It’s the frozen future. The world has fallen to ice and chaos. Only you, and your company of Rangers, can bring law to the lawless. Welcome to Wasteland 3, a game that would make one epic setting for a movie.
Think The Thing meets X-COM meets Mad Max meets The Oregon Trail and you wouldn’t be far wrong. What we’re treated to here is an engrossing RPG which has more gameplay elements than should be reasonably expected in one game. What’s labelled as an RPG has open world exploration, tactical turn-based combat plus squad and inventory management jumbled together in an incredibly addictive package.
It’s been five years since Wasteland 2 graced our screens, and the series has aged well. It has a crazy past, being crowdfunded for development not once but twice. There’s a huge fanbase for this game and it’s easy to see why. Wasteland 3 doesn’t look like anything ground-breaking on the surface, but before you know it the experience has drawn you in with deceptively deep writing, life or death decision-making at a terrifyingly frequent pace, and addictive one-more-mission gameplay that will have fans of both RPG and strategy games up till the wee hours of the morning.
Ambushes, attacks, defences, multiple possible story arcs, “accidentally” killing your followers – there’s no one story for this game, and it makes it a much more interesting beast. Wasteland 3 offers the opportunity to craft your own game. The savagery of some of the outcomes will have players carefully managing their encounters. On more than one occasion, seemingly reasonable actions will cause allies to turn on you or potential attackers to pack up their bags and walk away. It’s surprising to see how quickly these experiences can change your gameplay.
It’s also immediately clear that this game is definitely not one for the kiddies. Brutal cutscenes, strong language, and… umm…. “adult themes” are strewn throughout. However, it’s diluted by some incredibly funny writing, as Wasteland 3 exhibits sharp humour in almost every encounter. There’s a heavy dose of satire and more than a few cracking jokes, like the country song about old television series WKRP in Cincinnati. There’s also an encounter with a giant robotic statue of Ronald Reagan that shoots justice lasers from its eyes. You even get to chat to a computer-generated version of The Gipper, which is half Reagan, half Max Headroom (another classic reference). In fact, the whole storyline, which includes a cult of Reagan’s “wives” referred to as The Nancys, is utterly hilarious.
Good squad management can make a huge difference in this game. Each of the characters that you recruit in Wasteland 3 have different skill specialisations that unlock specific story options, or secret areas within the game to allow you access to cool new gear upgrades. There are so many different skillsets, which means that you’re constantly juggling your squad to get complimentary buffs. There’s no point in having five mechanics in the squad if they all get injured with the ongoing impact of debuffs and can’t be healed. Finding a combination that works for you sounds easier in theory than it is in practice.
Mind you, all this is before you get stuck into the turn-based combat. After you’ve kitted out your team with appropriate weapons, armour, skills and special abilities, you’re ready to do battle. Encounters can dramatically turn, meaning that you are never really in control of any one situation. Finding cover, using items and deploying special abilities are all managed via your squad’s action points. Once these points are all gone, you have to hope like crazy that the enemies are either dead or quickly run out of moves, because the AI is brutally efficient.
“…every encounter presents a unique set of challenges.”
The enemy variety is just as impressive. From clones with laser pistols to crazy dentists with deployable healing stations and even enemies in dungeons setting loose pigs strapped with dynamite, every encounter presents a unique set of challenges.
Once you finally get into the world, you can wander anywhere you want. There’s a lot of travelling around collecting stories and information which fleshes out the world around you. The only restriction within the game becomes the ramped-up difficulty for specific areas, or gear requirements like radiation shielding for your halftrack monster crushing machine. Transitions between areas do present one minor problem with the game, load times. They can get to be a bit of a bore, especially when you’re transitioning frequently. Reloading from save files seems to take even longer, which makes the price of failure that much more expensive. Map travel can also be a bit tiring. A fast travel system would’ve been incredibly useful here for traversing multiple loading screens.
Wasteland 3 doesn’t have any game-changing new elements, nor does it reinvent the strategic RPG. What it does bring to the table though is a full array of awesome game components, deep game lore and fantastic attention to detail, wrapped up with a lovely post-apocalyptic bow. Wasteland 3 is an ode to the fans, and a solid strategic RPG experience that’s so much more than it first appears.
Wasteland 3 is available now on PS4 and Xbox One.