It ain’t easy being a Ranger.
You’d think that being the good guys and gals that they are, fortune would smile upon them. But no, times are tough, and so a large number of them are dispatched from the sunny climes of Arizona to the snowy peaks of Colorado. Why? Because they’ve been promised food that they so desperately need, but they need to do a job to get it. And straight away things go wrong. Things always seem to go wrong.
Wasteland 3 begins with your army of Rangers being ambushed by the Dorseys, a ragtag bunch of good-for-nothings who have been causing trouble for your soon-to-be employer. And just like that, what is essentially a small army is brought to its knees. There are some survivors, of course, otherwise there wouldn’t be much of a game, though most of them aren’t in great shape. Two have pretty much escaped harm and remain resolute, however, and with them you’ll soon be able to reap a modicum of revenge.
You can create two custom characters if you wish, or make do with one of the many preset duos already available. There’s the young raiders, riled up and ready for combat, the father and daughter, tied together with a special bond, and more. Each have their own repertoire of abilities and equipment, and form the base of your eventually six-strong team. Who you choose doesn’t have an effect on the story though; there’s no exploration of their backgrounds or relationships to be found.
Still, Wasteland 3‘s introduction is a great way to get you up to speed on the game’s mechanics. You’re thrown straight in at the deep end, and it’s up to you to put an end to the rockets constantly being fired your way. On the way you’ll learn how to loot corpses and containers, heal characters that have taken damage, and interact with objects in the world. You’ll also learn how to fight, and come to terms with the fact that combat isn’t always the best option. Sometimes, using your brain to gain the upper hand before instigating a battle is the key to success, or simply avoiding it altogether.
On the whole, combat is unavoidable though, but it’s not a bad thing because in Wasteland 3 it’s great. Battles are turn-based, with each character having a limited amount of AP to act. Once all of your characters have made their move, the enemy has its turn, and then it’s back to you again. So of course, strategy is key. You want to balance offence and defence, making the most of the strengths of each member of your team. And the last thing you’ll want to do at the end of any turn is leave them out in the open, where they’ll undoubtedly become the prime target.
Placing characters in cover is pretty much essential for success. Well, unless they have the evasion skills of a ninja. And at the end of each character’s turn you can choose what to do with their remaining unused AP (if they have any). If they’ve secured a good position, for example, you might want them to stay alert and ambush enemies that move into their weapon range during their turn. Otherwise, you’ll want to either take a defensive position, boosting evasion, or prepare for the next turn, allowing some AP to be carried forward. The choices you make can mean the difference between life and death.
Ultimately, your six-strong team is comprised of two more Rangers, one of which must be created yourself, and up to two companions. The companions add another dimension to the game as, not being Rangers, they’re not afraid to give you some lip if they don’t agree with your actions. They might even up and leave you if you upset or disgust them enough, or simply go rogue during combat, taking actions into their own hands. It can have disastrous results. Establishing a Ranger HQ in Colorado early in the game, you’re also able to recruit new members of staff to restore and provide new functionality.
It’s once Wasteland 3 opens up after hours of play that it really comes into its own though. Hired by The Patriarch – a man with three problematic children who you’ve been tasked with reigning in alive – you’ll discover that everything perhaps isn’t quite what it seems. You’ll encounter a wide range of characters, take on an alarming number of quests, and find that you’re given a large amount of freedom and choice. You might decide that The Patriarch seems like a bit of a dick, for example, and turn against him. Or you might keep your mind on the task at hand – the Rangers back in Arizona do need food, after all.
But there are times where Wasteland 3 will have you agonising over a decision, like when you explore its world map in your Kodiak for the first time and are presented with a real dilemma. A Dorsey, wanting to get revenge on you for killing his brother, has taken a family hostage, and demands that you go there to face him. Now. But then you receive a call detailing that a cargo containing advanced Power Armour has been attacked on its way to Colorado – that technology falling into enemy hands could be disastrous. So, what do you do? Risk the lives of many by letting the Power Armour be stolen, or condemn a family to a brutal death? The choice is yours, and chances are it’ll have repercussions further down the line.
It’s this level of choice that really makes Wasteland 3 a pleasure to lose yourself in. You genuinely feel like it’s your journey. You might try to be a goody two-shoes, doing the right thing by everyone you come across. Or you might just decide to be a grade-A asshole, only looking out for number one. And then you’ve got the character development; it’s up to you to shape the skills, stats, perks and equipment of everyone under your wing – whether they’re a fellow Ranger or a companion. You can even modify armour and weapons providing you have the skills. It’s just so deep.
The step up in production quality over Wasteland 2, which released some six years ago, is also instantly apparent. Wasteland 3 looks gorgeous if your PC is up to it, and it also looks bloody nice on Xbox One X. Furthermore, its voice acting is top notch, and it has something that I truly love in video games: dramatic vocalised music tracks that play out as you take part in key battles. It makes everything seem more grand. And another thing that both surprised and impressed me is the occasional change in viewpoint during conversations, showing off the game’s character models and getting you more involved. It’s a nice touch – it’s just a shame that it isn’t used more.
For me, only a couple of things bring Wasteland 3 down a little. Firstly, its controls on Xbox One can be a little cumbersome at times. Precisely moving your characters can be a task as they feel quite heavy, and you often have to tell them to do something twice before they actually spring into action. And then there’s the game’s attempts at humour, which don’t always pay off. One minute you’ve got a character nearly having an emotional breakdown because their family has been violently butchered and then burned in a pit, the next you’re having to deal with Faran Brygo, a crime lord whose name is a play on words that only fans of the series will get. Tonally it’s all over the place at times.
Thankfully these issues don’t bring the experience down a great deal though. Wasteland 3 is a meticulously crafted RPG with a world that you’ll truly want to throw yourself into. And if you do, it’s likely to consume a hundred hours of your life, or perhaps even more if you let it. It’s got some brilliant dialogue, plenty of gut-wrenching decisions to make, combat that never becomes a chore, and a character development system that you’ll obsess over. Even if you’ve never dipped your toes into the series before, you should give Wasteland 3 a try. As RPGs go, they don’t get much better than this.