The Wasteland Series Ranked

Best known for decades as the spiritual precursor to the FALLOUT series, WASTELAND was also held as an increasingly obscure favorite among hardcore computer RPG (CRPG) enthusiasts. A retooled pseudo-sequel, called FOUNTAIN OF DREAMS (1990), was shifted outside of the WASTELAND universe, and a revamped, true follow up from developer Interplay, led by Brian Fargo, was canceled (it was called MEANTIME). As the rights to the game languished and Interplay focused on different projects, it appeared WASTELAND was to be a one-off. But Fargo eventually revived interest in the game, and a successful Kickstarter campaign later, WASTELAND 2 was born. Its success yielded the most recent installment, WASTELAND 3, and the old cult classic has now brought about two of the most critically acclaimed RPGs of recent years. To mark the occasion (even though WASTELAND 3 came out more than a month ago now), I’ve briefly ranked the three games below. It’s not a complicated process.

#3 — WASTELAND (1988)

But what even is WASTELAND? Well, if you’re familiar with FALLOUT and my above comment that it was the spiritual precursor to that series, you might realize WASTELAND is set in a post-apocalyptic world reminiscent of MAD MAX, with a dash of zany and morbid humor. Being a late ’80s computer game, WASTELAND could be hopelessly obtuse to many modern players. But after getting through the learning curve, the game reveals itself as an incredibly impressive, deep, and smart experience far beyond much of its contemporaries. Like many games of this type at the time, WASTELAND requires a decent dash of imagination to flesh out its really creative encounters. But that’s part of its charm, and while it can be quite frustrating and difficult, it’s hard to not appreciate just how important and ahead-of-its-time WASTELAND was. It simply can’t compare to the leaps-and-bounds playability improvements of its sequels, but I also understand there is a full remake of the game that was released in February 2020 (which was not considered as a separate entry for this list). I haven’t played that version, but it looks quite faithful to the original, and is almost certainly the best way to experience the first WASTELAND.

#2 — WASTELAND 2 (2014)

WASTELAND 2 must have been an incredible revelation for those that held the first WASTELAND near and dear to their hearts. Because even for me, a casual player and enjoyer of the original, I was quite overwhelmed by how good WASTELAND 2 was. It doubled as an ode to its history and, as someone much more familiar with FALLOUT, also as a postmodern response to that series in the wake of Bethesda’s fabrication of the franchise. WASTELAND 2 is an incredibly deep CRPG with an abundance of choices, a compelling story (incredibly, mostly in the form of the side quests and optional encounters), and exciting customization of the characters. It really encourages the “role playing” part of RPGs in a sense that modern open world games, and games in other genres that borrow RPG “elements,” don’t always get right. WASTELAND 2 is a huge and long game, but it’s also difficult and not always player-friendly, which means it did not fully endear itself to me.

#1 — WASTELAND 3 (2020)

But WASTELAND 3 just took all the incredible aspects of WASTELAND 2 and streamlined them. In a series first, 3 took the action way from Arizona and the desert-y American Southwest to the snowy environments of Colorado, introducing cool visual and scenario twists on what WASTELAND 2, especially, had introduced. It’s a shorter game than WASTELAND 2, but the third game is still incredibly meaty and deep, with an exciting range of freedom. The excitement stems not from massive locales, but from the character, combat, and customization options, making good once again on the point I made above about these CRPGs really offering meaningful choices. WASTELAND 3 is just an improved version of its predecessor, and one element in particular makes me really enjoy it: multiplayer. After playing DIVINITY: ORIGINAL SIN II (2017) with a friend, I was craving the “Dungeons & Dragons” kind of experience that other celebrated CRPG revitalizer offered in video game form. And WASTELAND 3 delivered, with a greater continuity of joint choices and inventory that makes the game an absolute joy to experience with a friend.

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