Why Wasteland 3 is making me forget all about Fallout

Wasteland3 Beta Screenshot
Wasteland3 Beta Screenshot (Image credit: inXile)

Wasteland 3 is an upcoming, old-school isometric RPG with a ton of modern flair. Built by Microsoft's inXile Entertainment, led by the legendary Brian Fargo, Wasteland 3 is a love letter to a time when choices and decisions in RPGs still mattered, in an age where more and more franchises flip on story-driven experiences for multiplayer service-style titles.

I don't necessarily like running direct parallels to games from different studios, but it's hard to avoid in this case, particularly as a fan. Since after all, Wasteland and Fallout, as franchises, share a common lineage. To say I've been disappointed with Bethesda's treatment of the legendary post-apocalypse franchise would perhaps be an understatement, and it's painful to admit as someone who spent hundreds of hours in that universe.

Wasteland is the franchise that started it all for Fallout, launching back in 1988 (and recently remastered for Windows, by the way). I went into some of Wasteland's history in my old Wasteland 2 review from 2015 (time flies, huh?), so be sure to take a look if you're interested in learning more.

Fast forward to 2020, though, and Wasteland 3 is reviving almost everything I loved about Fallout 3 and New Vegas from an RPG perspective, while paying homage to CRPGs that helped digitize tabletop roleplaying for a new generation. Wasteland 3 moves beyond being a throwback, though, modernizing the very essence of turn-based tactical combat and isometric roleplaying. Here's how.

Wasteland 3 is available for preorder for $60 and is targeting a May 19, 2020 launch date on Xbox One, PS4, and PC.

Into post-apocalyptic Colorado

Source: inXile (Image credit: Source: inXile)

In my experience with the previous Alpha build, we got a look primarily at combat and driving around with the new Kodiak vehicle. This new Beta build gave me a look at the entire first few hours of the game, complete with story setting, and an introduction to the game's main factions and locations. Skip this segment if you want to hit Wasteland 3's story completely blind, but here's a taste of what you'll experience in the opening of the game.

You're part of a group of Rangers that have set out on an expedition into the frozen grip of Colorado, to set up a new trade route and supply chain for the Arizona Rangers from Wasteland 2. Hit by hard times, the Rangers are hoping that the local warlord, known only as The Patriarch, will make good on a deal to supply the Rangers in exchange for some mysterious services.

Source: inXile (Image credit: Source: inXile)

Colorado seems to have escaped the majority of the destruction faced by other parts of the Wasteland, namely due to missile defenses set up to protect local U.S. military bases. Despite that, it didn't escape the breakdown of society at large, with cultists, raiders, and other crazies that would make the enemies of Wasteland 2 blush.

The Dorseys, for example, believe they are harbingers of a "Deluge of Blood," that will cleanse the land of the old world, and prepare it for the new. Wasteland 3 pulls no punches whatsoever with its violence, and The Dorseys make a pretty great introduction to that end.

Source: inXile (Image credit: Source: inXile)

As your convoy is making its way across a frozen reservoir, The Dorseys launch an ambush out of nowhere. Their aim is nothing but violence and bloodshed, literally tearing people apart, and donning their entrails as grisly trophies. It's brutal, and awesome. However, whoever put them up to the attack forms one of the game's mysteries, which will undoubtedly unravel as the game marches forward.

You'll either use a couple of presets, or two custom-made rangers to start with, with a wide variety of options for your outward appearance and when it comes to stats and abilities. And yes, even the quirky skills like animal whisperer and toaster repair make their return. As dark and serious as Wasteland can get, it's also frequently hilarious, in a twisted sort of way.

CRPG for modern times

Source: inXile (Image credit: Source: inXile)

Running the gauntlet of The Dorsey's assault immediately affords you with a spider web of choices, some with pretty hefty, permanent consequences. Early on, you run into a raider pointing a gun at one of your junior Rangers, and how you handle the situation either leads to her untimely death or gaining a permanent character addition to your decimated squad.

Wasteland 3 generally signifies inXile's growth as a studio.

The early game is also crammed with skill checks of all types. Players who pick first aid as a skill can frequently use it not only in combat, but also in dialogue and exploration. You may notice things on a corpse that a non-medical squad will be unable to discern, and also opt to offer healing to a character inside a conversation, opening new dialogue opportunities. You may even be able to enlist the help of a friendly feline with a cowboy hat, or pee on snow to create yellow snowball grenades. (Don't ask.)

The intro sequence explains a lot of the game's systems in far better detail than Wasteland 2 did, complimented by an inventory screen that is far, far more usable than the previous game. That said, Wasteland 3 doesn't pull any punches with its difficulty and combat mechanics.

Source: inXile (Image credit: Source: inXile)

The depth and the challenge remains as high as ever, with the vast majority of stats and skills returning; no "pruning" has taken place here. Making a squad with a diverse array of skills and weapon proficiencies remains as important as ever. A team comprised entirely of snipers will get mowed down as soon as an enemy gets close enough, and teams that miss certain skills like lockpicking or computer hacking may find entire routes through areas and conversations completely locked out.

For all it does in reverence of the genre, Wasteland 3 continues what Wasteland 2 started by bringing modernization to the table. Wasteland 3 generally signifies inXile's growth as a studio.

Source: inXile (Image credit: Source: inXile)

Dialogue and conversations still, in large part, play out during isometric scenes, but pivotal moments have full-body cutscenes from a first-person perspective, complete with motion capture and the occasional unique set piece.

When you first meet The Patriarch, he offers a Dorsey prisoner for the player to do with whatever they choose, your actions play out a little more close and personal than they would in an isometric view, enhancing immersion. There's also a truly savage moment in another scene, that I really don't want to spoil for first-time players. I will say, though, that it's the first time I can remember where the screen was splattered with 3D chunks of brain matter.

On top of that, Wasteland 3 has lighting and effects that dig deeper than its predecessor, with detailed character models that look great when zoomed in. The beta build had some performance hiccups for me, though, and the camera controls could probably be improved, but the combat speed makes the gameplay flow a lot more nicely. If you're someone who finds turn-based gameplay to be a bit tedious, know that enemy squads take their moves largely simultaneously now, which reduces the amount of time it takes to get you back into the action. Some of the new abilities and moves produce spectacularly gory kills, too, with some weapons able to perform precision-targeting techniques, inflicting critical headshots or crippling wounds on bulkier enemies.

It all just felt so good.

Give it to me now

Source: inXile (Image credit: Source: inXile)

Wasteland 3 is shaping up nicely, presuming it gets all the optimization it needs along with modernized gamepad controls for console players. The story is instantly engrossing, with the same RPG depth of its predecessors, complete with visual upgrades and all the freedoms you'll expect of a modern CRPG.

While Fallout wrestles with its identity as a franchise, Wasteland knows exactly what it wants to be, and it pursues it with razor-sharp focus. This is the successor classic Fallout fans deserve, while uniquely, also being its predecessor.

Wasteland 3 is available for preorder and is targeting a May 19, 2020 launch date on Xbox One, PS4, and PC.

Jez Corden
Co-Managing Editor

Jez Corden is a Managing Editor at Windows Central, focusing primarily on all things Xbox and gaming. Jez is known for breaking exclusive news and analysis as relates to the Microsoft ecosystem while being powered by tea. Follow on Twitter @JezCorden and listen to his XB2 Podcast, all about, you guessed it, Xbox!