Wasteland 3 is a turn-based role-playing game with an emphasis on squad tactics. You play as the new leader of the Desert Rangers, and you’re tasked with keeping law and order in the unruly areas surrounding your base of operations. The game takes place in an area called the Arizona Borderlands, which was formerly a part of the old United States before nuclear war destroyed almost all life on Earth.
The game has three main storylines: the first is called “Plains”, and it has you protecting a community from raiders; the second is “Savage Divide”, and it follows your efforts to help two groups of people living in conflict with one another; and finally, there’s “Dead Waters”, where you must clear a river by eliminating raider camps that have been built up along its banks.
You’ll be able to recruit new members to your squad as you play, and they’ll have their own quirks and preferences that will actually affect their performance—if they are hungry, for example, they may not perform up to their normal standards.
The primary objective of Wasteland 3 is to find the Rangers, who have gone missing. This is a sandbox style game with a lot of quests and sidequests, and it’s designed for single player. The story itself is pretty straightforward and follows with the standard tropes of the genre, but it has a few interesting surprises along the way.
The art style for this game is also quite good, especially for its period in history, and there are some really cool animations that really make you feel like you’re playing something special. However, some of these animations tend to be slow, which can get old after a while. I would have liked to see more variety in terms of graphics in this style as well; scrolling still maps were used quite frequently, even though it could have been done better at times.
If you’re reading this review, chances are you’ve played one of the two previous Wasteland games. In case you haven’t: they’re isometric RPGs set in an oversized dystopian future inspired by The Road Warrior and Mad Max. Wasteland 3 is set around 30 years after Wasteland 2, and the story picks up where its predecessor left off, with the Rangers (you) having just liberated the desert city of Highpool from the vicious Desert Rangers.
Wasteland 3 does a fantastic job of implementing meaningful choices where it counts—in the story and in combat. There’s a lot of talk about “the illusion of choice” in games, where it seems like a game offers choices but most (if not all) paths lead to the same destination. Wasteland 3 is not one of those games. If you choose to attack a hostage taker, for instance, the hostage will die and you’ll lose your chance to recruit her into your party—but if you convince her to let the hostage go, she’ll run away and warn her friends, who’ll set up an ambush later on.
You can even attack her yourself and kill her before she has the chance to kill anyone else, but there are less obvious consequences too: if you do that, you won’t have an ambush waiting for you later on, but you also won’t have any new recruits at that point in time either. That’s just one tiny example of many meaningful yet drastically different outcomes based on your decisions, which are made even better by the fact that they’re woven into a gripping narrative.
I must admit, it was hard not to be a little skeptical. Wasteland 3 is the direct sequel to the 1988 classic, and one of my favorite games of all time. Obsidian Entertainment’s pedigree includes RPG gems like Pillars of Eternity and Dungeon Siege III, but they’ve also been hit-and-miss with Fallout: New Vegas (which was too much of a hit) and South Park: The Stick of Truth (which was too much of a miss).
So as I started up Wasteland 3 and watched the opening cinematic, I wondered if this game would live up to its legacy. By the end of the opening sequence, I was wondering something else entirely: is this actually a better game than its predecessor?
In the original Wasteland, you play as a nameless protagonist who arrives at the scene of an ongoing battle between two future factions: the Rangers (the good guys) and the Mechanoids (the bad guys). In Wasteland 3 you’re once again in control of a nameless stranger who arrives in Arizona to find himself in the middle of similar conflict—this time between factions called the Desert Rangers and The Children Of The Citadel. After that, the story can go in substantially different directions. Wasteland 3 does a fantastic job of tying meaningful consequences to almost every choice.
Wasteland 3 is the kind of game I love most: an open-world RPG with a ton of ways to play. Before you even start playing, it gives you 10 minutes to make important decisions which will have ramifications all throughout the story. It’s a smart way to kick off that story, because you’re invested in your choices immediately. And honestly, Wasteland 3’s story is one of the best parts about it.
Wasteland 3’s success can be attributed to its excellent writing and its well-thought-out characters. I’ve played over 60 hours now, and there are still plenty of people in this game whose stories I haven’t heard yet. Every NPC has a different opinion on the Ranger Citadel versus Arroyo, or on joining up with the wardens or staying independent.
They all have something unique to say about their personal histories, their relationships with other people in the wasteland, their skills, and so much more. The writing makes each person feel like a real human being rather than just another character in a video game.
Wasteland 3 has a brilliant and believable art style that takes full advantage of ray tracing, a type of rendering typically used in CGI films. It’s a stunning effect that creates beautiful lighting on snow-covered trees and brings out the detail of Wasteland 3’s post-apocalyptic setting. Some have argued that ray tracing isn’t necessary for games, but I think this is a great example of why it is.
The dialogue between your party members feels natural, the audio design is excellent, and the voice acting is convincing enough to make me want to use the party member with the personality I liked best. There are some aspects where I think things could have been even better, however.
The AI seems kind of inconsistent; once or twice my party members spent most of their turns using up all their ammo on targets that were easy to hit, whereas other times they seemed content to take potshots at distant enemies without ever moving closer. I also noticed that some of my party didn’t have any healing capabilities, which limited my options when it came to exploring dungeons or fighting tough fights.
The world of Wasteland 3 is full of color, but it’s all coming from NPCs. The two main characters you play as are just blank slates that are really only distinguishable by which set of stats they start off with (you can customize them with perks and quirks before the game begins). Every NPC you meet has a ton of interesting things to say about their surroundings—and themselves—but they don’t have much else to say beyond that. It’s kind of like hanging out in a bar with new people every day, listening to their stories and hearing about their lives, but never getting to know them yourself. We’re happy to hear what others have to say, but we just wish there was more conversation between our group of Rangers.
Wasteland 3 is a very story-driven game, as you might expect from any RPG. It’s also a series that’s known for having some of the best writing in computer RPGs, and Wasteland 3 holds up the tradition. The campaign is full of colorful characters and meaningful decisions, some of which are so tough they’ll leave you agonizing over the best course of action.
The characters are all unique, with their own motivations and personalities and just enough depth to make them seem real despite how short their dialogue trees are.
Wasteland 3 has a lot of personality for being a post-apocalyptic game about shooting robots and mutants with a squad of morally-dubious Rangers. I’m actually surprised by how often I laughed out loud during my playthrough (which was 55 hours long on Normal difficulty).
There’s a lot happening on screen at any given time, from combat with giant behemoths to tense negotiations with those same giant behemoths’ human allies to button-mashing hacking mini-games that have you struggling against the clock to prevent your team from getting shot to pieces by security turrets. There are plenty of unexpected twists and turns that made me gasp out loud in surprise (or disbelief – “Oh come ON, you’re kidding me.
You just draw a line where you want something to go and it will appear—a wall section, a fence post, even a campfire. It also works with your weapons: if you’re using your pistol and want to toss out a grenade at an enemy position, you just select the grenade icon on your belt and then drag it over the enemy. The game will automatically aim for the center of the target area and lob the grenade over there.
It’s a simple idea but it adds up to quite a bit when things get hectic. For example, whenever I found myself taking fire from an enemy location I could immediately dash into cover and draw my belt up so I could quickly build a wall or post behind me. This happened frequently when exploring the irradiated wastes outside of town, but when I was fighting off waves of enemies inside buildings it was even more useful.
Wasteland 3 Review
Wasteland 2 was praised by its players, but it wasn’t perfect. The developers of Wasteland 3 have taken those criticisms to heart, and they’re doing their best to fix them in the sequel. So far, they’ve made good progress, and they continue to deliver on their promise of a deeper Wasteland experience with every update. There’s still time left before the game is finished though, but it looks like Wasteland 3 is on track to be one of the top post-apocalyptic games ever released.