Fans of party-based isometric RPGs have been living in a jam-packed nirvana with some of the best-ever games having made their debut over the last decade. Whether it’s Divinity: Original Sin 2, Torment: Tides of Numenera, or one of several others, it’s been a great time to be a fan of the genre. Over 30 years ago, Interplay released the original post-apocalyptic Wasteland to the world. Created under the guidance of Brian Fargo, the game was a huge success for its time but we didn’t get to visit the arid deserts of Arizona again until 2014 when inXile Entertainment released Wasteland 2. To the delight of fans, inXile wasn’t finished with the series as evidenced by a FiG campaign that ultimately raised over $3M to bring Wasteland 3 to the world, published by Deep Silver. The game’s launch is currently scheduled for May 2020 for PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One.
It is clear from the get-go that developers are giving fans more of what they love about the series but it remains to be seen if they bring enough new to the table to hold the attention of players who love the genre. After the critical success but commercial failure of Pillars of Eternity 2: Deadfire, it’s clear that players want to see the genre expand and to see new innovations brought to bear.
Premade or custom, that is the question…
This time the action doesn’t take place in dusty Arizona. The surviving Team November Rangers have made their way north to the frozen tundras of Colorado looking for assistance from a mysterious character named The Patriarch. Ambushed along the way and left with few survivors, players are tasked with locating and ultimately assisting The Patriarch near Colorado Springs. WL3 can be played solo with the player controlling two characters with others added later in the game. It can also be played cooperatively with each player controlling one character each. There are several premade “Duos” to choose from or players can opt to create a custom character by selecting from a dizzying array of options including how each looks, what skills and perks they possess, and what “quirks” they have that bring an element of surprise to every battle.
Hoping that using premade characters would mean deep interaction between them ala Divinity: Original Sin 2 was a big disappointment. I chose a pair of female characters called “Mentor and Student”, the older one a Survivalist and the younger a Modder. As I meandered through the introductory quests, there were a few choices along the way. One involved whether or not to kill an enemy holding one of our surviving Rangers hostage. I made my choice using the Survivalist and waited for my two characters to start chatting about it but was disappointed when nothing happened. I even reloaded and had the Modder take a run at the same scenario and found that the dialog choices were exactly the same with the same outcome. Also disappointing is the fact that the characters aren’t voiced. Dialog happens solely through text-based choices. RPG gameplay begins to feel better as the party grows with named characters later on but the underlying fact that your character is in effect a silent participant leads to something of a disconnect in how the game feels. After all, most of us play this type of game to feel invested in our character and in the choices they make.
While my characters were a bit disappointing, the NPCs are much less so. The narrative they present to the player is both interesting, well-acted, and wonderfully rich in detail. At times in the base, it feels almost like an interactive novel. Every decision a player makes has ramifications later on. The demo I played clearly showed what my earlier choices meant to the game going forward. It’s worth taking a moment or two to think about each decision before making that fateful click.
In combat, you ain’t throwin’ snowballs
Combat takes place on a grid with each character having a pool of Action Points (AP) at their disposal when it is their turn to fight. Players can choose to move to cover, attack, use projectiles, etc. Standing out in the open to attack is rarely a good choice as the enemy Dorsey Clan — a rather generic bunch of borderline lunatics — hits like a truck. It’s never a bad idea to move into cover and to pay attention to whether it’s half- or full cover. Each move requires the use of AP as does each attack. Mousing over an enemy reveals the percent chance to hit. Even at a high percentage, it’s still possible to miss. There were a few times I had to pick my chin up off the floor when someone missed a 95% chance to hit! Enemy AI is pretty decent and they’ll work to flank player characters, something that can have a disastrous effect on the battle so strategic placement of the party is essential.
Each battle provides characters with XP that moves them along from level to level. Progression allows players to create a well-balanced party (eventually up to 6 characters) with some possessing proficiency in battle while others are more adept at persuasion or lockpicking or possessing technical savvy. This is a familiar system to experienced players though new players might be a bit overwhelmed with the dizzying array of choices.
The frozen world
The world itself is a bit disappointing, I have to admit. I have been spoiled by the beauty of other games in the recent past and always look for that in newer games as well. The environments in Wasteland 3 aren’t unattractive exactly but they do lack the detail and haunting beauty of other games in the genre. There are some nice touches, however, such as when character clothing flaps in the breeze. You can almost feel the icy wind on the back of your neck at times.
All in all, fans of the Wasteland series will be thrilled to return to the familiar, if not overly innovative, post-apocalyptic world of the Rangers that is a bit on the eery side in today’s budding COVID-19 world. Wasteland 3 definitely carries on the traditions of WL2 set in a new and frigid world that adds a new dimension to the series. It definitely has a lot of potential for fans of the series and of the overall genre as well. Look for it in May 2020 for PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One.