Dark Light

I love inXile Entertainment, no questions asked. inXile founder Brian Fargo is a monumental figure in the RPG scene whose contributions to the genre cannot be understated. I’ve played all of their games starting with The Bard’s Tale 16 years ago. Even though none of their RPGs – Wasteland 2, Torment: Tides of Numenera, or The Bard’s Tale IV quite hit the sweet spot, their passion for the genre is clear. I was always hopeful that, given the sufficient budget, resources, and time, they could pull off a real gem. A successful crowdfunding campaign, the acquisition by Microsoft, and with Deep Silver acting as the publisher, Wasteland 3 looked like inXile’s best shot to make it big. Being a long-time Wasteland fan, and one who enjoyed Wasteland 2 immensely despite the terrible second half, I was all up for it. 65 hours and 1.5 playthroughs later, here are my thoughts on Wasteland 3.

wasteland 3 review

New beginnings

The narrative was one of the biggest drawbacks of Wasteland 2. In essence, it was just a retread of the 1988 classic and at best, it could be considered fan service. Wasteland 3, on the other hand, has a more consistent and engaging narrative. The Desert Rangers are in shambles following the events of Wasteland 2. Their HQ has been destroyed and General Vargas has sacrificed himself to save Arizona (I’m pretty sure that’s not the Wasteland 2 ending I got). They send Team November, a small squad of Rangers to the frozen wastes of Colorado to assist the Patriarch, a ruler of sorts, to quench a rebellion. In return, the Patriarch promises you supplies vital to the survival of Arizona and the Rangers. On your way to Colorado, the squad gets ambushed and you are put into the shoes of the two surviving members. How you go about solving this whole mess is left up to you.

wasteland 3 review
Nice welcome party

The writing has been significantly improved since the Rangers’ last outing with a focused plot, well-written (and funnier) dialogues, more ambiguous moral decisions, better antagonists, and character-building (although not everyone shares that privilege). The factions are also much more interesting this time around. The fanatics who worship the AI of Ronald Reagan, a commune of robots who just want to live in peace with humanity, a group of vicious clowns who believe that the apocalypse was a vicious joke, etc. make the wastes more vibrant. Pretty much every quest tries to stay away from the ‘collect 10 bear asses’ formula and can be completed in multiple ways. Like any good RPG, the game can be replayed multiple times just to see all the different endings/outcomes to various quests.

wasteland 3 review
The wacky humor is still there

The downside is that the game often likes to railroad the players towards how the creators envision a particular scenario to play out. More often than not, logical choices you expect to see during quests won’t show up and it feels like the game tries too hard to force a particular grey choice upon you. This is especially apparent during the last act where everything feels rushed out of the door. It’s not as bad as the LA sections from the previous game but the endings still left a bad taste in my mouth. But hey, maybe it’s just me. I also miss the lack of random party banter and I’m not too hot about the developers’ decision to downplay the verbose environmental descriptions I loved so much in Wasteland 2.

wasteland 3 review
Better than my jokes at least

But the pros far outweigh the cons and in the end, when it comes to the writing, Wasteland 3 is a more focused and consistent experience than its predecessor. Just don’t expect anything revolutionary.

A bit of streamlining

For the most part, Wasteland 3 sticks to the formula inXile used for the last game. In simple terms, it’s a better version of Wasteland 2 as far as the gameplay is concerned. It’s still a party-based RPG where you lead a team of up to six characters while a few non-controllable companions can join up for the ride. In true Fallout fashion, you travel across the overhead map to find new locations, meet NPCs, solve quests and of course, test your mettle in turn-based combat. The feeling of running around locations with a honey badger, a cigarette-smoking cat, a cyborg chicken, and a pig in your party is something only Wasteland 3 can provide.

They say that the ones you love are the ones you are the harshest on. This holds true for me and Wasteland 3. While there is a lot to love, there are also lots of things that stick out like sore thumbs.

Right out the gate, it’s evident from the character creation alone that Wasteland 3 tries its hand in streamlining the whole thing with consoles in mind. The skills originally introduced in the first game, which in turn were streamlined in the second, have been further simplified. The 29 skills from Wasteland 2 have been simplified and unified into 22. Handguns, and Shotguns have been merged into Small Arms; Surgeon, and Field Medic into First Aid; Bladed, and Blunt weapons into Melee Combat and more. This makes the game a lot more accessible to newcomers and reduces the number of dump stats (Though I’m not a big fan of the decision to remove ‘Smart Ass’ dialogue options). Sadly, the character creator itself is a bloated mess and a far cry from the one from Wasteland 2 where you could see every stat change in real-time as you tweaked each attribute and skill.

RPGs trying to make up for decades of injustice towards Luck

One of the newest additions to Wasteland 3 is your Kodiak aka an armed snowmobile that can be used to traverse the world map as well as in a few combat encounters. There’s an entire upgrade system for the Kodiak in place with the player being able to swap out armor, weapons, and cosmetics. Sadly, the whole thing just comes across as a gimmick. Much like Wasteland 2, traversing the world map is a slow chore even if you upgrade the traveling speeds and there aren’t enough unique encounters that warrant the use of the vehicle. It just comes across as an overpowered party member that you can use to cheese some of the encounters. Adding salt to the wound is the fact that there’s not much incentive to go out and explore the world map. The random encounters have been considerably toned down (I love this though) and you can skip most encounters if you put 3-5 points in Survival. Other than a few random loot caches and traveling salesmen, there are not a lot of cool locations to randomly discover while traversing the map.

A more compact world map

The XCOM inspired combat system has been improved to be more visceral and hard-hitting. While the core of the combat remains the same, you now have access to a lot of options in the form of new weapons, perks, different types of throwables, and items like turrets, healing stations, etc. The precision strikes are better than ever and are accompanied by over-the-top death animations that make the relatively simple combat super-satisfying. The weapons and skills are a lot more balanced this time around- a welcome change (Sniper Rifles are still ridiculously overpowered). Speaking of combat, I highly suggest that you play the game on the harder difficulties to get the most out of the game. Wasteland 3 is insultingly easy on the normal difficulty and you find yourself overpowered to take on any challenge in just a few hours of starting the game. All it takes to win any encounter in the game is to attack first and most early encounters will be over in 2-3 turns. Combine this with how easily you can max out a fully balanced party and the game becomes a walk in the park. This really hurts any sense of progression the game tries to convey and thus, it is recommended you play on Ranger or Supreme Jerk difficulty. Maybe I’m just too much of a purist for my own good.

A simple but satisfying combat system

Most of the issues I’ve mentioned above are subjective to a degree but there is one thing Wasteland 3 drops the ball hard on – the UI. The UI in Wasteland 2 was pretty clunky already, but they went full console mode for Wasteland 3. Bloated inventory that takes up the whole damn screen, multiple menu screens to click through, unintuitive button presses, and terrible auto-sort options make navigating the UI a terrible experience. Then there is the broken co-op plagued by infinite loading screens, connection issues, and random disconnects. There are also quite a few bugs present in the game – though I haven’t run into any game-breaking ones yet. But, with the rate the developers are trying to resolve the issues, it’s safe to say that RPG fans won’t have to wait for a ‘Director’s Cut’ to get the definitive experience.

Frozen but pretty

wasteland 3 review
Hey, the provost is back

Thanks to the increased budget, Wasteland 3 looks pretty good with crispy visuals, well-done animations, and an overall bump in polish. There are quite a few locations that look absolutely great thanks to their use of vibrant neon lights in contrast with the snowy background. Locations like Santa’s Workshop, Snowed Inn Resort, and The Bizarre stand out in particular. However, since the whole game takes place in a snowy setting, a lot of the outdoor locations look flat compared to the indoor ones. The character models appear to be of low quality as well as it’s pretty hard to make out details even when zoomed all the way in. But they do look great during the close-up dialogue sections, of which there are a few. These scenes don’t take you out of the experience and are surprisingly well animated. I do wish there was an option to zoom out the camera further as the current zoom levels don’t do justice to the visuals of the game.

Why does that name sound familiar?

Like a poorly-oiled machine

When it comes to the performance side of things, Wasteland 3 is a mess. Constant fps drops despite the settings, micro stutters, laggy character screens, ridiculously long loading times, and more make the overall experience somewhat jaded. I found myself periodically messing around with my phone for no reason because every time you enter or exit an area, you have to stare at a 40+ second loading screen. It even goes upwards of a minute during the last act. The developers are said to be looking into issues and have released two patches so far, promising more in the coming weeks that aim to address these issues.

Wasteland 3 review
Quite a few options to tweak though

Someone give the music director an award

I’m in love with the sound design of Wasteland 3. Pretty much every dialogue is voice acted – and this even applies to the random chitchat between NPCs. While the quality of the voiceovers varies between characters, it’s always a pleasure to play a fully voice-acted RPG. Wasteland 3 also uses covers of several classic licensed songs during key sequences and this is something that adds an epic feeling to combat encounters. Repelling enemy attacks alongside a gigantic statue of Donald Reagan while “America the Beautiful” blasts in full volume in the background or chilling to the game’s rendition of “Everybody Have Fun Tonight” while sharing questionable meat with a group of cannibals adds a layer of the sublime to the game.

Attack of the space communists

Real Talk

Wasteland 3 is, in essence, an improved version of its predecessor. The writing, quests, and combat have been improved and polished upon by a large margin but there are a few design choices that stick out like a sore thumb. Technical issues, broken co-op, and a bloated UI hold the game back from its true potential. The game doesn’t break any new ground but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Still, at a time when RPGs are defying tried and tired tropes to provide a fresh experience, you wish there was more inXile could have done with the increased budget and resources.  So, If you’re a die-hard fan or someone trying to get into CRPGs, Wasteland 3 is an easy buy with some caveats. Those on the fence can try the game out on Xbox Game Pass or wait for the developers to patch out the issues.

 

10 comments
  1. Jai bhai Pranam,
    Been playing this game since launch, my complains are that some colours look too glossy and the load times. The side missions to hunt down the Synths and getting to recover slaves , making an deal with Santa to manufacture drugs and to visit a sex dungeon were there is “AHemm.. a Goat” made it feel like a fallout 3 i deserved.
    2020 has been a good year for CRPG, wasteland 3 was gr8 and now this month we are getting Baldur’s Gate 3.

    MAZA HI MAZA HOGA!!!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Related Posts