Wasteland 3 review: time to make the post-apocalypse great again? | Games

‘Desperate” is how I’d describe Wasteland 3. It’s desperate to find something that will get your attention, to make itself seem weird, capricious and daring, to stand out from tens of other pulpy post-apocalypses. A classically styled role-playing game, it is competently designed and adequately entertaining, with high production values and enough hours of play to keep you going until Christmas. Yet despite zany scenarios ranging from fighting Reagan-worshipping cultists to an encounter with a goat prostitute, it just didn’t do much for me.

A series that stretches back all the way to the 1988, Wasteland tells the story of the Desert Rangers, a group of self-appointed helpers of the helpless who patrol the dusty plains of Arizona in the wake of nuclear Armageddon. In Wasteland 3, the Rangers are instead stuck in icebound Colorado, having struck a dark bargain with a local dictator known as the Patriarch. Find and retrieve the Patriarch’s three itinerant children, and he’ll provide the Rangers with resources they sorely need to continue their operation.

This proves far from simple. The Patriarch’s children are either powerful warlords, or shacked up with powerful warlords, and standing between the Rangers and their mission are all manner of gangs ranging from strange to ridiculous. There are crazed hillbillies, drug-fuelled marauders and several different flavours of religious zealot. There’s even a literal insane clown posse, dressing up in big shoes and red noses before attacking anyone and anything they deem worth destroying.

You often decide the fates of entire societies with the choices you make interacting with these factions. A nightclub owner in Colorado Springs wants you to help him take over the Bizarre, a marketplace of the absurd run by a gang of monster-movie fanatics; you can choose to help him wipe out the Monster Army, or tip the Bizarre’s owners off about the impending attack. Many smaller decisions build to up to consequences that aren’t revealed until much later in the game, such as how you approach the refugees spilling into Colorado Springs from settlements destroyed by roving bandits. Do you shut them out and condemn them to death in Colorado’s endless winter, or let them in, risking food shortages across the city and potential civil unrest?

Wasteland 3 is well made, but nothing it does really stands out. The dialogue is witty and characterful but lacks the heart of The Witcher 3 or the soul of Disco Elysium. The turn-based combat system is better than Wasteland 2’s, but still lacks the tension of XCOM or the spectacle of Gears Tactics. There are some interesting smaller ideas, such as kooky, computer-controlled companions who accompany your main party, ranging from Stetson-sporting tomcats to cyborg chickens. But it has no hook to call its own, and everything in it feels like a lesser version of an idea expressed better elsewhere – sometimes in its own spiritual predecessors, the original Fallout games of the 90s.

Wasteland 3 is treading creatively irradiated ground. The nuclear post-apocalypse has been explored to exhaustion, in video games and elsewhere, and no amount of weird factions or sex jokes can prevent it from feeling like an aged rock band on a comeback tour: the tunes are still decent, but there’s no youthful vigour.

Wasteland 3 is out now; £54.99.


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