Wasteland 3 has been pretty hardcore hyped as it closed in on release, at least within its main target audience: bored Fallout players. I definitely fall into the last category, but I’m also a big fan of turn based action adventures, and this one has both down, so I was stoked when I saw the game pop up in Game Pass an unfortunate several months before it released, where it sat downloaded and ready to go, but locked up tight. While I waited, I decided to give the series a fresh playthrough, I didn’t remember the original at all, and Xbox Game Pass had a remaster of it ready to go, along with Wasteland 2.
Developed by inXile Entertainment, Wasteland 3 gives us another dive into some classics from Brian Fargo. Fargo founded Interplay Entertainment in 1983, alongside fellow developers Rebecca Heinemen, Jay Patel, Troy Worrell, and investor Chris Wells. In 1988 they released the first Wasteland game. I’m not gonna comment too much on Wasteland, it’s release date tells plenty about its visuals and gameplay relative to what we’re used to. I will say that if you enjoy that sort of thing, you should definitely play it because it’s a good one, or you can check out the Remaster that’s on Xbox Game Pass. A nuclear holocaust ended the world as we know it in 1998, and the year when the game begins is 2087. You are a Desert Ranger, a group descended from the US Army, and you’ll battle your way across what used to be the Southwestern United States investigating and ultimately defeating an AI bent on the destruction of humankind that’s producing genocidal robots at an old military Base Cochise.
The franchise sat in limbo for a while after that, one of its sequels being converted into something entirely unrelated and the other fizzled out. It found a spiritual successor in Black Isle Studios’ 1997 release Fallout, and 1998’s Fallout 2, both published by Interplay. Licensing and business getting in the way in years following, a Kickstarter campaign is launched, funded, and Brian Fargo revisits the Rangers in 2014’s Wasteland 2 by inXile Entertainment. While I was, and still am, a major Bethesda-Fallout fan, they never quite hit that tone, and Fargo knew that balance of twisted dystopia and humorous adventure intimately.
Wasteland 2 starts fifteen years later. The Rangers occupy a Citadel they cleared before the assault on Base Cochise, and quite literally opens on the funeral of Ace from the first game. You’re a rookie squad in this one, and you’re sent to investigate, discovering along the way that the Base Cochise Boss AI wasn’t defeated, and copied itself to the computer systems beneath the Citadel beforehand. The game ends with the Rangers nuking their own base, and the Rangers set to regroup and return to their work protecting the Wasteland.
Five years later, the Rangers, and the people of Arizona, are struggling badly. If they can get through the winter, they think they can get enough resources moving to get everything heading back to recovery, but they need help to do that. Cue Saul Buchanon, Patriarch of Colorado, who needs help reigning in his three kids and securing his state. In exchange, the Rangers will receive all the supplies they need and more for Arizona. An early force is sent, on which is Angela Deth from the last two games, and contact is lost, and the Rangers can’t afford to not answer this call, so Team November is sent
This is where Wasteland 3 opens, road conditions forcing them to divert across a frozen lake, right into an ambush by a violent cult run by the Dorsey family. You create two survivors, and watch immediately as the half-dozen members of your group are cut down around you while you fight off an initial round of Dorseys. This intro level showcases well just how ready a frozen Colorado was to be a canvas for this brutal, bloody, disgusting, hilarious world.
Though it helps with context, you absolutely don’t need to play any earlier games to fully enjoy Wasteland 3 as a self contained game. Along with doing a good job contextualizing itself, it shows inXile listened to some of the biggest complaints about Wasteland 2. Overworld travel is now interesting, with plenty to see and makes you feel like you’re exploring. There’s a real map now too, at all times, so no more getting lost because of a turned camera angle and lack of reference points. These are pretty expected for modern games, and inXile listened when we didn’t like that specific aspect of Old School that clung to Wasteland 2.
Character creation, while not in depth, allows for quick builds with goofy quirks that give bonuses variably balanced with drawbacks. The game requires a minimum of two player-created characters and a maximum of four in the party, though you can switch your created party out at your HQ in Colorado Springs. Having six party members means you’ve got plenty of space for skills, and outside of weapon skills there isn’t really a need to double up on any skills on multiple characters in the party. One handy feature that helps with this is that in the level up menu, including at character creation, it’ll show what other characters have ranks in the skill you’re highlighting. My memory is broken so keeping track of which tool I gave which build would have been a time consuming festival of back-tracking otherwise, so I appreciated that little bit.
The game isn’t particularly long, but it’s got a lot of variation in how it plays out, giving it a solid replay value. Choice matters here and there are several endings, along with your route getting there changing, depending on everything from having the right skill check at the beginning to how many of the Patriarch’s kids you kill, and they don’t make you want to keep them safe. Liberty, the Patriarch’s daughter for example, greets you upon your first meeting with a bundle of heads, agents of her father she decided would send a better message this way.
There is one really unfortunate drawback though, at least for the Xbox One version of the game. It’s possible the age of my console is an issue, I run the original 500gb Xbox One release, but the game crashes so hard I had flashbacks to the Fallout: New Vegas launch. Workarounds include turning off autosave, but even that doesn’t fix it. I wanted to review the multiplayer co-op here, which is crossplay, but we couldn’t finish the first level because of a mix of crashing and triggers just not triggering.
I enjoyed the game thoroughly, but if I’m completely honest, it’s one I’m fully glad I acquired thanks to a subscription I already had. The crashing issue alone caused such a sluggish playthrough that this article is coming out (ten weeks) from release, mostly just from trying to give it a fair shake once it got fixed. I’ll probably even buy the game once it’s fixed. I am told the PC version doesn’t have this issue, but I have no first hand knowledge of it.