Pass, PlayStation 4, Windows.
This review is based on the PC version of the game
Purchase your version of the game here.
Written By LYNLEY JAMES, a member of our freelance team.
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In Wasteland 3 you take command of a squad of Desert Rangers, lawmen and women in a post-nuclear world, trying to rebuild society from the ashes. More than a century after the bombs fell, you’re fighting a losing battle to keep your beloved Arizona alive. Then the self-proclaimed Patriarch of Colorado radios, promising aid if you'll do a job he can only entrust to an outsider—rescue his land from the ambitions of his three bloodthirsty children.
Product Currency: GBP
Product Price: 54.99
Product In Stock: SoldOut