Wasteland 3 is the game to play while you're waiting for other games

Kill some time, and a few hundred post-apocalyptic thugs, in this classic PC-style RPG.

Dan Ackerman Editorial Director / Computers and Gaming
Dan Ackerman leads CNET's coverage of computers and gaming hardware. A New York native and former radio DJ, he's also a regular TV talking head and the author of "The Tetris Effect" (Hachette/PublicAffairs), a non-fiction gaming and business history book that has earned rave reviews from the New York Times, Fortune, LA Review of Books, and many other publications. "Upends the standard Silicon Valley, Steve Jobs/Mark Zuckerberg technology-creation myth... the story shines." -- The New York Times
Expertise I've been testing and reviewing computer and gaming hardware for over 20 years, covering every console launch since the Dreamcast and every MacBook...ever. Credentials
  • Author of the award-winning, NY Times-reviewed nonfiction book The Tetris Effect; Longtime consumer technology expert for CBS Mornings
Dan Ackerman
3 min read

Halo Infinite, delayed. Cyberpunk 2077, delayed. Baldur's Gate 3 early access, delayed. Some of the most anticipated upcoming new video game releases have been pushed back. While you're waiting for one or more of those, consider a retro-feeling trip back to the glory days of the classic computer RPG in Wasteland 3. 

The Wasteland series dates all the way back to 1988 and sits somewhere between cult and obscure. It's mainly remembered for influencing the Fallout series, which similarly combined post-apocalyptic combat and exploration with sly humor and broad characters.   

The third game in the series snuck onto PC, Xbox and PS4 with little notice last week. That said, it's part of the Xbox Game Pass subscription on both Xbox and PC, so it might attract an unexpected audience looking for something new to download and play. 

It's actually right up my alley, so I was at least keeping an eye out for it. Having previously written admiringly of Fallout (yes, even Fallout 76), Divinity: Original Sin 2, Pillars of Eternity II: Deadfire and the upcoming Baldur's Gate 3, I fully admit to having a soft spot for long, talky role-playing games with parties of colorful characters taking part in turn-based adventuring.  

After struggling to keep my frame rate up with Microsoft Flight Simulator (also helpfully included in Xbox Game Pass for PC), I was pleased to be able to crank this game up to Ultra graphics settings at full 4K resolution, which my Nvidia GeForce 2080-powered gaming laptop handled just fine. 

That also means this isn't the most stunning-looking game you've ever seen, but that fits right in with the series' scrappy low-budget vibe (Wasteland 2 raised its development money on Kickstarter several years ago). In this new installment, the voice acting is above average and there's even some cool original music, but in a move Roger Corman would appreciate, most of the exterior terrain is... snow. 


Apocalyptic chic 

I honestly thought the post-apocalyptic vibe had played itself out a few years ago, and at least there are fewer zombie games, movies and TV shows around right now. But our collective obsession with the end of the world continues unabated, helped no doubt by the actual nightmare world we're living through in 2020. 

The Fallout games have always played into this fascination, adding just enough humor to soften the edge. Wasteland takes a similar tone. Sometimes it works -- like the various cyborg chickens who can follow your team around or the game's obsession with broken toasters and creepy dolls (which add perks or rare items). Other things don't work so well, like the Vegas gun merchant who's literally named Joey Bagadonuts. Groan. 


But in any case, it's slightly less depressing than playing some of the more somber recent post-apocalyptic games like The Last of Us Part 2 and Doom Eternal -- I'd even argue the post-Mongol-invasion Ghost of Tsushima falls into that category. 

Would I shell out $60 (£50, AU$85) for Wasteland 3 as a standalone game? Probably not, though I enjoyed the previous games in the series and generally like turn-based RPGs. But, as part of the Xbox Games Pass -- truly the PC gamer's secret weapon in 2020 -- it may find a broad new audience looking to take a break from our reality-based apocalypse and play around in a snowier one.