Wasteland 3 preview: InXile is poised to go 'AAA' with this gritty apocalyptic RPG

Wasteland 3
Wasteland 3 (Image credit: Windows Central)

In 2018, Microsoft unveiled that it had purchased InXile Entertainment, led by the legendary Interplay co-founder Brian Fargo. InXile was founded in 2002 and has since been a trailblazer on crowdfunding platforms, building games like Torment: Tides of Numenera, The Bard's Tale IV, and Wasteland 2.

Wasteland itself predates the Fallout franchise and shares a common ancestry. While initially similar, Fallout eventually ended up in Bethesda's portfolio, turning into a first-person shooter with RPG elements. Wasteland 2, however, felt like a true successor to both the original Fallout and Wasteland games, retaining open-ended story choices (and consequences), and tactical combat that Fallout has gradually stripped away over the years.

Thankfully, Wasteland 3 plays to the strengths of those classic genres and has the potential to ascend above the crowd-funded roughness of Wasteland 2, injecting some triple-A star quality into the mix that has frankly been rare for games of this type.

This is Wasteland 3, the most addictive demo I've played in years.

Wasteland 3 World boost

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

The first very obvious upgrade Wasteland 3 has undergone between games is visuals and audio, which is orders of magnitude superior over its predecessor. Dynamic lighting, high-quality textures, and atmospheric weather effects give Wasteland 3 a much-needed polish pass if the franchise is to rise from cult status to find new audiences.

Wasteland 3 is set in Colorado, in the grip of a nuclear winter. Vehicles play a part in the gameplay this time around, allowing you to drive around the world to different locations, as opposed to simply being represented as a pointer on an overworld map, as was the case in Wasteland 2. It seems there may be multiple vehicle upgrades to obtain throughout the game, starting with a simple jeep, all the way up to this monstrous "Kodiak" wasteland tank, complete with a magnetic railgun (and yes, you can use it in combat).

Beyond Wasteland 3's environment, the game's general fidelity has seen a massive boost in polygon count across the board. You can zoom in very close and see minute details in player character's armor, environmental details, and, of course, gorgeous gore effects when blasting enemies into bloody chunks.

Wasteland 3 Combat refined

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

Speaking of bloody chunks, Wasteland 3 upgrades the combat flow over Wasteland 2 in a few ways, which may help it find new audiences without alienating those who want deep, tactical play.

In Wasteland 2, enemies would execute their turns one after the other, which could be particularly monotonous if you were fighting multiple mobs. Some of Wasteland 2's enemies were just painfully slow by the nature of their typing. Giant maggots, for example, would very, very slowly slide their way over to you, before dishing out some (grotesque) attacks.

In Wasteland 3, the entire enemy team takes their turn together simultaneously, which puts command back into your hands far more rapidly than the previous game. It also makes everything feel more action-packed, without losing the tactical slant the genre is known and appreciated for.

The demo gives you a party of four preset characters to play around with. The precision targeting system returns from previous Wasteland games, although it has been given a makeover, resembling something close to Fallout's V.A.T.S. system. A successful shot to the head or limbs can produce a range of tactically crucial debuffs, albeit in exchange for a higher chance of missing. If you're able to execute an enemy this way, it can be particularly spectacular, too.

Wasteland 3 Star quality

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

Another way Wasteland 3 excites is in its cinematic upgrades. The voice acting, in general, feels far better, which already features an array of suitably deranged heroes and villains and everything in between.

The demo mission has you attempting to rescue a ranger squad from a dangerous "Breather" drug cult, who have turned hallucinogens into a religious rite. The breathers are as violent as they are high and have been terrorizing the locals with some gruesome results.

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

The area this mission takes place in is large and sprawling, with multiple pathways that allow various character abilities to shine. One route takes you through a flame turret-laden death trap, while another lets you make use of your mechanist skills to bypass some enemies. Of course, you can always go in guns blazin' and wipe everyone out.

After defeating the boss group, you're introduced to Vic Buchanan, the son of the mysterious "Patriarch," who seems to be a ruler of some sort in this region. You were charged with bringing Vic to heel, and the game offers you multiple choices for dealing with him, based on your skills. If your first aid skill is high enough, you can appeal to health concerns and pacify him that way, opting either to kill, arrest, or even induct him into your party. The demo closes, noting that each choice has consequences that will impact the game and the way the characters and factions perceive you moving forward.

Wasteland 3 is looking excellent

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

Wasteland 3's pre-alpha demo has a few performance hiccups on PC, seeming to stutter while performing damage calculations and slipping in and out of combat. Still, there's plenty of time between now and the Spring 2020 launch window to fix up these concerns.

Wasteland 3 will hit Xbox One, PC, and PS4 when it arrives next year, complete with two-player co-op and a story that focuses on building a new foothold in the icy wastes of Colorado. You'll have to gear up your vehicles, micromanage and develop a new Ranger base, all while navigating the game's winding story and branching narrative. It'll also launch day one into Xbox Game Pass for both console and PC.

InXile has lofty goals for Wasteland 3, and if this early pre-Alpha demo is any indication, they could be on the path to totally nailing it.

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!