With all of that fat Microsoft money, I wondered if Wasteland 3 was going to resemble the first two games in the series or the original Fallout games that were its inspiration. Developer InXile is still in charge, but after a successful 3 million dollar crowdfund and Microsoft’s eventual acquisition of the studio, they were suddenly flush with cash. Would all of that capital tempt the studio to change the DNA of the game? Or would they use it to simply tighten up the screws on the product they already had? As a fan of Wasteland 2 and Fallout 2, I’m happy to report that Wasteland 3 did not forget what it is or where they came from. Sure, it looks and performs better, but it is a Wasteland game at its core.
For the uninitiated, the core of Wasteland is a turn-based isometric RPG that features reams of text and hours of tactical combat. The text is still here in droves but with all of that money, the dialogue is now performed by voice actors who give it everything they got. And on the really important interactions, the camera will zoom in to a first-person perspective so that you can look at the character who’s speaking in the eye. It makes these moments more personal and offers a nice break from the slightly angled overhead view that you’ll spend most of your time in.
The combat is largely unchanged from Wasteland 2. You and your squad use action points to find cover, flank your opponent, use items, special attacks, or regular attacks. If you have any points left over, you can reload, dig in for more defense, Ambush (overwatch), or bank some of your points for your next turn. Its roughly the XCom blueprint and it works well if you like that isometric turn-based combat. And why wouldn’t you? The combat is exciting and tactical, especially if your squad is varied. And it better be, because the bad guys can overwhelm you in a hurry. A well planned out squad also pays dividends out in the regular world too. Having a good mechanic to fix a generator, or a shady lock picker is always going to come in handy. And don’t even get me started on how many times I needed a better toaster repair person in my squad.
Speaking of your squad, you can pick from a handful of preset characters or you can start from scratch. The character creation is robust and frankly a little daunting, so I picked a couple of prefabs and got to playing. I was anxious to dive into the game, so sue me. For me, I prefer to get some game time in to see which play styles suit me before I spend hours creating my guys. Besides, in your eventual party of six, the game requires at least one of them to be custom. Some characters you won’t create or choose at all. These NPC’s you’ll just meet in your travels. They will have their own personalities and, most of all, their own agendas. Keep them happy, or they’ll bolt. Or worse, betray you.
The story of Wasteland 3 takes place shortly after the events of Wasteland 2. The Rangers of post-apocalyptic Arizona are left decimated and without a base of operations. As luck would have it, the Rangers hear from a man calling himself The Patriarch in their most critical time of need. The Patriarch claims to own Colorado and offers to get the Rangers back on their feet, and all he wants in return is to round up his bratty kids. It turns out they are a pack of usurpers who don’t like the way dad is running the business. In the opening cutscene, fifty Rangers from Arizona make the frozen trek to Colorado to scratch the Patriarchs back. Unfortunately, they are ambushed by one of the Patriarch’s many enemies and the Rangers are slaughtered. Only two of them survive and this is where the game starts, and where you’ll dive into the character builds.
Each character has Attributes, Skills, and Perks that you get to choose and beef up as you gain experience. Maybe you want to focus on attributes like Coordination, Speed, and Luck. With that, you might have the basis for a good melee build. The coordination and speed mean you can dart around the map with ease, while hopefully landing a lucky critical blow before you scamper away. Combine that with the Lockpicking and the Sneaky Shit skills, and you might be on to something. Or maybe that character would suck! That’s the fun of it. With the base Attributes, Perks, and literally dozens of skills to choose from, you could create hundreds of unique characters with each one offering something different to help you along the way, including the classic Wasteland Toaster Repair skill.
Whatever you choose, remember that combat is all about teamwork here. For example, you might notice that the submachine, with its high rate of fire, does massive damage. More than a traditional assault rifle even. The downside is that it doesn’t penetrate armor for crap. But if you pair it with a character that has an armor busting capabilities, then the submachine gun character can flank and destroy. The key to success in Wasteland 3 (and life) is cultivating a squad that can work together. That right there is good life advice that is worth every penny you paid for it.
The aforementioned fully voiced dialogue features branching dialogue trees where each choice changes the course of the game. I know what you’re thinking, you’ve heard that before. We received a PC build of the game that I currently have 24 hours into. With only a few days before the embargo, I received the PS4 code. I had to make sure that the PS4 version ran as smooth as the PC version, so I started the game over on the console. I made a conscious effort to handle things differently in terms of the dialogue and the changes I experienced were impressive. And I didn’t choose polar opposites choices like to kill a hostage or to let him live. I’m talking about subtle changes, like maybe an option that was just a little less nice than the one I did initially. Several times, dialogue options I experienced the first time through didn’t even appear as an option on the PS4 version because of something I said earlier, regardless of how inconsequential it seemed at the time. A lot of games claim to offer this feature, but most of the time, the changes amount to little more than a snappy one-liner from an NPC.
Speaking of snappy one-liners, Wasteland 3 is not a game for the kids. The jokes and insults are plenty and vulgar. I’m the kind of child who enjoyed each of these outbursts, but I know it’s not for everyone, so mind the little ones (or big ones, I guess) with sensitive ears. While the story is well told and dark and brutal, it somehow manages to never take itself too seriously. After recently playing through the beautifully told but relentlessly grim and hopeless The Last of Us 2, the sometimes over-the-top writing and voice acting here was just what I needed. This story isn’t just dick and fart jokes, however. It’s a post-apocalyptic story: people are gonna get tortured, maimed, and killed in many different ways.
You’ll be traipsing all over Colorado wrangling up this man’s sadistic kids in a story that could take up to a hundred hours. Hell, even if you streamlined your game you’re looking at fifty hours to see the credits roll. We got our code a little late so I wasn’t able to see it to the end just yet, but I can’t wait until I do.
It didn’t shine quite as bright on my OG PS4 as it did on my PC, but it ran just as smooth and I actually found the menu screens easier to navigate. These can be daunting for newcomers to the genre, or those who have been away from it for a while like me. Whether you are driving around in your badass Mad Max-style vehicle, walking through a compound inspired by the Stanley (the real-life hotel that inspired The Shining) in Estes Park, or dragging your party of six around the streets of Denver, Wasteland 3 is a joy to play. But I’m not going to lie, the often and longish load times can be a drag. And I wish I could be a little more stealthy with my squad when I’m trying to get the drop on the bad guys. And some might say the story, setting, and gameplay are done-to-death and old fashioned, but that’s why I like it. It reminds me of the old Wasteland and the old Fallout. Only better.
Wasteland 3 PS4 Review
Overall - Must Play - 9/10
Wasteland 3 is a deep and satisfyingly replayable CRPG that is a love letter to fans of the post-apoc games from the late eighties and the nineties. It may not be the sharpest looking game in 2020, but for me, it is a perfect marriage of old-school ideas and current-gen looks and depth that I will be playing for a looooong time.
- Strategic turn-based combat feels fluid and exciting
- ultra-deep character creation and squad building make the game endlessly replayable
- What Fallout 3 probably looks like in another dimension
- Load times are often and long
- Squad stealth is frustratingly inconsistent
Review Disclaimer: This review was carried out using a copy of the game provided by the publisher. For more information, please read our Review Policy.
Reviewed using PC and PS4 Slim.