Review – Wasteland 3
While I enjoyed Wasteland 2, it’s an inherently flawed game. It’s designed as a fun blast to the past, which is both it’s greatest strength and weakness. Much like fellow early Kickstarter project Pillars of Eternity, it’s more concerned with recreating the past than moving towards the future. It was more a modern retread of the original Wasteland than a proper sequel.
Given the state of CRPG’s at the time, this was a positive, but as times changed these flaws became more pronounced. When Pillars of Eternity II released and delivered the gameplay evolution the original should have, it became clear nostalgia was no longer a selling point. Thankfully inXile realized this, and Wasteland 3 is exactly the game it deserved to be. Fine-tuned customization, a variety of new mechanics to play with, a brand new world to experience, this is more than just another post-apocalyptic CRPG.
The Patriarch, Colorado’s leader, is the best thing about Wasteland 3. Wasteland/Fallout games have a history of fascinating antagonists, from the Cochise AI in Wasteland to Fallout 2’s Enclave. Some of them barely qualify as antagonists and can become allies united under a common goal. The Patriarch falls into this latter category, and as the game opens he’s established as your strongest ally. While the main enemies are his three traitorous children, his legacy is ultimately the real adversary. Wherever you go in Colorado, everyone has their own opinions and stories about their leader’s past. The wars to retake and hold this land are filled with blood and steel, and confronting this legacy and the Ranger’s place in it is the real core of Wasteland 3. It’s the kind of story this genre was made to tell, and it’s done beautifully here.
That’s only the tip of the iceberg though, pardon the pun. The frozen wastes of Colorado are a far cry from standard post apocalyptic RPG desert landscapes. It’s not just cosmetic differences either. Colorado’s filled with tons of brand new lore and history that flesh out the world in new and interesting ways. There’s brand new factions, new religions, great weird cults, and a new look into how parts of the world without Rangers (or the NCR) survived and regrew after the bombs dropped. They even have a local nickname for the event, Coloradans refer to the nukes dropping as the Deluge of Fire. It’s always the small touches that make an RPG, and Wasteland 3 is a fantastic example of why.
It’s not just the story and world that received fleshing out, but the gameplay as well. First off, and quite important for returning Wasteland 2 players, is balance. Even after the Director’s Cut upgrade, 2 is still such an unbalanced game. So much so, that even as a single-player RPG it still affects the player experience. Fortunately, that’s not the case here. It’s not perfect, but it does feel as if every weapon has their place. There’s no undeniable best choice, which is what killed the Wasteland 2 customization experience for me. I’m not a stickler for min-max perfect balancing or anything, but when the entire game railroads you into a specific build that just obviously works for everything, we have a problem. But that’s not the case here, which makes character and party customization so much more interesting.
inXile didn’t just settle for fixing things though, there’s a bunch of new stuff to try out. Namely I think weapon ultimates and the jeep are the biggest ones, though there’s a bunch of under the hood additions as well. Weapon ultimates were a bit wonky in the beta, but thankfully were ironed out mostly. They now charge quick enough to be used more regularly, but not too often that it just becomes a “wait for ultimate, use, repeat” kinda game. They also help a lot with making each weapon type feel differently, which ties back into the previous discussion of balance. Every gun is more than just a stat stick now, it’s almost a light class system. There’s even rare guns that come with unique abilities, which I is something I’m a total sucker for.
I don’t think the jeep adds quite as much to the experience as ultimates, tighter balancing, or deeper world-building do, but it’s still cool. Basically it functions like an additional party member through the magic of AI. When used correctly it can provide some very interesting strategic plays, given it’s other use as mobile cover. Still, it’s ultimately just an extension of existing mechanics. I feel they overhyped it’s inclusion just a tad. If you were hoping for something more meaningful like Pillars of Eternity II’s ship with it’s extensive upgrade and customization system, you’re a bit out of luck. Still it perfectly achieves what it’s in the game to do, which is the important part.
The basic gameplay loop remains the same. Compared to the last game, the heavily XCOM inspired combat feels so much smoother. Entering combat from exploration especially feels better, and it’s much easier to position your squad before kicking things off now. Movement feels far more natural and less janky, which greatly improves exploration. The improved models, animation, and backgrounds help here a lot. Speaking of new models, the up-close third person dialogues are surprisingly decent and do a great job of bringing important characters to life. Combined with some shockingly great voice-acting (especially The Patriarch’s), you have a game that successfully punches above it’s budgetary weight. You won’t mistake it for a AAA title, but it’s more than your standard isometic indie.
All in all, this is the game I wanted so badly for Wasteland 2 to be. It doesn’t just repeat what came before, but expands upon it all. Not just mechanically, but story wise as well. That isn’t to say there isn’t any returning characters and stories though, veterans have some pretty cool things to look forward too. Overall though, this is a game that stands on it’s own legs with it’s own things to say. The Patriarch may be core to it all, but there’s plenty of side characters and stories that shine as well. The Patriarch’s children for example, while doubling as reflections of parts of his personality, are interesting characters in their own right. Fun antagonists with some great potential choices surrounding them, all of which manage to come together like only a well-crafted CRPG experience can.
The game looks great: backgrounds are crisp and models mostly survive up close examinations.
Customization is fluid and varied, while combat and exploration are smooth and play well together.
The soundtrack is great and all, but the real winner is the surprisingly great voice acting.
Fun Factor: 9.0
The story and characters are fascinating, the new world brilliantly fleshed out, and the gameplay loop and progression fulfilling.
Final Verdict: 9.0
Wasteland 3 is available on August 28th for PC, PS4, and Xbox One
Reviewed on PC
A copy of Wasteland 3 was provided by the publisher.