When you think about post-apocalyptic entertainment, most of you will cast your minds back to the likes of Fallout and Rage or films such as Mad Max. On the games front, many will fill their heads with images of first-person gun-toting action, gunning down ghouls or rad scorpions and grabbing bottle caps from rusty old shacks. However, these games owe a lot to a franchise that I have just had the pleasure of playing the third instalment of.
Wasteland 3 has more in common looks-wise with the pre-Liam Neeson Fallout games of old than it does with the newer ones. It's mainly shot from an isometric point of view and fans of games like XCOM will feel right at home. I often think that the Wasteland games don't get the credit or attention they deserve, but upon playing the third entry in the series I reckon that might be about to change - yep, spoiler alert, this puppy is going to get a good score, but before we get to that, let me tell you why!
Despite the first game landing all the way back in 1988, the second game only arrived in 2014 after a Kickstarter campaign brought the series back to life. Obviously, for many reasons, this third game has more in common with the second than the first, both in terms of gameplay and looks.
Quite simply, Wasteland 3 is a top-down, turn-based, story-driven squad-based tactical-RPG set in the frozen tundras of Colorado. Try saying that sentence five times quickly! So, let's dig into the core of the game and find out what this beast is all about. Notice there I said the word "beast", and that's because what you're getting here is a lot of bang for your buck! I love a huge game with a carefully woven narrative and lots of depth, so let's start there.
The highlight for me was by far the story. That is undeniably a personal preference, but if you think like me and put story first then this game will only reinforce your resolve, and I thoroughly enjoyed the narrative here. Now, I'm not about to ruin the aforementioned story for you; what kind of reviewer would claim to love a good yarn and then ruin it for everyone else? What I will say is that once more you take control of a team of rangers, although this time you head from the dusty lands of Arizona over to the icy tundra of Colorado. You venture into this new territory after a person calling themselves the Patriarch requests your assistance and you have the plan of enhancing the influence of the Rangers in this new territory.
The game starts off with a very beautiful animated cutscene that sees you driving into Colorado and straight into an ambush - seriously, how did they not see that coming?! It's the apocalypse, after all! With most of your team left for dead, you take control of two characters (more on that soon) and then you're basically thrown into what evolves into the game's tutorial. It all feels quite seamless: one second I'm enjoying a cinematic moment and the next I'm fighting for my life in a vicious turn-based dogfight. This section even introduced me to a robotic monster and vehicular gun combat. Thankfully, it wasn't overwhelming. In fact, it all flowed very naturally and rather than a tutorial it felt more like a refresher for a game I'd never played before.
I often bemoan the use of the phrases like "your choices matter" - but here it genuinely does feel like it matters. Right at the start, you run into one of your old ranger friends who has been captured by an enemy troop. At this point, I had the choice of gunning them down or letting them go to save the ranger. Of course, I let the baddies go, only for them to skedaddle and run into the next area and warn their friends, in turn throwing me into another vicious and this time quite gruelling combat experience. It was at this point I regretted not gunning them down in the first place. Now, while this combat encounter might always need to happen, it did give me the genuine feeling that my choice mattered.
Combat, on the whole, is really satisfying. It's turn-based and isometric, so as I mentioned earlier if you're a fan of the Xcom games or pretty much any turn-based tactics game, you'll feel right at home here. It uses the usual variety of hand-to-hand and ranged attacks, prone options, and you'll need to think about taking cover and flanking your enemies. What I liked about this aspect is that you always have to think a few steps ahead. Mistakes can be punishing and while I realise I'm hitting you with yet another cliché, it felt a bit like a game of chess.
Later on, you can have up to six people in your party as they run around the map exploring, talking to people, and battling foes in turn-based fashion, and this is where the game excels. You have the best chance of surviving a gruelling combat situation with more people in your party. At the start, you kick off with only two people in your group, and I have to say that the early combat sections can be pretty heavy going. Later on, life gets easier as you set up a base and have more characters at your disposal, but the start, while fun, was tricky.
At the beginning of the game, you get to pick your two characters from a range of pre-made designs (or you can create your own with a character builder that had a lot of options). I opted for a father-daughter combo, one good at hand-to-hand and the other a sniper. I regretted this a bit as I felt the hand-to-hand combat, at least at first, left me a bit exposed, but that was my choice and my choice mattered. You can of course level up and add new perks much like you can in a Fallout game, so you can rectify your mistakes somewhat. There is also a co-op option that lets a player drop in and join you, although I didn't get to try that properly for this review.
Now let's wrap up with a word or two on the visuals and the audio. This new Wasteland looks stunning, and obviously it's the best looking game in the series to date. The world-building is phenomenal and both the backdrops and animations are sweet. For me, the story and its delivery via in-game dialogue was a key part of the experience. Not only was it well written, but it was well recorded for the most part. Sure, some of the voice acting wasn't always perfect, but it wasn't a major issue either.
So, all in all, Wasteland 3 is brilliant. The story is great and the combat is spot on with interesting tactical elements and a narrative where choice seems to make a genuine impact. If you're a fan of tactical RPGs or turn-based isometric games, then I think you will feel right at home here. Thanks to quality audio and visuals that brought this atmospheric world to life, I thoroughly enjoyed my time in the Colorado wastes, and if you loved Wasteland 2, I think you'll have a good time too.