There’s a lot to love about inXile’s Wasteland 3. The strategic combat constantly kept me on my toes. I was consistently surprised by the twists the story took and the choices it offered. And I could easily spend a couple dozen more hours customizing the perfect squad of Desert Rangers.
But if I had to pick my favorite part this latest post-apocalyptic RPG, it would have to be God-President Reagan. The AI of the former president is housed in a 50-foot tall, combat-ready statue that’s attended to by a cult that carries out its every whim. And boy, does this statue hate Communists, even though none of the members of the “Gipper” cult can explain what exactly a Communist is or why they’re so evil. It’s in these pitch-perfect satirical moments that Wasteland 3 shines.
Most of Wasteland 3’s early hours take place in Colorado Springs, a city clearly separated between the haves and have nots that’s struggling with a refugee crisis that there are no easy answers to. Overseeing it all is the Patriarch, the iron-fisted ruler of Colorado who drapes himself in the imagery and ideals of the old United States while governing like a brutal dictator.
The Patriarch is actually the main driver of the story in Wasteland 3. At the start of the game, he asks your squad of Rangers for help tracking down his three would-be usurper children: Victory, Valor, and Liberty.
Wasteland 3 has a few things to say about current events, but it never comes across as preachy or loses sight of the fact that it’s there to entertain. There are flat-out hilarious moments like when the Rangers meet a vampire wannabe or when they take a trip to a brothel that caters to…exotic tastes.
As with the previous entries in the series, choice remains at the forefront of the game, and those choices are rarely black and white. The aforementioned encounter with God-President Reagan’s cult can end in multiple and surprising ways that have long-lasting consequences for the rest of your playthrough. Few franchises have integrated player choice into its narrative as expertly as Wasteland and inXile definitely continues that work here.
Player choice extends to your squad of Rangers as well. While you start the game by choosing from one of several pre-determined couples, eventually you can customize everything about your squad from their appearance and names to their weapons, armor, and skills. You want to go into combat as a heavily armored punk mechanic ready to rain down rockets and grenades? You can do that. Want to play through the game as a stylish, machete-wielding expert in toaster repair? I wouldn’t really recommend it, but knock yourself out. Your squad of four can be joined by two more pre-determined companions you meet on your travels, plus two NPC animal companions.
Release Date: Aug. 28, 2020
Platforms: PC (reviewed), XBO, PS4
Developer: inXile Entertainment
Publisher: Deep Silver
The biggest new addition to Wasteland 3’s combat is the Kodiak, a fully customizable vehicle that acts as your main form of transportation through the wilds of Colorado and also as another party member in some battles. It’s extremely satisfying to use the Kodiak to roll over bandits or wipe out a group of them at once with its overwhelming firepower. I just wish the game let you use this vehicle more often.
Combat has seen a major overhaul from Wasteland 2, with quicker, more kinetic fights inspired by XCOM 2. Battles remain highly strategic, but things are more fast-paced, too. And while it sometimes felt like attack would miss your enemies for no reason in Wasteland 2, there’s a lot less of that going on in this sequel. It certainly delivers a less frustrating combat experience.
In fact, if some of Wasteland 2’s mechanics felt really dated to you back in 2014, you’ll be happy to know that Wasteland 3 has streamlined the experience. This is a much more enjoyable and accessible game that still retains the depth of classic CRPGs. For example, let’s say you want to pick a lock on a safe, but you’re controlling a party member with a low lockpicking skill. You click on the safe as usual, and your party member who specializes in lockpicking automatically walks right over and opens it up. It’s these quality of life improvements that make Wasteland 3 stand out in the sometimes frustrating CRPG genre.
There was one quirk in the game that continually annoyed me, though. First, it’s worth noting that the overall soundtrack is outstanding, with some fantastic music choices kicking in during certain battles, and the voice acting is top notch. However, when you’re just walking around the world, some characters will repeat a single line of dialogue over and over again. Expect to hear some rather annoying lines repeated ad nauseam.
If Wasteland 2 was the surprisingly strong (though slightly rusty) comeback for the long-dormant ‘80s RPG icon, then Wasteland 3 is the knockout win in the championship bout that puts the series back on top. This is a sprawling, deep, often darkly hilarious adventure into the post-apocalypse that has ironed out nearly all of the flaws in its predecessor. Wasteland 3 is a must-play for RPG fans.