Back in March, I previewed an early release of Wasteland 3. The version of the game that I got to play at that time was impressive, albeit a little rough around the edges. There were vast improvements over the game’s predecessor, Wasteland 2, even at the alpha stage. However, I was initially disappointed at some of the clumsiness of the game’s interfaces. Some parts of the mechanics were less obvious than others and I found myself feeling like I was missing something at times. Not to mention the fact that, due to the limited nature of the alpha release, I only got to experience a snippet of the first portion of the game.
Wasteland 3 takes place in the wasteland of Colorado, but the alpha only gave you access to the starting area of Colorado Springs. The world map was inaccessible and you were unable to progress past a certain point in the story. So, I was naturally left wanting more, even though what I had experienced was clearly an unfinished, unpolished product.
Well, I wanted more and I got it. With the full release of the game, I must say that I am very impressed by how much cleaner and more refined the game experience is on the whole. And, how much more complete it is. Not only is there so much more of the game to interact with, even the parts at the beginning feel much more connected than they did before. Every conversation, every decision, every skill point or attribute selection feels like it matters.
Since the Wasteland series and the Fallout series are practically cousins, it is nearly impossible to not draw comparisons between the two. I made the point in my preview write-up that while the Fallout series diverged in gameplay and focused much more on the first-person shooter aspects of gameplay, the Wasteland franchise stuck to its roots and presented a top-down, tactical, squad-based role playing game that focused its gameplay on story and characters and choice.
Wasteland 2 prided itself on having branching story-lines where one decision made, even early in the game, could have knock-on ripple effects that would have larger consequences down the road. Well, with Wasteland 3, inXile has doubled down on the idea and created a world with a network of choices that are all interwoven so tightly together that it is nearly impossible to point out how each individual choice shapes the overall narrative. And if that sounds impressive enough, that isn’t even taking into account the way that this iteration of the franchise has introduced the series to the multiplayer options available to players.
I’ve played multiplayer RPG’s before. Perhaps the most distinct and bar-setting example that I can think of at the current time is Divinity: Original Sin 2. In that game, you are able to create a party of other players and/or NPC’s and explore the world together, tackling quests simultaneously, or splitting the party (kind of) and working in different areas of the same map together. However, whoever is the “host” of the game, meaning whoever’s computer that game is saved on, is needed for the game to progress. And while the host player can play without the other players, advancing the story, or whatnot, the other players are at the mercy of the host and cannot do anything in the world without the host.
What Wasteland 3 brings to the table is what they refer to as “asynchronous” multiplayer. The way it works (supposedly, as I have not been able to test this portion of the game out as of the writing of this review) is that you and a friend can start a multiplayer game together. Where, as a single player, you control two main protagonists, when you start a game with a friend, you each take control of one of the two main protagonists and then have the freedom to recruit a squad of Rangers all of your own. From there, you have the freedom to pursue the game together, working as a team and tackling the challenges before you as one strong force, or you can divide and conquer, going your own separate ways and working on separate side quests and challenges in different parts of the world at the same time. As I understand it, neither player is considered the “host” of the game and either player can play on this shared, asynchronous game whenever they want, dropping in and out at will.
But, as a way to prevent one player from advancing the story too far, there are certain story points that function as checkpoints, requiring both players to be present in order to proceed. Also, if one player ends up flaking out and deciding that they don’t want to proceed with the playthrough anymore, the other player has the option of converting the save into a single player playthrough and continuing the story on their own from that point forward.
One really cool thing that can happen with an asynchronous game, especially considering just how many interwoven choices there are in the game, is that one player may make choices or take certain actions that alter the narrative of the game, or change the relationship that the Rangers have with a certain faction or NPC. Then, those choices and effects will have an impact on the other player and their options and choices. An avenue that may have been open before may now be closed to them due to the choices that their partner made, or a new route may now be available because of something your friend managed to do. It all sounds so exciting and interesting that I can’t wait to pull a friend into the mix and give this asynchronous style of multiplayer a try.
Overall, Wasteland 3 is a fantastic game. It is a logical successor to the story that was presented in previous iterations of the franchise, but it is also its own, unique story that stands strongly on its own two feet. There is no need to have played the previous games in order to fully enjoy this installment. The combat is familiar to anyone who has played a top-down tactical combat game in the last decade. Action points and cover are key to success. The icy, snow-covered setting of Colorado is beautiful and a starkly different one than the scorching-hot, desert setting of Wasteland 2’s Arizona setting. The combat is bloody and satisfyingly lethal. Weapons and abilities all work together to create characters that have very distinct strengths and weaknesses in and out of combat.
I think, when it comes down to it, the only weaknesses that I could find (and I had to really think hard to come up with anything at all) were that while the environmental design and maps are really interesting and unique, the character models sometimes seem to have a different filter or texture set than the environment, which makes them stand out a little awkwardly. This also goes for the various pieces of equipment that your character wears. Many of the helmets and armor are almost comically oversized, making it seem like your characters are walking around in giant clown-suits rather than well-fitting combat armor. Still, this scaling issue is only really noticeable in the inventory screen where your character is zoomed in to fill the screen. While running around in the world, things look much more normal.
Finally, for me, I highly recommend Wasteland 3 as a great addition to the RPG genre. It is a great game with a lot of freedom. There is enough choice that it would be easy to play it several times through and see new things each time. For anyone looking for a good post-apocalyptic rpg, look no further than Wasteland 3.