At PAX East, I took a pair of demos for games that harkened back to my PC gaming youth: Wasteland 3 and Stronghold: Warlords. In recent years – probably since around the time my day jobs started revolving around sitting in front of a computer for 8-hour days – I prefer unwinding with a console experience on my couch and television. But spending some time with these mouse and keyboard titles reminded me of how much fun and engrossing the PC experience can be.
Wasteland 3 (inXile entertainment)
Whenever I’ve heard someone discuss the Wasteland games, it’s usually in the context of the series being a spiritual successor to the isometric pre-Bethesda Fallout games. So that’s more or less what I was expecting going into my demo but it never occurred to me that the modern incarnation of that experience might feel more like the recent X-COM games.
I took my squad of four into an enemy camp, searching for a VIP that I was ordered to bring in alive. After a harrowing fire fight (I wasn’t thinking as strategically as I should have been and ran in guns blazing so a lot of my squad was left away from cover), I looted some of the enemies and destroyed some equipment to lower the bridge to my objective. I didn’t take much time to dive into the menus and equipment screens but I did swap out my default armor for some stronger gear.
After a few more battles against a variety of humans, creatures, and robotic foes, I finally found the person I had been sent to collect, but he wasn’t exactly interested in going quietly. As with Fallout games of old, I entered into a conversation with the guy and had a variety of ways to proceed, some requiring skill checks higher than what I had available. I ultimately tried to convince him that my squad had backup outside of his compound but he called my bluff. In a darkly comic scene, he then wound up accidentally blowing himself up so while I managed to avoid killing him directly, I also failed at bringing him in alive. I was then told that I could have actually convinced him to join me as an ally but the game would continue regardless, with each possible scenario in sequences such as this one changing how the rest of the game would play out.
While I might not hop back into Wasteland 3 on PC when it releases on May 19, 2020, its release on the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, and more specifically its inclusion in Xbox Game Pass will probably entice me to spend some time with it later this year.
Stronghold: Warlords (Firefly Studios)
From tactical turn-based combat to real-time simulation strategy, Stronghold: Warlords took me back to those days staying up way too late to just squeeze in a little bit more Age of Empires. I even have vague memories of playing the original Stronghold from 2001. But hopping into the timed demo at PAX East reminded me that quite a bit of time has passed so this was another case of dusting off long-forgotten strategies.
The campaign of Stronghold: Warlords centers around Asian conflicts including Japanese, Chinese, and Mongolian civilizations. My demo took place in 3rd century BC China, challenging enemy Warlord Lao Ai. Before engaging his troops in combat, I set out improving the production of my settlement and building some basic defenses. I was then introduced to one of the game’s new features: the Warlord system. Across the map there were 5 unique Lords: myself and the enemy Lao Ai, as well as three minor lords: a Horse lord that had already been claimed by Lao Ai and would occasionally send him cavalry units, an Ox lord that I claimed and added a steady supply of resources, and a Dragon lord that I claimed to send me Rocket Cart siege weapons. My settlement produced influence points that I was able to use to demand fealty from these minor lords and then later upgrade them. This AI support helped bolster my own fledgling army, with the Rocket Carts in particular being instrumental in any efforts to take down the enemy Warlord’s walls.
Alas, I was reminded that in these types of games, I have a tendency to over-prepare before heading into battle, which wasn’t exactly compatible with the demo’s time limit. By the time I realized I was nearing the end of the demo, I hadn’t taken out a single one of the enemy’s three walls, let alone attack his base. This is the kind of campaign I would typically spend a significant amount of time building up my own base and fully upgrading my allies before sending my army to attack. I don’t know that I’d ever have been able to complete the objective within the allotted 20-minute window but I spent a lot of time over the next few days thinking about how much fun it would have been to slowly expand my reach toward Lao Ai until ultimately launching a swift assault and conquering the scenario.
If you’re a fan of the classic real-time strategy genre, this will definitely be one to keep an eye on when it releases later this year.