PAX EAST 2020: ‘Wasteland 3,’ – Tactics Based Combat, Choice Driven Narrative

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Wasteland 3
Wasteland 3 is a choice-driven RPG with tactical combat developed by inXile Entertainment and published by Deep Silver. In the post-apocalyptic world of Colorado, you must lead a squad of troops through hazardous combat situations. But bullets and baddies aren’t the only challenges here. Deep narrative-driven choices will shape the player’s game experience and sometimes, in the harsh wastes, there are no easy answers.

Ever since the original Wasteland released way back in 1988 it has represented some of the best choice-driven story and tactical combat around. During my time at PAX East, I got the chance to sample the latest entry in the series. And while I didn’t really get to experience much of the story, I did get to play through a full mission, walking away thoroughly impressed.

My demo of Wasteland 3 opens up with my unit traversing a snow-covered wilderness in their armored all-terrain vehicle. While the path I traverse only had one way to go, the developer I spoke to assured me that was only for the sake of the demo. I was told in the full game the player will be able to travel downside routes that will lead to optional missions. Once I arrive at my destination my squad disembarks and I get my first look at the meat of Wasteland 3‘s gameplay.

The first thing that catches my eye is that I wasn’t immediately put into combat turns. Until I caught the enemy’s attention I could move my squad freely. This would allow seasoned players to set up a nice ambush before triggering the start of combat rounds. For me it meant blundering my sniper into a wandering patrolman. However, I still managed to get my sniper’s shot off before the enemy saw him. This is of critical importance since if the enemy spots the player first they get to go first in combat. Since I managed to recover some from my initial blunder, I held the initiative.

Wasteland 3

With the battle going, the game moves to turns. Each side gets to activate all of their characters before the other side does. Each character’s options for actions depend on their action points. Every character has a set number they can spend. And everything from moving to attacking costs points. This forces players to think very critically of how far to move, and when to attack. Attacking also doesn’t necessarily cost the same amount of action points all the time. What kind of weapon being utilized affects how many points it cost. Something to consider when deciding how to equip your party.

Once I defeat the enemies, I found a couple of other obstacles in my path. Locks that need picking and a generator that has to be repaired stand in my way. Of course, I had the skills required to overcome these obstacles, but clearly party skills are another consideration to bear in mind when facing the challenges Wasteland 3 presents players. Upon reaching the boss, I entered to a cutscene where I confronted the enemy I had hunted down. After a bit of dialogue going back and forth, I am presented with the options of arresting the scoundrel or letting him join my group. With my demo running long, I opted to let him join. The developer seemed mildly surprised by this decision, but assured me that it could produce significant consequences further down the line.

Along with the excellent combat mechanics, the visuals present in Wasteland 3 are also top-notch. The classic top-down view one expects to find in games of this genre is immediately recognizable. The characters all look sharp and I am particularly impressed with how well the lighting looked though the level I played. When I reached the cutscene at the end the boss was thoroughly animated, giving off a bit of an unhinged sort of vibe.

While I really enjoyed my time with Wasteland 3 there are questions for it that can’t be answered in a 20-minute demo. How deep character customization is, or how impactful player choice really is will remain to be seen. However, if these elements are executed as well as my demo mission was players, have a lot to look forward to.

Wasteland 3 is scheduled for release on May 19th for PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One and Xbox Gamepass.