In a fever of wasteland justice, I told Lucia Wesson to pull the trigger. She had told me that she had never shot at, let alone killed, anyone. But this man was responsible for the death of her entire family, so I told her to pull the trigger. Her shot landed in her boyfriend’s gut, not immediately killing him but ensuring that he was on his way. At this point, the mission seemed complete, and I started thinking about how I was going to spend my freshly earned Colorado dollars. Five minutes later, Lucia broke down crying, asking why I had let her pull the trigger. From this point on, every decision I took in Wasteland 3 became the result of a lengthy debate on the consequences of it.
The squad-based RPG centers on your outfit of Arizona Rangers, who have been tasked with helping the Patriarch reign in his three mutinous children and maintain his grip on power as leader of the Colorado wasteland. In exchange for the help, the Patriarch promises to dip into the vast wealth of Colorado and send much needed foreign aid to the Rangers back in Arizona. The Patriarch’s reasoning goes that the foreign Arizona Rangers won’t be tempted to aid any domestic usurpers rising against him.
The Patriarch sets you up with a base near the capital city of Colorado Springs, and from there you start outfitting your squad of six rangers and running quests. But in these early quests of the game, the cracks in the Patriarch’s story of a wealthy Colorado slowly begin to surface, and in these cracks the reality of a Colorado wasteland can be seen.
Choices are at the forefront of Wasteland 3. From the very beginning, the game shows you that the choices you make have consequences, and that you won’t be able to please everyone at once. I neglected to put a singular point into the first aid skill throughout the duration of the tutorial. At the end, I failed a first aid check and watched in horror as the squad commander died in my arms, entrails falling into the cold snow below. Similar brilliant decision making led to the death of another two Rangers in the tutorial.
These aren’t binary choices, either. Often the game would give me three or four options to pick from, each with their own lasting consequences that punctuated the rest of the game. I found myself stepping back from the computer and pacing around the house for 10 minutes at a time, trying to figure out which path I wanted to take.
But it’s the weight that these decisions carry that make Wasteland 3 such an enjoyable ride. Choices that may seem happenstance in any other game lead to unique encounters later on. I broke up a party that some teenagers were throwing, and returned back to my base to discover that “BUZZKILL” had been spray painted on the side.
The turn based combat offers a similar level of decision making. The game warns you in just about every other loading screen that ammo is expensive and hard to come by, a warning that I found myself ruminating over constantly. Before every mission I would sell as many goods, scrap and leftover gear I could to buy a paltry amount of bullets. Oftentimes I would run out of ammo for at least one of my squad members mid-mission, forcing them to resort to fisticuffs. The thought, “Can I make more money here than I spend on bullets?” was constant in my mind during every combat encounter.
The deliberately slow trickle of information to the player is where Wasteland 3 really shines. No one person, group, or mission has all of the answers. It’s up to the player to dissect everything told to them and build a semblance of truth. Even if you manage to connect all of the dots, your own decisions and moral bias weigh into the outcome of what you uncover.
It’s this lack of a unified truth that makes the game so poignant today. The Patriarch lies about every aspect of Colorado to his citizens, from the founding of the nation state to the current decline of it. At the same time, nearly every faction vying for power in the state has their own lies to uphold, and a willingness to not expose anyone else to their lies. For the general Colorado citizen, the world is just a grueling wasteland that they are too busy attempting to live in to actually see through these lies.
But the veneer of a stable society created by these lies has ruptured past the point to where it can be ignored. The desperate attempt by the Patriarch to hold onto his decaying power in the wastes by calling in the foreign Arizona Rangers combined with missions centering on thwarting smaller factions shows that the only real asset of a dying state is the violence it is willing to inflict on others.
Wasteland 3 puts you in the shoes of an external force with the unique capability to see through internal affairs, and gives players a glimpse at what a stranglehold on power can result in. Every choice you make, from dialogue options to money management, gives the feeling that you really are in a wasteland, just trying to get by. It’s a harrowing vision of a world that could come to pass, and a poignant commentary on the one we’re just trying to make it through today.
Wasteland 3 was developed by inXile Entertainment and published by Deep Silver. Our review is based on the PC version. It’s also available for Xbox One, PlayStation 4, Max and Linux.
Nicolas Perez is an editorial intern at Paste and opinion co-editor for New University. He’s rambling on Twitter @Nic_Perez_.