It’s been less than half an hour since I started my journey across the frozen wasteland of Colorado in Wasteland 3, and I’m already confronted with a difficult choice.
I’ve just rescued a fellow ranger from execution at the hands of a cult, and she is sobbing over the body of a friend I was too late to help. She’s a recent recruit, and watching her best friend die ignobly was not what she signed up for. I try to press her forward, but she refuses, angrily demanding that we let her go so she can abandon the Rangers and go back home. I have two options: Execute her for desertion, or let her run.
It’s a simple binary choice, one that doesn’t fully illustrate the complexity found in the decisions you make in Wasteland 3 but does showcase the power behind straightforward solutions. In the hours to come, all spent in the latest beta build, I will go on to make countless more choices that will irrevocably change the future of Colorado and how its citizens view me.
But at this moment, I’m focused on just two outcomes. Truthfully, I doubt the choice I make in this moment will have a large impact, yet I linger over it regardless. Even when I press a gun to the recruit’s head and pull the trigger, I wonder if this will be something my Rangers will be remembered for. For InExile Entertainment CEO and founder Brian Fargo, it’s that feeling of reactivity that most interests him about games, and what he aims to convey with Wasteland 3.
“The most fun I’ve had in playing games in my life have typically been role-playing games,” Fargo explains. “And I think it’s [because of] a sense that the world is alive and watching the player that you feel every decision you’re making is having some kind of ramification either big or small. It could be as simple as the newspaper boy on the corner that keeps shouting out all the things that the player is doing. Along the way, you can confront the kid and tell them to please shut them out and stop yelling about what you’re doing. [Or] it could be larger things where you make a decision and it affects a faction reaction 10 hours later.”
And there will be plenty of things for the world to react to in Wasteland 3, particularly in comparison to the already expansive Wasteland 2. In the sequel, the Desert Rangers are asked to bring law and order to Colorado by its nominal leader, a larger-than-life figure called The Patriarch. With few other options to choose from, the Ranger’s launch a massive expedition to the frozen state, where they are promptly ambushed and forced to deal with the myriad factions that control the surrounding areas in order to survive. In essence, it’s a classic cRPG.
Yet that’s not what Wasteland 3 appears to be, primarily due to one important change in the middle of development. While it was originally funded on Kickstarter in 2016, Wasteland 3’s path forever changed when Microsoft acquired InExile in November 2018. The acquisition meant that Fargo no longer had to worry about how the studio was spending what resources it had, as a flood of support arrived from the publisher that allowed InExile to finally attain many components it had to do without.
“Being a small or mid-sized developer and using crowdfunding, we always were well aware of things that we were missing,” Fargo said. “Whether it was, having a technical director, or having an animation director, or having enough audio people in the audio department to, to fill out the soundscape. So more than anything, it was sort of an across the board, filling up of disciplines that we just didn’t have in the past that we either had to have other people try to do or just live without.”
“What that translated to is you’ve got a lot more visual effects,” Fargo continues. “The money we spent on 3D models went up greatly so we could have a higher fidelity level. The amount of animation increased. [The game’s] fully voiced now. We took every advantage of the extra help they gave us.”
The results are readily apparent. Wasteland 3 looks gorgeous, and the user interface has been overhauled to be much easier to use. The addition of full voice acting does wonders in establishing the identity of the Rangers, Colorado, and its myriad people while retaining Wasteland’s dark sense of humour. The new vehicle system is fun to experiment with, and the system itself greatly benefits from the game’s expanded locations and world map. And to top it off, the turn-based combat feels more intuitive and easy to use than its predecessor while retaining a great deal of tactical depth. Based on what little I’ve played so far, the highest compliment I can give Wasteland 3 is that I want to delve into its secrets more.
One aspect that I did not play, however, that I want to test myself is the multiplayer component. Wasteland 3 allows for two players to play with each other in the same campaign, dividing up the playable characters evenly in order to do so. Both players are free to fight side by side with each other in tactical battles, but they are also free to explore opposite ends of the map and tackle challenges on their even. The multiplayer is even asynchronous, and one player is fully capable of continuing the campaign by themselves while the other is asleep. That said, InExile didn’t want to facilitate harmful griefing as a result, instead focusing on playful interactions and accounting for the edge cases that result from two players exploring the same map at the same time.
“We didn’t want to make it so that you were trying to kill the other person, but we allow you to grief the other player,” Fargo said. “ I think one of my favourite things [you can do] is like, you can make a snow pile and throw snow at the other player. Or you can urinate on the snow, turn it yellow, and throw it and give the guy a disease instead.”
The potential for Wasteland 3’s multiplayer is great, but InExile has ensured that single-player is by no means neglected. In my brief time with it, I’ve heard tales of a cult that worships Ronald Reagan, recruited one of The Patriarch’s very unruly children to my side, and driven a brand new vehicle straight into enemy fire without a care in the world. It’s wide-reaching in scope, one that will likely require several playthroughs in order to shed its full light. Something that is very much intentional on the part of InExile.
“We have one character, we were talking the other day, that if you have him join your party, it adds another thousand lines of dialogue just because of that one single decision you made,” Fargo explained. “And I like it when the players are playing the game and they’re however many hours in and they’re thinking, all this stuff happened because of this decision I made. And what if I didn’t make that decision? We ended up creating a lot of content that no one person would ever see on a single playthrough.”
And I, for one, can’t wait to see where my journey will take me. Wasteland 3 is set to release on PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One on May 19, 2020.