Wasteland 3 Review
Wasteland 3 is a perfect amalgamation of RPGs, story telling, and game play mechanics from start to finish. The game perfectly exculpates what it sets out to do from the very beginning, and forces the player to understand through trial and error in ways that are all brutal, fair, and rewarding. Going into this game, I previously had no experience with the Wasteland series, nor did I have any understanding of the studio behind the game, InExile Entertainment. After a harsh but engaging first hour of the game, I realized I severely underestimated what Wasteland 3 was, and found a game worthy of being a Game of the Year candidate. To try and better explain my thought process here, I'll be breaking this review down into four core sections, Game Play, Story, Likes, and Dislikes, before going over my overall thoughts on the game.
Going into this game, I knew nothing about the series, nor what exactly to expect from it's moment to moment gameplay. I've heard that it was an RPG (Role Playing Game), but with the modern era of gaming, most games can be loosely classified as a RPG. At the start of the game, I was introduced to the character creator, which at first glance didn't appear to be anything different or unique compared to other games. I began to stylize my two starting characters when I discovered just how deep character customization actually went.
I had assumed this quick splash screen was just to design how my characters appeared in game, but I soon discovered this is where I get to decided my character's starting weapons, skills and character traits or attributes. Wasteland 3 offers extensive customization in this regard, going as far as to allow me to add and subtract stat points from various columns and seeing just how they interacted with one another and how they affected my character's build at the same time. Each menu option goes into extensive detail on just how each stat affects the character, or gameplay elements surrounding the character. Everything from their health, defense, ability to aim and handle certain weapon types, to how they traverse among the world is affected by these skills and attributes, and overtime can be built up to creator powerful character if done correctly. Once points have been put into a category, it cannot be changed, so players will have to really think about exactly what skills they want to invest in early on to optimize their play style. On top of that there are character checks, similar to other RPG games like Fallout. Skills such as "Hard Ass" allows characters to pass dialogue options and unlock different paths through quest or character interactions, which in turn can affect not only the world, but how the game plays out in the end.
The game uses a top down perspective for the most part, only ever swapping to a first person perspective during select story scenarios to get a better look at a character the player is interacting with. The world is vast and easy to explore, however the fun comes with the interactions you can have with the world. Wasteland 3 characters have a perception stat, that allows them to see things in the world the player might otherwise miss. This can include hidden loot, traps, or other objects that can be interacted with. Character's skill checks such as explosions, nerd stuff, sneaky shit, or survival can also come into play when it comes with dealing with these new obstacles. A perception check might reveal a hidden bomb in the path between you and your destination, meaning you either have to find another way around, take the bomb head on, or if your explosion check is high enough, defuse the bomb. All of these checks and actions award the player with bonus experience, which ads up over time through the course of the game and becomes incredibly useful.
Next I want to talk about specifically the combat. While the RPG elements, and the world interaction are huge and vital to the gameplay and the overall game, the combat is what really drove me to enjoying the game. Wasteland 3 uses strategic turn/grid based combat, similar to games such as Gears Tactics, XCOM, or Fire Emblem. Every time combat is initiated, a grid gets displayed over the world you're currently in, no cutting to another screen or extra load screen, the player just gets immediate thrusted into a combat scenario. Characters have a set amount of AP (Action Points) and certain task require a certain amount of AP. For example, shooting your rifle could cost 4AP, while moving to cover can cost anywhere between 1 to max AP depending on distance traveled. It's on the player to properly manage their character's APs, and maneuver them around the battlefield in whatever way fits their play style.
Depending on how a scenario played out, either the player or the enemy side will go first. If the player had shot and alerted the enemy before the enemies spotted the players, the player goes first; whereas if the enemy spots the player first, they will more often than not go first, unless the character passes a certain skill test if prompted. During the player's turn, they can move any of their characters in any order they choose, even allowing characters to preform half tasks, swapping to another character, and going back. The turn ends when all AP has been used or banked for the next turn. Enemies attack in the same way as the player, going one at a time spending their AP reserves. Friendlies go next, which would be any animal companions the player has, or any third party ally that is there to assist during the mission for one reason or another. Friendlies more often than not attack enemies as well, but on rare occasions will heal or buff the player's characters. Players can take advantages of the environment in ways that make combat feel engaging and rewarding. Moving a character behind cover for example reduces the chance they'll be hit by oncoming fire, or targeting a red barrel causes it to explode, dealing explosion damage to nearby enemies while also added Fire DOT (Damage Over Time). Most turrets on maps are often connected to a generator, and if the player is skilled enough, can actually be turned off or even hacked to target enemies, giving the player a bigger advantage. Traps can be activated or turned off if players have the correct skills. The game often rewards the player for understanding all these systems built in place,
There are multiple types of weapons in the game, from the standard Assault Rifle, to Snipers, Shotguns, Machine Guns, Flamethrowers, Rocket Launchers, to even melee weapons like Bats, Swords, hammers, brass knuckles, and more. Wasteland 3 allows players to customize their characters in almost every aspect, including how they handle weapons. In their skill menu, there is weapon skills, and those can be boosted with skill points acquired after leveling up. So for example, I designed one of my characters as a sniper, so I boosted their sniper skill so they'd be more effective with sniper rifles. Wasteland 3 however doesn't ever limit the player to what they're allowed to do though, as any character can use any weapon at any time, but there are major risk. For example, late game I found a sniper rifle above my character's sniper skill level. Wasteland 3 does not prevent me from equipping and using the sniper that stat-wise is far superior than the sniper I already had, however, because my character didn't have the correct skill level, the sniper had disadvantages thrown into it, such as decreased damage, decreased hit chance, decreased critical chance, etc. Additionally, I could give the sniper to a character that had zero sniper skill, and the character would still be allowed to use it, but the disadvantages grew exponentially.
The way I see it, this system rewarded players who built their characters around specific traits while fairly punishing other players who did not. This goes in hand with the game's brutal but fair combat. Players get to decide how their units move and react to the enemies, and while at first it seems intimidating, it is actually really engaging and fun. Players can very easily just mow down whatever is in front of them, even if that makes the battles harder or longer, but giving the players the choices the game does allows for creative way to deal with combat situations and allows engaging tactical options that vary in wide ways from character builds, to weapons, to environment interactions. The game allows you to do so much, even when the player is unaware of it.
Story (*mild spoilers ahead*)
The game's story is something to be admired. While this is the third game in the franchise, Wasteland 3 does a excellent job setting up the world and scenario for newcomers. Set in the far future, over a hundred years after a nuclear fallout between the United States of America and Russia, survivors are trying their best to rebuild civilization. Players take on the role of a Desert Ranger from the Arizona Wastelands, one of the leading factions in the southern United States. After the events of Wasteland 2, the Desert Rangers are struggling to rebuild their fraction and maintain control of Arizona.
Thats where the player comes in, being sent off the the distant Colorado mountains to gain support from a character known as "The Patriarch" leader of Colorado Springs. The Patriarch is having struggles of his own within Colorado, and the player is tasked to aid this Patriarch in containing his rebellious children and bring peace to Colorado. In exchange, aid and support will be sent to Arizona for the Desert Rangers. The first strike team sent to Colorado has gone radio silent, leading to you and the rest of the second team to come in as back up, but that's where the game begin. Players are ambushed and after going through a demoralizing series of battles, your two starting characters appear to be the only survivors.
The Patriarch, having little options, relies on your small band characters to bring balance to Colorado, giving you a dysfunctional base and some of his men to aid you in the reconstruction. It's at this point you're introduced to your first companion, as well as are giving another two customizable characters, bringing your total characters to five. The first task you're given is to start repairing and staffing up your newly received base of operations. This "simple" task is actually multi-stepped and requires you to go through and interact with a majority of the game's factions, making choices and taking sides with particular factions in order to gain staff for your base.
Along the way you meet a series of unique and memorable characters. Faction leaders such as Sheriff Daisy who leads the police force known as "The Marshals", to Flab the Inhaler, leader of the Monster Army who dresses like Dracula for an unexplained reason. Wasteland 3 does a phenomenal job with it's world building, it's character building, and it's ability to give the player choice in ways that feel impactful. Throughout the story, every action the player choses gets reflected in one way or another, and can drastically change the outcome of a situation.
One example would be midway through the game the character encounters an AI super computer known as The Machine Tower Intelligence, which is actually more like a collection of AI, or an AI Hive Mind. Along the way to meet this hive mind of AI the player is given multiple opportunities to interact with friendly robotic characters, which at first glance are just small side conversations that can have humorous outcomes. But when interacting with the Machine Tower Intelligence, it reveals it not only monitored your interactions with these robotic creatures, but also every robot you've interacted with prior in the game. The reason you're going to this AI is to receive a part you need in order to complete a quest, and the Machine Tower Intelligence pauses to take a moment to consider your actions up to this point to all robotic lifeforms. If players have been mostly kind, the AI will deem the player as "having a heart" giving them easy routes to the quest item, whereas if the player has been rather hostile to robotic life, the AI will be much less compliant and the struggle for a more desirable outcome because even harder.
The way Wasteland 3's story is constructed relies heavily on the player's choices throughout the game, both big and small. While the main focus is the either arrest or kill the Patriarch's three children in order to bring peace to Colorado, everything along the way impacts the game in various ways, some even unbeknownst to the player. There are multiple factions within the world of Wasteland 3, and all are in prominent display throughout the campaign, and all of which are effected by the choices the player makes. The game has multiple endings, for the average player, there are three prominent endings that players can choose from, however there are even more endings that can be unlocked, or even changes to the original three endings depending on how the player has chosen to act up to this point. Because of these choices, the story is consistently engaging, and not only allows players to explore the vast wasteland, but encourages it be rewarding the player with story beats they could have otherwise missed had they not set up choices in various ways.
What I Liked
Everything from the gameplay to the story, to even the deep mechanics behind building a character was enjoyable and rewarding. With every action I took, I was able to see what happened as a result almost immediately. The choices and constantly evolving world made playing through the game more than enjoyable, and often times I found myself just exploring for the enjoyment of interacting with the world. I would put off doing main mission quest on the chance I can find a side quest that will either help along with the main quest, or just flesh out the main quest line to give me more context for it. Not because I needed the assistance for the quest, or because I needed more context, but because I genuinely enjoyed world building in the game and the choice system built into it.
Wasteland 3 might take place in an actual Colorado wasteland due to a result of nuclear fallout, but the world is anything but that. The world feels alive, it engaged with the player the more the player chose to engage with it, and evolved by the players choice. Characters felt like real people, all having unique reasons for being or doing what they are, and even characters such as the main antagonist actually feel fleshed out. One character of note is one of the Patriarch's sons, Victor.
Victor is described to the player throughout the course of the game as a deranged psychopath who kills for the love of killing. When encountering Victor through his palace of pain, you see the draw the character has for his followers, you see the pure embodiment of chaos he has become and how that in turn affected his followers and leads to the events that unfold before your eyes. Once all the trials and battles are over, you realize just how unstable this character is, but at the same time, you see a side of Victor that you would never have expected. The deranged madman who presented himself like Joker from the Batman series is still just a dumb millennial who bit off more than he can chew and accepts whatever judgement you decide to bestow on him. There is no final fight, no confrontation of wits or madness, he simply goes along with whatever you say. He even attempts to join your team, giving you access to a plethora of game/story options the you could not even have considered previously. The choice is up to the player, but all options were on the table, and that is one of the reasons I adore this game so much.
Whenever you think you have a good idea of what is going on, the game throws a curve ball at you, and you begin to see just how complex this world can be and the mechanics behind every choice just baffles the imagination. This constant engagement and evolution the world, story, and characters take only makes me want to play the game more, even run second and third play through just to see how other results would have played out. The gameplay is solid and worked out perfectly
What I Did Not Like
If reading the review so far has given the impression that the game is perfect, I understand that. I genuinely love everything the game sets out to do, and I was hooked the entire way through. I went into this game with zero expectation, knowing nothing of the game, series, developer, genre, or anything. Falling in love with this game was a genuine surprise I had not expected until early on in the game. However, everything being said, the game is not perfect.
Loading times are a huge factor to the enjoyment of a game, not just by myself, but by most people. The game appears to be better optimized for PC players, and while playing on an Xbox One, I have had to wait literal minutes during loading in various cases. On average, loading between areas of the world takes about 30 seconds, to a minute depending on what has to be rendered in and out. In some cases, such as loading into the game after relaunching the game, the loading can take almost 2 and a half minutes before you are successfully loaded into a save. This downtime between areas dampers the experience, as I found myself doing mental math to limit just how many load screens it will take to get to certain areas. For example, I obtained a cyborg chicken in one area of the map north of Colorado Springs, and I knew to keep this Cyborg chicken safe, I had to return it to my Ranger HQ. In order to do so, I would have to leave the area and travel to Colorado Springs, and then from Colorado Springs I can travel to the HQ, drop off the chicken, and make my way back, resulting in 4 loading screen. Alternatively, I could continue searching the area I was in, encountering enemies while trying to protect the cyborg chicken from damage, until every aspect of the area had been checked and I can leave the area without the intent to return for quite some time. The danger here is I risk loosing the Cyborg Chicken, but I save roughly 15 minutes of travel and load times which I could spend actually playing the game instead. This load time math did kill some of my enjoyment of the game because I was always limiting myself to what I can do to avoid load screens as often as possible, even in situations where it was unavoidable.
The other main issue I have with the game is stability. As I stated previously, the game is clearly optimized for PC players, not so much console players. The game crashes more often than it seems reasonable, and with no warning whatsoever. Part of the problem is the game's autosave feature seems to be the cause of the issue for console players, as autosaving in a menu seems to crash the game. While the simple solution here is to turn off auto save, which I recommend because it does reduce the number of crashes, it doesn't fix the issue entirely and can potentially be even more problematic. Turning Auto Save off does reduce the number of crashes, but the new problem here is that it is now up to the player to remember to save often enough. Should the game crash, it'll revert to the last save the player made, which could lead to potentially losing minutes or hours of progress. I personally have lost many hours of progress early on due to my lack of saving consistently. I have found most of the crashes are a result of navigating the menu options too quickly, or being within the Ranger HQ as the area is huge and filled with dozens of interact-able NPCs. The recommendation I would have for new players is to always save once exiting a menu, especially if the reason you are going into the menu is to spend Skill Points on character level ups. A majority of the game is menu/item management, and losing that progress is always the most difficult part in my experience. Saving after you confirm stats and items is a great way to ensure progress is never lost, or if it is lost, you at least will not have to navigate the menus again.
One moment in the game in particular stands out above all the rest. About two-thirds way in the game, there is a battle that takes place at the Ranger HQ filled with dozens of NPCs. As I mentioned, Ranger HQ is a big source of game crashes in my experience, and now this battle is taking place in the one area I rather not be. On top of that, friendly AI are added to the mix, as the base is flooded with rangers who work and operate the base, all of whom take up arms and join you in this fight. The enemy AI always goes first, followed by these friendlies before you are allowed your turn, but the game struggles with this combat because in the backend it also has pre-loaded all the different dialogue options found in the Ranger HQ base, causing the game to crash after the fourth or fifth turn. I had the game crash here a total of 13 times before I was able to complete the encounter and make a save directly afterward so I no longer had to redo the encounter. To any reasonable player, this would have been seen as unplayable at this point, but I was in love with the game and determined to see it through. After I was able to continue on with the game, crashes returned in the usual way which was manageable but not ideal.
As I originally stated, Wasteland 3 is a perfect amalgamation of RPGs, story telling, and game play mechanics from start to finish. The game is RPG heavy, allowing for customization of not only characters, but weapons, skills, and reactions. As the game progresses, characters grow and evolve to the player's choices, as does the world and story, making the entire experience feel custom and alive. This more than enjoyable game however is hindered by the technology behind it at the moment, with incredibly long load times and performance issues resulting in crashing and loss of progress.
In my 60 hours of playing the game through to completion, I lost count of the number of times the game had crashed. After 15 or so crashes, I was able to get in a better habit of saving often enough that crashes rarely ever impacted my progress, but no reasonable game should ever have to expect players to adapt the way I did when playing the game. Especially with the Ranger HQ encounter previously mentioned.
InExile has addressed the crashes and has put out a patch to fix certain issues, and as of writing has another patch in the works to address these issues further, which ideally will lead to a more enjoyable experience for the game as a whole. That second patch however, is not yet released for console players, and thus will not be reflected in this review, where crashes happen often enough to momentarily stop playing the game.
The game is amazing, the world, story, and characters are all filled with life and are a joy to interact with. The reason I stuck through with the game in spite of it's dodgey performance was because I wanted to experience everything the game had to offer and Im glad I did. It is important to note the the game's crashes are not a widespread issue, in that some players have gone through the entire game without ever once experiencing a crash. I was not one of those lucky few, but nevertheless, do not allow these crashes to completely put you off of the game. The game is one of the better games to release this year, and is worth everything you would put into it. I will not excuse it's performance issues, and I'm confident in saying I will replay this game again on Xbox Series X to help with the improved load times, and hopefully the second patch and any other additional patches to improve stability will be released by then that anyone picking up a new console this holiday season will have an amazing experience with this gem of a game. This game deserves a 9 out of 10, but because of the issues I had, which have been address and are being fixed, I will have to give the game an 8.