The world of Wasteland 3 is much different than the ones found in Wasteland 2 and the original game, but the dangers and hardships remain the same. Despite the snowier setting, the landscape of Wasteland 3 is every bit as dangerous and brutal as the desert of the franchise’s previous entries, but thankfully this new title provides just as many, if not more, opportunities for players to tell their own stories of conquest and survival.
Wasteland 3 once again puts players in charge of a team of customizable Desert Rangers, but these Rangers are now far away from home and stuck in enemy territory. The game forsakes the war-torn desert setting of the midwestern United States featured in previous Wasteland titles and instead takes players to icy Colorado, a location far away from the Rangers’ normal purview and, more importantly to the game’s plot, far out of their control.
There are many familiar elements (and a few returning characters) in Wasteland 3 that fans of the franchise will remember from previous entries, but there has a been a general “quality of life” upgrade throughout all of the game’s systems that will be immediately noticeable to longtime players, and nowhere is that more apparent than in the combat. Unlike previous Wasteland titles, Wasteland 3 takes a much more XCOM-based approach to action. Instead of controlling one character at a time, players can now swap between their team members at will as soon as their turn begins, something which not only allows for more strategic gameplay options but also makes combat feel much, much faster overall. Wasteland 3 also gives players a vehicle to use in most combat situations, something which can be used to both shoot and run over opponents.
However, Wasteland 3 is still as difficult and unforgiving as previous entries, despite this change in mechanics. Player characters can still be downed with relative ease, and (much like older Obsidian-developed Fallout games) important, quest-centered NPCs can easily be accidentally killed or ignored at any moment. Wasteland 3 has an incredibly complex branching story system which adjusts constantly depending on conversations players have and they actions they take, and even though it can take up to 90 or 100 hours to complete the game there are a vast multitude of endings which change depending on the player’s actions.
While the XCOM-style combat is one of the biggest differences returning Wasteland players may notice, there has also been a much-needed increase in the amount of voiced dialog when compared to previous iterations of the franchise, something which is likely due to the extra influx of assets the developers gained after being acquired by Xbox Game Studios. This addition of capital not only helped to convey more lifelike, convincing characters through excellent, albeit sometimes rather cheesy, voiced dialog, but it is also apparent in the game’s user interface and overall graphical quality. Wasteland 3 is a much cleaner, sleeker-looking game than previous titles in the series, something which will likely make it much easier for new players (or those not familiar with the CRPG genre in general) to pick up and play.
The overall quirkiness and tongue-in-cheek tone of the franchise, however, is still on full display. Toaster Repair (a feature Wasteland 2 players will be very familiar with) is still an important skill players will want to make sure they allocate points towards, and keeping team members with both “Kiss Ass” and “Hard Ass” traits in the active party will still ensure a variety of interesting, if sometimes vulgar, conversation options.
Wasteland 3 is still as difficult and unforgiving as previous Wasteland titles, but thankfully it incorporates a forgiving autosave system which appears to activate directly before any first combat encounter or plot-altering conversation. This is a good thing, because the game sports plenty of both. Wasteland 3 isn’t a game players can idly pay attention to while doing something else (except in the turn-based combat sections) because it demands their full attention at all other times. Words, and actions, matter, and a simple misstep or statement spoken out of turn can cause an avalanche of problems for everyone in the player’s active Ranger squad.
Upon completion of the introductory mission players will arrive at an abandoned base in Colorado, and it is there they can hire new members and begin to build a thriving new unit. Wasteland 3 allows players to have up to six customizable squad members at once, but two of these slots can be filled with NPCs discovered in the world, and all of them can be replaced with template-based characters hired by a Ranger recruitment operative. Players are not only able to recruit NPCs they find throughout the game into their active squad, but they can also send talented members they find in the field back to the base to act as a form of HQ support, with the Ranger home base eventually (if the player chooses) becoming filled with all manners of different character types.
The music of Wasteland 3 is fantastic and does a great job of not only setting the game’s tone but also reminding players of previous titles in the franchise. This isn’t altogether unsurprising, since Wasteland 3 sports the talents of both Mark Morgan, who wrote music for both Fallout and Fallout 2 as well as Wasteland 2, and Mary Ramos, who was the music supervisor for films like The Hateful Eight and Django Unchained. Much like that one iconic scene in the original Red Dead Redemption game where players enter Mexico for the first time, there are a few needle drops which make fans of outlaw country want to simply sit back and stop playing for a moment in order to enjoy the track in its entirety.
Wasteland 3 isn’t without its problems. The difficulty curve is unforgivably sharp, even early on, and the excessive amounts of menu-hopping, mouse clicking, and dialog-based plot dumps won’t be appreciated by everyone. The unintuitive nature of some of the plot’s progression, and the harsh consequences of failure, may turn some new players off, and while the franchise’s shift to XCOM-style team-turn-based combat is much appreciated, longtime fans could be upset the classic character-by-character system was dropped. Thankfully, most of the game’s problematic mechanical issues (such as UI elements not disappearing and certain characters getting locked in a walk cycle during combat) are reportedly going to be fixed before release, according to the game’s developers, and were encountered very infrequently during play.
For fans of early Fallout games, returning Desert Rangers looking for another adventure, and newcomers to the genre who are curious about where the best place to start is, Wasteland 3 is a no-brainer. Much more than Wasteland 2, this game can act as a perfectly enjoyable entry point for new players, and even offers a 2-player co-op mode, another first for the series. Wasteland 3 takes players to a new location and presents them with equally unfamiliar challenges, yet still perfectly demonstrates all of the reasons why this series has had die-hard fans for over three decades, and is absolutely worth playing for anyone looking for their next post-apocalyptic fix.
Wasteland 3 releases on August 28, 2020, on PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One. A Steam code was provided to Screen Rant for the purposes of this review.