The Good: Intricate world lore with lots of ethical dilemmas. Wide options for character growth. Some interesting tactical combat options. Many ways to solve missions. Excellent voice work.
The Bad: Stupid pet tricks. Could use some more mission cues.
The Ugly: Poor pathing out of combat. Very suspect enemy AI.
As I grow older, and less twitch capable, I seem to be moving back into D&D style adventures right at the same time that there is a wide range of developers snuggling into that niche. Divinity, Pillars of Eternity, and other CRPGs have picked up nicely where the earlier generation of Neverwinter Nights and Baldur’s Gates left off, and the Wasteland of the past (ugh, I spent forever looking for subway tokens) has become the Wasteland of the present. I reviewed Wasteland 2, and as a prep for this game I read my review of that. I realized two things. One, I’m a frigging laugh riot – I crack myself up I’m so witty. Two, you could reread that review, and get about 90% of the current game right. Wasteland 3 has far fewer bugs than W2 (I didn’t actually encounter any in the time I played), but pathing is still pretty bad, and tactical combat, while good and brings with it some new options, still doesn’t compare to the depth of XCOM if that’s what floats your boat. It’s also still gross out funny, as what other game will have you find yourself in a brothel with a sheep in one of the rooms and a bed “where the magic happens,” and a piece of treasure you can find is a filthy kitty litter box with little chocolate bars in it… wait a second, those aren’t chocolate bars.*Rimshot*
One of the big shortcomings of W2, that of embryonic characters dying before they can advance, has largely been solved. You start with not one, but two characters, and while they’re not high level, they are not made of blown glass either. These characters are chosen as a pair, and complement each other depending on your play style. You can choose two nerds, two fighters, two gunners, two thieves or make two of your own. Any of them can survive the game opening (OK, so I didn’t try all of them, but three pairs I did all survived) which starts with a bang and serves as the game tutorial. Then, almost immediately, you get to pick up more team members (you can ultimately have up to six), and you’re a force to be reckoned with. You make your way to the town of Colorado Springs, a small town run by a group of wealthy families, inhabited by gangs and several other groups working at cross purposes. I typically play a law and order type, and even trying to adhere to that approach, the game throws solid ethical dilemmas at you that are genuinely hard to solve. There are refugees being smuggled into town by a criminal gang, and there are concerns there isn’t enough food to feed the people in town already. You can kill the gang to stop the refugees, but what do you do with the refugees they were smuggling at that moment? Leave them to die at the gang hideout? Send them back into the wilderness to die? Make a deal with another criminal gang to smuggle them in? No good answers. The highlight of W3 is the world they have crafted. The various factions have clear goals (or sometimes mysterious goals), and personalities. Who you’re going to work with, make nice with, and who will be your enemies I’m sure will have a larger role in how the whole world reacts towards you, and is entirely up to you. There’s no way to make everyone happy. These choices are dialog menu driven. There seem to be thousands of spoken lines of dialog, and uniformly it’s really well done.
Gameplay takes place over three different phases. Wandering around, talking to people, takes place in an isometric real-time view. I found the zoom range for this view to be a little irritating – you could never zoom far enough out to get an idea of what the whole layout looked like, and you can’t maneuver from the map. The second phase, when you’re outside the city driving around in your APC, this too is real-time isometric, but I kind of don’t get the point of this phase. Other than running the car into the occasional radioactive cloud and getting everyone killed (until you can get your APC shielded), nothing much happens here besides going from A to B. Random monster encounters can occur, but they start as a menu popup and, if you have the right mix of skills, you can choose to avoid the monsters or ambush the monsters or just fight them, so I’m not sure why I’m playing this tiny, off-road driving minigame. Deciding to fight the random monsters, or coming to a dialog tree that leads to an argument while roaming around, brings up the third phase of gameplay – combat. A square grid overlay rolls out, and combat begins. Characters have a certain amount of action points, and they can use them as they wish – to move, or perform an action, or move then perform and action, or perform an action then move, or move then perform an action then move again. In contrast to the XCOM limitation of moving and/or performing a single action and that’s it, this flexibility is refreshing. Actions include the typical shoot a weapon, reload a weapon, switch a weapon, use an object off a quick slot like a healing pack or a grenade, perform a melee attack, and the like. If you end up with just a few AP left over, not enough to move a significant distance or perform another action, there are end turn options available. You can save a single AP until the next turn. You can spend those AP on defending yourself, and the more you spend here the better your defense. If you have enough AP left over you can set up an ambush (like the XCOM overwatch). This way of dealing with AP round off error, I really like.
Combat has some quirks. For one, you can (if you have the skill) have a pet, an animal familiar of sorts, which will go into combat with you. You don’t get to determine what they do in combat, and what they do in combat is often pretty stupid. My pet cat went face to face with a guy wielding a flame thrower and he burned through all nine lives pretty quickly. My wolf ran into the path of a rocket launcher. Enemy AI has problems too, where they will try to run through flames to get to you, through a blast of cryogenic air, or wander blithely into the explosive radius of an attack from one of their buddies. You can position your characters to take advantage of their stupidity and save yourself a lot of bullets, and sort of cheat combat, making it much easier than it probably should be. While I’m talking about pathing I might as well mention that out of combat your group wanders around as a big, unruly clump, and if one of your characters (with high perception) sees a trap, other members of the party will think nothing of blundering into it. To avoid it you have to disable the trap (if you have the skill) or move each character individually to make sure they don’t step in it.
There are tons of missions to be had – rescue this, kill them, search there, investigate that, and if you talk to a lot of NPCs you can easily have a half a dozen missions at any given time. Many of them end in combat, and in your journal they are listed by difficulty level, so you can get some sense of your chances of surviving. I found this ranking to be pretty accurate (unlike, say, Rage 2 where I was clearing high level hideouts even as a low level character) in terms of the +/- maybe two levels that were in my capable range. Some missions are on the plot train, and others are off, and the journal makes it clear which is which as well. Otherwise, you can do them in whatever order you like, and often in many different ways. Can get through a locked door because you lack the lockpicking skill? You can probably bash it open, or bribe someone to open it for you. It’s rare that I found myself up against a mission path I couldn’t find a way through or around. I have sometimes found myself in a mission with no idea of what I needed to do next – I’ve rescued the guy I was sent to rescue, so why isn’t the mission over? Also, for a period of time, I had the game tell me “you need to gather your team together to proceed” for every single mission path, but had no idea what that meant (I later found out that I had left a character hung up on some piece of scenery, and they were not following me to the mission start point). Oh, one more note: some missions claim to be time sensitive, but only once (in a driving phase) did that seem to turn out to be true, where I selected one mission to respond to (save a homesteader) and as a consequence failed the other one (lost a convoy). The homeowner ended up becoming a supplier of sorts, and the convoy ended up as burning wreckage – I suspect if I had done it the other way, the home would have been burned down and the convoy would have set up as a supply depot, so maybe it’s a wash, except in terms of your reputation with various factions.
As characters gain levels, they get upgrades in three different categories: attributes, skills, and perks. Attributes are the typical D&D stuff: strength, coordination, luck, charisma, etc. Skills are all over the place, dealing with attack types (sniper, automatic, small guns, heavy, melee, brawler), survival skills (animal familiar, explosive, lockpicking, sneaky shit, first aid, modding weapons and armor), interactions (barter, badass, kiss ass), and the old reliable toaster repair. Perks are linked to skills, so when you reach, for example, level 7 in sniper weapons you unlock a perk associated with that, improving hit chance, the probability of scoring a critical hit, or some other plus up. Because my sniper can also put points into some other skill, like first aid, there are effectively no limitations in character classes, though I’ll admit that for me at least, characters tended to fall into fairly recognizable categories through my skill point investment. I ended up with a sniper, a brick brawler, a medic, a technician, and a heavy gunner. I suspect your mileage will vary.
I think for the story lore alone, I’d play Wasteland 3. Add into it some mid-level tactical combat, a wide-open character progression tree, and a pretty sick sense of humor, and I think I’ve found a winner.
Reviewed By: Phil Soletsky
Publisher: Deep Silver
This review is based on a digital copy of Wasteland 3 for the PC provided by Deep Silver.