You’re crossing some sort of frozen expanse, guns strapped to your back, clothing a mess of misappropriated enemy armor and what looks like faux fur. Half your squadmates were brutally massacred in an ambush a few hours ago. You’re pretty sure you have your commanding officer’s brains caked on your arm. Well, it’s someone’s brains, anyway. Though between her and all the rednecks you’ve just killed it’s anyone’s guess!
Your partner and erstwhile lover is pacing a little bit further ahead, fiddling with a pack of smokes while your battle-scarred cat hisses at some unseen shadow. The scene would be positively domestic… if not for the degloved corpses dotting the path and the singed bodies pointing like angels toward the closest thing you’ve got to the gates of heaven: an armored vehicle ready to transport you out of Hell on Earth.
By Hell on Earth, we of course mean Colorado. Sorry to anyone who lives there, but in the world of Wasteland 3, it’s absolutely overrun by a murderous local cultists and robots. It’s also controlled by some shady figures with motivations way beyond your ken. Welcome to the latest installment of inXile’s Wasteland trilogy, slated to release in May this year, which we got to sink our teeth into this weekend.
We’re not that far out from the release of Wasteland 3, which has been in development essentially since the first crowdfunding campaigns kicked off in 2016. It delivered its first beta to backers in 2017 and now, three years later, it’s aiming to bring squad-based tactical goodness to the masses.
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For those unfamiliar with the Wasteland franchise, it’s really what you imagine when you say the name out loud and roll it around on your tongue. It’s an evocative if open-ended word — like Borderlands — and we’re using the comparison here deliberately. Because in both cases sport a very Mad Max-like world. We weren’t kidding about the murderous townies earlier.
The preview plops you very neatly into an ice-cold wasteland (yes, we know) after a short explanation about why you’re there. You’re essentially made part of the Ranger corps: an insurrectionist group trying to piece together life after the deadly AI uprising that turned robots against most of humanity. There are some cells here and there who can control the robots, or at least work in tandem with them, and there’s also some mystery figure called the Patriarch who’s supposed to be all-powerful. He’s probably the bad guy. We just have a feeling.
After some fully voice-acted exposition, the demo then treated us to a few hours of combat. After running through the preview material a few times on various difficulties, we’re pretty confident in saying that combat is going to be one of the big draws for those who consider themselves series veterans — plus those wanting to be hooked into XCOM-but-Colorado. It’s snappy, smooth, and its turn-based accuracy percentages feel a lot fairer then plenty of the squad tactics games that have caught our attention in the past.
Wide Range on the Firing Range
All your squadmates have their own specialties when it comes to different types of weapons and will, therefore, excel at various types of combat. It’s not rocket science, but we think the way it’s approached in Wasteland 3 is a nice blend of role-playing and hard numbers.
There are various degrees of cover, flanking mechanics, calculating accuracy based on character skills, and a pleasing, tiled neon interface that rolls out over the battlefield at the start of combat. It’s a detail that makes it feel like you’ve entered the Matrix, and can see the flow of battle before it’s even happened. None of those features are unique to the game itself, but them and the chipper barks of your NPCs and enemies, as well as the pretty spectacular music (some of which has original vocals), are a chaotic mix in the best sense of the phrase.
We ended up favoring Yuri and Spence, a “rivals to lovers” couple who covered each other’s weaknesses by excelling in different Skills (healing and busting heads). There’s a whole bunch of preset Rangers that Wasteland 3 lets you choose from if you don’t want to make your own. They range from a heavily pierced queer punk couple, to a father and daughter team of killers. Each pops up with a bit of backstory in character selection. They were all written in a way that definitely made us want to know more, too, despite the limited engagement.
A Solid Sojourn
We reckon this will be the other taut draw of Wasteland 3: building out your own unique squad and forming attachments with them. Each Ranger operates within the world in a different way, and the game advertises itself as one that’s highly reactive to your decisions. Even with the few hours that the preview afforded, this was made very clear.
Choice upon choice rolled into consequences further down the line that, while signposted, were nice little twists. With your characters’ chosen perks and skills being able to affect how you interact with the world, someone with a Hardass Ranger will have different options than one who might just love to play with animals (to deadly effect). You’re given the power to customize your squad members as you level up, and also as you progress through the world, including giving them new Skills to cover areas that you want to experiment in. You never really feel like you’re locked into earlier choices if they aren’t what you want.
If you’re someone that likes the high drama of the robot apocalypse, tied to the soothing drawl of a million bloodthirsty enemies apparently from the Deep South (I guess that’s how America works in the apocalypse), then Wasteland 3 will definitely appeal on the surface. If you also reckon you’re a fair shoot at tactical games, you’ll be well-served by the mechanics… once you deglove the rather handsome outsides to get to the innards of things. Wasteland 3 looks good, fights well, and has a cat in it that wears a hat. As far as looking forward to the full title, well, we’re pretty sold.