When I got the chance to play a pre-release copy of inXile’s post-apocalyptic RPG Wasteland 3, I jumped at it. As a huge fan of RPGs in general and a backer of Wasteland 2, getting to play the next game in the series for my job was an obvious no-brainer. For those who aren’t already familiar with the series, it’s a darkly humorous tactical battler, set in an alternate-universe post-apocalyptic America divided into widely separated fiefdoms and sprawling chaos.
If you’re thinking “like Fallout, but turn-based?” you’re not too far off—there are a lot of similarities between Wasteland’s and Fallout’s versions of post-WWIII America, including some hilariously retrofuturistic touches. But where Fallout’s world seems to have sprung from the late ’50s, Wasteland‘s setting branches out from somewhere in the ’80s. The HUD includes an Alpine-style cassette deck with obnoxious graphic equalizer, the clubs have Discobots, the CPUs are “overclocked to 66MHz,” and so on.
Wasteland tries to take itself a little more seriously than Fallout does, too—its humor is a little less over the top, its ethical choices are harder, and it tries more frequently to get you to feel the gravity of the plights its characters find themselves in, up to and including brutal murder and cannibalism. It’s a fine line to walk, but the tongue-in-cheek cultural references and silly jokes keep the player from slipping into despair at the awful situations faced by the game’s characters.
It may be a dark world and a trying experience at times, but we’ve enjoyed 40+ hours of navigating Wasteland 3 so far. To that end, we’re strenuously avoiding plot spoilers in this review from here. Read on without fear of spoiling your own post-apocalyptic journey ahead.
At its heart, Wasteland 3—like all good RPGs—is about character development. The game encourages you to invest in your characters by giving you plenty of customization options, from their looks, clothes, and physical size and shape to their background stories and personal quirks. Thankfully, you begin the game with only two Rangers—this helps combat the “customization fatigue” many players can experience in feeling the need to create six or eight separate characters and backstories all at once.
Although you get pretty thorough control of your characters’ appearance, the customization is a long way from perfect. There’s a giant color palette to choose from for clothes, skin color, and hair color, but many of the sample choices in the palette don’t look the same once they’re applied to the character. The result often looks downright bad. Hair color was a particular issue—your choices boil down to “jet black, incredibly unnatural blond, wrong red, or something dyed.”
There are also some outright bugs in some fashion combinations. Hats tended to make my male character go completely bald on the sides, for instance. The process works well enough, though—you likely won’t be perfectly happy with the outcome, but you won’t be deeply upset, either. More to the point, you won’t see this level of detail on your characters again; in actual gameplay they’re rendered small enough that the nagging little details aren’t a big deal.
You also get to choose your characters’ dialog style up front: you can be a nervous recruit, a wisecracking veteran, or an aggressive jerk in either male or female vocal style. You also don’t have to match your character’s vocal gender with their visual gender—I accidentally created a female melee tank with a very, very male voice and didn’t realize it until an hour or two in the game.
Later in the game, you’ll have the chance to “recruit” more Rangers—which boils down to creating more characters as randomly or deliberately as you like—as well as the chance to put two or more Companions in your party, for a total of six playable characters. Companions can be directly controlled in battle, but they will have their own opinions about your actions in the world, and they inject their own words into your team’s dialogue with the world. If you piss them off enough, they may also desert you at an inopportune time.
Listing image by Jim Salter