The review is going to delve into presentation, a lot of gameplay changes and some minor narrative stuff, if you’re the person who loves going in as blind as possible, read this after you’ve played the game. Mandatory warning is over, so let us begin.
It’s winter and this is a very fitting first entry. The fireplace is roaring. I’m feeling like a surgeon. Sipping my tea and having this to say…
Wasteland 3 is the latest instalment in the revived Wasteland series, developed by inXile Entertainment and released in 2020. The game takes place in an alternative history where nuclear war broke out between the Soviet Union and the United States after a sudden impact event, effectively driving the human race back into the dark ages. In the game you take control of the Arizona Desert Rangers, descendants of the US Army Engineer Corps and one of the few peacekeeping forces left in the United States. The story follows shortly after the events of Wasteland 2 with the Rangers travelling to Colorado to aid a ruthless lord known as the Patriarch in return for resources and security. Doing so they’ll face new challenges and horrors, with their actions (or inaction) directly changing the world around them.
Sounds like something right up my alley.
Since this is a direct sequel I’ll have to do a lot of comparisons with the previous title to highlight what they did good or bad. It’s worth pointing out I’ve played the game single player only on the normal difficulty. If I’m going to comment on the other difficulties and multiplayer I’d much rather do that in a separate post. The best way to appreciate this review is if you’re already familiar with Wasteland.
Wasteland 3, like the previous entry, is done in the Unity engine. It is not the most detailed game out there, especially when you compare it to the games that came out the same year, but the visuals overall are solid, with textures and models looking better than before. inXile is not that big of a development house so comparing their product with something that is produced by a more well-known and better funded developer seems kind of unfair to me.
This time inXile has traded the rusty orange hues of the desert and the sickly greens of the swamp in return for Colorado’s brutal winter hues. Typically when you hear the words “wasteland” or “post-apocalypse”, most people tend to associate those words with dilapidated cities or once vibrant forests scorched by radiation. Making the game take place in this oppressive snowy environment makes it stand out from the sequel and other popular post-apocalyptic games, so it’s a smart move in my opinion. Now although it looks better, it lacks variety. Sadly, very few of the locations in the game stick out to me. You got to take the good with the bad. Better visuals. Lack of variety.
The UI has been made smoother in my opinion, with more organized presentation and simplified dialogue. Less cluttered, more straightforward. Good. I like that.
The dialogue seems to be shorter and not as detailed as I remember in Wasteland 2. The charm of having icons when conversing with NPCs is now gone. You do have character cutscenes during some dialogues and although they have appeal, they’re reserved only for the most important characters in the game, not nearly as prevalent as I initially thought when I watched the demo years ago.
In short. Visuals are okay and the game has an artistic identity, albeit with some lost magic. Chances are it won’t be the best looking game in your library but then again, looks aren’t everything.
Mark Morgan, the composer of the previous Wasteland game, who is the same composer for the original Interplay Fallout games, is back at it. I’ve played games that have his soundtrack. A fair bit. Seeing Mark’s name attached to a project is kind of like a stamp of quality. This time he’s aided by Mary Ramos.
The music does a good job keeping you pumped for the fight and the few licensed tracks the game has to offer are amazing and fitting for their respective scenes. There’s something quite cathartic about engaging guards in a prison break mission with a cover of Battle Hymn Of The Republic blasting. I know you’re not going to buy a game based on the soundtrack alone, but a good soundtrack can add so much value to the experience. It’s sadly not the most memorable portfolio Mark Morgan has produced (a challenge considering how legendary the Fallout soundtrack is at this point) but it’s still a good assortment of music in the end of the day. Ambiance does a good job of hooking you in. The sound of ice crackling under your feet, of the winds punching everything in their way. Combined with the visual effects you really get the feeling you’re stuck in a place not meant for human life. Movements sound weighty and gun sounds are satisfying.
It’s also worth pointing out that every single character is fully voiced. In the previous entry, voice lines were reserved only for story relevant NPCs and companions, due to budget reasons or to invoke the feeling of classical role-playing games. Now everyone has vocal cords. And what comes out of their mouths reflects personality. I like. Sound is good. We’ve got good sound, people.
Besides the massive change in presentation, this is also pretty big.
You start off the game with only two Desert Rangers at your disposal, either picking from the premade characters or creating your custom ones. Shortly after completing the tutorial you’ll be able to fill your other two remaining Ranger slots, finishing up the four man Ranger formation the series is known for. Your team can then be further expanded with two additional companions which you can cycle from at your base, typical Wasteland fare. What is not typical Wasteland fare is the fact you can now swap your Rangers, either using dozens of premade options (in case you dislike roleplaying in your roleplaying games) or creating your own custom ones. Remember that your custom characters can be changed as long as you’re in the base, have that cook in the back of your head for a minute.
The character creator has been expanded, giving you more options for your character’s appearance. More face options, more clothing options for torso and leggings, size, clothing color selection, skin color, hairstyle, hair color. You can also select what kind of personality (voice type) they have which is an amazing addition. Some additions from Wasteland 2, such as the ability to write your character’s biography, have been removed. I guess it was because it had no gameplay or story relevancy so it was scrapped, and it appears inXile viewed it as busy work now that your custom Rangers are interchangeable. It’s not a bad thing, but the biography option was a part I really enjoyed. I like it when games let your imagination run wild, when you can be as silly or as serious as you want. Quirks and stats are pretty much the same as Wasteland 2.
But get this now.
Not counting some of the special skills, your characters in Wasteland 2 had a total of 29 skills to choose from based on 3 areas: combat, knowledge, and general. A lot of the skills from the previous game have been ported over but some have been noticeably streamlined. For example, in Wasteland 2 Bladed Weapons and Blunt Weapons were two separate skills. In Wasteland 3 they’re both under the same category (Melee Weapons), meaning that levelling up the skill will now give you proficiency with both AND let you pick an active or passive ability for either of them. This same principle applies to Assault Rifles and SMGs, which are now covered under the Automatic Weapons skill, as well as Shotguns and Pistols, governed by their own Small Arms skill.
The good thing about grouping types together is now you have the benefits of two weapon types for the price of one, meaning you’ll have a more viable fallback option in case your preferred weapon of choice runs out of ammo in the middle of a fight. Now I’ve heard people not like this kind of approach since it’s fully possible to make your characters OP with the right setup, but I personally think it was a smart choice. In Wasteland 2 what I’d often do is I’d pick my main weapon type and have a secondary weapon type as my backup. Not counting Melee Weapons, focusing on a Small Arms or Automatic Weapons build means that you’ll be efficient in both your primary weapon category (let’s say Assault Rifles) and your fallback weapon category (SMGs), allowing you to spend points in general or specialist skills without worrying about getting dunked on in combat.
Some of the more powerful weapons like science weapons, rockets and sniper rifles are locked under their own individual skill with expensive AP. Combine that with ammo scarcity and how easily you can eat through ammo if you’re not careful, things seem fine to me. I never found myself in a situation where I thought the new system was making combat easy, considering in most cases you’ll either be outgunned, outclassed or even both. Your preparation and your wits are what’s going to get you out of trouble.
Other abilities like Brute Force have been removed entirely. Abilities like Surgeon and Field Medic are now the same ability. Your persuasion options are slimmed down to just Hard Ass and Kiss Ass, Smart Ass from Wasteland 2 was removed thus making persuasion builds less tricky.
And yes, toaster repair is still a thing. It’ll always be a thing.
Skill checks have also been changed. Skill checks for traps and lockpicking etc have been changed to a fixed level rather than percentage based. In Wasteland 2 skill checks for disarming a mine could be 20% success or 80% dependent on your skill. In Wasteland 3, the level of the mine is 5. You need a level of 5 or above to disarm it. This removed a lot of the randomness when interacting with the world and it’s an alright change, though I can tell some people will miss save scumming skill checks.
Also your precision strike has been changed. You now need to build up a meter to attack specific parts, charged through successful hits. You can no longer headshot spam. As long as you’re in range and have the AP and charge any body part attack will be a guaranteed hit, the only randomness in it is whether or not the cripple effect will take effect. Certain weapons like machine guns and flamethrowers have more powerful area attacks once precision strike is available. You’re forced to make your shots count, which in return, pushes you to have more situational awareness.
You have a vehicle with you to help you traverse the map and it’ll aid you in certain combat scenarios. And it can be customized with new weapons, armor, and cosmetics. Jumbo the cannibal tried to turn me to soup. My car turned him into a hamburger. My car also has a radio and an icecream truck tune.
Did I mention they removed the weight system? Making management even more straightforward.
Other than that, the gameplay of Wasteland 3 is pretty much the same as the previous one. It’s still squad turn based. The cover system is identical and so is the penetration/armor mechanic. Your clothing can give you extra protection and boost your skills. You can equip trinkets to make yourself even more powerful and books can be read to make yourself broken.
Combine the abilities you can get by levelling up and abilities certain weapons have, consumables, throwables and deployable turrets and you’re keeping up with the threat AND you’ve got several ways to tackle a combat scenario. The game’s crafting system will help you stay alive, improve your equipment and feed your guns more ammo and if you’ve got the right stuff you can produce some really gnarly gear. Think of it more like a little pick me up than a crutch. Crafting recipes can be unlocked or discovered and vendors are always conveniently close.
As I said, the odds won’t be in your favor a lot of times, so you’ll have to make the most of your items, crafting and AP, otherwise you’ll leave combat encounters crippled or not leave them at all. Be aware of your surroundings, your strengths, your weaknesses and the enemies’. Enemies have different rules of engagement based on their type/faction with their own respective weaknesses. If you’re unhappy with your playstyle, like going a more commando loadout or you’re unhappy about there not being enough technical characters, you can change that. Side quests are abundant and the way you tackle them will also contribute to the game world. By the end of the game I had characters who maxed out 2 or 3 attributes and skills. Yes, you can swap or completely change your characters and they’re powerful. It’s kind of ironic how the game in the series where your characters are the most powerful is also the entry where your characters are the most disposable.
Did I mention we have a vehicle now? Travelling the map is now less static with frequent radio chatter and some music. Good change.
I realize I’ve spent an unhealthy amount of time dissecting game mechanics, so I’ll get to the story now.
Without spoiling anything I’ll say the Wasteland 3 story is enjoyable, albeit predictable. It’s not bad, it is competently presented, I never got confused or forgot what was going on, but whenever the game tries to do a twist and a turn I tell myself “Huh, I knew it”. Don’t expect any M.Night twists. With the voice acting and the direction the game now has a much more human element too it that is a fantastic change, but I feel like a lot of the doomsday elements and mystery of Wasteland 2 wasn’t carried over, which sucks because those are elements of that story that I considered to be really good. The gravity of the situation doesn’t feel the same. If they could mix the human element with the end of times vibe then there would be higher stakes and a better payoff. The game doesn’t mull too much on previous events but it does help to have some backstory before going in. Now, the game has predictability, but it hasn’t forgotten to give you an interesting world.
You meet many different factions in your travels. From monster cosplayers ruled by an asthmatic obese vampire called Flab the Inhaler, to the Gippers, a cult worshipping an AI version of President Ronald Reagan. From silly, to the stuff you’re only going to find in a fever dream.
The biggest mistake you can make when playing a Wasteland game (besides not paying attention and making unplayable builds), is taking the game too seriously. Yes, it’s the apocalypse. But it’s a humorous apocalypse. The game is full of a lot of its trademark comedy, mostly parodies of other pop culture and commentary, from characters, to audio logs, to item descriptions. It’s crude. But it’s a fun crude.
The world is not static. Your actions will change Colorado for better or worse, earning you many allies and enemies. People will be vocal about the world around you and your companions will surely tell you their thoughts on things, serious or trivial. You might have to pull a gun on a friend depending on what you picked. Quests have different outcomes and there’s multiple endings.
Not many. Dialogues sometimes repeat. Enemies and allies clip through cover, sometimes. Allies sometimes, SOMETIMES, shoot in the wrong direction. Nothing game breaking, never had a single crash.
I give this game a...
A solid, enjoyable game that although didn’t live up to my expectations, gave me hours of enjoyment and is going to give me more hours thanks to its customization, choices and difficulties. Give it a shot, you won’t regret it. My playthrough took me around 34 hours.