At FGHQ, we always strive to be honest about our opinions when it comes to our reviews. So, with my hand held high, I can confidently admit that until the recent remakes and remasters, I’d never heard of the Wasteland series. Even worse, when I did get my head around the concept, my immediate thought was, “Surely it’s just a Fallout knockoff?” and dismissed it.
Well, don’t I feel like a bit of a twat, as Wasteland was around a whole nine years before Interplay released the first Fallout. In fact, Fallout was considered to be a spiritual successor to Wasteland… so the egg is firmly on my face on that one.
Fast-forward some thirty two years, after changing hands several times and various Kickstarters, sequels and reboots, Wasteland 3 is finally gracing our consoles and PC’s. But far from following in Fallout’s footsteps and diverging into third/first person RPG-shooter territory, Wasteland has kept its tactical, grid-based gameplay instead.
Does that make it accessible to newcomers, or people unfamiliar with this kind of tactical role-playing genre, or is it only suited for the die-hard fans? Suit up, Ranger, as we go exploring the Wastelands to find that out…
From My Cold, Dead Hands
Those of you that are familiar with the series might notice something different this time around. For those not, relax, I’m going to tell you anyway.
Whereas previous titles were set in the oft-used post-apocalyptic Mad Max/Book of Eli-type locales of hot deserts and sunburnt city scapes, Wasteland 3 has had a marked change of scenery. For this outing, the Rangers are in the snowy climbs of Colorado. Y’know, Colorado, famous for South Park and the hotel from The Shining.
You have been summoned by the Patriarch, the big cheese who runs Colorado in what he believes to be a fair but firm manner. At first glance, you’re convinced he’s trying to make a difference for the people, but beneath the surface you soon discover that’s not quite true. Refugees turned away, disarray in the streets and a recurring theme of being oppressed runs rampant (or at least harboured) through the populace. Of course, that’s not your immediate problem, yet it’s not something you can’t easily shy away from.
The main problem, hence the assistance from the Rangers, are the Patriarch’s children. Sons Valor and Victor, and daughter Liberty, have all gone rogue, much to papa Patriarch’s dismay. But he can’t send out his men to bring them back, preferably alive, so this is where you come in. The emphasis there is on the “alive” part, as he doesn’t seem like a man to cross lightly. I mean, he is letting you set up base and use his amenities, for one.
Each member of the family has a certain personality trait, which isn’t anything new but still adds a variety to how you approach and take them down. Liberty is cunning, Victor is the computer genius and Valor is just a plain ol’ degenerate, possibly on loan from Borderlands. Some use words, others violence, but either way they’re your targets in this grand adventure.
Of course, they’re not the sole purpose of the game, as the scope to explore Colorado is huge. There’s a Machine Commune that fell from the sky when the apocalypse happened that you can hopefully stay on the right side of, various gangs and factions to either befriend or lay waste to. Oh, and a Ronald Reagan AI, housed in a giant statue that shoots eye lasers at you if you cross it. Yes, you read that correctly and it is as absurd as it sounds.
It’s A Crazy World We Live In
What makes Wasteland 3 great is the world built around it is absolutely incredible. The reason this review has taken a bit longer than normal is down to me wanting to actually play a decent amount of Wasteland 3 first. To get to the first town and write about the game would be akin to only playing the first Vault in Fallout 3 and calling it a “Gold award review”.
The game is massive, is what I’m saying. Not just in terms of gameplay, in which there’s hours of that, but in terms of actual world building too. As you explore different towns and areas of Colorado, you begin to piece together what’s really going on. That’s because inXile have gone to great lengths to make each area feel lived in, from the insane amount of dialogue from key NPC’s, to the conversations that passing bystanders have with each other.
And I know that sounds corny, every RPG has “lived in” worlds. That’s kinda the done thing, and in that regard, Wasteland 3 offers nothing new. But that it does it just as well as the bigger titles do, and for me to not walk around thinking “There’s bugger all to do here” is only a good thing. Listening to one fellow accuse another of sleeping with his wife, only for the guy to loudly admit he has problems in that area, had me physically stop jogging past to hear how it all played out.
But it’s more than just background chat that makes this world. You can interact with damn near everyone, getting either dismissed or told their life story, or what they’re up to. Interactions can range from serious threats to tongue-in-cheek dialogue that we hold Fallout and Outer Worlds in esteem for. Hell, you can even engage in some carnal activities at the local brothel, should you so please.
It also adds life to each quest, as both your quest giver and target are more than just the standard “quest giver and target” trope. As mentioned earlier, things aren’t always what they seem, and whilst you may think you’re doing the right thing here and now, the bigger picture may hold different plans for you. You meet new allies on the way, some part of the Patriarch’s team sent to keep an eye on you, others that have some stake in the goings on. They don’t just feel like arbitrary add-ons, though, as some can and will change events on certain missions, depending on how they play out.
There’s No “I” in “Wasteland Death Squad”
In fact, it’s the character creation, leveling and team building side of Wasteland 3 that lends it its biggest strength. Instead of trying to maximise one character to be able to do everything, you can share it out with [up to] five others instead.
At the start of your adventure, you’re offered a choice of preset pairs, each with backstories and attributes, for you to dive right in. Or, if you’re feeling fancy, you can create your own Ranger pair and assign them beginning stats as you see fit. You can also make them either three or eight foot tall, if you really feel spicy. I did.
Turns out, Dingus and Chips weren’t meant for this world and died pretty quickly. So I went for a preset pair, and that turned out better. Within the first hour, I’d had full compliment of six men and women, covering all angles of battle. A few assault rifle users, some snipers and a couple of melee bruisers, I was sorted. But where Wasteland shines is the customisation of your squad.
Much like any other Fallout or Alpha Protocol, you can put skills into certain attributes, like Bartering, Lockpicking and First Aid. Yet unlike trying to cram it all into one character, you can spread it across your squad and still reap the same benefit. Which is fantastic, as your team act like a unit, so when a sufficient level of something is required to open a door or grant a conversation bonus, you’re prepared for it. Of course, should any depart or decease, then you lose those skills. Understandable, really.
But it’s not just haggling and hellos that your squad are great for, they also come in to their own with the combat.
You Can’t Shoot Me, It’s My Go
I thought I was going to have a real issue with the combat in Wasteland. The last real turn-based, tactical game I really dug into was Front Mission 3, and that’s a PS1 game. Yet weirdly, I couldn’t get on with the new XCOM games.
Wasteland’s is pure grid – and turn – based, which dashed my hopes of it being like Desperado’s real-time hybrid system. Each character has an action point (AP) amount, utilised in both movement and attacking. You can use half to get to cover, the other to take a crack at someone. Or, if you’re in cover already, that’s enough for two attacks on your next go. Attacks vary in AP usage, so having a team of diverse attack methods allows you to play around with and get used to it.
You can charge up certain abilities, like a Precision Strike which allows a Fallout V.A.T.S-style powered shot on an enemy’s extremities. There are certain battles that let you use vehicular weapons, or certain turrets and equipment littered about the battlefield. The only problem I have is forgetting to think ahead as to how many bad guys are left and what they’re capable of, but those familiar with this type of game will wear this like a glove.
It’s also where your squads attribute and skill distribution comes into play, too. Having your sniper’s critical hit and luck at decent levels will see them dealing higher damage and successful shots, whilst your brawlers can be made to hit harder and have higher evasion when left out in the middle of a fight. It gives you that investment to mix it up, invest wisely and cover all angles with your ragtag Rangers.
I would love to be able to tell you how well the co-op affects the gameplay in Wasteland 3, but there’s two reasons why I was unable to: one, I got the code early, so no one’s bought it and two, no one I know has bought it at time of writing. But on the plus side, there is definitely co-op available in Wasteland 3. Don’t expect to see that quoted anywhere by me though.
Not As Smooth As The Pure White Snow
Unfortunately, for a game the sheer size and scope of this, it can’t escape the odd loading or texture issue. I’ve never had any crashes, touch wood, but there were moments when I thought the game was stuck on a loading screen. Thankfully, it never happened, but there are times when you have that “When did I last save it…?” level of panic.
Textures-wise, Wasteland looks spectacular when panned out, looking at buildings and battlefields. Yet when you get up close and personal to the action, you see that it’s not as glorious as you’d imagine. Character textures look one step up from Another World, and whilst cosmetic changes do make your character stand out, they look like badly painted Warhammer models up close. Granted, you’ll be spending most of your exploration from a distance anyway, as you scout ahead of areas. But it’s when you get closer to the action that the visual shine wears off.
However, that’s nothing to really complain about, in the grand scheme of how much content is in here. Wasteland 3 is a prime example of quantity over quality, and it’s not something that can’t be patched out after launch. I’m not normally a big fan of “We’ll patch it later”, but in this instance it’s not a game-breaking bug, just some cosmetic work.
If you go in with the mindset of Commandos, Desperados or even XCOM, you’ll have a far better time. Think of your team as more violent Subbuteo figures than the up and closeness of Marcus Fenix and squad, and you’ll be on the right track.
Grab Your Winter Gear, Ranger. You’re Off To The Rocky Mountains
All in all, I’m giving Wasteland 3 a hearty recommendation. Having not played the other two, or even been aware of the original to have played it recently, I had no frame of reference going in.
Mr. Cynical here was expecting a Fallout knockoff, and was about to write it off as such within the first hour. However, I packed that mindset in not long after, and ending up getting quite absorbed in the goings on with my group of Rangers.
Once you’ve found your feet, it opens up to a vast and well-detailed adventure, with a story that blurs the lines between who’s right or wrong. There are parallels that could be made about the state of America in here, but I won’t spoil them for you. Some are quite heavy-handed in their delivery, others are subtle little jabs that may hit or miss, depending on how invested you are in current events.
The turn-based combat is handled well, as is the team management aspect. You start to consider how evenly spread your squad is, rather than focus on the two you’ve started with and to hell with the rest. You realise how much you need to share your skills out, so you can be a smooth talking, lockpicking, market haggling legion not to mess with. Base management adds a nice element to it, but it’s not as full on as say, XCOM’s. It’s more like The Division’s: you recruit people, and as far as you’re aware, they’re just getting on with it, occasionally churning out bits of kit or missions for you.
It would have been nice to check out the co-op, but I had just as much fun playing with myself as I would any other RPG. There’s enough land here to waste your time in, but there’s also a wealth of things to do if you seek them out.
A massive and detailed tactical RPG, Wasteland 3 offers so much to do. A few technical and visual issues occur, but nothing that will ruin the experience.
Wasteland 3 is available now on PlayStation 4 (reviewed on PS4 Pro), Xbox One, PC, Mac and Linux operating systems.
Developer: inXile Entertainment
Publisher: Deep Silver
Disclaimer: In order to complete this review we were provided with a promotional copy of the game. For our full review policy, please go here.
If you enjoyed this article or any more of our content, please consider our Patreon.