When Wasteland 2 was first announced as a Kickstarter, I was beyond excited to see one of the classics in the tactical-RPG world return for a second outing. The final product left me somewhat disappointed. Perhaps it was my failure to manage my own expectations, but Wasteland 2 was mechanically and narratively messy, leaving me wanting something more than what developer InXile would eventually deliver. Thankfully, years later, we are getting more with Wasteland 3, a game that looks to be the experience I hoped for back in 2012.
Wasteland 3 was originally announced in 2016 and had a successful crowdfunding campaign on Fig. It's a project that looks to attempt outdoing its predecessor at every turn. Gone were the sunbaked wastelands of Nevada, with the frozen wasteland of Colorado in their place. This shift in locale is a main selling point; a new setting, with new visuals and refined tactical gameplay.
Looking at it now, it's strange what has changed for InXile since 2016. The studio's acquisition by Microsoft in 2018 has inevitably been a factor in the game’s direction and overall budget. Developers confirm in interviews that Wasteland 3 has a budget three times larger than its predecessor, mostly thanks to Microsoft pouring extra resources into the project.
You can see the results of that in the game's alpha demo, which involves a group of rangers travelling in their Kodiak vehicle across the snow-capped roads to the ruins of Aspen, Colorado. Their mission is to try and rescue Victory; the deranged son of a character known as the Patriarch the self-proclaimed ruler of Colorado, while fighting through insane kidnappers along the way.
Wasteland 3's Frozen Coat of Paint
Wasteland 3 is essentially an upgraded version of Wasteland 2. Graphically, everything is cleaner and more detailed, with smoother textures and particle effects. Fully rendered 3-D models replace character portraits, and what was once sprawling lines of text are now full voice-overs. Wasteland 3's production values really shine through, helping to enhance the core of the gameplay experience. Along with some purposefully hammy vocals, it all fits the game's pulpy tone.
InXile also streamlined combat and tactical options when compared to Wasteland 2. Mechanically, things are virtually the same. You command your squad, utilize their action points in a turn-based manner, and cycle through abilities to give you an edge in battle. One major change is the tweaks to initiative. Players can now pick and choose which ranger they want to move first, opening new tactical options in dicey situations.
In fact, a lot of the mechanical changes seem to come from another tactical-RPG franchise, the revived XCOM series. While not replicating the over-the-shoulder view of XCOM, you can see the smoother tactical options and cover mechanics here.
Other changes come in the form of overworld simplification. For example, picking locks or fixing broken equipment indicates the ranger most capable of succeeding in that task, a feature fans have wanted since Wasteland 2. Wasteland 3 also improves on the presentation of several combat features; precise shots now have fancy graphics to indicate the percentages and damage output of each section of the body you aim for, like the VATS system from Fallout. Players can even use their vehicle, the Kodiak, strategically in some combat situations; acting as a wall against enemy gunfire, or a battering ram to rush over enemy positions.
All these upgrades allow for interesting tactical options in combat situations. You'll need all the help you can get as you face down this new Wasteland's bizarre enemies. We see crazed, drug-fueled gang members, rabid animals, and even some mechanical monstrosities, showing off a good variety of baddies. Some encounters are avoidable, either by stealth or through conversations. Others lead to ambushes or wrong turns against trap-filled corridors. The final encounter with Victory also ends with a classic choice to make regarding his fate, all of it filled with voice acting over descriptive text.
Wasteland 3 Preview | Final Thoughts
To say the least, this little slice of Wasteland 3 impressed me. Though it retains the mechanics of its predecessor, the amount of polish and refinement of the core mechanics and presentation make it more fun than taxing this time around. With its launch in Spring of 2020 just around the corner across both PC and consoles, this is also shaping up to be the biggest launch for Wasteland yet.
If the whole game matches this demo, I wish it nothing but the best. Wasteland as a franchise already has a well-loved legacy, but it's often overshadowed by its spiritual successors. InXile seems to have finally found a blend of familiar and new mechanics that help elevate the game into modern times, and that will hopefully be the recipe for success Wasteland 3 needs. Whether it is the extra push given by Microsoft or not, Wasteland 3 is shaping up to be the kind of experience that can vault the franchise forward for a new generation.
TechRaptor previewed Wasteland 3 on PC with a preview build provided by the publisher. The game launches on PlayStation 4, Xbox One and PC in Spring of 2020.