A Merry Nuclear Winter

HIGH The writing and worldbuilding is frequently fantastic.

LOW The bugs are bad, but the loading times are worse.

WTF One of the skill paths is dedicated to… repairing toasters.

The videogame industry is a strange beast. Give a company a billion dollars and countless amounts of manpower and they’ll likely churn out a derivative first- or third-person shooter that lasts ten hours (half of which is comprised of cutscenes featuring a half-baked narrative) that gets plastered across the globe with a monster ad campaign.

Give developers a modest budget and around seventy employees, however, and they’ll attempt to craft an ambitious, sprawling isometric RPG adventure driven by player choice with a list of skill trees, combat options and optional player perks thick enough to fill a phone book. Needless to say, inXile’s Wasteland 3 falls squarely into the second category.

Following the events of Wasteland 2, the Rangers find themselves in yet another tough spot. Desperate for supplies, they accept an out-of-town request to assist the Patriarch of Colorado in settling a family matter that’s gotten out of hand. Naturally, things go sideways from the moment the Rangers arrive and they’re plunged into a battle for survival and the very future of Colorado itself.

From the outset, players can choose a Ranger duo from premade templates with skills, perks and abilities, or they can create their own custom pair of badasses. Initially overwhelming, the character builder features tons of variables to tweak and play around with. Skill points earned by leveling up are plentiful, and if a character’s stats have been screwed up beyond redemption, it’s easy to create new ones and replace them.

The world of Wasteland 3 is filled with legions of truly evil and despicable bastards to kill. It doesn’t matter how good players are at talking their way through social situations, eventually some boggle-eyed group of cannibals, mutants or random miscreants will take offense at the party’s presence and try to rip their throats out.

Combat takes a turn-based, grid-based approach with players using the environment for cover. Flanking enemies for better angles is always recommended, and there are a variety of weapons ranging from sniper rifles and submachine guns to rocket launchers and sledgehammers. Anyone who’s ever played an XCOM game or similar will feel right at home — and yes, shots with a 95% chance to hit still miss semi-regularly. 

The interface is well designed, with detailed information on how moving around the battlefield will affect a character’s chance to hit, as well as a separate button for moving and attacking. This means no missed shots because the screen scrolled unexpectedly before clicking and the character stupidly wasted their action points by running out into the open. Brilliant!

The writing is a particular highlight, and there’s a lot of crazy, surreal humor to be found. Before leaving the first area it’s possible to recruit a hat-wearing, chainsmoking cat named Major Tom who’s capable of slicing enemies to bits with razor-sharp claws. Bizarre as that might sound, compared to later companions he’s downright mundane. Even so, dismembered corpses and copious amounts of swearing are common in Wasteland 3‘s nuclear winter, which lends the game a hard edge that helps keep it grounded no matter how weird things get.

Nearly everything the Rangers do has a tangible feeling of progress. From setting up their headquarters in a deserted bunker to cobbling together a murderous attack vehicle, it feels like every action awards headway. Various factions will form opinions on how the Rangers are solving life’s little problems, such as how they deal with cannibal gangs or slavers, and allegiances will shift in kind.

On the other hand, some conclusions feel a little too binary and it often seemed like there should be a better way to resolve certain issues that just aren’t an option. This is especially noticeable during the finale when certain characters seem to make their choices just for the hell of it, regardless of their shared experiences and everything that led up to that point.

As far as my other criticisms go, maneuvering the squad around maps can be finicky. They all move as a group instead of single file, and as a result they’ll happily activate traps that have already been discovered, trigger environmental hazards, or wander into the enemy’s field of vision. It’s a mild annoyance, but a frequent one. Also, they don’t stick together when interacting with objects, which can leave some members isolated once the task is done.

Then there are the bigger problems.

Simply put, Wasteland 3 is a technical disaster when it comes to engine stability and the masses of bugs scattered throughout. One section in particular (Union Station) would lock itself into an infinite enemy turn loop every time I attempted a battle, forcing a reload or reset. It essentially killed progress in that particular area until they released a fix several days later — I’m glad it’s better now, but I wish inXile had crushed that bug and may more like it before pushing Wasteland 3 out the door.

The loading times also deserve special mention as they’re utterly atrocious. On a regular, non-SSD drive, it became common for loading screens to last more than a minute in the final stretch of the adventure. This is barely tolerable when loading into a fresh area, and significantly less welcome when dashing back and forth between multiple regions to complete tasks. The near-total lack of fast travel makes it even more of a chore.

Finally, while there’s an interesting sounding co-op mode available, I couldn’t get the damn thing to connect for more than a few minutes. It sounds cool, but anyone intending on playing with a friend might want to wait until this is fixed.

While I enjoyed my time with Wasteland 3 and recommend it to those looking for some quality post-apocalyptic adventure, my hope is that inXile will knuckle down and iron out the bugs sooner rather than later — there’s a lot of great adventuring to be found within already, but it’ll be even better once the game is working properly.

Rating: 8 out of 10

Disclosures: This game is developed and published by inXile Entertainment. It is currently available on PC, PS4 and XBO. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the PC. Approximately 45 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was completedNo time was spent in multiplayer modes, as it wouldn’t allow me to successfully connect.

Parents: According to the ESRB, this game is rated M and contains Blood and Gore, Intense Violence, Sexual Content, Strong Language and Use of Drugs. I mean, I’m not saying I frequently blew people’s heads off, told people I disagreed with to go fuck themselves, injected combat stimulants into my veins while smoking cigars and had sex with a weirdly spherical robot, but I’m also not saying that I didn’t do these things.

Colorblind Modes: There are no global colorblind modes, but there is an option to apply colorblind settings to icons during battle.

Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: It’s a primarily text-based, turn-based RPG with no audio information to contend with during gameplay. (See text examples above.) Furthermore, there’s a strong set of accessibility options available including the ability to resize onscreen text. I’d say this is fully accessible.

Remappable Controls: Yes, this game offers fully remappable controls.

Darren Forman
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