jay

Thoughts on Wasteland 3 from Quarantine

As I sit here in the few hours of peace I will have today, and maybe this week, I must consider how best to populate this site with content. Some goober in my kids’ day care was diagnosed with COVID last week, and in what I would consider an abundance of caution (and I am generally for more money spent, more masking, more testing, more boosters, more lockdowns, and more bleach drinking) the school has closed for the week. So we have 10 days without day care despite the kids not being sick (after copious testing, at least). Anyway, life sucks at the moment but here are some thoughts on Wasteland 3.

CRPGs

I really like this genre. Why do I play other games between finishing every good PC RPG? I don’t know, good question. After this maybe I’ll play Pillars of Eternity 2 or Tyranny. Theoretically, jumping between genres and consoles helps prevent burn out. This is a good theory because while I am enjoying Wasteland 3, some large number of hours in (I leave it running constantly so Steam’s clock isn’t useful), I am getting a bit bored of the overall loop. So there we have it, question asked, answered incorrectly, then answered again correctly, all for your, and my, edification.

Consoles ruin everything

I have this feeling that Wasteland 3 is a bit consolized. It’s hard to prove and maybe is just my longstanding anger over good PC RPGs being changed for consoles, but considering how difficult it is to choose just one character, that there are no premade or customizable formations, and that Microsoft bought the developer while the game was being developed, I think I’m not simply seeing shapes in the clouds. I also don’t recall feeling this way while playing Wasteland 2 last year. To be clear, a console-made or simpler CRPG is fine, I adore the Shadowrun Returns trilogy for example. I just don’t like a PC series feeling sort of handicapped for the benefit of making it controller-accessible.

Why do robots in science fiction always look like insects or spiders?

“Comedy”

Supposedly, it’s hard to make a funny game. I can say with certainty that Wasteland 3 is not a funny game. It does try, unfortunately. Somehow it seems sub-Fallout 2 in its humor – you can pee on snow, dig up dog shit with your shovel, have sex with a goat, etc. There is little attempt at humor outside juvenile stuff that should’ve been left in the EXTREME 90s. Knowing they found this stuff funny makes me wonder about the writers; I hope they didn’t ruin their MAGA hats with perspiration during crunchtime. There are sort-of-jokes about Ronald Reagan, like the people who worship him calling everyone communists, but it’s unclear how much of this counts as comedy because it’s mostly just an accurate depiction of reality. Also, there’s a drunkard character named Scotchmo. It’s like the word Scotch, get it?

This clown gang finds everything funny, including dying.

Plot and characters are mediocre

Not mentioning Disco Elysium constantly while discussing video games is difficult, since it’s better than most other games. For example, it is legitimately funnier than many decent books and movies and has few if any beastiality jokes. It also has characters who feel like real people. Wasteland 3 does not. NPCs in the Wasteland series, and really most video games, exist to give you quests, experience, or gear. It’s tough to care much about any of them because they’re not written well enough, nor fleshed out enough, to elicit any emotional response. This is partly because at their core, most CRPGs are about getting better weapons, leveling up, and fighting, partly because most CRPGs are much too large to offer realistic, intimate portrayals of humans, and partly because most developers probably aren’t as talented as the people at ZA/UM. At least not when it comes to writing.

One of the few obvious attempts at a “character.”

Big grey decisions are still cool

Despite not caring about anyone in the game, I still find the one big decision you get to make to be compelling. What you choose feels like it says something about you, and it’s a legitimate moral quandary – help the maybe bad guy to save your people, or fight the maybe bad guy potentially dooming your people but helping the people suffering under the maybe bad guy. I ran the decision through multiple prisms and really struggled with it. If I am me, then I probably fight the maybe bad guy because I’m a stupid idealist and can’t tolerate politicians betraying my ideals for a “greater good.” But then I am playing as some remnant of the US military, so from that perspective I’m basically an imperialist deposing the government of the palace I traveled to if I kill this maybe bad guy. I need to decide if I am me or if I am my avatar. Or maybe some third person. Tough choices.

This guy seems like a trustworthy leader of a city.

OK, my wife and kids are home. Now I definitely have to be me, which is never good for anyone.

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christian
christian
4 months ago

This reminds me of old conversations we used to have about how the name of a game or its studio means very little.

When the first Wasteland remake was announced, I shrugged my shoulders. I didn’t think it would be possible to take a game like the original Wasteland – which game from a very different era – and translate it into something that’d be palatable for the modern era.

Maybe they did! – I haven’t played it – but I’m not surprised that it was only a matter of time before the last of the rough edges were sanded out, as seems to be the case here.

chris
Admin
4 months ago

I enjoyed Wasteland 3, but it felt like it was trying to crib too many things from existing rpgs or even its own predecessor(s) – weirdly also a big problem with Modern Fallout, where e.g. the Brotherhood of Steel must be in increasingly improbable places, because it’s Fallout.

I didn’t think the consolization was all that bad, but it’s been several months since I played. Consolization seems much more invasive in games like XCOM that shifted from open strategic simulations to weird on-rails decision trees.

On the other hand, I have no idea what they were thinking when they came up with most of the factions. It’s like they took a core hook for each, but didn’t bother doing anything with them aside from one or two side-quests. The 90’s potty humor should’ve died in the editing room (playing through Mario + Rabbids, it has the same kind of “humor” although it’s made more age appropriate).

I like what you said about the big, grey decision – it’s one of the core things that makes Wasteland 3 good. Even in the beginning as you get hints of the shadiness, it’s a tough decision. As you learn more, the decision gets tougher.

Finally, as I’ve been playing through Tyranny I’ve noticed more and more that the CRPG genre is feeling a bit too samey. Some games like the Pathfinder ones are finding ways to innovate – Wasteland seemed to be trying some of that with the vehicle exploration + combat, but it was only a mild respite from the same “find new zone, talk to quest-givers, resolve core problem, gain faction points and equipment” that has been the genre staple for so long. Writing can only get you so far when the gameplay is so routine (no, I haven’t played Disco Elysium yet).

christian
christian
4 months ago
Reply to  jay

I tried playing UFO Defense once and was overwhelmed by all the different management options for your team. Does that make me dumb?

christian
christian
4 months ago
Reply to  jay

Please elaborate.

or, errr, umm

Me not good with smartz neeeeed halp