At a recent event in Berlin, we got the chance to play the latest beta build of InXile Entertainment's upcoming isometric RPG Wasteland 3, which included the first three sections of the game and kept us busy for around two-and-a-half hours. A few years have passed since the devastating events in Wasteland's second chapter, and the Sonoran Rangers are still struggling. The sequel begins shortly after our organisation was contacted by a mysterious man called Patriarch who promises to help, should we take care of his affairs first.
Out of desperation and because the Rangers would like to hear more about his offer, their few remaining forces travel to the snowy mountains of Colorado, only to be butchered in a bloody ambush. Someone blew us up and our ice-cold comrades testify to that with their chilling corpses. Of course, we follow the trail of their murderers because we want to find answers now more than ever.
After the initial cutscene (in which the bridge to Wasteland 2 is closed for safety's sake), we take control of two starting units amidst the gruesome ambush. In a very linear tutorial, we have to defend ourselves and survive the shock as our brothers in arms are dying left, right, and centre. The following scenarios teach us the basics of turn-based combat, how powerful interactions with the environment can be, and that there may be someone pulling the strings and coordinating this madness.
After we made our way through the bandits to the agreed rendezvous point to meet the Patriarch, the intimidating general appears, telling us what he wants us to do here. We need to find and bring back his three children for him - alive, no less. He leaves us with a base of operations, helps us to get back on our feet, and provides new recruits so that we can get involved in his family disputes.
In Wasteland 3 our team can consist of a maximum of four characters, bolstered by up to two more NPCs. In the character editor, we can individualise our units and assign different skills, as well as areas of expertise to new recruits. Anyone who has played a modern CRPG in the style of Divinity: Original Sin or Pathfinder: Kingmaker in the past few years should be familiar with the menus used. We have to choose our strengths and weaknesses from a range of social and combative areas, to specialise our forces according to our needs.
Attributes, skills and optional quirks can be further developed if we gain experience in the course of the game. Our two starting characters can also be customised to some extent, but InXile gives us a more personal touch with these two pre-made units. For example, we opted for a quiet hacker duo that wasn't very communicative to anyone outside of their sworn-in nerd circle. To what extent such backgrounds come into play in the further course of events or whether these influences remain purely tonal cannot yet be predicted.
Instead of solely investing your experience points into weapon skills, you should definitely think about interacting with the game environment. With the right skills, you can hack enemy machines, talk to animals, de-escalate tense situations with clever arguments, or find another way to get the upper hand before a gruelling fight begins. During our session, we found a hidden path leading to elevated terrain, from where we could sizzle our enemies with the help of a sabotaged solar panel.
The turn-based combat still feels very much on point like the latest Wasteland game. The battlefields have plenty of cover for us to hide behind and we have to use our action points to run or make use of our weapons. How far we can move or how many actions are available to us is determined by our attributes first and foremost. The use of weaponry, as well as items such as healing probes or explosives, also eats away at our action bar, making strategic decisions all the more crucial. There is a visual marker that differentiates between how far a unit can move and after what distance it will still be able to act.
The different factions involved in combat play their turns one after the other, and one round ends as soon as all units have spent their action points. Similar to Xcom, it is vital to entrench your characters behind cover to give them an important defensive bonus. The cover makes for a sturdy defence, although our troops were shot even though they were hiding behind someone who was placed in cover. These quirks are somewhat expected in beta so we are hopeful about Inxile's ability to identify and fix those errors before the game releases in mid-May.
Visually, Wasteland 3 appears very convincing during combat. Above all, the UI looks clean, giving us all the information we need when hovering over enemies or planning to send a unit to a certain location. For example, the computer shows us which enemies are in our chosen unit's sight and how likely it is for them to hit their foes from their position.
You can modify weapons and your equipment if one of your characters has access to the appropriate skills. There are also active talents that you unlock with accumulated experience points, and we noticed a particularly strong ability called Kodiak, which charges up over several turns and battles. When activated, the gunslinger could choose whether to target a nearby enemy's head, adding a major penalty for accuracy to his stats, or whether to shoot the fiend's body and cause serious bleeding damage in the process.
Aside from all the fighting, Wasteland 3 will offer a world map that you will use to travel to other areas. However, we have only been able to explore two linear levels and a larger city area so far, dealing with a few side tasks in the process. A doctor wanted us to treat his patients for him, while a salesman accidentally activated an armed trap in his shop, causing a commotion in the busy trade district. Meanwhile, a gun battle with mutants took place in the nearby streets, and an old gentleman's shop was occupied by armed criminals, begging for our involvement.
We can take care of the little people and make friends with the locals, which may or may not reward us new equipment and allies, but if you don't want that, you can just leave them be and take care of your own business. After all, the people of Colorado are not our responsibility, right? In Wasteland 3 such decisions are said to have an impact on the whole experience just like in the last game, but it's still too early to evaluate such statements. However, back in the Patriarch's base, we were able to recruit a most useful NPC who helped us out through the missions that followed. The cowboy knew the area well and after a bit of discussion, he opened up to us, telling us what there is to expect from the next story area we had to visit.
With Inxile Entertainment now being a part of Xbox Game Studios, Wasteland 3 will benefit from some more exciting upgrades. For example, the title will be fully dubbed for the first time (excluding observations and thoughts - there is no narrator voice), and this is new territory for the studio. Microsoft also helped strategise the development so that Inxile could concentrate on the completion of their project more intensively, which will hopefully lead to a smooth release on PC and consoles (Xbox One/PS4) in about two months.
So far, Wasteland 3 has made a strong impression on us. From a technical point of view, there are still some problems to be addressed, yet the end-times atmosphere of this post-apocalyptic world definitely left us intrigued. The developers certainly weren't stingy when it came to showing us a bit of ultra-violence. We suspect that this uncomfortable, brutal atmosphere will also be captured stylistically and narratively since the visual language alone speaks volumes already. Ultimately, we can't confirm this yet, because our impressions of cold Colorado end right here.
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