If early indications for the new generation are anything to go by, much of it will be based on who can secure the most talented studios for first-party games.
Just this week, Sony announced Insomniac are now a first-party studio, while over the past few months we’ve seen Microsoft’s acquisition of the likes of Ninja Theory, Obsidian and inXile.
And after spending time with Wasteland 3 at Gamescom, it’s already clear to see that money is being well invested to ensure the standard of quality going forward liberates studios to create the best possible versions of their games.
As Brian Fargo put it when I chatted to him at Gamescom ‘Microsoft gave us a ton of cash and said go make the best possible game you can.’
So they did and that’s exactly where we are with Wasteland 3. Right now, this is the best possible Wasteland game that inXile can create. It’s bigger, louder, more dynamic, fully voice acted, finer polished, and a more natural fit for PC and consoles alike.
I mean, you can plough a vehicle through buildings and barriers to squash enemies, then fire off from its turrets, perhaps setting off propane tanks to create massive explosions. Then there’s the vivid real-time weather effects that lead to environmental hazards. It all looks bloody stunning.
Where Wasteland 2 was paying homage and respect to the original, maintaining an authenticity that likened it to the classic game, Wasteland 3 is the next evolution. This is the kickstart the franchise needs to help it connect with new audiences.
It still follows the traditional staples of a Wasteland game, of course, top-down view, turn-based gameplay, hidden vaults filled with lots of lovely loot.
But it all seems to come together much more smoothly and succinctly, at least from the small section I got to play at Gamescom. A build, incidentally, that all Alpha backers on Fig have also had a chance to play.
The demo directs me to bring in a man named Vic Buchanan. Problem is, Vic isn’t a good guy and his merry band of ‘breathers’ have been terrorising the populace through the spread of drugs and hallucinogenics.
Now, the objective is to bring Vic in alive. But the interesting dynamic I got to explore in the demo is that you don’t have to abide by the rules. When you come face to face with Vic, he’s got an unorthodox way about him, one that might end up winning you over. Or pissing you off.
He’s talking to a severed head – yes, really – making wise cracks, and being fairly blaze about what he’s done. This isn’t a good dude, but he is someone you can bring along with you as a member of your party if you’ve levelled up the right traits. Your dialogue can make him believe he has no choice but to buddy up with you.
Of course, making that decision will anger other Rangers and townsfolk as you progress. Vic is a polarizing figure, one that some people hate, and by allying yourself with him you’re putting a target on your own back as well.
Likewise, by choosing to kill him rather than put him in jail, others might be upset that you’ve decided to take the law in your own hands. Whatever you decide, that big choice will change the very fabric of the game world you explore.
In case you’re wondering, I chose to add him to the party, though I didn’t get to see the impact of that. Brian told me the character had around 1,000 lines of spoken dialogue in the game so I felt the hard work had to be rewarded just a little bit.
This is just one of the ways Wasteland 3 improves on its predecessor. The inventory management is leaps and bounds better than anything inXile have done before, with a more traditional drag and drop system in place that now shows off the armour you’re wearing.
The combat is also smartly implemented, allowing you to move your party at once, switching deftly between moves so that the action is continuously flowing. You’ll also need to be mindful of a percentage score hovering over an opponent’s head showing you your chance to hit dependent on where you are.
The developers really encouraged me to use cover through the demo as foes hit hard, but also to make it harder for you to be spotted, while also maintaining a position of power.
Precision Strikes have also returned, and once powered up, let you choose an enemies body part similar to the Fallout VATs system to blow up or shoot off. It’s quite marvellous in slow-mo and surprisingly satisfying to see in action.
Through the much-enhanced graphics, I really got to grips with the bitter, harsh cold suffocating post-apocalyptic Colorada in full effect in this demo. The impact on line of sight, but also the shelter provided by going undercover and the natural transition between entering different spaces.
Small vaults, as mentioned, contain lots of cool loot, and you’ll sometimes need to solve some minor puzzles in order to progress. If someone is adept at lockpicking, then if you click on the locked door that person will step forward to let you through rather than the person you’ve got highlighted. Small, subtle touches, but crucial ones that don’t interrupt the flow of play,
It also helps that this seems like a more spacious game, providing you with the aforementioned vehicle to traverse Colorado and stumble upon different outposts and points of interest, similar to how you handle the Mako in Mass Effect.
Wasteland 3 was one of my Games of the Show at Gamescom. As a fan of the originals, I was already hyped to play, but I think with Microsoft’s backing and inXile’s natural talent, there’s a real winning combination here. I cannot wait to see how this affiliation between inXile and Microsoft continues to grow as this worked way better than I could have hoped.
Early 2020 already has some amazing games, but Wasteland 3 has shot right up to the top of my list of most anticipated.