Wasteland 3 Preview – Walking in a Wasteland Wonderland
I've always been a little worried when it comes to the purchase of a great studio by a larger company. Naturally, I've had this concern for InXile and Wasteland 3 under Microsoft. History tells us that it just doesn't work out for the studio, prime examples being EA with Westwood, Pandemic to Activision with Bizarre, Radical and Neversoft and, of course, Microsoft with Lionhead and Ensemble.
Why have I started by saying this? I starting to feel a little optimistic thanks to my time with Wasteland 3, seeing the progression it's made, and also from having spoken to members of InXile during a recent event held in Berlin and also from statements made in the past. One example being Brian Fargo himself saying how the extra time and money made available could offer a huge boost to the games ranking thanks to the improvements and polish that could be made.
I've already previewed Wasteland 3 once before when I was able to get hands-on with it at Gamescom, so a lot of what I thought then still applies now. The visual quality, particularly thanks to the contrast of colours (there is a lot of white and red, the red primarily being from the gutted denizens of the wasteland). Not only that, but the environments themselves also offer lovely variety based off of real areas that the members of InXile wanted to recreate. One such area is the Garden of the Gods, a place where towering red stones offer a stunning contrast to the winter snow.
This is one area that was made available to explore in the demo of the game I was able to play. Indeed, the demo made available to me is also the one that has now been made available to early backers of the game and covers, roughly, the first three hours of the game, depending on how much you want to explore, talk to people and the number of side quests you want to do. Even in this first small part of Wasteland 3, there are quite a bit of these side elements to explore and all of it offers the variety you could expect from a game like this.
A good example comes from the first town you head to. Avoiding giving any major spoilers, the town has been attacked by the same gang that attacks you at the beginning of the game, essentially crippling the rangers. There are some stragglers, a few of the gang are held up in a clothes store. In this little side story alone you have multiple options, from not helping the shop owner who is ready to head in alone, armed with a shotgun and likely facing certain death, to heading yourself and killing the gang. The route I took was a simple one, I called the gang idiots and pointed out the fact that they could simply put on some clothes and walk out of the town, unnoticed. Will this move come back to haunt me in the future? Only time will tell.
What I do know is that almost every decision you make has consequences, some more lasting than you could imagine. At the very start of the game, you have the chance to save a soldier being held at gunpoint and if you do manage to, depending on how you have managed it, it could lead to the gang member holding her hostage warning others which then kill both of their hostages or you being able to save her and also other hostages later. If you do save this first soldier, she can be of great aid in the future, even becoming a valuable companion later in the game.
So we know that there's a large amount of choice both outside and inside on combat. I've spoken about this in the previous preview, so we'll leave that aspect alone now. What I will talk about with the combat is the further options made available. Wasteland 3 doesn't penalise you for pushing your skills towards a less combat-focused build. For example, you could equip a sniper with a requirement of 2 on sniper skills, even if you don't meet that requirement. All you take is a haircut to the accuracy, so having a sniper skill of one would drop accuracy by five percent, for example.
This is one key aspect I was keen to ask about when speaking to Jeremy Kopman, the lead level designer on Wasteland 3. Unlike several RPG's that profess to allow you to take any path you want to take, Wasteland 3 does this. There are some fights that, narratively, you cannot avoid by using dialogue options or by using the environment to neutralise the threat before the battle. However, they've been designed that even if you have a squad full of talkers, you should still be able to win the fight by thinking tactically or simply using the environment in battle, blowing up a barrel next to the enemy, for example.
Variety and freedom is always the true selling point of a game like this. With this comes the world you're exploring. Wasteland has always had this freedom, but in a world that is always engaging and genuinely enjoyable to explore. This hasn't changed in the slightest, with me finding a wealth of people to talk to, all voice acted thanks to the extra time and money from Microsoft, and so much leaving me with a huge grin on my face.
So much of this comes from the excellent writing put in by the InXile team, bringing the characters and world to life. Something as small as meeting a cat brought along by the rangers, a cat wearing a ranger had, a cat called Major Tomcat, can be brilliant. Especially when you can literally say "Ground control to Major Tomcat, it's time to leave the tree branch if you dare" to lure him down, the game then saying "Major Tom knows which way to go. You really made the grade".
It's elements like Major Tomcat and also the serbitors, mechanical guards of the army base you take over, which have some of the most adorable dialogue I've never encountered: "Commander! Serbitors befend War Roob to our last batterby!" or conversations you have with minor characters, such as letting you rescue a woman's child from certain death or the earlier mentioned hold-up in a clothes store. Wasteland 3 is quirky, fun and if the writing is just as good throughout, it will more than likely get you emotionally invested too.
If there's one thing my time with Wasteland 3 has taught me so far, it's that InXile has pushed forward in branching the game out and that Microsoft has helped to boost the development of the game through their support of InXile. Will the result be as good as the time I've had with the game so far? We'll know for sure when Wasteland 3 releases on the 19th of May, 2020, simultaneously on the PC as well as the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, the game also being made available on the Xbox Game Pass. Those who backed the game on Fig will also now have the same part of the game that I've just played made available to them.
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