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Preview: Wasteland 3 – Some of the Best Tactical Combat Available

After a half-decade, the granddaddy of apocalyptic RPG’s is back with its latest installment. Of course, I’m talking about Wasteland 3 from Brian Fargo and InXile Entertainment. It’s been almost six years since we played the tactical turn-based RPG Wasteland 2, but if you think that is a long time, consider the cult-classic original Wasteland came out way back in 1988. I played a bit of Wasteland 2 back in the day, and I was lucky enough to play the first four hours of an early build of Wasteland 3 for the PC, and I’m excited to say that it was worth the wait. If the first four hours are any indication, that is.

You play as a member of the iconic Desert Rangers, sworn protectors of the Arizona desert and the last bastion of justice against a lawless future. At the behest of someone called “The Patriarch”, you and a band of other Rangers have moved on from the oppressive heat of the American Southwest for the cold, unforgiving winters of Colorado. The winter setting is a nice change of pace from the traditional apocalyptic heat and it turns out that the cold can be just as brutal as the depraved characters you’re going to meet in this world.

And make no mistake, the world of Wasteland is dark and unforgiving. It takes place a hundred years after a nuclear fallout, but life as we know it has not made a glorious return. In the first few hours, I found countless dead bodies that I could inspect, and believe me, these poor souls did not go quietly into that good night. This darkness isn’t limited to mere eviscerated dead bodies or intestines leaking through fingers; it’s underlined in each piece of dialogue. This brutality is undercut a little bit by the dark humor that runs throughout the series, including the first few hours of Wasteland 3.

The first thing I noticed while playing was that it looks very much like a Wasteland game. Wasteland 2 famously had somewhat dated graphics and Wasteland 3 isn’t going to blow you away. With that being said, it still looks very good and fits the tactical turn-based action like a glove. The opening cutscene, however, looked polished and very cool. If you played Wasteland 2 you probably remember the live-action cutscenes and long reams of dialogue that weren’t voiced. In Wasteland 3, all of the dialogue features a voice actor (aside from your character) and the live-action cutscenes have been replaced by traditional computer animation.

I have grown to love tactical turn-based combat and Wasteland 3 offers some of the best. I just finished the DLC for one of my favorite tactical turn-based games Mutant: Year Zero, and while Wasteland 3 doesn’t offer the same stealth action, it is a much deeper game on almost every level. With a story chock full of not just depravity (although there is plenty of that), but also intrigue, and a deep history from the previous two installments. The dialogue is smart and well written with real choices that bring real consequences. There are enough NPCs to speak with and side-missions to chase down to keep you busy for as long as you can stomach it. But Wasteland 3 is a hardcore RPG at its core, with the full-featured weapon, and armor customization you’d expect. Plus you’ll find a long list of potential Rangers to team up with. While you’re out galivanting, you’ll find a ton of loot to scavenge, which you can use or more likely sell to any of the many merchants you’ll encounter along the way. And aside from leveling up, each member of your team has attributes, skills, and perks to nurture along with unique specialties. In other words, it checks all of them juicy RPG buttons.

Speaking of your team of Rangers, the tactical turn-based combat, while lacking some of the stealthy goodness of the aforementioned Mutant: Year Zero, doubles down on everything else. You can have as many as four Rangers in your group as well as two members who will help as long as their morale is kept high. When combat starts, you have the traditional action points to utilize for each character. Of course, these points are used for moving the characters into position, using meds, explosives, or firing weapons, etc. In Wasteland 3, combat is not initiated based. You can take action with any of your characters in any turn you choose. In other words, you could move one character towards another, have them heal you and then move the first character back. This mechanic allows for far more depth and possibilities in combat.

This is a pre-release beta so there were a few bugs, but they were very minor, and I suspect most or all of those will be cleaned up for the final release. The worst bug I found was during a couple of dialogue options. During interactions, you’ll have the opportunity to answer NPC’s questions with various answers. These answers choices mostly offer traditional responses. You can be nice, a hard-ass, or something in between, but sometimes you have enough options that will force you to scroll down to statements that don’t fit on the screen. Several times I was unable to scroll down to read all of the dialogue options. The problem is typically the option to end the conversation and return to regular gameplay is the last option listed. So if you can’t scroll to the bottom, you can’t exit the conversation and get back to playing the game. One time I had to start over, but the second time after tapping it about 20 times, it began to scroll.

I put over ten hours into the four-hour preview mostly because I was curious about replaying sections after making different choices. Some of these choices made huge differences that were obvious immediately, while others were more subtle. The other reason it took me so long is that I’m a lifelong console gamer, playing this on a PC. I have a powerful PC, but it’s primarily used for VR. The pointing and the clicking and the pressing E to rotate the camera? Don’t take offense, PC gamers, I’m only kidding. I got used to it pretty fast, but when I play the final and full version of this game, and I will, it will be on my PS4.

Disclaimer: This preview was carried out using preview code for the PC version of the game, provided by the publisher.

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