Choices are what set video games apart from other media. We don’t decide the fate of the hero of an action movie or in a novel. We just sit back and experience events as they play out. That’s not in the case of most video games. We can choose to not let Mario slide down the flag pole or never fulfilling the duties of the Dragonborne. In the case of Wasteland 3, your choices alter the fates of every single faction in Colorado. Whether you are aware of it, or not. Events in this game are dominoes lined up in the shape of a web. Choices made take away dominoes from that web. The question is: once the dominoes start to fall, Do you just go with the flow? Or do you choose to go against it?
Wasteland 3 is a squad-based RPG game that puts players in the boots of the Arizona Rangers who are on a mission to provide aid to the Patriarch and the people of Colorado Springs. In return, the Patriarch promised supplies to the ailing peoples of Arizona. Unsurprisingly, things don’t go according to plan. The Rangers nearly fall at the hands of an enemy ambush. The resulting battle claims the lives of many veterans and commanding officers.
For the sake of Arizona, the remaining Rangers stay the course. With aid from the Patriarch and the other factions, they must rebuild their forces and honor the original deal with the Patriarch. That’s the only way to get the aid they so desperately need. Or at least that’s what it seems like at first.
The player starts the game with a couple of pre-made characters. There are plenty to choose from, with unique dialogue and origin stories. There is also the option to create custom characters. Regardless, the characters won’t impact the story all too much. What does affect the story, however, are the choices the player makes.
Making arrests on behalf of the local Marshals is a loud statement. The same goes for making an arrest on the behalf of the Rangers. It’s like going on top of a crate and screaming into a megaphone. Not everyone will approve of your message. But everyone will take notice. Needless to say, killing and letting people go both generate similar reactions. Deciding the fate of individuals have far-reaching consequences that might not be apparent until many quests later. There is also the issue of the company the player decides to associate with. Unsavory travel companions elicit extreme reactions from regular folk.
All in all, the combined actions of the player make up their Fame in the area. The more recognizable the squad is, the more respect they’ll garner. On top of that, more people will be willing to sign up with the Rangers. The recruits serve as guards and staffers that populate Ranger HQ. Having a fully staffed HQ makes it easier to repel would-be attackers and helps establish a solid foothold in the area.
The main mode of transportation around the map is the team’s Kodiak. Exploring the map is often a dangerous endeavor. While cannibals and psychos are troublesome, they are the least of your worries while out in the cold. Mutants and rogue A.I. roam the map tirelessly. It’s far more comforting to have a good old shoot out, then it is to rehash zombie movies. But that’s no reason to not explore the surrounding areas. The danger may be great, but the potential for XP and the rare gear is enough to throw caution to the wind. If that alone is not enough, listening to the radio is also entertaining. Who’d have guessed that giving psychos a platform would turn out fine in the end?
Combat in Wasteland 3 switches from the standard top-down RPG layout to a grid layout. Units beside cover automatically go into place. While the rest are left with their asses in the wind until it’s their turn to move. All units use up Action Points to do any action within the round. The round ends when all points are spent. In that time, units may decide to allocate points for attacks or save some points to use for the next round. Performing attacks builds up the special action meter. Once enough attacks hit, the meter begins to glow. The weapon that characters hold determines the nature of the special action. Some weapons allow characters to perform a Precision Strike on a specific part of the enemy’s body. Others deal with a high area of effect (AOE) damage on a group of enemies. Having these attacks on hand may mean the difference between victory or defeat.
Survival depends on everyone doing their part. And doing it very well. In the world of Wasteland, ammo is a scarce commodity. The same goes for money too. Those not fit to wield a gun are of no use to anyone, especially for a band of Lawmen. This is to emphasize the importance of building a team of talented individuals. With the game’s slow and steady approach to leveling up characters, it is a good idea to build a team around the notion of covering others’ weaknesses. It is not possible to build a sniper class character that moves like a ninja and has a silver tongue from the get-go. What you’ll have is a sniper that misses shots half the time and gets tongue-tied in critical moments.
Armors in the game aren’t as diverse as it is in other games. Their main use is in protection, after all. Weapons, on the other hand, is where the player can go truly wild. Some weapons have abilities attached to them. A weaker version of special skills, if you may. These abilities alter the flow of battle, nonetheless. Chaining them together creates combination moves that are really satisfying to pull off. Weapon variety is also a major positive for this game. If there is an ammo type out there, chances are there is a weapon that uses it. This solves the issue of weapon usage within the team, for the most part. Though it’ll be hard to imagine a heavy machine gun that uses 9mm ammo… (If Fallout can pull it off… then why not???)
As a final note to character customization, the Kodiak is pretty much a character in the game. In time, players can either find or buy armor and weapons to buff their transport. It is even a playable unit on the battlefield, serving as the team’s literal tank. If one searches hard enough, players may stumble on an A.I. upgrade that gives more personality to their transport.
Wasteland 3 treats death and defeat in the most RPG of ways. When a unit’s health reaches 0, they will go into a bleeding out state. If the player fails to revive them in time, they will be knocked out for good. The only way to bring them back is with a nitro spike or by paying a visit to the doctor. Reviving units on the field comes at a cost. Bringing them back often comes with a couple of debuffs. Medics will have to use a few more Action Points to remove these injuries an injury kit. When all units die, it is an instant game over.
The game’s story immediately picks up after the events of Wasteland 2. The people of Arizona are dealing with widespread famine. Meanwhile, the Rangers are spread thin trying to put out fires. (Metaphorically.) Desperate, the Rangers come to an arrangement with Colorado’s Patriarch. In exchange for securing the Patriarch’s power base within the region, he promises supplies for Arizona.
The region’s politics is an unstable mess. Various groups try to consolidate power under the noses of the Patriarch’s people. While psychotic gangs and murderous cults run amok in the countryside. It would take an army to bring some measure of peace to the region. A task fitting for the Arizona Rangers.
Wasteland 3’s visuals do a very good job of conveying the feeling of desperation in the world. Dark forests hug the ruins of the former United States. All of which are covered in a blanket of radioactive snow. There is a certain degree of variety in locations. Big settlements try to recapture the glory of the past, while smaller settlements are thrown together well enough to keep the cold out. My only issue is the fact that the character models outside of major figures get recycled endlessly. I shouldn’t be surprised though. A game this large is bound to have constraints that limit creative vision. It’s a lot like it’s predecessor, Fallout, in that regard.
With regard to sounds, the game’s audio track switches to Western music in heavy moments. It’s like lonely trucker music with a hint of rock to rise up its energy levels. The game’s voice acting makes up for any flaws in character models. They can make you believe that they’re really cold-blooded killers with smiles on their faces. The over world’s map might not have a proper radio station, but folks with ham radios found ways to broadcast themselves. It’s like a DYI YouTube… for weirdos and killers.
Wasteland 3 does plenty of things right, from the presentation all the way to core mechanics such as looting. The world itself feels lived in, and you never quite know who’s going to visit Ranger H.Q. It’s quite a departure from other RPG’s whose bases because nothing more than static treasure troves after a while. Don’t get me wrong, there is a museum in the base that records all your achievements. I think it’s a good way to look back upon what was, after all, is said and done. This game also gives you a lot to think about. The choices you make don’t pack a punch at first. That is until someone spells out to you how different the game could have been if something else had happened. That new perspective hits you real hard.
If there’s one thing that prevents this game from scoring really high is the fact it is riddled with bugs. I can’t really blame the developers for this either. The grand scope makes tracking and solving bugs a needle in a haystack affair. And that’s taking it lightly. I haven’t even started covering the issues present on the PlayStation platform. It is simply not optimized to run on the system. The application itself frequently crashes for seemingly no reason. Performance slows down after a few hours of playing, resulting in the inevitable crash. Menu controls freeze up the moment the player presses the wrong button. All this on top of the known issues the game has on other platforms.
Again, let me just say that I understand that debugging on such a massive scale is not gonna happen overnight. Hell, I’m not even expecting it to be fixed over the course of next month. But I am confident that the developers are going to elevate the game’s quality even higher. Eventually. In the meantime, I have no other choice but to grit my teeth and soldier on to the bitter end.
Wasteland 3 is an example of an ambitious game bogged down by technical limitations. The cutting of corners closely resembles the tricks Bethesda used on Fallout games. Like Fallout, Wasteland’s best points lie in its somewhat dark humor and cynical point of view of the Apocalypse. I think that’s where the best stories come from. A wide world for the player to define their experience as they want to.
I really want to give Wasteland 3 a score of 9 or higher. But the truth is, even with all the fixes that are in the works for the current version of the game, it’s going to take a long while to address every single problem present in the game. The vast majority of my issues with the game come from bugs and platform related problems. Take those out, and it’s nearly a perfect RPG game.
In short, Wasteland 3 is an amazing game from start to finish. There is even enough content here for multiple playthroughs, despite the fact that it doesn’t have nearly as many side quests as an Elder Scrolls game. It’s not hard to imagine investing 100+ hours into this game, it is that good. It’s good that the bugs and glitches only serve as a reminder that it is a very big game. One that easily hooks you on the world and its struggles.
Wasteland 3 – Review
When the issues of a game are rolled and stomped by its greatness, then it’s something to invest on if you have some spare.