Wasteland 3 Review – Nothing Without Providence
Wasteland 3August 28th, 2020
The world of Wasteland is not a forgiving world. It is a world destroyed by a nuclear holocaust, where the few who have managed to survive have to go to incredible lengths to make their lives bearable. It isn't such a bad world to live in, however, as those armed with a will of steel, and the most powerful weapons around, have the chance to leave their mark on it and change their destinies from one of doom and despair to one of riches and glory.
Wasteland 3 is, in many ways, the role-playing game that all fans of the genre needed, and one that all can fully enjoy. It really has everything fans would want from one: an engaging story full of beautifully written characters, deep and involving role-playing game mechanics, an engaging battle system, tons of content. And the power of choice, as all the decisions taken by the player will decisively shape the course of the story, no matter how big or small they may seem at first glance.
Like in the previous entries in the series, in Wasteland 3, players take control of a squad of Desert Rangers, a post-apocalyptic Rangers corp created in the great tradition of the Texas and Arizona Rangers to help those communities that have managed to survive the nuclear war between the United States and the Soviet Union that took place in 1998. This squad, called the November Team, has been sent to Colorado to aid the Patriarch, the de-facto ruler of the state, to assist him in his troubles in exchange for the supplies the Rangers desperately need to save Arizona. Things, however, look grim right from the onset, as the November Team is assaulted by an armed faction right before meeting the Patriarch, an assault that decimates the squad and leaves only a few members alive. Not backing down after such a tragedy, the surviving Rangers from the November Team establish their new HQ and get involved in a family dispute that could change the face of Colorado and of what is left of the United States.
The Patriarch's family feud is only a very small part of the entire story. Its conclusion is the November Team's main goal, but it isn't the only fight they will get involved in, as pretty much every faction in Colorado has its own woes and its problems to solve, which they will only with your involvement. As such, the Wasteland 3 story is extremely fluid, as it is your choices that will determine its development and how it will end. It is also a story of morally grey choices, as you will be forced multiple times to pick a side, and there is no clear right or wrong side: morality is a thing of the past, and in the post-apocalyptic world of Wasteland 3, survival is all that matters. This is also a testament to the excellent quality of the writing, as the story may not be particularly original, but its events and the characters they involve are extremely charming and almost believable given the context they live in, painting a picture that doesn't feel too far fetched, despite a good amount of craziness here and there that helps the game from being way too dark.
An engaging and well-written story would mean little if the game was no fun to play, but this is not the case here. Wasteland 3 completely delivers on the gameplay front, providing some extremely solid role-playing game mechanics that further stress how the game is all about freedom and choices.
Right before starting the game, players are asked to choose between different couples or to create one from scratch. The character creator is not among the deepest that can be found in modern RPGs, but it gives players tons of customization options to alter the characters' appearance to their liking. It is also possible to choose an origin for each created character, which will grant them some peculiar bonuses like increased experience earning and so on. Definitely more interesting are the stats and skills customization, which influences what the characters are good at and which weapons they will be able to use effectively. Lacking a proper class system, players are free to choose how to develop their characters, allowing them to create jack-of-all-trades or specialized characters that are good at a few things but bad at all the others. The game does its very best to explain what precisely each stat and skill influences, something that makes Wasteland 3 extremely welcoming for RPG newbies. One other very interesting character creation feature, which is completely optional, is the ability to assign a quirk to characters. These quirks add both advantages and disadvantages to the character permanently, forcing you to work around them to create the perfect Ranger. It is a neat addition that can make the game more challenging, and that forces you to be creative when developing your character.
The character creation and customization possibilities show their true quality during the game's tactical combat, which is one of Wasteland 3's best features. Once enemies are engaged, players and AI will take turns moving characters around battlefields, get behind cover, unleash regular attacks, special abilities, use items, and so on by using AP. Each action consumes a certain amount of them, so careful planning is extremely important, as you may end up spending most of your APs to move to a favorable position but end up not having enough to attack. The battlefields are highly-interactive, so it is possible to destroy objects to prevent enemies from using them as cover, blow up fuel and hydrogen tanks to damage enemies and inflict status ailments and even use computers and other devices to activate traps. The number of combat options, combined with the customization possibilities, makes Wasteland 3's combat never feel stale, also thanks to a great balancing that does present increasingly challenging encounters without overwhelming the player. This, to be honest, also leads to a game that feels a little too forgiving on the regular difficulty level, as you can make quite a few mistakes during battles but still make it out of it alive. I was only defeated once in my first 20 or so hours, and only because I clearly tried to bite more than I could chew. With quests suggested for my team's current level, I always had little to no trouble surviving and winning fights comfortably.
Reactive and interactive mechanics aren't just limited to Wasteland 3's combat, but to its world as a whole. The post-apocalyptic Colorado depicted in the game is a state that is shaped by the player's choice in a lot of ways, both small and big. Each and every quest can be cleared in different ways, and the chosen method will influence your Reputation, which will make your squad more recognizable, altering how NPCs react to you, as well as your standing with the many different factions that vie for power. Even the Patriarch's family feud can be solved in a few different ways, and how the balance of power changes will also affect the remainder of the adventure. It is difficult to go more in-depth without spoiling anything, but suffice to say that it is even possible to burn one of the main locations to the ground, not only preventing you from using its facilities but also locking you out of entire questlines, and altering a few others.
Your squad composition is also extremely important to experience certain stories and questlines. The presence of certain companions in your team will allow you to explore their personal stories, like Lucia Wesson's vengeance story, and even give you the chance to change the world around you in a very distinct way. Named NPCs also comment on the current happenings quite often, making their presence valuable even just to learn more about the post-apocalyptic society they live in. They are not particularly more powerful than the randomly generated rangers that will join you during the course of the adventure, but they have that little something more that makes then invaluable to have.
One companion that is truly invaluable to have is the Kodiak, an armored vehicle that will serve as your main mean of transportation as you move from your HQ in Colorado Springs to other iconic locations found in the state, including the city of Denver. The vehicle is fully customizable with a lot of different weapons and items, and some of these upgrades are actually required to move the story forward. Better yet, the Kodiak can be controlled during battles on the World Map, making it even more of an asset and an integral part of your team, considering you will often be outnumbered during these encounters.
All of this can be experienced together with another player thanks to the game's multiplayer mode. Due to the limited number of players available during the review phase, I haven't been able to test out this mode properly, but it definitely promises to make combat even better, considering real coordination and teamwork will be required to succeed.
With so many features and mechanics to keep track of, Wasteland 3 sounds like an incredibly difficult RPG to get into, but thankfully that is not the case at all. The game is, on the contrary, extremely welcoming for newcomers, as it features an excellent menu design that makes them both very informative and very simple to access and use. Everything from stats, skills, perks, and quirks is properly explained, and any improvement made by spending the related points is clearly highlighted, preventing players from investing in stats and skills they do not want to develop. The Mission Log is also extremely simple to use, and so is the map, which allows players to set waypoints, making it much easier to reach highlighted points of interest and such. Wasteland 3 is a game that has great respect for the player's time, not wasting it in pointless menu navigations and tutorials that are more complicated than the mechanics itself. And this is a great thing, for a role-playing game that's more than 60 hours long.
The interface, in general, isn't just extremely functional, but also very nice to look at. And so are the visuals, mostly thanks to the great art direction that gave a very personable look to all locations and characters, making them instantly recognizable. Speaking of actual graphics' quality, it definitely isn't the highest we have seen in the current generations, but they look great for a top-down role-playing game, with tons of options on PC that can make the game run decently even on older and not-so-powerful systems. At the end of the day, you will not be surprised by amazing lighting or other special effects, but you will feel disappointed either, especially during dialogues with important NPCs that highlight their great design with a quick camera change to first-person view.
Great care has been placed in the music production and voice acting, increasing immersion exponentially. The soundtrack features a lot of great pieces, including some great renditions of Americana and classic rock and roll songs like Monster Mash in post-apocalyptic flavor that enhances the game's already excellent atmosphere. Voice acting is also top-notch quality, with all named NPCs dialogue being masterfully voiced.
Wasteland 3 is the role-playing game that fans needed this year, as it has everything an RPG needs to be great: excellent story and writing, amazingly varied combat, a huge amount of customization possibilities, and a world that truly reacts to the player and changes with his or her choices. One may say that inXile played it a little too safe with the game, not bringing any real innovation to the table, but this would be some real nitpicking: Wasteland 3 is as solid as any RPG can get, and a game that no true fan of the genre should pass on.
PC version tested. Review code provided by the publisher.
Wasteland 3 features everything only the best role-playing games do: an engaging story powered by excellent writing, compelling characters, tons of customization options, and a deep tactical combat system that feels fresh even after dozens of hours. But, most of all, it features a living world that reacts to what the player does, and changes depending on how the player decides to deal with the troubles ahead, providing a role-playing experience of the highest degree, one that very few games can boast of.
- Engaging story featuring great writing and compelling characters
- Highly reactive world that can drastically change depending on the player's choices
- Huge amount of character customization options
- Deep and involving tactical combat system
- Great menu and interface design that makes the game extremely welcoming to newcomers
- Simple yet functional multiplayer features
- The normal difficulty level can be a little too forgiving
- Doesn't really try anything new within the genre