Wasteland 3 looks like a snowier, sleeker, and more substantial version of its five-year-old predecessor, Wasteland 2. I played a slice of the game earlier this week — based on a demo sent out to backers who helped crowdfund the game — and enjoyed the various tweaks and additions that have been added to the series’ team-based role-playing formula. This game’s budget, according to developer InXile, is three times larger than the last game.
The post-apocalyptic story moves on from Wasteland 2’s arid locations of Arizona and Los Angeles to the freezing heights of Colorado. Its story centers around a local boss called The Patriarch, who leads a society founded by formerly mega-wealthy Armageddon preppers.
Presented in overhead view, I play as a group of rangers who plough through flurried roads, from one dangerous location to another, seeking out The Patriarch’s outlandish adult-children. They’ve gone rogue, threatening to fracture the boss’s power.
My team of seven fighters now includes a vehicle that gets me to blizzard-bound outposts. I enjoy how the vehicle cuts through snowy roads, kicking up slush and dirt. In the overmap, I explore mountain roads until I come across a story beat, often in the form of a fight.
The game is built around a series of encounters between my raggedy rangers and gangs of enemies, including the usual post-nuclear roughnecks as well as robot dogs and other nasties.
Combat plays out XCOM-style. Each member of my party is a specialist such as a sniper or a close-quarters shotgun shooter. They carry two weapons as well as an extra piece of kit, like a grenade or a stand-alone gun turret. As the game progresses, they earn upgrades in their combat abilities and collect new weapons and armor. They also improve various skills such as mechanics and lock-picking and they bolt on social skills that help during narrative conversation tree sections.
The overarching aim is to nurture team members so that their skills become sufficiently advanced to progress, while also complementing one another. Non-combat solutions are often the best way forward, but these can only be accessed by characters who have unlocked specific skills.
Combat has been overhauled since the last game and feels more user-friendly. Instead of team members forming an orderly line to take their turns, I can pick and choose between my people, using action points to create the most effective tactical plays. Action points, as before, include ambushing enemies and shooting specific body parts as well as reloading or making use of consumables like health packs. Inventory (in single-player mode) is now shared among all characters, simplifying life enormously.
Usually, there are various access points and potential cover spots to use. Cover, sight-line, and elevation are all extremely important to successful combat, which works on the basis of statistical likelihood. If I try to shoot an enemy with a tiny percentage chance of hitting them, I’m likely to regret my folly.
My vehicle is a character in its own right, which adds mightily to combat situations, where it takes its turn in the fighting by shooting and squishing enemies, as well as removing obstacles and creating diversions. But it’s barred from some combat sections.
In the overmap, actions have also been simplified. If I need a player to, say, pick a lock, I click on the problem and the team member most able to deal with the task shows up. This helpful piece of user interaction was much demanded by players after the launch of Wasteland 2, and was added in the later Director’s Cut release.
Much of the extra budget has been spent on voice-acting and conversational scenes, in which various characters offer optional story paths. In my demo, I tracked down The Patriarch’s mad son, Victory, to the ruins of Aspen. Once cornered, we had a bit of a chat. I had an opportunity to either kill him, capture him, or allow him to join my team. Each of those options creates a different outcome when I next encounter The Patriarch. The story looks engrossing, as is often the case with InXile games.
Wasteland 3 is being published by Deep Silver and is coming out in spring 2010 for PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One.