- Release Date (NA): September 28, 2020
- Release Date (EU): September 28, 2020
- Release Date (JP): September 28, 2020
- Publisher: Deep Silver
- Developer: inXile Entertainment
- Genres: Strategy/RPG
- Also For: Computer, PlayStation 4
"Place : EARTH. Year : 1998. Status: DEFCON 1. Computer defense initiative activated. Diplomatic solutions to the world's problems fail and war erupts as some madmen press ahead with their insane dreams. Current condition: High concentrations of radiation produce random storms and mutations. Somehow life continues in the Wasteland!"
I Must Have Dreamed A Thousand Dreams
In the year 1998 the world has ended. Two of the world's largest superpowers exchanged nuclear blows after an extended period of tension caused by the construction of the Citadel Space Station. Mutually assured destruction changed the face of the planet into a barren wasteland within mere moments, reducing all of civilisation to rubble. Back then the powers that be were unaware that the war was spun up by the rogue Cochise AI which, upon achieving sentience, quickly realised that the biggest threat to its continued existence were its creators. When the opportunity arose, Cochise mislead NORAD into thinking that a harmless meteor shower was in fact a Soviet attack, triggering what it had hoped would be a complete extinction event. As calculated as this move was, the AI's attempt at self-preservation failed. One of the warheads damaged its critical systems, cutting Base Cochise off from the rest of the world, putting a big, atomic wrench in its plans. Cochise didn't lay dormant, however - it was well-aware that small pockets of humanity had survived the apocalypse, and it began assembling an army of robots to "finish the job".
Among those survivors were the Desert Rangers, and they decided to rebuild society the only way they knew how - the American Way. Descendant from a single company of U.S. Army Corps. Engineers, the Rangers quickly turned from a rag-tag group of veterans into a force to be reckoned with. Taking in new recruits as time went on, the Rangers passed on the knowledge, expertise and technology of the Old World to future generations. Once they caught wind of Cochise's schemes they set out to stop its plans by destroying Base Cochise in 2087, dealing the final blow against the AI in 2102, engulfing their own home in nuclear fire in the process.
Reduced to a shadow of their former strength the Rangers were desperate for help, and desperate people make desperate choices. One fateful day they received a radio transmission from The Patriarch, leader of Colorado Springs, one of the few vestiges of civilised society left in the wastes. The Patriarch had some trouble of his own - his unruly children rebelled against him, joining forces with savages and spreading chaos across the lands. Naturally this needed to be rectified - the exiled children were to be found, arrested and returned home, unharmed. The Patriarch's forces were spread too thin keeping the peace to embark on such a mission, meanwhile the Rangers had ample manpower for it, if given the resources to do so. It seemed that their interests aligned, and although the Rangers were unsure of how "savoury" the deal was, they set out for Colorado - after all, as the saying goes, "beggars can't be choosers". Little did they know that this exercise in babysitting would turn into an adventure of a lifetime.
There's Not Much Love To Go Around
Wasteland 3 puts you in charge of Team November, and your first order of business is generating your Rangers. You have the option to pick from a few presets, but let's be real here - it's a role-playing game, why settle for default when you can go for gold? Fallout fans like myself will be happy to hear that the system in this game is very reminiscent of S.P.E.C.I.A.L, but improves upon it in several areas key to role-playing. Your Rangers have four main stats here to consider - their Background, Attributes, Skills and Quirks. As the name suggests, your Background determines the origin of your Rangers, which in turn affects their statistics. You have a lot of options here, ranging from the boring Bookworm who was raised in a science facility and thus learns faster than others to more... "exotic", humorours options like Circus Freak, a fast, resistant ranger who can only wear a Clown outfit and stands out in a crowd as a result... No one even cared who you were until you put on the nose anyway. Next are the Attributes, divided into Coordination, Luck, Awareness, Strength, Speed, Intelligence and Charisma. With Attributes out of the way you can focus on your Skills which are sub-divided into Combat Skills relating to the type of weapons you use, such as Big Guns or Automatic Weapons and General Skills which affect how you interact with the environment, like First Aid or... Sneaky Shit. Finally you get to pick your Quirks, which serve as unique qualities of your characters that give them a specific advantage, but always at a cost of a deficiency in another area. Later on you also get access to Perks which are tied to your Skill Trees and add additional bonuses based on your level of proficiency. In my playthrough I created an unusual Ranger couple consisting of a Goat Killer (don't judge me - goats can't be trusted, I know what I saw!) with a knack for mechanics, sniper rifles and explosives and his female companion, a highly intelligent Serial Killer handy with Assault Rifles, sharp knives and all sorts of... "Nerd Stuff". They complimented each other very well, especially once I found additional companions to fill in their skill gaps.
After generating your Rangers you embark on the dangerous voyage to Colorado and, in true Wasteland fashion, things get real complicated real quick. Your welcoming party turns out to be a deadly ambush which quickly decimates the majority of your forces. It appears that The Patriarch has many enemies who have a bone to pick with him, and going forward it will be your job to deal with them. You're thrust into combat straight away, which serves as the game's tutorial and accustoms you to its mechanics. Fans of X-Com will feel right at home here as the system is basically the same - you have your grid-based map, turn-based combat and cover mechanics. The remainder of the system is more akin to the classic Fallout series, with two slots for weapons and Quick Inventory slots. It's a pretty simple set-up, but it works very well, especially once you factor in all sorts of environmental damage, elemental damage and destructible cover. One thing I immediately noticed, and appreciated, was the fact that unlike in most RPG's your squad uses a shared inventory. This means that you don't have to worry too much about managing the inventories of each individual character. If several Rangers use weapons that need a specific kind of ammo or if they have the same items in their Quick slots, you don't need to divvy them up. Your Rangers will keep on rootin' tootin' and shootin' as long as you have the items they need in stock, nullifying much of the mundane item management. All of these elements come together very well and create a satisfying gameplay when it comes time to pick up arms.
Outside of combat you'll spend most of your time exploring Colorado, on foot or in your fully upgradeable vehicle, talking to its inhabitants and taking in the views. The environments you'll see in Wasteland 3 are surprisingly varied for a game set in a world after the bombs fell. There's more to see than just the city of Colorado Springs - as you carry out the Patriarch's orders, or go against them, you'll visit locales ranging from abandoned government facilities, farms and homesteads to more bizarre places like... The Bizarre, a mall that was taken over by a gang of Haloween cosplayers. This is one of the game's strengths - the areas you visit feel unique and well-developed. They're filled with fully-voiced NPC's just going about their daily lives, and often times I cought myself taking a brief pause to listen to what they had to say to one another. Yes, eavesdropping is rude, but who can resist listening in on a man agitated by his wife's infidelity and trying to find the culprit behind his marital issues? I couldn't, and I don't regret it - it was a good laugh.
The NPC's you encounter aren't just talkative, they also have lots for you to do. The wasteland is a harsh place to live in, so expect to help the people you meet. Sometimes they need something simple, like getting rid of rodents in their yard, other times things are more complicated. In my playthrough I came across a variety of both good folks and unsavoury characters, turning down the latter most times - that's the Ranger way. I wasn't going to assassinate suspected Synths or recapture escaped slaves... on the first go-around. The game gives you the opportunity to be the saviour of the wastes or a right bastard, and the choices you make aren't just reflected by your Reputation meters, the consequences of your actions go far deeper than that. It's not unusual for something you did early in the game to come and bite you in the behind much later, making every choice matter.
As far as questing is concerned, the game is massive. inXile promised an adventure to the tune of 50-60 hours if you're in a hurry, and they sure delivered. Wasteland 3 kept me real busy for almost two weeks straight, and although I've completed the game, I won't even pretend that I've experienced it in its entirety. Wasteland 3's story progression is intrinsically tied to the decisions you make, both in the main quest tree and the side quests, either enabling or locking out content. It's impossible to see everything on the first go-around - as an example, one of the tasks you have to attend to is staffing your Armory, Medbay and Garage. The choice of allies is entirely up to you, and recruiting them requires plenty of legwork. You could help out the local Sheriff who's more than happy to lend you some of her Marshals if you run some errands for her or you could side with a familiar local "Businessman" Faran Brygo and staff your Armory with mobsters. I mean, what could go wrong, right? The open nature of Wasteland 3 is further enhanced by the addition of an online Co-Op mode which allows you to "play both sides" of various conflicts simultaneously and giving you access to content that can only be enjoyed with another player. Since I was only given one copy to play I was unable to explore this aspect of the game, however Wasteland 3 is now a part of Gamepass, so Xbox and PC gamers should have no trouble finding a companion to brave the wastes with.
Audio-visual presentation is another area the game excels at. Wasteland 3 is rich and immersive, and I have no doubt that I'll replay this game at some point in the future to see what else it has in store for me. With a full VO, from the main characters to random NPC's, a soundtrack to die for and realistic environments the game's world comes together to create an amazing atmosphere that is weighty when the situation calls for it, but simultaneously filled to the brim with pop culture references and dark humour - in short, it's an experience well-worth the time investment. When you start up an old computer console and hear the Windows 98 boot sound, courtesy of the recent acquisition of inXile Entertainment by Microsoft, you know just how much attention to detail went into the product. The world did end in '98, after all. If you're a fan of old-school RPG's, you shouldn't let this game fly under your radar, especially if post-apocalyptic worlds are your kind of setting. inXile set out to create the the quintessential post-nuclear role-playing game and, as far as I'm concerned, they've achieved that goal.
This Is The Land of Confusion
It would seem that all I've done so far is talk about the game in superlatives, but the good always comes with the bad, the sweet with the bitter. Wasteland 3 has a big problem - it's buggy. I'm not talking about the usual funky texture, weird geometry, or pop-in issues - those I can ignore when looking at the bigger picture. I'm talking game-breaking, console-locking bugged, and that's just not acceptable. The build I reviewed was on the Xbox One, and as I played the game I had to troubleshoot it myself, making me feel like a Beta tester rather than a reviewer. Most commonly the game would just "forget" to render light sources during combat, leaving me with just the UI and a black screen. Sometimes the problem would go away if I opened the Inventory screen repeatedly until the game rendered correctly, other times there was no Inventory screen, just a black, inescapable void. One time I shot my Kodiak's Railgun at an enemy and caused an infinite explosion which assaulted my ears with noise and prevented my turn from continuing until I either closed the game myself or it pulled the trigger for me and crashed to the dashboard. It took me an hour at the very least to resolve, an hour I spent reloading my save file over and over in an attempt to figure out what was wrong. Through trial and error I discovered that if combat mode starts before a conversation with a "Taking Head" NPC fully plays out, the game just can't handle it. Normally you're not allowed to do that, but this one time you could, and it broke the game. Once that became obvious, I allowed the NPC to say his peace instead of mashing the A button in pure frustration after so much of my time was wasted. Success, but at the cost of some of my sanity. As the game progressed further and further it would hard-lock and throw me back into the Dashboard more and more often, and it did so in an unusual manner. Anyone who's ever experienced a crash on the PS4 or Xbox is accustomed to the usual error code screen that lets you look up what the problem was - no such luck here, just lots of electronic buzzing, followed by the dash. I don't think a paying customer should experience those kinds of problems, not in a title that purports to be "AAA". Then again, Mass Effect: Andromeda was "AAA" too, so perhaps this is just a sign of the times - release now, fix later. That may be the new norm, but we shouldn't accept it. Andromeda randomly corrupted my 60+ hour save file, forcing me to restart the whole game - Wasteland 3 didn't go that far, but it sure was frustrating. When I was playing the game prior to its release I simply assumed these problems were normal pre-release teething that would be resolved with a Day 1 patch, but the game is now officially out and a patch is nowhere to be seen, leaving me with no choice but to address the issue. I'm told that similar problems can be encountered on PC and PS4, especially in the Co-Op mode, so it's not isolated to the Xbox - something to be aware of.
This leaves me in an unusual and rather precarious situation as a reviewer. I truly enjoyed the game, I love just about everything about it. In fact, as I played it and got immersed in it I gradually came to the somewhat startling realisation that this is the real spiritual successor to Interplay's legacy, true to the somewhat convoluted and intertwined roots of the Wasteland and Fallout franchises. Every design decision is one that I would've made - it's just hardcore enough to appeal to my old-school sensibilities, but at the same time it's modernised enough to appeal to newcomers, with plenty of quality of life improvements to the formula. Although the story seems straightforward on the surface, it branches out in such a way that every playthrough can be unique and lead to its own end state, ensuring replayability and variety. It's a game that I'm planning to score highly, and yet at the same time it's also a game I can't tell you to run out and buy straight away. inExile had a 9 on their hands, maybe even higher, but it was released in such a state that an honest reviewer can't recommend it to their readers. Wasteland 3 is great, but much like the world it depicts, it's also fundamentally broken. So... Should you, the reader, play it? It depends. If you happen to be subscribed to Gamepass on PC or Xbox, you can download the game as part of the service with no additional charge and, if you can overlook its various problems, you'll have a whale of a good time. If you're not and money's on the line, perhaps you should wait a little bit until the first round of patches lands. At present it takes a really dedicated fan to withstand all the technical issues the game has, but if you think you've got what it takes, you're guaranteed to have heaps of fun. Unlike the crowdfunded Wasteland 2, this game is sold at full retail price, not to mention the recent acquisition of the studio by Microsoft which no doubt also added to inExile's coffers - that funding should've been spent on keeping the game in the oven until it's fully baked, no matter how many times it was delayed or how highly anticipated it was. Dealing with games buggy upon release may be a part of "The World We Live In", but you can only make one first impression - you should make it count.
Edit: It appears that the first hotfix has been released, but in my experience it hasn't fixed all the problems, so this paragraph still stands.
- Immersive depiction of post-apocalyptic North America
- Fully voiced NPC's
- Atmospheric and catchy soundtrack
- Great combat system inspired by X-Com and the original Fallout
- Interesting branching storyline
- Humorous cultural references
- In-game decisions that have long-lasting consequences on the rest of the game
- Available on Gamepass both on PC and Xbox, along with Wasteland Remastered and Wasteland 2 for players who wish to refresh their memory
- Some armor sets are too "bulky"
- Unacceptable, game-breaking bugs
- Clunky controller implementation which takes some time to get used to