Following the crowdfunding success of 2014’s Wasteland 2, there’s a lot for Wasteland 3 to live up to. Paste traveled down to San Francisco to take a look at the upcoming title, from the newly Microsoft-acquired InXile Entertainment, and even in its relatively early alpha state, it looks to be miles ahead of its predecessor in strategic options, combat, and graphical fidelity. Time will tell if it manages to tell a great story.
Unlike the American southwest desert locales of Wasteland 2, Wasteland 3 shifts the game’s setting to the hills of Colorado. Immediately, the sequel jumps out with a much more streamlined UI, something that may rub more experienced CRPG fans a little oddly. While Wasteland 2 felt like a throwback, with a sizeable portion of the screen devoted to just text, Wasteland 3’s UI feels like a modern turn-based strategy game, like the rebooted XCOM.
Part of this, as lead level designer Jeremy Kopman tells me, is due to the support and funding that Wasteland 3 has. The game is fully voice acted, and conversation trees are reminiscent of a modern Bethesda title, instead of more classic CRPG-style dialogue as seen in the predecessor. The top-down traversal and freeform exploration return, and all characters can be equipped with various armors, weapons, and weapon mods that are reflected in their appearance.
The demo focused on a section of the game in Aspen, Colorado, which has been overtaken by the son of the Colorado patriarch, who’s been strong-armed into helping your gang of Rangers. The previous game’s simple world map of 2D icons and place markers has been replaced with a moody, fully-3D and atmospheric overhead view of the region, and in the center of your screen is Wasteland 3’s biggest and most impactful new addition: A Big Truck.
I didn’t get the Truck’s name, it’s not really important. What is important is that in Wasteland 3, your crew gets around in a huge, kitted-out truck with tank treads and a big-ass gun on top. It’s customizable, Kopman told me, in both cosmetic and mechanical ways. While none of this was available in the demo, Kopman explained that there would be multiple chassis options, weapons, paint colors, and various other upgrades and options to customize your rig.
The Big Truck isn’t just a cool map traversal vehicle, either. Once I made my way through the snowy hills to the gates of Aspen and the game transitioned from the world map to a level map, I quickly found myself in combat with a gang of bandits guarding the front entrance. To my surprise and childish delight, it turns out that your truck can act in combat, both to rush forward and run over enemies (and cover objects like barrels and sandbags) but to handily obliterate enemies with its mounted weapon.
The addition of the Big Truck fundamentally changes a lot of Wasteland’s combat. It’s easy to see how it would be overpowered in many situations, but it’s also clear that the size of the truck means that it isn’t going to be available in all battles. Once I cleared out the bandits at Aspen’s front gates, I had to pass through to an inner area by bridge—a bridge too small to bring along the Big Truck. Goodbye for now, sweet friend.
Indeed, a lot of Wasteland 3’s combat has been re-envisioned and mechanically tightened. Precision Strikes (making a return from the Director’s Cut edition of Wasteland 2), with their 100% hit rate and added status effects, make excellent final shot tools. Destructible cover, coupled with a slightly tweaked combat system that allows you to move all your units in one turn (rather than staggering their turns throughout all combatants in a battle) means that you can set up and execute combinations more easily and fluidly—an explosive to take out the enemy cover, followed up by another squad member delivering a quick kill.
As a combat-focused demo, there wasn’t as much in the way of character interactions or much plot reveals, but the playthrough culminated with confronting the patriarch’s son, Vic, in an abandoned warehouse. While all conversations in the game will be fully voiced, certain interactions (like this one with Vic) are also fully motion-captured with an actor, meaning that alongside the (very well-done) voice acting, some characters will also have entirely bespoke animations in conversations. It’s a little thing, but another example of the game exhibiting a stunning amount of polish, even in this early state.
Where I was impressed and intrigued by the game’s mechanical changes, I was left a little cold on the story and setting as it was presented. Wasteland 3 looks to have a firm grasp on its world, but at least so far, it doesn’t seem to offer much beyond some classic post-apocalyptic character and setting tropes. Vic, the patriarch’s wayward son, is a nihilistic, trigger-happy type; companion Scotchmo is a hobo who likes… scotch; and the Patriarch himself (from what little we’ve seen) is a warlord bent on preserving his domain.
Aspen, controlled by a gang of bandits upon your arrival, is covered in giant graffiti mocking the town’s former (wealthy) residents, including some bloody graffiti of “Eat The Rich.” Which is funny, I suppose, because, the bandits maybe actually ate them? It’s the type of thing that felt somewhat empty and lacking in a real message or thrust, just using the symbols of ideology to prop up what (so far) seem to be bog-standard character tropes.
That’s not to say that these early disappointments can’t be improved, or that the team hasn’t proven their ability to do so. Tropes are only bad when they’re lazy, not when they’re handled with a deft hand and given room to grow. With the rest of the demo being so strong, the characters and scenarios seen so far couldn’t help but feel lackluster in comparison. Hopefully when we finally get a chance to explore Colorado sometime in 2020, it’ll be a place worth taking a post-apocalyptic vacation in.
Dante Douglas is a writer, poet and game developer. You can find him on Twitter at @videodante.