I’ve been avoiding the Apocalyptic real world by diving into a POST-Apocalyptic America to try in InXile Entertainments upcoming title Wasteland 3. There may be some bloodshed.
There was bloodshed. A LOT of bloodshed.
The first time Wasteland 3 really made me sit up and take attention was during one of the dialogue sections. You’re listening to some low-level idiot ‘monologue’ when something unexpected happens. Annoyingly I’m not going to tell you what it is as I want you to experience it for yourself, but it made me sit up and take notice of the game. I was shocked, I laughed and I even cheered a little. It was glorious.
Up until then you’re playing a fairly standard isometric top-down real-time movement, turn-based combat squad-game. Everything is as you would expect, it looks nice and the combat has a nice visceral quality to it. But that single moment completely subverted my expectations of the game and that’s when I started noticing all the other little quirks and interesting bits scattered around. There’s also quite literally a cat in a hat…. that seems to like cigarettes.
It’s testament to InExile Entertainment’s design that I immediately felt comfortable when playing. Everything is logical, the information is clear and unobstructed and the tutorial and pop-up help messages were just enough to be helpful and infrequent enough to not be annoying. That in itself is worthy of note. The only niggle I found control-wise was that the mouse button ‘actions’ are reversed to what my brain was expecting. But I soon got the hang of it.
As you do feel so comfortable playing the game I must confess that I was on autopilot for the start. It was ‘ok’. I knew what was expected of me, I knew what to do, how to do it and I went about it with barely a thought. THAT moment early on effectively rebooted my brain and my expectations, allowing me to see what was behind all the pretty visuals, very competent design and gallons of blood. There is a lot to love in the brief opening section I had access to.
The characters are all beautifully rounded-out. You have a number of pre-set when you drop in (and you play as a pair) with, of course, the option to make your own. I opted for Mentor/Student duo and found myself warming to them almost immediately. The voice work is excellent and that, along with the brilliant writing, makes everyone feel like a person. Again, no mean feat. Even the enemies have character enough to make the encounters feel different.
So, what about the those encounters then? Well you can often resolve things through talking, bribery or a bit of mild flirting. Just like real life (!). But when the refuse hits the windmill and the combat takes over, it’s really, really good fun. And bloody. There’s lots of blood. Did I mention the blood?
Anyone who’s played a top-down squad game (XCOM reboots etc) will be at home. Cover is king, flanking is queen and individual character traits and powers are some sort of second cousin from a neighbouring kingdom… Each character has their own class and you can level them up as you would expect and it adds a little bit of tactical depth to the oh-so-bloody proceedings. I particularly like the option to bank any unused action points for the next round. Saves you from the ‘may as well do it’ decisions at the end of the round. It can also allow for some ridiculous moves when you’ve saved up a LOT of AP.
The enemies also die in a very pleasing way. Though I may have mentioned that…
It’s not all roses and bloodshed though. While the animations are generally good- some of the transitions between are a little rough. It’s quite noticeable at times. Think Thunderbird’s and you won’t be far off. The hub areas also feel a little small at the moment. Now this could just be a hangover from my time with Divinity Original Sin 2 which had ridiculously large maps, but especially when at your new ranger base, there seemed to be a lot of travelling between places. The area’s also seem a bit sparse. It’s an odd one to explain as there are often a LOT of NPC’s/’furniture’ in them but I did become very aware of it towards the end of my time playing. Nothing game-breaking here though, and certainly stuff that a polish can almost certainly sort.
All in all, I’ve been quite impressed with Wasteland 3. It’s success for me will depend on how it keeps the surprises coming and whether the writing stays as good as it has been so far. Its definitely on my radar now. It’s a shame in some ways that it has been delayed until the end of August for “logistical reasons”, but that extra time will give InExile time for that extra bit of spit and polish.