Wasteland 3 and other top-down strategy RPGs are a rare breed in the contemporary age. While many RPG fans are looking for massive open worlds and real-time action, demand for a slower-paced RPG experience is still present. Wasteland is a series that has always found success in that niche. However, with the newest iteration of the series, traditional mechanics of the past seem to be getting in the way of a marvelous IP.
OnlySP was able to get a hands-on preview of inXile’s Wasteland 3 at PAX East. Though I have never played a Wasteland game, I am no stranger to RPGs or even isometric tactical RPGs. I was led through the combat-focused demo by one of the on-hand exhibitors to help speed me through a rather lengthy preview. The demo opened up on a mission taking place some ways into the game where I was searching for a psychopath named Victory, the crazed child of one of the game’s larger antagonists, the Patriarch. On my mission, I had four characters at my disposal: a sniper, a heavy gunner, a regular trooper, and the ever-befuddled Scotchmo.
As this demo was focused almost entirely on combat, things heated up quickly. I found myself by a barricaded warehouse looking at half a dozen under-leveled enemies. I took a few minutes to find the flow of combat, but it was not coming to me very well. I found myself wanting to move on, but was instead forced to wait out each individual character’s turn. Each character has a limited number of Action Points (AP) that are allotted for movement and combat abilities. This essentially boils down to a few movement spaces and one attack per turn.
Enemies are able to hide behind cover of course and your shots can assuredly miss. Multiple times, in fact, I had a guaranteed 100% probability of landing a shot, but still missed. I did not have access to the skills and perks, but my characters were outfitted with a few unique abilities already. That being said, figuring out how to use them was a nightmare. The auto-turret from my sniper was tantalizing, but gave no direction to how it could be used or even placed. I was eventually able to set it in a random location; however, it never fired at the enemies even as they approached and attacked it. All of this fumbling around led to my first battle lasting a large majority of my preview time despite myself having a major level handicap.
As I moved past the first battle zone into a new area, I was met with several more enemies. I had the pre-battle phase to move my characters as I saw fit strategically for placement before the match. Traps were introduced and I had the option to disable them or avoid them possibly letting enemies trip them off. This battle moved a bit faster as I decided to forego the strategic side of combat and bull rush my way through for the sake of time constraints. Surprisingly, this was actually my preferred method of combat. The faster paced action that let me throw Scotchmo in the enemies face and blow them to smithereens with his shotgun was preferable to the intended; unfortunately, in a full game setting this would not be possible due to proper level scaling. For a simple small-scale battle with half a dozen enemies, this would begin to feel stagnant, especially with how frequent combat seems to occur.
On the positive side of the demo, though, the environment I got to see was intriguing and the background dialogue was worth stopping to listen to when it occurred. The mini-boss battle I encountered seemed to be enjoyable with a fresh style of combat, despite the aforementioned problems. I was also able to glimpse a fraction of the overarching story, which is thankfully mature yet offered juvenile humor in the mix.
Wasteland 3 helps fill a niche genre for several fans. Regrettably the stumbling time-consuming tactical combat mechanics of old-school RPGs seem to be getting in the way of what could be an exhilarating experience. The preview I had was largely combat facing, so I have hope that the full game will offer far more in the way of diplomacy over death. InXile has crafted a captivating world and a few choice mechanics should not impede what will surely be a great iteration in the Wasteland franchise.
inXile has recently said that Microsoft told the studio to “Do what you do, and do it better than before.” Hopefully, Wasteland 3 will achieve such a promise. The game is expected to launch on May 19, 2020 for PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One.