Wasteland 3 is such a sprawling game in both world map and branching options that, honestly, I think I could freely talk about the majority of things I encountered while playing and a solid percentage of people would have taken a totally different route or may not know my path was even an option. That is to say if you have previous experience with the classic RPG stylings of the Wasteland series or Wasteland adjacent Fallout, you won’t be surprised to know that the first hour of gameplay will remind you of what you’re in for. By the 60 minute mark, the squad I was leading had the hard task of deciding if I should euthanize someone. When introduced to a key character told them to go and *cough* themselves, so his 7k HP goons showed me a swift death while patriotic choirs sang America the beautiful in the background. Oh and recruited a cat called Major Tomcat who wears a cowboy hat and likes cigarettes.
That’s just one of the things about Wasteland 3 that makes it feel that step above. The game feels like a true Wasteland game, with the hard choices, the consequences, the exploration, the quirk, and above all else the care. It feels like a proud successor to Wasteland 2, with a bigger world, bigger ideas, and a bigger budget to truly be able to reach those heights. The 2018 acquisition of inXile by Microsoft seems to have allowed them the extra time and money needed to make Wasteland 3 the game they set out to make without compromise.
That initial impact that the intro makes ripples out across the rest of the game that awaits. Wasteland 3’s story starts on a simple enough premise; after the events of Wasteland 2 the rangers are struggling to survive and are lacking a headquarters when they receive a communication from Colorado, the man running the show, known as ‘The Patriarch’ has reached out with a problem. Of course things don’t go as planned on the journey, the rangers are ambushed in the opening cutscene and you’re the 2 remaining members of your squad. Once you survive the ambush and meet the Patriarch he gives you the rundown on his situation and how he plans to rectify it. His children are trying to usurp him, and if the rangers can help get things under control and right his ship and bring them back alive, then he’ll supply them with enough resources to survive whatever comes. This is where Wasteland reaffirms that choice and consequence are very much up to you, the player. Having just been ambushed and having the Patriarch inform you he feels responsible, you can tell him to cram his offer, and doing so… Has consequences.
The theme of choice and consequence is nothing new in RPGs, but the way in which it’s implemented is refreshing. It’s the way that choice is intrinsic to the gameplay that truly sets things apart, as it can be either right in your face or subtle and lurking in the shadows. Some are quick to show the consequences, choose to save a family from bandits, and you can visit the site of a caravan massacre while being taunted about the newly acquired power armour they have thanks to your choices. Other Times it won’t be until later down your journey that you’ll see the ripples you’ve put out into the world. That weight, impact and consequence will remind you that the world can be unforgiving and causes you to pick your path carefully. At the same time every choice will feel like it could have impact rather than just a select few at key points.
That’s not to say that every moment of your journey through the wasteland is tense and filled with what ifs. That dark humor from the previous games is back, creepy dolls litter the world, snickers, and pogs can be found tucked away in containers, and there’s an evil murderous clan of clowns who think the apocalypse is a big joke.
It helps break up the bleakness of the game, and oh can it get bleak at times, but let’s stay in the warmth of quirk for now. From character creation ‘Quirks’ that allow you to pick absurd options such as Clown or Mime (and come with the costume to boot), to books with dicks scrawled on the covers and uhhh… “Yellow” snowballs you can throw at enemies to give them a heap of debuffs. Dark humor permeates the game, A chance encounter while driving around in your Kodiak can have you hitting a toad that turns out to weigh 300lbs and brought friends. A tucked away dentists office can have you discussing cuspids with the murderous Dr Smile. Visit the local casino & brothel and you might end up helping a patron with a… Performance issue. This most definitely isn’t the kind of rpg you can let your kids loose on.
That quirk and humor is countered by tough decisions that can get more than a little heavy. A message pops up when you first load the game, warning you that certain aspects of Wasteland 3’s might run a little close to reality, and that this is a work of fiction. For every cowboy cat, bigfoot hunter, and 300lb toad, there’s equally refugees, displacement, oppression and harsh justice. In 2020, this might not be what some players are looking for, seeking an escape instead of a reminder. The cold harsh nuclear winter that is Colorado has more problems then we can fit in one paragraph. Refugees are heading to Colorado Springs from the east, running away from the factions out that way seeking sanctuary, and not receiving a warm welcome from some. The authority have a problem with being seen as (and acting as) an oppressive force that can hit first and ask questions later, the justice system is cruel and overbearing. The Patriarch and his offspring are also their own barrels of crazy and problematic, regime changes, oil, and torture all wait down those paths.
Wasteland having this mix of dark humor and seriousness isn’t anything new, but Wasteland 3 takes everything to that next level of quality. The extra time and money they were able to spend on the game after the Microsoft acquisition looks to have been put to good use, everything is voice acted, even passing NPCs, which adds another layer to the world you’re exploring, important cutscenes swing down in to a first person close-up view giving them that feeling of gravitas and making them more intimate. The detail of the world, the quality just feels like a delightful evolution from Wasteland 2. Even the world map has been improved, driving around your Kodiak exploring the world, listening to the radio as you find lootables or random vendors is a pleasant change from the line on a map stylings of Wasteland 2.
Combat is also improved upon, your squad being able to act in any order allows so much freedom on the battlefield to approach the situation as you see fit. Your leadership character can pop buffs at the start of the fight helping to get everyone into the position to do the most damage, and you can either throw your sniper shots and heavy fire down at the beginning of your turn, or save them for cleanup duty to finish off those still standing targets. Combat is also the only area of the game where we encountered problems, as we had noticeable slowdown and stuttering when enemy units gained too many debuffs, and that’s an easy fix.
It would be easy to dismiss Wasteland for just adding a new coat of paint to the old formula, but it feels like inXile have knocked it out of the park this time around, Wasteland 3 might have familiar treadings story wise, but the depth to the world, the impact of your choices, and the satisfying combat all come together to make a game that should be on any CRPG players list, and with the game being part of the Xbox Games Pass, there’s really no reason not to get lost in Colorado.