I came aboard the Wasteland bandwagon very late in the game (bad pun intended). In fact, by the time I seriously dove into the director’s cut of Wasteland 2 following a handful of false starts, fans were already feverishly awaiting the arrival of inXile Entertainment’s Wasteland 3. At first glance, I foolishly assumed the Wasteland series followed a very tired, by-the-numbers approach to strategy RPGs, but I quickly realized I’d misread the room. Wasteland, to my surprise, featured a surprising amount of humor — dark and light-hearted — that quickly won me over. Although I wasn’t very good at keeping my squadron of heroes alive during their many, many violent encounters with different creatures and lunatics, I really appreciated the writing, which gave me the incentive to push forward.
Wasteland 3 takes everything I loved about the previous installment (the characters and the humor) and smoothed over many of the rougher edges (the overall feeling of jank and one deeply hideous UI). It’s a very smooth, streamlined experience that makes digging through menus in search of stats, weapons, or inventory seem effortless and, most importantly, natural. I often feel impossibly stupid when I’m trying to learn the systems of a new strategy RPG, but Wasteland 3’s tutorial helps you to quickly grasp the mechanics and begin your gory, frequently hilarious post-apocalyptic adventure. It’s not without faults, of course, but it’s well worth the dozens upon dozens of hours you’ll pour into it.
Instead of rolling around in a desert yet again, Wasteland 3 changes things up by tossing you into a much, much colder environment. You’ll control a pair of heroes who belong to the Rangers — or, you know, what’s left of them after your team gets devastated by a group of horrible individuals known as the Dorseys. Your ragtag band of soldiers and misfits will quickly become over-encumbered by important responsibilities and side quests, from keeping the supply line flowing into Arizona to helping the so-called “owner of Colorado” (an intimidating man known as the Patriarch) regain control of his unruly adult children. You’ll also spend a lot of time pulling moldy, rotten bananas with googly eyes out of random dumpsters and piles of discarded loot, among many other curiosities. Dumpster diving is never dull.
Wasteland 3 definitely wants to keep you entertained and amused.
The Colorado landscape looks and feels suitably chilly and intimidating, and it’s a nice change of pace from the arid, barren post-apocalyptic settings fans usually get from, well, post-apocalyptic video games. It’s fun to weave your way between snow-caked trees while you’re trying to get the jump on a bunch of bandits looting the poor fools they’d just murdered. You don’t truly start to notice how nice the game’s atmosphere feels until you’re hiding behind a snow-covered barrier protecting you from a hulking spider-robot hellbent on your complete and utter destruction. Plus, I love looking at snow, so I’ll gladly take this over yet another brown and lifeless landscape.
As much as I love Wasteland 3’s setting, I’m particularly smitten with the UI. If you enjoyed Wasteland 2’s finer nuances, you may take issue with the streamlined presentation. For example, I kept switching to my character with the high lockpicking skill to open locked chests and doors until I discovered that, hey, I don’t need to do that anymore! I appreciate the idea that the person leading the pack can utilize everyone’s individual traits and skills whenever necessary. (This is especially helpful when you lose track of your party’s many varied abilities because you have to keep replacing the poor fools who died during their journeys.) Maybe this makes me a lazy gamer, or perhaps I’ve just become spoiled by modern releases. Of course, by scaling back these details, many could argue that Wasteland 3 has lost its heart and soul.
If that’s your perspective, then the same could be said about Wasteland 3’s combat. It’s definitely a lot more polished than its predecessors, and whipping through the traditional turned-based fights feels breezy and fast-paced. What’s more, thanks to the constant rotation of NPCs and party members, you’ll always have someone new by your side when the bullets start flying. Accessing your party’s special skills, weaponry, and first-aid supplies is as simple as cycle through a few menus that are mapped to the keyboard or controller. However, the simplicity of the interface, combined with a combat system that doesn’t do anything new or inspired, often makes the game feel somewhat hollow, especially if you’re jumping straight from Wasteland 2 to Wasteland 3. I’m weirdly okay with this kind of tradeoff, though others will disagree.
Truthfully, Wasteland 3 feels like a big-budget reboot of a modestly budgeted sci-fi cult movie. Everything is more refined and designed to appeal to the widest range of players possible. While the game looks great and runs smoothly — for the most part — all of this streamlining tends to rob the game of its identity. If you stripped away the Wasteland name and slapped something generic in its place, you’d probably never know the difference. Sure, it retains some of Wasteland’s overall aesthetics, but so do about a dozen other games you can spend your money on right now. I love Wasteland 3, please don’t get me wrong, but it’s nothing you haven’t seen before. It’s the equivalent of junk food, and if you’ve had a look at my bathroom scale lately (please don’t), as well as my taste in games, you’ll know I’m all about junk food.
This may also explain why I love Wasteland 3’s writing. The characters are comically generic, their dialogue peppered with colorful language and a surprising amount of genuinely funny (although sometimes questionable) humor. Of course, your mileage with the game’s writing will definitely vary; if you’re looking for a more serious-minded post-apocalyptic adventure that doesn’t involve pulling used litter boxes and coupons for haircuts from dead bodies, then you’ll need to take your time and money elsewhere. Again, I feel this is one of Wasteland 3’s strengths, but let me leave you with this: While playing the game late one night, my wife commented on how all of the dialogue sounded like it belonged in a Michael Bay film. And, you know, I really can’t disagree with that observation. It’s kind of on-point.
Again, I thoroughly enjoyed my time with Wasteland 3. It’s streamlined (probably to a fault), funny (though some will have issues with its over-the-top silliness), and fairly fast-paced (at the expense of nuance). See what I’ve done there? In short, I’m saying many of the aspects of Wasteland 3 that I love will likely cause SRPG purists to shake their heads and grumble about all these quality-of-life changes that come at the expense of depth. While I’m all for easy-to-use mechanics that make my journey through the game simpler, I totally respect the opinion of those who turn their nose up at QOL alterations that have a tendency to rob the experience of its charm. As for me, I plan to spend quite a bit more time with Wasteland 3 and its inhabitants, especially since there are different characters to play and endings to uncover. Plus, I have many more moldy bananas with googly eyes to rescue and cherish for the rest of my irradiated life.
This review is based on the PC version of the game. A code was provided by Deep Silver.
Wasteland 3 balances solid turn-based gameplay with strong, tongue-in-cheek storytelling. Longtime fans of the series may despise the new streamlined interface, but those who were intimidated by Wasteland 2's dated presentation may find this one easier to approach.